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BY TIM BRASS
It was way back in 1996 when I first stumbled behind my dad and grandpa with a pair of waders two sizes too big and a musty hand-me-down canvas camo coat. We made it to the lone hackberry tree and then waited, and waited …
It was duck opener on a state wildlife area in western Minnesota and we arrived a good three hours early with ample time to beat the competition to “the spot” — an exercise I would repeat time and time again, almost exclusively on public lands. From the wide Army Corps mud flats in Oregon to the burly Colorado backcountry, our vast public lands are largely to thank for the many hunting experiences that made me who I am.
Looking back, I realize I was born with a silver shotgun in my hand. But where our family was rich in hunting-tradition, we were poor in land. Thus, we learned to share the land set aside generations ago for sportsmen and women of all backgrounds to hunt and fish on — our rich portfolio of public lands.
As part of the 40 percent of American hunters and who rely on public lands, I know I’m not alone in being perplexed by the growing cry by out of touch politicians to sell-off, or slyly transfer from federal to state ownership, our Western public lands as a way to ease our great nation’s growing debt.
In Montana the GOP recently approved putting a pro-federal land transfer position on their party platform. In Utah, a well-funded pro-land transfer effort led by radical county commissioners is now sweeping across the West (see
www.americanlandscouncil.org). And in Washington DC, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have included public land sell-offs in the budget and as amendments to otherwise well-supported legislation, such as the bi-partisan Sportsman’s Act.
While there’s no doubt that our debt needs to be dealt with, auctioning off the foundation of our invaluable sporting traditions is a shortsighted fix that would benefit a few at the expense of many. And transferring land from federal
to state ownership ignores the economic realities of managing these lands. Proponents of federal land transfer claim management and access will remain the same under state control. Yet, they remain silent on any plans for how things like fire prevention and road maintenance would be paid for. Firefighting costs alone would bankrupt the states forcing them to sell the lands.
As the founding principles of public trust are increasingly challenged throughout the West, our public lands are more important than ever. They remain the bedrock keeping the North American model of wildlife management as we know it — an invaluable insurance that no matter what career you chose or family you’re born into, you will always have a place to hunt and fish.
I’ll always remember that first morning in the marsh waiting beneath the hackberry tree with an unwieldy shotgun in my hand. It was the start of a lifelong passion for hunting. It’s a memory and experience future generations deserve to share.
American sportsmen and women are a fiercely independent bunch. But to defend what we love we need to unite and fight for the public land hunting and fishing opportunities we too often take for granted. We need to join forces and stop this public land grab for good. If we don’t, who will?♦
— Tim Brass is the Southern Rockies coordinator for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. You can reach him at tim@Backcountryhunters.org.