Americans often take their fantastic public resources for granted, given the fact that we can access millions of acres of public lands that include national forests, national parks, Bureau of Land Management properties, and many smaller parcels. Aside from public recreation opportunities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping, these lands often contain valuable natural minerals and energy potential, making them a prime target for development. Steve Kilpatrick is the executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and makes the case for Wyoming citizens and all Americans to be alert to potential for change in public lands:
A special day is set aside nationally each year to celebrate our public lands through such volunteer efforts as planting trees and building trails. This Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of National Public Lands Day. In Wyoming, appreciating the bounty and beauty of our public lands is an everyday occurrence. About half the Cowboy State is public lands and we do use them. A lot. Roughly 57 percent of Wyomingites hunt, fish, and participate in other wildlife-related outdoor activities. All outdoor recreation generates about $4.5 billion in spending that helps fill state coffers.
Our public lands also provide grazing for livestock and are the source of oil, gas, and coal that produce revenue for the state and local governments and generate jobs. They’re also home to the abundant fish and wildlife that draw sportsmen and women from around the globe and remind us what a privilege it is to call Wyoming home. From the rugged backcountry of the Wyoming Range to the stark beauty of the Red Desert, we all have our special places where we like to track deer, cast a line — or just go to recharge. These public lands — remote canyons, steep peaks, sagebrush steppe, and rolling grasslands — belong to all Americans. They have helped shaped our identity, contribute to local economies, and are crucial sources of clean air and water. This tremendous legacy made possible by farsighted political leaders, hunters, anglers, and dedicated citizens is more important than ever — and at the center of intense debate.
A recent National Wildlife Federation report, “Valuing Our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life,” explores proposals by several Western state legislatures to take over the federally managed lands within their borders.