Public Land Access: The Hunter’s Most Important Issue
Article Contributed by Managing Editor K. Slye.
With the Presidential race heating up and the front runners for the Oval Office starting to take shape, I thought it was necessary to provide some vital information for hunters and anglers that are trying to decide who has the hunting and fishing community’s best interests in mind and what legislation being voted on is important.
I will be the first to admit I am not a political person, I do not watch the debates or listen to the endless analysis from the talking heads on TV. I don’t even have cable, I prefer to be outside. But, the issue of public land access is very important to today’s hunters and anglers, mainly in the western states.
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I have hunted in Pennsylvania my whole life, both on private and public lands, including archery hunting in the Allegheny National Forest which is publicly owned, all with varying degrees of success. But one day I would like to head out west, in search of elk in the Rockies, lay my crosshairs on an antelope in the sagebrush plains of Wyoming, or try my luck at arrowing a muley in Arizona. So, the issue of public land access is important to me, and for the hunter that does regularly hunt out west this issue should be in the forefront of their mind.
The latest trend is wanting to transfer national public lands to state land trusts. The main reason being that there are valuable natural resources available on much of the land that are not being fully utilized by the federal government, but if transferred to the states those resources could be extracted and generate revenue. This is bad for the hunting and fishing community because of one simple, yet extremely significant aspect, public land and access to it.
National public land is not just national parks, it includes millions of acres of wilderness areas, national forests and grasslands that are open to the public for hunting and fishing. These lands are managed in a way that balance all aspects of its resources including but not limited to grazing, mining, logging, recreation (which includes hunting, fishing, and camping), wildlife habitat, and wilderness. There are agencies within the federal government that are specifically tasked to manage these resources, who have appropriate budgets so that the public has access to them and can enjoy them to the fullest extent.
Whereas, state trusts are lands that were given to the state when they first entered the Union with the primary function to generate revenue to provide funding for the area’s public school system and other essential public institutions. What this means is the agency managing these lands has one goal, to generate enough revenue to fund the public schools. They are not required to consider, nor do they consider, public land access for hunters, anglers, or other outdoor enthusiasts. Meaning, just because it is state owned, does not mean it is open to hunting, fishing, or camping.
However, if one looked at all the aspects of managing the land, there are also other financial implications of acquiring that land. A report by three public universities, that took 18 months to compile and produce to evaluate the feasibility of transferring national public land to the state of Utah found that Utah would gain a $245 million a year burden if it acquired that land, and that does not take into account the loss of tourism, like hunting, federal revenues from lease payments and payrolls, and hard to quantify aspects like quality of life.
Another thing to consider with state land trusts is because their primary function is to generate revenue, it will be done by whatever means necessary. This includes selling the land to private companies or individuals for development, making that once public property now private and off limits to the public completely. This has been done multiple times throughout history. For example, according to State Trust Lands (www.statetrustlands.org), Arkansas originally had 1.19 million acres in State Land Trusts, currently they have 0. None. Zilch. Nevada went from 2.7 million acres to just 3,000 acres. Oregon reduced their state land trust by nearly 2.7 million acres; from 3.4 million to just 776,000 acres. If you went through the states that started with state land trusts, the majority have less acreage than what they started with, many by a significant amount.
I understand why many people have lost faith and trust in the federal government. But I don’t understand why anyone would want to change one of the greatest aspects of the United States, one that separates us from most other countries, our huge amount of public land for everyone to enjoy in various ways. Wouldn’t you want to say “I think I’m going to hike up there tomorrow to see if I can shoot an elk,” instead of “must be nice to be the guy that owns that,” as you drive by a mountain?
My recommendation to fellow hunters is become educated on the issues that affect us as a community and learn how we can make a difference. There are many great resources for information and ways to offer support to help improve public land access. Listen to the Randy Newberg Unfiltered podcast or Steve Rinella’s Meat Eater Podcast, they are both passionate advocates for public land access with a depth of knowledge. Look into and join conservation groups like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Society, or even your local conservation group or sportsmen’s association, I have. Only a small percentage of Americans are hunters, but if the powers-to-be want to take that away, let’s make sure they are not going to do it without one hell of a fight.
If you have questions about these and other issues that affect our hunting and fishing heritage, please feel free to leave a comment or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more by K. Slye
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