Outdoorsy Folks Save the World Pt. 2: The Fight to Save Public Lands
This post is part two of a two-part series on unifying the outdoor community against those in office who wish to take public lands out of public hands and pass legislation that may be harmful to the outdoors and those who love it most.
Part 1 focused on how we, as an outdoors loving community, can better unify ourselves to be one loud, clear voice that is very easy for our government to hear. Part 2 will focus on specific legislation that threatens outdoor spaces and what we as a large, unified front can do about it.
I hope Part 1 left you thinking about how broad the term “outdoor recreation” is, and hopefully, convinced you that if you “casually” enjoy the outdoors, that you have a place in the fight in regards to public lands. Part 2 will differ slightly from Part 1 because the goal of Part 1 was to be uplifting and inspiring. The goal of Part 2 is to get everybody pissed off. Pissed people can get a lot of shit done if they know what to do with all that piss and vinegar. That being said, let’s get angry.
On January 24, 2017, Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R) introduced the bill H.R. 621. The main purpose of this bill was to direct the Secretary of the Interior to “sell certain federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.” If we translate that from Congressional legalese to English, that basically means that Congressman Chaffetz proposed that federal public lands are worthless to the federal government and should be parceled up and sold off to the highest bidder. Obviously, the bill wasn’t that straight forward with the language, but because the state governments do not have the funds or the infrastructure to maintain those amounts of land and keep them open to the public, that’s basically what would’ve happened. And while we’re on the topic of misleading language, the bill proposed to sell off only “one percent of federal lands” in the aforementioned states. Doesn’t sound too serious right? How much land could one percent really be? Well actually, one percent of federal land out West equates to nearly three and a half million acres. That’s like selling off Connecticut.
Another bill that goes hand in hand with H.R. 621 is H.R. 622. H.R. 622 aims to transfer policing of federal lands from the US Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management law enforcement agencies to existing local law enforcement. By privatizing the land AND by terminating the law enforcement arms of the US Forest Service and BLM, H.R. 621 and 622 made it all but impossible for states to do anything OTHER than sell of the land, ripping it out of the hands of the tax paying outdoorists who love it most.
However, as a testament to what a bunch of pissed off outdoorsy folks can accomplish, there was a HUGE backlash to these bills, especially H.R. 621, from the general public (hikers, sportsmen, hunters, fishers, snowboarders, bird watchers, dirt bags like me) as well as several celebrities, athletes, and outdoor retailers. This swift and unwavering opposition of H.R. 621 ultimately led Congressman Chaffetz to kill his own bill on February 1st of this year. The Congressman issued a statement on social media regarding this bill saying, “I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands. Groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message. I hear you and H.R. 621 dies tomorrow” and he included the hashtag #keepitpublic.
To kill that bill, it took opposition from both Democrats AND Republicans (or whatever other party affiliations). This was kind of the point of Part 1: public lands/outdoor recreation is something that we all have the right to enjoy and public lands should remain in public hands. This is the power that we have when we put our love of outdoor spaces ahead of our own personal, political notions. We can get it done.
But okay so, if H.R. 621 was ultimately killed and 3.3 million acres of public lands are NOT going to be sold off after all, what’s the point of this post? The point is, federal lands are constantly under siege and we as the outdoors loving community need to remain vigilant. Even though H.R. 621 was dealt with handily, there are still several other bills in the House and Senate right now that threaten public lands including H.R. 622. This is but a battle in the war against public lands. Some of the other threats to public lands I mentioned include:
- S. 33 which threatens the Antiquities Act by making it necessary to have Congressional approval to designate a national monument on public land along with many other restrictions for designating national monuments.
- S. 132 which limits the restrictions of public use of national monuments
- S. 22 and H.R. 243 which directly threaten the Antiquities Act as is applies to the state of Nevada – these bills would prohibit the establishment of national monuments in Nevada except by express authorization of Congress.
- H.R. 232 which transfers public lands to states for the purpose of timber production (logging) and other purposes as states see fit.
There are other concerning pieces of legislation being introduced all the time. It’s important for us, as an outdoor community, to be privy to these things so that we can do what we’ve already successfully done with H.R. 621 and keep those public lands in our hands to use and love.
Unfortunately, a lot of these specific bills aren’t getting a whole lot of attention, but the shit storm surrounding Outdoor Retailer, the huge, twice-yearly outdoor trade show, definitely is. If you follow legislation surrounding the outdoors at all, you’ve probably heard of Outdoor Retailer and some of the backlash against the trade show being hosted in Salt Lake City, Utah as opposed to somewhere, ya know, without government members trying to sell of public lands at every chance they get. *shade* But really, how the boycott started involves a national monument in Utah called Bears Ears and it’s a great example of how much weight we have to throw around.
Towards the beginning of February, Utah Governor, Gary Herbert, signed a resolution asking the Trump administration to abolish the Bears Ears National Monument – a chunk of more than a million acres of land in southwestern Utah that Obama designated a national monument just before leaving office. But one national monument doesn’t really seem like a good reason to yank the largest outdoor recreation trade show out of Salt Lake City, right? Let me put it to you this way: OR generates tens of millions of tourism dollars that flood Utah’s economy. The state gets so much revenue from all of the people traveling to this event, eating at the restaurants around Salt Lake City, booking hotels, exploring nearby parks, etc. This revenue should be something that Utah’s Governor and other elected officials hold dear. Without all these outdoorsy folks descending on Salt Lake City every year, these dollars simply would not exist in Utah. So it’s extra fucked up that Utah’s elected officials don’t think twice about selling off public lands. This is the life blood of all of those people and retailers that come to this state and yet, Utah’s government has made it abundantly clear that they don’t care. So why then does Utah deserve those dollars? The retailers and would-be attendees who have vowed to boycott OR unless it moves somewhere else say that Utah absolutely does not deserve their dollars. Patagonia and several other retailers have backed out of OR and OR director, Marisa Nicholson, has said that options for moving OR out of Salt Lake City are being looked at.
If you were under the impression that the oil and gas industries are the only ones with big dollars to sling around as they please, let this be a lesson. We have dollars and a seat at the table too. So, sure, for the bills I listed above, call your congressional representatives. Voice your concern for the future of public lands. Go to town halls. Send emails. Your elected officials are supposed to be working for you, so hold them accountable. All of those methods do work, but you know what sends the biggest message? Yep. It’s dollars. The reason why OR is such a hot button issue right now? Serious coin is on the line for Utah. We are letting them know that by selling their souls to oil and gas that they done fucked up.
This is how everything I said in Part 1 comes into play: party affiliation, race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion, whatever the hell else aside, if you love the outdoors in whatever adventurous or not so adventurous ways you love these spaces, this is where we acknowledge those differences, but ultimately choose to pick up our pitchforks and torches (and wallets) for one common goal.
Save our lands. Keep them public. Keep the rules enforced by federal agencies who have the resources and scope to maintain order in these places. Save these national monuments that so many people cherish. If we allow these lands to be sold off for short sighted, unsustainable economic gain, what will we have left to give our children? What kind of legacy are we leaving behind?
If you feel overwhelmed by all of this, or if you feel marginalized by the outdoor community for some of the reasons I mentioned in Part 1, this is your chance to get in there and start a conversation with a broader community. If we can bond together for the one common goal to save the world, then we can definitely come together and start tackling these glaring issues like diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors (or lack thereof). We can talk about what it means to have sustainable grazing and hunting practices on public lands. We can talk about renewable energy since we’ve voiced our concerns with running oil pipelines through the spaces we love. All of this is possible if we can see the common goal – if we can see the forest through the trees (literally and figuratively).
And honestly, even if you don’t consider yourself outdoorsy and you think this post is just an insane political rant that you don’t really want to hear, but somehow you made it to this point so you’re still reading, IT IS UNETHICAL FOR YOU NOT TO CARE.
Even if you live in the most urban spaces of this country, you benefit from the things we’re fighting for: clean air, clean water, renewable energy, the freedom to enjoy these spaces if you choose, the American birthright to the parts of our country that remain wild and connect us to our past.
I urge you for the sake of our world, for our secret camping spots, for our favorite trails, for the most beautiful spot to see the leaves change in the fall, for the 30 foot tall Saguaro cactus that blew your mind when you stood next to it, for our children and their children and so on, please give a shit. Hell, give two shits. Pay attention to what your reps are voting on. Save their numbers in your phone. Call them when our public lands are under siege and let them know that the outdoors community rakes in a ton of tourism dollars and they’re on the verge of losing those dollars because we go outside, we pay attention, and we are HELLA FREAKING PISSED.
Pay attention. Speak up. Save the world.