As Americans, we are all owners of the largest collection of public real estate on the planet. From the California coastline to its remaining redwood groves, from the Mojave Desert to Utah’s red rock canyons and Nevada’s vast basin and range country – and, of course, the wondrous natural riches we enjoy here in the Rocky Mountains – significant portions of these landscapes belong to all of us.
Nationwide, there are 640 million acres of public lands that are your American birthright no matter who you are. Tragically, this national treasure is under attack, and that should concern us all.
Less than 14 percent of lands in the U.S. enjoys protection from development, mining and drilling. These protected public lands – including our national monuments, National Conservation Lands and other lands – offer some of America’s best hunting and fishing opportunities. Many of the West’s prized big game species, and some of our finest fisheries, depend primarily on protected public lands because they provide quality wildlife habitat – undisturbed by development, and linked by clean rivers and lakes.
These lands are all that remain of the wild American frontier that shaped our character as a nation; at our best, we are a nation of hardy individuals, optimistic, inventive and drawn to challenge.
In his so-called review of national monuments, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – who likes to declare himself a Teddy Roosevelt fan – claims that his recommended changes to our national monuments will help sportsmen by “restoring” fishing and hunting rights taken away by previous administrations.
That’s an outright lie. Hunting and fishing are currently allowed in every single one of the 23 land-based national monuments included in Zinke’s review.
Zinke’s recommendations aim to shrink our national monuments and weaken protections to make it easier for private industry to exploit these treasured public places. If the White House follows through on these recommendations, the effect will be real damage to our hunting and fishing opportunities, regardless of what spin these spin-doctors put on it.
Twenty of the 23 monuments being reviewed are part of the National Conservation Lands, a system of protected lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management that includes many world-class hunting and fishing destinations, such as:
Colorado’s Browns Canyon National Monument – 22,000 acres of rugged, rocky backcountry that’s home to bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, black bear and mountain lion, and is world-renowned among sportsmen for the brown trout found in the Arkansas River.Southeast Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument offers stunning and remote hunting for elk, mule deer and wild turkey.Northern New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte National Monument – designated in 2013, with the help of more than a dozen local sportsmen’s groups, is famous for bighorn sheep, elk and mule deer, and excellent fishing for native Rio Grande cutthroat trout.We are fortunate that patriotic leaders like Roosevelt had the vision and political courage to protect our public lands legacy more than a century ago. Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, the time-tested conservation law that is so popular and effective that presidents from both parties – eight Republicans and eight Democrats – have used it to protect nationally significant lands. And from the start, there was opposition from individuals and industries who feared their private profits extracted from public lands might be at risk.
Today, on National Hunting and Fishing Day, in 2017, some of the same interests that opposed Roosevelt are still trying to dismantle our public lands legacy, anxious to get their greedy hands on even the small percentage of lands protected from development and valued for something beyond their mineral worth.
Sportsmen and women have helped lead the fight for access to and protection of these treasured places, in part because we have experienced firsthand the hunting and fishing they offer – especially here in the West. We know conserving these places is worthwhile. We have inherited not just a treasure trove of public lands, but also the responsibility to demand their continued protection. We can do that by staying informed, contacting our representatives and supporting sportsmen and conservation groups that work to protect wildlife habitat, so these traditions can endure for generations.
Early in our nation’s history, some must have marveled at the rich and vast openness of the frontier. To them, it must have appeared limitless. But Roosevelt, the great outdoorsman, had a prophetic warning that is fitting for today’s public lands crisis: “Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
Perhaps Ryan Zinke should read up on his Teddy Roosevelt.
Brian Sybert hunts and fishes on public lands and is the executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. David Petersen is a lifelong hunter and founder of Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.