National Public Lands Day Is a Chance to Honor a Great American Legacy

from Wildlife Promise

These bison near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming are among the wildlife dependent on public lands. Photo by Ann Morgan

These bison near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming are among the wildlife dependent on public lands. Photo by Ann Morgan.

National Public Lands Day, Saturday, Sept. 28, is a great opportunity for those of us who enjoy the ability to hike, fish, hunt, and explore America’s great treasure of public lands to give back.  In fact, more than 175,000 Americans are expected to do just that by building trails, cleaning campgrounds, restoring riparian areas and otherwise serving as stewards of our public lands at more than 2,200 sites across the country.

Public lands are important to sustaining the country's fish and wildlife. Photo by Ann Morgan

Public lands are important to sustaining the country’s fish and wildlife. Photo by Ann Morgan

High-visibility parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are often what people think of when you mention public lands. Not nearly as high profile, but of great importance to fish and wildlife, are the lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Access to public lands is vital for hunters and anglers. Saturday is also National Hunting and Fishing Day.

The BLM oversees more than 245 million acres, mostly in the 12 Western states. The canyons, sagebrush steppe and grasslands managed by the BLM might not be designated stops in visitors’ guides, but they are crucial to the greater sage-grouse, mule deer, elk, pronghorns, migrating songbirds and cutthroat trout navigating backcountry streams. They make it possible for big-game herds to travel between the high country in summer and lower ground to seek forage in winter. They provide protected spots for wildlife birthing and mating grounds.

Bryce National Park in the winter. Photo  by Ann Morgan

Bryce National Park in the winter. Photo by Ann Morgan

The demand for access to BLM lands and the resources they hold means that not only are they home to critical wildlife habitat, but they are also used for mineral and energy development, roads and infrastructure rights of way, recreation, livestock grazing, and much more.  Adding to the stress these many uses and industrial activities place on wildlife is increased drought, wildfires and severe storm events linked to a changing climate in the American West.

The Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colo., draw people  from across the country. Photo by Ann Morgan

The Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colo., draw people from across the country. Photo by Ann Morgan

As wildlife advocates and conservationists, we expect that the federal agencies entrusted to manage our public lands will serve as good stewards.  As the NWF report “Valuing Our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding our Economy and Way of Life” shows, managing for conservation makes economic sense and contributes to our quality of life. However, the report also shows that our elected officials are frequently out of step with how much Americans value their public lands.  Proposals to sell off the lands or prevent wise stewardship constantly pop up despite Westerners’ strong preference for public ownership and conservation.

I’ve spent my career working for the sound stewardship and conservation of our public lands.  Before working with the National Wildlife Federation, I worked for state and federal land management agencies including serving as the BLM State Director in Colorado and in Nevada.  I can appreciate first hand that managing for multiple uses is a difficult and tricky business.

As tough as it was for me to juggle the demands on our public lands, it was my responsibility under federal law and policies to make sure the lands, which belong to all Americans, were managed responsibly. That meant ensuring that oil and gas drilling and mining included adequate safeguards. Sometimes it meant restricting or prohibiting activities in environmentally sensitive areas.

As a society, we are well served when our public lands are managed for clean water and air, for healthy and sustainable wildlife and fisheries populations, and with our children’s children in mind.  That means we all need to provide leadership and to step up and be stewards of the land, whether we are agency staff, volunteers, leaseholders, recreationists, or elected officials.

For information about activities on National Public Lands Day, go to PublicLandsDay.org/npld-sites.

Saturday, Sept. 28, is both National Public Lands Day and National Hunting and Fishing Day. Photo by Ann Morgan

Saturday, Sept. 28, is both National Public Lands Day and National Hunting and Fishing Day. Photo by Ann Morgan

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