Article by Contributing Writer J. Minich.
A lot has been written and said recently about the land grab movement, and for good reason. Losing public lands is a tremendous threat to hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and simply enjoying the awe of vast public wilds. Would hunting cease to exist if all the public land disappeared? Of course not, but it would exist in a much different form, one that I don’t particularly care to think about. Access to prime ground would take precedence over true skill and exploration of vast wilderness. Leases and posted signs would prevent access to many of our nationally treasured places. It becomes a battle of who has the most money. Simply look at the dynamics of whitetail hunting the T.V. food plot bucks of the Midwest for an example of what hunting becomes when this happens.
Significantly, the land grab issue is led by conservative Republican politicians under the guise of the Constitution. I am by no means a Constitutional expert, but I do know that much smarter people than I have affirmed that federal land ownership does not violate the Constitution. If anything, there exists a gray area which defines most political issues, public lands included.
Since so many hunters and other public land users are ideologically conservative, this serves a prime example that the two-party political system is an antiquated failure. Ironically, many politicians that loudly support gun rights and hunting are the same ones trying to sell the National Public Lands to the highest bidder.
The popular media, largely fed by the inattentiveness of modern Americans, galvanizes too many issues, turning gray areas into black or white, us-versus-them arguments. Voting in elections increasingly feels like a painful exercise along the lines of being forced to choose which of our own feet to cut off. We are so often stuck choosing between the better of two despicable candidates, while the real issues are decided by lobbyists, campaign contributions (bribes), and backroom deals. Try finding anything about political parties and lobbyists in the Constitution. It’s not there.
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There were countless ideological differences back in 1788, but the Founding Fathers were able to come to agreement on a framework to guide our country forward. I’ll highlight that “forward” aspect because it is a key point that politicians and government generally need to be much more forward-focused. From our welfare system to the public lands issue, not enough government programs are designed to be self-sustaining. We pass the buck to future generations to live high on the hog today, politicians are incentivized to do so, and the cycle continues.
It is also here, within the economics, that land grabbers base their arguments against National Public Land ownership. The blatant lie is that while they hide behind the Constitution and States’ rights, they deceitfully represent economic interests of their wealthiest constituents, hoping to profit today off the land without regard to the rights of Americans tomorrow and generations far beyond.
The basic principle that wild places have a future value, places an intrinsic worth on the protection of open space, wilderness, and the primal human instincts that are exercised and invigorated within these areas. I believe as humans that we have a right to connect with our past, which is achieved no more directly and intimately than through hunting and enjoying nature in its most unprocessed, raw state. This connection is ultimately why I choose to spend all my free time and money hunting or thinking about hunting. I could go to the grocery store and get meat, but I choose to be connected to finding my protein in America’s wildest places.
There is an argument to be made that public lands are also greatly beneficial to public health, that vast tracts of wild keep us and the environment healthier, physically and mentally. Since the private interests invariably don’t protect and conserve resources, they can’t be entrusted to protect these areas. They exploit the resources and leave the future generations to clean up the mess left behind. That has been demonstrated countless times over the past few hundred years as resource extraction has progressed from cutting down trees by hand to ultra-high impact methods to access fossil fuels like fracking.
Finally, can National Public Lands be economically self-sustaining without burdening taxpayers and the regional economies in which they reside? My argument to that is also, yes. When managed intelligently and efficiently, public lands provide lumber, food, water, energy, and many other sustainable resources that benefit the public good. These sustainable extractions can fund basic, sensible management. Tourism, hunting, and fishing industries further benefit regional economies on a long-term, sustainable basis in the mostly remote, rural areas near public land.
One would think at this point that I have little faith in saving the public lands; that this broken system is doomed to capture the land and turn it over to the wealthy donors and political honchos. Yet I believe this battle is far from over, and many others do a great job of laying out the course to do so.
It all starts with the grassroots support. Writing blog posts is not going to overthrow the two-party system or change the world, but there are strong undercurrents evident in this election cycle that Americans at least recognize the system is broken. That is a start, anyway. Voicing our opinions and joining conservation organizations no doubt helps, as K. Slye outlined in his recent article, Public Land Access: The Hunter’s Most Important Issue. Supporting companies with a solid track record of protecting public land, such as First Lite and their award-winning Round Up for Conservation program, helps as well, the proverbial voting with our wallets.
Keeping this in the public conversation is vitally important. Land management practices must be made as efficient and sustainable as possible, so that land grabbers cannot win the economic arguments against National Public Land. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the saying goes. We as hunters must band together with other non-hunting conservation organizations on this common ground, and iron out our differences after and apart from the lands being protected.
I have faith that we can pull it together so that my great-great grandchildren can enjoy the same public lands that I do, and maybe we can even make our society and political system a little better in the process.
About the Author
Joe lives in Centre County, PA with his wife and growing family. He lives to bowhunt, especially elk hunting out West, in addition to whatever is in season around his home. Joe also is an obsessed fisherman, especially walleyes, and he dabbles in foraging from time to time. Joe most enjoys utilizing the bounties his lifestyle provides by cooking frequently and constantly experimenting with new methods and ingredients. Connect with Joe on Instagram @j.r.minich