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Celebrating National Public Lands and Hunting and Fishing Day
This past Saturday was National Public Lands Day and National Hunting and Fishing Day. For those of us who enjoy and rely on public lands, it was a day to celebrate and give back.
Public lands are the Crown Jewels of the United States. From the Appalachian Trail and Acadia National Park to the Colorado backcountry and the Arizona deserts, these lands are the fabric of our history, traditions and culture, and offer unparalleled access to some of the finest outdoor recreation in the world. We hunt and fish here, we camp with our families, we live in towns specifically due to their proximity to public lands.
We are extremely privileged to have such a wonderful public estate and we often take it for granted. We’re used to packing up the truck with kids, dogs and camping gear and heading off into the woods without questioning whether there is somewhere to go, how much it might cost or who might put a stop to our trip. This experience however, is very uniquely American.
For example, in much of Europe, if you’d like to hunt a deer, you’d have to pay a landowner for access to the land and then pay by the pound for any meat you’d like to retain. Public lands are more like city parks, tiny islands surrounded by a sea of private land.
Only in America do we have millions of acres of public lands, and believe in and enforce the Public Trust Doctrine. The Public Trust Doctrine guarantees access to public lands and waterways, and that wild populations of fish and wildlife are owned by the public, thus ensuring the right to hunt, fish, camp, hike, boat, etc.
Along with this immense privilege comes an obligation to protect and defend these prized landscapes and our ability to access them. Until fairly recently our obligation has required very little of us. We could simply relax, knowing that at any moment we could saunter out into millions of acres of public lands to enjoy the gift of green forests, wild desert and backcountry streams that our forefathers set aside for our enjoyment and prosperity.
Protect Public Lands
We are now at a crossroads, however. The very idea of public lands that belong to all Americans is under attack. Special interests and politicians from across the land, particularly in the West, are working to transfer lands from our public estate into State and private ownership, which would undoubtedly result in loss of access, degraded landscapes and diminished opportunity. These efforts have arisen from a desire to reduce regulations that protect lands and waters and allow public input, but are cumbersome to extractive interests. One only needs to study State lands for a short time to understand that granting or retaining public access is not the goal of their management.
We are now faced with an uncertain future, a future where our children or grandchildren may not be able to grow up hiking, fishing, camping and partaking in pastimes that perfectly personify freedom and liberty. If we do not collectively take our obligation seriously, we are in jeopardy of losing our privilege.
So with National Public Lands and Hunting and Fishing Day fresh in our minds we should remember and act on our obligation.
Surely, on this special day, you did your part to enjoy, protect, enhance, and defend your public lands. Perhaps you took part in a service project, took a hike or went fishing. Hopefully, while you were there, you reminded yourself how lucky we all are to enjoy a vast, diverse public lands estate and made a commitment to protecting this uniquely American privilege.
Quite likely, you also came back refreshed and ready to work, defending against the notion that public lands are, or ever will be, something we’re willing to live without.
And, if you didn’t do any of this, go ahead and do so now.
Then set meetings with decision makers, teach a kid to camp or fish, write letters and get engaged. Immerse yourself in spreading the gospel of public lands and their importance to our way of life, our traditions and our national heritage.
The future of our public lands is depending on you.