What Would Presidential Candidates Do To Protect America’s Public Lands?

Land Tawney & his daughter fishing on Rock Creek
Mitt Romney has launched Sportsmen for Romney, following Barack Obama’s Sportsmen for Obama effort. But will either campaign speak directly to the concerns of America’s outdoor enthusiasts?

I called Land Tawney, the National Wildlife Federation’s senior manager for sportsmen leadership based in our Northern Rockies and Prairies Regional Center in Missoula, MT, for his take. “Sportsmen are a valued constituency, both during and after the election season, and I look forward to reading Mitt Romney’s plan to address our concerns,” Land began. “But a top issue Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will need to address is their thoughts on selling public lands. Exactly what would that mean for America’s public lands, the fish and wildlife that live there, and the hunters and anglers that rely on them?”

Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, wrote to Rep. Ryan last week asking him to clarify some recent comments on public lands:

As an organization deeply committed to the conservation interests of America’s hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts we appreciated your statement in an October 1 interview with Outdoor Life magazine that “we need to open up public lands for access for hunting.” Public lands are critical part of America’s national heritage, and access for all Americans is a conservation legacy that provides everyone the opportunity to hunt and fish.  Public lands also play a critical role supporting local economies: in 2011, 13.7 million hunters spent $33.9 billion and 33.1 million anglers spent $22 billion.

We are concerned however that in another portion of the interview you seemed unfamiliar with the provisions of your budget proposal which call for liquidating millions of acres of America’s public lands, resulting in less access for sportsmen.

While your statement to Outdoor Life indicated this was more about “buildings and assets like cars … [and] vacant properties,” your budget proposal specifically touts legislation (HR 1126) introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) as a model to sell federal lands to generate revenue. In fact, HR 1126 would force the government to sell off 3.3 million acres in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming to the highest bidder.

Four in five sportsmen want more access to public lands that to date have been inaccessible, according to a recent poll of sportsmen conducted by Chesapeake Beach Consulting for the National Wildlife Federation. Given a choice between protecting America’s public lands and prioritizing the production of oil, gas and coal, 49% want to protect public lands and just 35% choose fossil fuel production. Will the campaigns confront these issues? So far, the presidential debates have ducked conservation almost entirely.

Read more about where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney stand on conservation in National Wildlife magazine’s special report.