In recent years there have been a lot of issues relating to wildlife, wilderness with a capital W (federally designated), and public lands in general popping up on Capitol Hill. There’s a large push among GOP operatives to transfer land from the federal government to the states, simultaneously trying to shrink state budgets. I’ll be honest, I thought that some of that was political hand-wringing from more moderate Republicans and some Green folks that I sometimes fall in with while being a gun toting critter loving Wilderness gallivanting hippy that I am. I thought it was all bullshit. Well, it ain’t. Modern journalism seems to have this problem for some stupid reason with citing their sources sometimes, especially with Clickbait titles like “The Republicans want to sell YOUR land!”. Well, have a citation (emphasis mine).
The federal government owns or controls over 640 million acres of land in the United States, most of which is in the West. These are public lands, and the public should have access to them for appropriate activities like hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. Federal ownership or management of land also places an economic burden on counties and local communities in terms of lost revenue to pay for things such as schools, police, and emergency services. It is absurd to think that all that acreage must remain under the absentee ownership or management of official Washington. Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states. We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power and influence to urge the transfer of those lands, identified in the review process, to all willing states for the benefit of the states and the nation as a whole. The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live. They practice boots-on-the-ground conservation in their states every day. We support amending the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish Congress’ right to approve the designation of national monuments and to further require the approval of the state where a national monument is designated or a national park is proposed.https://www.gop.com/platform/americas-natural-resources/ as visited 3/2/2019.
Let’s go ahead and drive that home. After all of the recent political gyrations and especially my generation of Milennials coming out en masse in support of reduced drilling, mining, and logging on public lands — and the increased desire for lands to be designated as federal Wilderness we still find ourselves doing battle against Washington. The Republican party is eating it’s own, not unlike the other side of the coin. To really hammer this home, I have a screenshot of the above passage from the GOP website. Check it out for yourself, it’s still there.
Hearing and seeing things like this and listening to folks like Jason Chaffetz, Mike Lee, and others talk about land transfer to states coupled with some states selling off state lands to cover budget deficits was a real problem to me. I grew up wandering Pennsylvania State Game Lands (state owned and managed) as well as the Allegheny National Forest (federally owned and managed), without a robust multi-owner multi-maintainer ecosystem the public loses out. The only part of land transfer that ever seems appealing to me is to obtain land with more intrinsic value in terms of wildlife, historical, or access with no net loss of land. But I’ll tell you, if you sold the park just 10 minutes from me in favor of obtaining land 4 hours from me, I’d have some strong feelings about that.
So when S47, later named the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, came through the Republican-controlled senate earlier in the year I was stunned to see the support it got, and it sailed through the House as well. Maybe I’m getting old, but I’ve become more politically active in recent years, particularly on items like Gun Control and Wildlife or Public Lands Management. I find there no reason to get into a majority of other issues, but the folks in DC appear to be needing some coaching on issues that matter.
So far I’ve flogged on the Republicans, but the Democrats are not without their issues. Now, I have a tendency to hang out at gun shows, and spend a lot of time on the trail or in the woods so I get a particular dose of folks’ polarized political views. Generally speaking the fear is that Democrats want to take all of your guns and Republicans want to chop down every tree and drill for oil on every bit of unexplored public land. Long term fights like Gun Control Reform and the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay do nothing to allay fears that this is the underlying force within politics. Well where do those who tote guns in the Wilderness fall? It remains unclear, but there is always a contingent of politicians in the middle who are willing to work together and understand what we do, and it’s our job as folks who are, as Steve Rinella has said, pro-nuance anti-bullshit to keep them in line.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to actually be politically active. It’s not as exhausting as it used to be, but you still have to be very careful and read between the lines. As I mentioned before with the clickbait titles of articles, outrage politics is a very real thing, and each party trying to get their base whipped into a frenzy in order to support the cause is quite easy with headlines that are reductive and throw nuance out the window. Organizations like the NRA, Wilderness Watch, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers all provide actions to their membership. They source their fears, provide their stance, and generally provide a means to contact your representative when you side with your group. Admittedly the positions taken by some of these groups may not show you all of the facts all of the time, so you still have to do some amount of due diligence on your part.
The groups provide a form email, Tweet, Facebook message, or call script as long as you align with their chosen stance on the issue and then you can fire and forget. But please, don’t forget. You’re often responded to on the weekends, typically a Sunday from your Senator or Representative’s office with some type of form email, but sometimes you get something like the response I got from Colorado’s Senator Cory Gardner, a real honest-to-goodness related response.
Usually what you receive is more akin to the “Your call is very important to us and will be responded to in the order it was received” that comes pre-recorded in a chipper voice in literally every call waiting queue you’ve ever been in. I’ve emailed and called one of my representatives dozens of times and received the same letter regardless of the issues. That can be frustrating, but staff do count why they were contacted, even if the response you get back is dull and broad sweeping. For fairness, these were the response letters I received in contacting my reps about the same issue, wanting to get S47 passed, I similarly contacted both representatives for the full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the permanent authorization of the Fund that was wrapped up in this bill. Needless to say I was greeted with the same form letter from Representative Buck.
A life charged by politics can be frustrating, heading from one outrage to the next with reactionary legislation that may cause more problems than it solves. It’s easy to let your eyes glaze over as dozens of talking heads fill the screen of your television set for your morning news session and become politically ambivalent. Doing so, however, is the only way to ensure that your voice is never heard, and you’re not truly being represented. So please, if you hunt, fish, or recreate in the outdoors especially on our public lands make sure you take the time to understand what pending legislation means to your hobbies and wild places.