Shauna Sherard
Sep 23, 2016 · 6 min read
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A note from Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited:

This is not a dispassionate report.

The threat of losing our public lands looms large. That threat grows, passing like wildfire through halls of Congress and state capitols, spreading its invasive rhetoric in our communities. People with soft hands and expensive suits tell us

“It’s just transfer. It’s not like we’re selling them.”

It’s not just transfer. And it is a big deal.

The truth is that the distance between the effort to “transfer” public lands and to sell them is very short. Many of the states that would manage these lands have already sold significant portions of their formerly public state land to the highest seller. And we, as a country, have nothing to gain by such actions.

We have nothing to gain. And everything to lose.

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Public lands are for anglers, hunters, hikers, campers, backpackers, energy producers, mountain climbers, berry pickers, ranchers, horse packers, birders, timber operators, miners, snowmobilers, ATVer’s, mountain bikers.

Nature’s enthusiasts. Advocates of open space and the guardians of our right to use it.

We are public lands. Public lands are our birthright as American citizens. And we will not give them up.

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Statistics make the point. More than 70 percent of hunters use public lands in the West. Nearly 70 percent of native trout strongholds are on public lands. A growing majority of hunters and anglers oppose the sale of public lands.

Public lands create strongholds of important fish and wildlife habitat. Public lands provide important sources of clean water for tens of millions of people. Public lands are some of the last pristine places in the country.

Sure, these things are important.

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But the bottom line is these are our lands. Yours. Mine. Ours. And a greedy few are trying to steal them from us.

Public lands are part of what define us as Americans. They are what remain of the great westward migration of the nation. They are the crucible upon which the character of the nation was formed. Our forebears left these lands to us, not so we could sell them to the highest bidder. They left them to us as an heirloom to pass on intact to the next generation. These lands are our birthright. They are a beacon of blinding and unwavering light on what it means to be free.

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Whether you call it sale, transfer, or divestiture, allowing public lands to fall from public ownership would represent the triumph of cynicism over democracy. We — you and me, all of us who own these lands by virtue of our citizenship — can make sure that never happens.

We are public lands. And we will not step aside.

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Anti-public land special interests like to say they only want to “transfer” America’s public lands to individual states, making the speculative claim that states would do a better job managing these lands.

Don’t be fooled: TRANSFER = SALE.

States have a dubious track record when it comes to selling state trust lands. Western states have already sold off tens of millions of acres and if you want to know what the future will bring, take a look at the past (spoiler: it’s not good for hunters and anglers).

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Think it can’t happen in this day and age? The Oregon Department of State Lands is currently in the process of selling off 82,500 acres of the Elliott State Forest, 70,000 acres of which were once part of the Siuslaw National Forest.

If you’re still not convinced that your public lands would be sold off and believe that they would be better managed by states, consider this: 80 percent of Colorado’s state trust lands are closed to public access for hunting and fishing. In most states there is a mandate to manage state trust lands for maximum profit — not multiple use — leaving fish, wildlife and hunters and anglers holding the short end of the stick.

If our public lands are transferred to states, they would no longer belong to “We the People”, and citizens across the country would lose the right to have a say in how our lands are managed.

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America has 640 million acres of public lands belonging to every man, woman and child in this country.

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Frank Moore

World War II hero, conservation champion, steelhead legend

“At my age, there are many places that I cannot get into anymore. But they’re there. And they will be there as long as they’re protected. It does my old heart good to think that with a little bit of common sense they’ll be there for a long, long time to come.”

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John Land LeCoq

Founder, CEO, Fishpond

“That’s the beauty of public lands. They’re available to everybody. Every class, every color, every economic perspective. It’s yours to come and play. The doors are open.”

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Jillian Lukiwski

Photographer, angler, writer and backcountry enthusiast

“With that ownership should come a sense of responsibility and a desire to maintain it and to keep it. And to keep it the way it is so it continues working and functioning unto itself.”

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Gary Berlin

Retired Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer and ATV user

“We need to become active. We need to contact our state legislators. We need to contact federal legislators and let them know exactly how valuable public lands are to the public, what it means to us, what it meant to us growing up. And more than just talking, we need to put our money where our mouth is and fund agencies and organizations who support public lands.”

As one of the 324 million public landowners in America, I call on the President and my Members of Congress to protect our public lands sporting heritage by strongly opposing any wholesale effort to sell or transfer our country’s public lands. Some of the best fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and angling opportunities available to sportsmen and women are found on these lands.

Public lands, owned by all Americans, are indispensable and we must care for them as such.

Further, I ask that Congress and the President work together to address 21st century land management challenges in ways that protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat, ensure that Federal land management agencies have the tools and funding necessary to effectively manage our lands, and uphold America’s public land hunting and fishing traditions.

Click here to tell Congress why public lands matter

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