Public Lands Inheritance

All of these places were preserved for future generations because selfless people stood up against powerful, moneyed interests and thought about what America should look like long after they were gone…

There are very few places on earth that I love more than Oregon’s vast and amazing public lands. One of them is my grandfather’s ranch.

Filled with rolling hills, scattered oak, and vistas that stretch across the Santa Lucia Range that shelters the Salinas Valley from the wild Big Sur coast, the ranch is a special place.

When my grandfather died in 2013, the ranch was passed on to me and my siblings. We were entrusted with the stewardship of lands that have been in my family for six generations.

When I think about the legacy that my grandfather has left my family, I can’t help but think about the special lands that we all own as Americans. Oregonians are so lucky to live amongst the towering old-growth forests, rushing rivers, and silhouetted peaks found in Oregon’s national forests and other publicly-owned lands. And that’s just here in my home state.

Just pause for a moment to think about the richness of the natural legacy we inherited from the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall, Mardy Murie, and so many others.

The timelessness of the Grand Canyon. The remote solitude of Alaska’s wild frontier. The redwoods! The Everglades!

All of these places were preserved for future generations because selfless people stood up against powerful, moneyed interests and thought about what America should look like long after they were gone.

And then came the Bundys. Twisting history, perverting the constitution, and breaking the law — a slap dash crew of “patriots” took over a National Wildlife Refuge and held it (and the small community next door) hostage for 41 days.

Of course, the armed occupiers represent the most extreme face of a modern day land grab movement that has been intensifying for several years. But they want the same thing that land grabbers and industrial tycoons wanted over 100 years ago — to profit off of lands that should be protected as a natural inheritance for future generations.

In a February 2016 issue, High Country News hit the nail on the head. These anti-public lands zealots and the militias that back them up represent a genuine Sagebrush Insurgency. They aren’t just attacking the ideals of public ownership of land, but the very foundations of democracy and the rule of law. Sadly, the links between armed militias, right-wing politicians, and corporate cash (read: Koch Brothers!) are well-documented and extensive. The virus is spreading. And it is well-funded, has little use for the truth, and no compunction about using fear and intimidation to achieve its goals.

As usual, that’s where we all step in. Average citizens who love public lands and should realize that we can no longer take them for granted.

After all, a natural legacy doesn’t leave itself. People have to fight for it.

Sean Stevens is the Executive Director at Oregon Wild, a statewide environmental organization that works to protect and restore our wildlands, wildlife, and waters as an enduring legacy for future generations.

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