|Enjoying our birthright.|
Our country's vast network of public lands is the envy of the world--no other nation bestows upon its citizens the free-and-clear ownership of real property. Sure, it comes with stipulations--it belongs to all of us, so a mutual respect for the resource is necessary and largely understood. But it's ours. We can step foot upon it any time we wish. We can spend weeks on it without paying a dime. We can hunt, fish and gather. We can extract from it, hopefully in moderation.
It's ours. Our birthright.
But there are efforts afoot to change that. Already, the Utah Legislature has demanded control over federally owned land within its boundaries, and other western states are considering the same thing. In Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Arizona, extremist politicians are making waves, demanding state control over federal land, and proposals are in place that would allow states to sell as much as 5 percent of their public lands to private interests to fund education.
The latter proposal is gaining traction as America's students continue to fall behind other global powers when it comes to education. And this is despite taxpayer support for education that is unequaled on the planet. The idea that selling public lands to pay for education (and to give taxpayers a break) simply changes the source of the cash--for a finite period, mind you. It does nothing to really address education.
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop said just last week that royalties from public lands in Utah aren't enough to appropriately fund public education, and that state management of public lands is the answer--and state management likely means selling hunks of our public land to private interests to raise quick money. Selling public land is the least-creative method to increase education funding there is. It's a one-time, short-term boon to government bank accounts. That's it.
You want to get creative? Then work with the feds to up those royalties ... to demand market value for oil and gas leases, wind and solar leases, logging permits, mining permits and the like. Charge user fees for high-impact recreational uses, like off-road vehicle use or dispersed camping--we should consider such fees our "time share" maintenance dues. Or end the subsidies and the tax breaks for billion-dollar companies that trash public lands while extracting energy and minerals from beneath it. Selling it off? Would you sell stock in a company for pennies on the dollar when so much growth potential exists? Would you collect a short fortune now, or tall fortune in perpetuity?
Remember, too, that the outdoor recreation industry has a significant impact on the economy--and, particularly here in the West, access to the abundance of public land is the financial heartbeat of that sector.
'Our public-land policy has for its aim the use of the public land so that it will promote local development by the settlement of home makers; the policy we champion is to serve all the people legitimately and openly, instead of permitting the lands to be converted, illegitimately and under cover, to the private benefit of a few. Our forest policy was established so that we might use the public forests for the permanent public good, instead of merely for temporary private gain.'
- President Theodore Roosevelt, Jan. 22, 1909
Unfortunately, Bishop's not alone in this short-sighted and irresponsible plan to rid the government of publicly owned land--the Wyoming Legislature could consider a similar demand of the government during its coming session, and radical lawmakers from all over the West are taking up the torch. Call it a revitalized Sagebrush Rebellion if you like, but it amounts to a land grab, a rebellion of the establishment, not from it. And if the states get their hands on federal land, the first inclination will be to sell it out from under us to pay for this, that or the other thing. And who do you think will buy this land? Chalk another one up for the Oligarchy.
It's not their land. It belongs to every single American, by right-of-birth (thank you, again, Teddy Roosevelt). As an angler and a hunter--and a father who values time outdoors with my kids in places where they can explore and experience the wonders of this world without being beholden to some lord of the manor--I take my responsibility as a public landowner seriously.
And so did my grandparents, who introduced me and my brothers and cousins to the outdoors--they taught us the basics, and let us explore. They valued the places we visited as much as they valued the land on which their homes stood. The connections they forged with these places was every bit as intimate as the connections they had to the brick and mortar of their houses themselves. They loved the campsites and the rivers and the vistas--and the journeys to get to all of them. They taught us to appreciate them, too.
These are values my kids will one day share with theirs, if I have anything to say about it. They'll appreciate their birthright, and like me, they'll work to make sure it stays intact.
As some of the more "American" goals (like an affordable, high-quality education, home ownership and upward mobility) become less attainable thanks to the gap between the rich and the rest of us, the ownership of public land mustn't become the next casualty of our country's eroding social structure. It must not be put up for sale to industry or "disposed of" to make one-time dents in state budgets.
Remember, it's our land. We have a say, and it's time we used it.
You can sell my birthright ... when you drag my corpse from it. Got it?