The threat of losing our public lands looms large. That threat grows, passing like wildfire through halls of Congress and state capitols, spreading its invasive rhetoric in our communities. People with soft hands and expensive suits tell us “It’s just transfer. It’s not like we’re selling them.”
It’s not just transfer. And it is a big deal.
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The divestiture of public land to the States makes me angry. I mean really damn angry and the question is why? Superficially I don’t fit the demographic that supports the “let’s keep the Fed’s managing the land” side of the argument. I’m a forty-year-old white male who’s married with no kids. Instead of writing this post I should be abusing my male privilege, sitting back mulling my lack of genetic legacy and letting the place burn. Because when it comes to the future I’m guessing my knees have got just enough cartilage left in them for another twenty years of stumbling through steelhead creeks and carrying dead ungulates up and down mountains. After that, the chances are I’ll be done. And there’s no way there will be enough environmental degradation in that time frame to impact my hunting and fishing in any meaningful way.
But here’s the thing, I’m an immigrant. I chose to come to the United States and became a citizen. For me, the idea of Freedom is synonymous with public land. Where I grew up in Europe there is no concept of public lands for hunting and fishing. Private landowners control not only access but also the animals and fish that live on their estates. Hunting and Fishing are the purview of the aristocracy, merchant bankers, and hedge fund managers. If you can’t pay then you can’t play.
In the United States things are different. We, The People, own millions of acres of pristine wilderness. Wilderness we can all legally hunt and fish without having to glance over our shoulders for some irate blunderbuss wielding aristocrat. It’s a unique situation. But times they’re a changing. There’s some major fuckery going down in the Senate. The crux of the matter is a Republican move to sell off public land to the States. No big deal, right? Except it is a big deal. Land held in a State trust doesn’t guarantee public access. In fact many States forbid access without the user, that’s you, purchasing a permit or a lease. Don’t believe me? Here’s what Colorado’s State Land Board’s has to say on the matter:
“State trust lands are not open to public use except when leased to a specific party (private or public). Any interested party may apply for a recreation lease on state trust land. Common uses include hunting, fishing, hiking and horseback riding.“
It doesn’t stop there. Once the land is transferred to the States, they are compelled by legislation or their constitution to manage it for profit. If they can’t do that then they are obliged to sell it. The amount of land that has been sold off by Western States, land that they received in their Enabling acts, is staggering. Nevada alone received 2.1 million acres at statehood and has sold over 1.9 million acres. And Nevada isn’t an outlier, all the Western States have done the same and there’s no reason to think that they won’t keep selling the land they receive in the future.
So the questions shouldn’t be why the hell am I so angry about the transfer of public lands to the States? The question is why aren’t you?