Sportsmen to Candidates: Stand up for Public Lands

09/15/2016 10:39 pm ET Updated Sep 16, 2017

In an election season marked by deep divisions, the National Wildlife Federation and 41 other sportsmen's organizations have a suggestion for finding - literally - common ground.

Organizations from across the country have sent letters to all four presidential candidates asking them to publicly commit to keeping our national public lands in public hands. The organizations represent millions of hunters, anglers, hikers, campers, paddlers and wildlife watchers. These people use our public lands and waterways to recreate, sustain family traditions and fill their freezers.

These sportsmen and wildlife advocates, who come from all social, economic and political backgrounds, are worried about being able to keep using public lands. A small but relentless group of state and federal lawmakers keep trying to auction off our public lands, turn them over to states or undermine the federal agencies that manage the lands for all U.S. citizens.

Public Lands Under Assault

During the past two years, sportsmen's and other conservation organizations have helped defeat dozens of bills in state legislatures across the West that attempted to seize control of national public lands. On the federal level, The Center for American Progress found that members of Congress filed at least 44 bills between January 2013 and March of this year to remove or undermine protections for national parks and public lands.

Whether the attempted public-land grabs are one more iteration of the so-called "Sagebrush Rebellion" that's roiled the West for years or are efforts by an elite few to profit from our great American commons, the results of the loss of public lands would be the same. Families would be locked out of fishing, hunting, hiking and camping spots they've enjoyed for generations. Fish and wildlife populations that depend on open rangeland, pristine waterways, forests and mountain sanctuaries for migration, food and shelter would be in jeopardy. The $646 billion outdoor recreation economy that supports 6.1 million direct jobs nationwide would be threatened. Local communities and businesses that benefit from spending by hunters and anglers and visitors to national parks, monuments and forests would lose a vital and sustainable source of revenue.

American Values

Even more fundamental, we as Americans would be robbed of an incredible legacy built by political leaders of both parties and farsighted conservationists. Millions of hunters and anglers rallied at the start of the last century to rebuild wildlife populations that had been depleted by commercial exploitation and disregard for wildlife habitat. They teamed up to conserve wetlands and other habitat and financed advances in fish and wildlife management through license fees and taxes on their gear. We must preserve the gains made over the last century, and to do that you need the vast habitats provided by our public lands.

The loss of our national public lands would cut through the marrow of something that connects all Americans. The lands we all share, no matter who we are or where we live, are a uniquely American tradition. They embody our democratic principles. They keep alive that spirit of exploration and discovery that underlies our optimism and our best entrepreneurial impulses.

And they are the places we go with our families and friends to build togetherness and memories. This summer, I traveled to Yellowstone National Park and the Gallatin National Forest with my 5- and 8-year-old to introduce them to some of our nation's crown jewels. After bathing in the Lamar River and watching bison and grizzly roam from our campsite, a fundamental piece of America has now been ingrained in my children's psyche as Americans. And that American right needs to be preserved for all.

Conserving our national public lands is not a partisan issue; it's an American issue. The 42 organizations calling on all the presidential campaigns to keep these lands in public hands hope candidates remember that much more binds us together than drives us apart. The National Wildlife Federation and its state affiliates are also asking other candidates of all parties across the country to join us in publicly committing to keeping our proud public-lands heritage intact.