The birthday of historic conservation pioneer Theodore Roosevelt raises awareness of ongoing battle over public lands.
Last week marked the 157th birthday of a leading pioneer in America's land use conservation for sportsmen.
Theodore Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service, creating National Parks and National Forests and protecting 230 million acres of land in the process. In 2015, a total of 37 bills were introduced to transfer control of federal lands to 11 individual Western states.
"In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen." - Theodore Roosevelt
This spring, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership raised its voice when the battle moved to Washington and the U.S. Senate passed a non-binding budget resolution that encourages Congress to sell, or transfer to, or exchange with, a state or local government any Federal land that is not within the boundaries of a National Park, National Preserve, or National Monument.
A letter issued to congress in the summer outlined the support of nearly every major conservation agency in the country to "start in earnest the process of a bipartisan and bicameral budget deal that lifts the sequester and can begin to reinvest in absolutely critical conservation funding priorities."
On October 30th, the U.S. Senate passed a two-year bipartisan budget agreement that permits an additional $80 billion in government spending to be split evenly among defense and non-defense accounts, potentially providing an increase in funding for conservation, natural resource agencies, and public access projects benefiting sportsmen.
It's a small victory for the funding of Federal public lands that have been at the center of the debate to transfer into the control of individual states.
The Land Revision Act of 1891 gave the president the authority to "set aside and reserve...any part of the public lands wholly or partly covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not." However, it did not explicitly authorize the use or development of resources on the reserved lands.
Back in the spring, amendment SA 838 was introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) to allow states to take over, transfer and sell public, federal lands, including National Forests, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas. The amendment barely passed along a near party-line, with a 51-49 vote.
Democratic Senators voted unanimously in opposition of the amendment. Three Republicans, Corey Gardner of Colorado, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee crossed the aisle to show opposition.
"Our access to public lands and outdoor heritage can disappear in this lifetime. It is our duty to ensure our future generations have the public lands to carry on our outdoor traditions."
DAN HARRISON, Big game expert, Remington Country TV; owner/partner, Colorado Mountain Adventures
The vote to pass the amendment merely serves as a symbol of how members of the U.S. Senate prioritizes the use of public lands, as budget amendments carry no weight with the laws in place. However, politicians may use the opportunity to bring attention to favored political issues and compel their colleagues to take a stance on major debates involving whether the Federal Government or States should control the use of public lands. Turning over possession to the states would remove the protections of Congress, which is the only authority with the power to sell or transfer public lands as outlined in our constitution.
Nearly half the land of the Western United States is owned by the Federal government, and according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of Western sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Meanwhile, every presidential candidate for both parties is from the Eastern United States, providing little perspective on the importance of the issue to Western voters.
"Forfeiture of our federal public lands is another one of those ideas put forth by reckless politicians looking to make a short-term splash without any serious thought to the consequences of their actions. This will lead to more gates, more industrial disturbance, and less wildlife. Pardon the frankness, but this is a downright stupid idea."
STEVEN RINELLA, Author and TV host, MeatEater
Fighting wildfires, habitat restoration, maintaining roads and trails are just some of the expenses that the Federal government carries the burden. Turning over control of public lands would also transfer the costs of managing them to the states, which would likely be offset by selling them to the highest bidder.
Once exploited for profit, these public lands would likely be closed off to sportsmen, or even destroyed in the process. You can sign the petition to conserve our Federal public lands at sportsmensaccess.org.