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The State of our public lands? In the bull’s eye

As the president started the new year with his annual assessment of the state of the union, sportsmen and women and other outdoor enthusiasts are looking around to get the lay of their public lands.

“The shadow of crisis has passed and the State of the Union is strong,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday.

The state of our public lands is strong. More than 600 million acres -- national forests, parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management lands -- are sources of pristine air and water, are home for fish and wildlife, provide places to fish, hunt, hike, camp and reconnect to the natural world. Public lands play a big role in the yearly $646 billion outdoor recreation industry.

But our public lands are in the bull’s eye. Legislators in states throughout the West have launched efforts to take over national public lands or explore ways to do it. Proponents claim the states can manage the lands better but gloss over how much it will cost to assume stewardship of millions of acres. They dodge arguments that state takeover of public lands – lands owned by all Americans – inevitably will lead to  big sell-offs of the choicest parcels, many of which provide some of the best hunting, fishing and sightseeing in the country.

At the congressional level, some federal lawmakers have unleashed a flurry of proposals to speed up logging, mining and drilling of public lands, roll back safeguards for our wildlife, air and water and ignore the public will by choking off funding for conservation programs.

Sportsmen and women are fighting back. The New Mexico Wildlife Federation has held meetings throughout the state and plans  a rally at the state capitol Jan. 29 in Santa Fe. The Montana Wildlife Federation and other groups are organizing a rally Feb. 16 at the capitol in Helena and are asking people to sign a petition urging legislators to oppose takeover efforts. Colorado hunters and anglers will gather Feb. 25 at the capitol in Denver. More demonstrations and events are planned in Wyoming and across the region.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development said in a recent statement that the state of our public lands – and the fish, wildlife and recreation supported by them – is crucial to the state of our economy and national identity.

“As the new Congress gets down to work, hunters and anglers remain committed to finding common-ground solutions for responsibly managing the natural resources that are so important to the economy and our way of life,” said Corey Fisher, energy team lead for Trout Unlimited. “Legislation that would maintain sportsmen’s access to public lands, fully fund conservation programs and enact a framework for more efficient, responsible public land renewable energy development are potential bipartisan accomplishments.”

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado stressed the importance of public lands when he testified this week against a proposal that would undermine our proud tradition of conserving public lands for the good of all Americans.

Coloradans, and all Americans, love their public lands and want to see more done to protect them,” Bennet said.

Sportsmen and women are determined to ensure that happens.

About the Author
Judith Kohler

Judith Kohler is the regional communications manager for the National Wildlife Federation in Boulder, Colo. Before joining NWF in 2011, she covered the environment, energy, politics and general news stories for The Associated Press in Colorado and Wyoming.

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