The West is filled with iconic landscapes, most of them public. With rod in hand, or shotgun or rifle shouldered, most of us have experienced the bounty public lands provide. And from our earliest days in the field when any body of water or forest held unseen potential, to our current, often thoughtfully planned excursions, public lands have always been there to provide opportunity.
For many, the true American dream is pursuing North America’s trophy big game on the West’s vast open spaces. It’s the epitome of DIY–a complete hunting or fishing trip in the West–and also a testament to our sporting nature. It’s all there: the planning, the practice, the pursuit, the stalk, the shot, and the harvest.
This sporting heritage is hard to quantify on a personal level. The value of days spent afield alone or with great friends and family, transcends material possessions. The value of public lands, however, can be quantified. The National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) new report, Valuing Our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life, illustrates the value and scope of our western lands and sends a clear message that these lands define the American landscape and our national identity.
The bulk of the vast open spaces are in the West, where they have generated jobs and revenue from commodity production, tourism, and recreation, including hunting and fishing. As the Western economy changes from one dominated by natural resource production to one distinguished by knowledge- and service-based industries, conserving public lands becomes increasingly important as a magnet for businesses and employees seeking a high quality of life.
The NWF report can be found at: http://www.ourpubliclands.org/sites/default/files/files/NWF_PublicLands.pdf
Several recent studies and surveys within the report found that:
- Many communities near public lands managed for conservation and recreation report higher levels of economic, population and income growth and higher property values.
- The outdoor recreation industry, including fishing and hunting, contributes nearly $650 billion to the U.S. economy and supports more than 6 million jobs. Western public lands provide recreation for people from across the country and world.
- Americans invest nearly $39 billion annually in natural resource conservation, resulting in more than $93 billion in direct economic benefits.
- Extractive, commodity-based industries generate needed materials and energy and provide jobs and revenue, but have been cyclical and have become a smaller part of the overall economy.
“Public Lands are not just where I recreate; they are also where I get my food,” said Armond Acri, a retired chemical engineer who hunts big game and waterfowl. ”I hunt on National Forest, BLM lands, State and Federal Wildlife Refuges, and State Lands. Each year I hunt grouse, ducks, geese, deer, elk, and perhaps antelope. In a few special years I have had the privilege to hunt bison and bighorn sheep. Public Land helps me feed both my body and my soul. I cannot put a price on Public Land, but I know it is one of my most valued possessions. That is why I fight to preserve the Public Lands we all own.”
Intact habitat and unspoiled backcountry are essential to maintaining fish and wildlife habitat. Proposals to dispose or devalue the land threaten a crucial part of our economy. These proposals threaten the fundamental value of ensuring that lands belonging to all Americans stay open to everyone, now and in the future.
Through the NWF report a picture of the changing West emerges. Studies show that many communities near public lands managed for conservation and recreation report higher employment, growth and income levels and higher property values. The service industries, which include health, finance and legal jobs, have diversified the economy and sustain communities when commodity-based industries experience downturns.
Industries traditionally associated with the West–logging, mining, oil and gas drilling–are still important and provide needed materials, but are often cyclical and have become a smaller part of the overall economy.
Former WON staffer Rich Holland is Fishing and Hunting Content Director for SmartEtailing.com, which offers web hosting and online commerce tools to 15,000 independent retailers affiliated with Big Rock Sports. His business, and countless others, lie at the heart of the public lands economy. But again, the value runs deeper than business.
“In the 1940s, my father was in his early teens when his family moved to Los Angeles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” said Holland. “He and his brother immediately discovered the great fishing and hunting available on public lands. That love of the outdoors was passed along to me and I still fish and hunt in many of the same places he frequented as a young man.
“On the other hand, quite a few of his favorite spots have been lost to encroaching development and government designations that prohibit the traditional activities of sportsmen,” he added. “Many of the retailers we work with are located adjacent to public lands, and not just in the West but along the Great Lakes, the Eastern Seaboard and the vast watershed of the Gulf Coast. These businesses rely on continued access to public lands for families who wish to fish and hunt.”
By conserving the cherished lands that drive economic growth, the American people and our national economy will be healthier and more sustainable for generations to come.
So what does it all mean in today’s world? The report was created to bring the importance of public lands into the national dialogue. Several Western legislatures and members of Congress have shown they are out of touch with the public’s support for keeping public lands in public hands.
The last two congressional sessions, lawmakers introduced dozens of bills seeking to diminish protection of public land, require the federal government to sell millions of acres of the land or turn the land over to the states. State legislators and congressional members behind proposals to dispose of public lands claim that westerners believe federal management of the lands constrains natural resource development, thus depriving states of the economic benefits. In fact, the measures contradict the majority of western public opinion and threaten the region’s economy, which benefits from the diverse businesses attracted and supported by conserving public lands.
As a sportsman from the West, I have fished from Alaska to the Gulf Coast, Baja to Idaho–and many places in between–almost exclusively on public lands. Certainly there is a place for the magnificent private-land opportunities in North America – but for the common man, nothing beats the landscapes his forefathers created, paid for with his tax dollars, equipment purchases and license fees, and which is waiting with open arms for him to conserve for his children and the generations to follow.
If you care about this American heritage, your access to public lands and wildlife, and your ability to share this with your children and grandchildren, then you need to inform yourself about the positions your elected officials are taking on public lands issues. Moreover, you need to communicate your positions to your elected officials. This is the essence of representative democracy and it is more important than ever in a time when big money is exerting enormous influence.
Image courtesy Lew Carpenter/NWF