For Sale? Legislation is pending that could take away the freedom of enjoying places like Utah’s San Rafael Swell.
We try not to get overly political in this magazine. In fact, our publisher warned me a few months ago that “people get crazy during an election year.” Well the crazy in Arizona and Utah has reached a point that I don’t feel I can ignore. And if you are like us and enjoy getting outside and playing on public lands, you shouldn’t ignore it either. Both state legislatures have introduced bills attempting to wrest federal lands—33 millions acres of the public lands, wilderness and roadless areas in Utah alone—from the federal government and put them under state control. These are the places where we hike bike, run, climb or just enjoy silence.
That doesn’t sound like the end of the world. In fact, to those who believe in stronger local land management, it sounds reasonable. The problem is that those bills are backed by big extractive industries working in cahoots with state-level politicians who want simply to get around federal regulations that protect these lands. Again, that may not sound like a bad thing to some (though it sounds horrible to me, certainly) during a recession. It gets worse. Since states don’t have the budgets to properly manage these lands, they plan to then sell them off to private owners.
Now, one of the most beautiful things about our public lands is that they are a place where democracy works. They belong to us all—hunters, mountain bikers, birdwatchers. And that is not socialism, despite the infantile claims of TV and radio talking heads who don’t even understand the meaning of the words they use. In fact, take a look at the environmental records and public lands systems of former communist countries. Take a look at the alarming rate at which China is trashing the planet. I would even posit that the greater the environmental/conservation movements and the better the system of public lands are in a country, the more democratic that country is. In the U.S., we have the greatest system of public lands on the planet. Those wild places are an essential part of who we are. To give that gift to multi-million dollar corporations and then to private owners who will fence them off and keep you out is to snuff out that part of us that goes beyond our lives as everyday office drones.
Sometimes, I worry that I have wasted my life by dedicating it to, well, play. But it is so essential for us to get out, to still have the chance to explore and challenge ourselves in the wild landscapes of North America. More so, wild places need to exist for their own sake. And I feel compelled to advocate for the continuing protection of our public lands. This issue should go beyond politics. There is a lot of room to debate how we use and manage public lands. But I can’t see it being anything but a loss all around (even for private owners who would buy off chunks of what was once our collective legacy) to have no public lands to debate about.
This is not a new threat. For decades, populist “Sagebrush Rebellions” have clamored to give federal lands to states so that protections could be removed. Back in the 1980s, an Idaho cowboy and conservationist named Ted Trueblood warned, “They’re fixin’ to take your land.” Because it is our land, all of ours. Don’t let them take it from you.