--Theodore Roosevelt, 1912
In 1872 the United States did something uniquely remarkable -- it created Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world. For the first time in our nation's history instead of selling, transferring and giving away all federal public domain lands to form states and advance settlement, we began setting some aside to protect forests, wildlife and remnants of wild, natural America for future Americans to see, experience and enjoy.
Nearly 20 years later, in 1891, the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve was created near Yellowstone -- later renamed the Shoshone National Forest, the oldest national forest in the United States. That same year, Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act, which allowed the president of the United States to set aside forest lands on public domain. A decade later, presidents Harrison, Cleveland and McKinley had transferred about 50 million acres into the forest reserve system.
Then, of course, along came President Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt led efforts to create four national game preserves, five national parks, 18 national monuments, 24 reclamation projects, 51 federal bird reservations and 150 national forests. All in all, he set aside 230 million acres of public lands for (as his first appointed Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot put it) "The greatest good for the greatest number of people for the longest time."
This American legacy has grown. We, the people of the United States, now own about 640 million acres of forests, mountains, meadows, prairies, desert, streams, rivers, lakes and other lands that not only provide us with clean air and clean water and help sustain us, but also sustains an abundance and diversity of wildlife and related recreational opportunities. These public lands are held in trust for the American people by the federal government and managed mostly by the Bureau of Land Management, the United States National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, or the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Department of the Interior, or the United States Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture.
These lands are not managed by "city slickers" or "politicians" in "far off places" "back east" such as Washington DC, as some would have you believe. These lands are managed by professional land managers in district and regional offices, who live in and are part of local communities wherever these lands exist. Their management decisions are based on input from American citizens -- local and throughout the nation -- as well as input from professional, trained, educated foresters, wildlife biologists, fisheries biologists, range specialists, engineers, botanists, ecologists and others. Much of these lands are managed for multiple uses, including logging, grazing, mining, gas and oil development and other uses. Some are designated as wilderness, thanks to the Wilderness Act of 1964, to remain forever wild and "untrammeled by man."
These lands are open to all of us. These are places where we Americans can hike; backpack; camp; ski; snowboard; mountain bike; watch wildlife; take photos; fish; hunt and otherwise seek adventure, solace, solitude and freedom.
But there is an alarming, disconcerting effort underway to sell and transfer these national public lands to states and other entities. Many lawmakers in the Republican Party are calling for the sale and transfer of our public lands to help pay off the deficit. Many state GOP leaders have established official party platforms calling for the sale and transfer of public lands. Republican legislators in Congress have already tried to sneak public land sales into amendments to various bills.
A group called the American Lands Council is running a slick campaign to promote the sale and transfer of our public lands by using lies, half-truths and misconceptions. They wrongly claim our public lands are being "mismanaged" because it's not all being managed for gas, oil, mines, timber, cattle, greed and maximum profit; because there are not roads everywhere providing "access" for everyone and anyone who wants to drive a vehicle wherever they want to go; because not all of our nation's lands are being managed precisely the way they want them to be managed to boost their bank accounts, with negative consequences to clean air, healthy forests and wildlife as well as many recreational opportunities. They play on people's ignorance and fear to push for the dismantling of our public lands legacy for selfish interests. Make no mistake: These people are backed by large, powerful, wealthy timber, grazing, mining and gas and oil interests who would do to our public lands exactly what great, foresighted leaders like Theodore Roosevelt worked to prevent.
This is our land, this is our legacy; let's not lose it to greedy interests who can only see profit -- let's keep our public lands in public hands. As Theodore Roosevelt himself put it: "We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."
President Lyndon B. Johnson said, "Once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured." Aldo Leopold -- a hunter, angler, writer and professor who is considered the "father of wildlife conservation" -- put it this way: "Wilderness is a resource that can shrink, but not grow." Or, to paraphrase Will Rogers, "Once it's gone, it's gone; They're not making any more of it."
Some of the Theodore Roosevelt-minded hunting and angling conservation organizations fighting to keep our public lands in public hands include: Trout Unlimited; the National Wildlife Federation and its state affiliates; the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Combined, these groups make for a strong, politically-influential group of good, ethical, conscientious and conservation-minded hunters and anglers from all over the United States and Canada fighting to protect our wild public lands, water and wildlife and hunting and angling heritage. They have earned my respect, trust and support; I hope you will consider supporting them as well.
KEEP IT WILD - KEEP IT PUBLIC
Video and Photos by Dave Stalling (Music by Woody Guthrie)