An American Issue: Protecting Public Lands for Fish and Wildlife

In the months before the election, the National Wildlife Federation launched a campaign calling candidates running for office to support our wild public lands. What happened?

It worked! Tens of thousands of Americans, plus 41 sporting and wildlife organizations joined in demanding that public lands stay in public hands. Politicians from both parties also listened – and made the commitment for public lands. That includes the Trump and Clinton campaigns and Republican and Democratic U.S. Senators and Representatives.

These commitments are especially important after this month’s elections. A growing number of state and federal lawmakers have repeatedly tried to dismantle our public lands heritage through large-scale sales or transfers. Between January 2013 and March 2016, members of Congress filed at least 44 bills to remove or undermine protections for our national parks and public lands.

But thanks to these commitments from the President-Elect on down, it’s clear that both parties support keeping public lands in public hands.

There’s good reason for that bipartisan support. Public lands – from our national parks to wildlife refuges to national forests belong to all of us. Regardless of wealth or position, race or religion, they guarantee that we all have equal access to our national treasures and to wildlife. Our public lands are a core of our democracy and what makes us American.

bald eagle
Public lands provide crucial habitat for fish and wildlife. Photo by National Wildlife photo contest entrant Joseph Giitter.

Our public lands provide crucial habitat for fish and wildlife. Without them, we would be locked out from incredible landscapes, barred from hiking, wildlife-watching, biking, fishing, hunting, and exploring many of these national treasures. The outdoor recreation industry, which generates $646 billion annually and supports 6.1 million direct jobs nationwide, would suffer. Local communities that benefit from visits to our public lands would lose a vital, sustainable source of revenue.

Our wild public lands and waters, from remote backcountry to rolling grasslands to the headwaters of cool mountain streams, nurture and sustain some of our most treasured wildlife from bison to grizzly bears to brook trout and butterflies, and sustain our crucial connections to our natural world.

As National Wildlife Federation’s CEO, Collin O’Mara says, “Our national public lands embody the best of our democratic ideals, providing common ground for people from all walks of life to hunt, fish, hike, paddle, camp and watch wildlife. Conservation of our fish and wildlife, waterways and great landscapes is not a partisan issue: it’s an American issue.”

This common ground – our public lands – can carry us forward. These remarkable landscapes protect wildlife, help ensure clean air and water, and provide for recreational opportunities for all Americans.

The support demonstrated throughout this campaign shows the possibilities for ensuring this legacy of public lands conservation continues and thrives. The National Wildlife Federation will continue to ask for commitments from elected officials to protect our public lands – and build on the groundswell of bipartisan support for them, bringing us into a new year, and a future where public lands will always remain protected, for all Americans.

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Published: November 16, 2016