I grew up in Colorado. And even now that I live in Idaho (which is today what Colorado was like when I was a kid), I consider Colorado “home.”
As a kid, my grandfathers trucked me, my brothers and my cousins into the mountains, where I learned to fly fish on small backcountry creeks on public land. We’d venture up old mining roads or logging roads as far as the old motorhome would go, and then we’d get out and wander up hiking trails. With years of knowledge contained within the heads of two old men, we’d almost always arrive at some glistening mountain stream chock full of naive wild trout.
And chances are, we wouldn’t see another soul.
I’ve revisited those special places, both physically and in my head, many times. Those places–the smells of aspen and spruce, the sound of running water and the numbing cold of mountain snowmelt around my ankles–protect the best memories of my grandfathers. And you can’t put a price tag on those memories.
Of course, when you grow up with public land as a playground–and most that playing took place on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service–it’s easy to take for granted that these places will always be there.
In Colorado, though, it would appear that some state legislators don’t share the same values as those in the state who use public lands to fish, hunt, hike or camp. There’s an effort afoot by some legislators to force the federal government to cede all 22 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land in the state to the Colorado state government, where it would be controlled by the state land board. Under that governing body, it could be leased to private entities for private use … or sold outright.
And, sadly, this isn’t the only effort to privatize land that belongs to every American by birthright. A similar effort is farther along in Utah and another was just pushed back in Arizona. Another is being threatened in Idaho, which can boast the most backcountry public land in the Lower 48.
Supposedly, the notion from state legislators is that public land, in trying economic times, has the potential to generate income for state coffers if it’s leased… or sold.
What I think these folks are missing is the fact that public lands already generate revenue, albeit in most cases, not directly to state coffers. Instead, these lands directly benefit a growing recreation industry, and an existing economy that is irreplaceable–and renewable–to rural communities all over the country that can boast the availability of public lands to all who visit. Just wander past any mom-and-pop storefront in rural Wyoming in September and count the bright orange “welcome hunters” signs in the windows if you doubt the claim.
These lands indirectly push revenue for motels and gas stations, restaurants, fly shops and sporting goods retailers and whitewater rafting outfitters.
On a higher level, they are the reason many of us spend the better part of a January Saturday wandering through Bass Pro Shops or flipping through the pages of a Cabela’s catalog. They’re reason we’ll spend a day at a sportsmen’s expo or a boat or RV show.
I wonder how business would be for the recreation industry if the land many of us use to put the things we buy or the time we invest no longer belonged to the American public.
Efforts to privatize public lands are short-sighted and selfish. Stand up for your land. Push back against the effort to take it out from under you.