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The recent efforts to turn public lands back to the states is a far-fetched, and blatant attack on American values. Our public lands are both a legacy handed to all Americans by great leaders of the past, and an essential, critical value to the generations that follow. The public lands that we recreate upon feed our collective soul, nurture and protect the wildlife and habitat within and build jobs related to a sustainable resource intrinsic to our very existence. The price for clean air, water and land is tied to this basic asset within our borders.

A growing number of Western states and lawmakers, both state and federal, are calling for the take-over or sale of public lands. Sportsmen and other outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts oppose attempts to dismantle our public-lands heritage and will fight to see that our public lands stay in public hands.

Surveys and reports, including a recent one by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, show that more than two-thirds of hunters in 11 Western states depend on public lands for all or part of their hunting. Without access to public lands, many of us wouldn’t be able to go hunting or fishing.

Getting rid of our public lands would be a serious blow to our state and national economies. In Colorado, outdoor recreation contributes more than $13 billion to the economy. Nationwide, it generates $646 billion in consumer spending and directly supports 6.1 million jobs.

These schemes for states to take over public lands are a solution in search of a problem. Survey after survey show that Coloradans and other Westerners love their public lands. This year, a Colorado College poll found that three-fourths of voters in the Rockies oppose selling public lands to balance the budget and nearly all of them visited public lands in the past year.

Public lands belong to all Americans. They’re our birthright. They were conserved for us and future generations by people from both political parties and all kinds of backgrounds. We owe it our children and grandchildren to fight to keep public lands in public hands so they can enjoy the benefits we have.

States that want to seize public lands say they can do a better job of managing them, but what happens when they figure out they don’t have the money and other resources? The states will start selling our public lands to the highest bidders and we’ll all be the losers.

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The South Platte at Elevenmile Canyon, Colorado. Photo by Rich Holland

The South Platte at Elevenmile Canyon, Colorado. Photo by Rich Holland

Former Interior Secretary Salazar, NWF CEO and affiliates say keep public lands public

Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined Collin O’Mara, the National Wildlife Federation’s CEO and president, and business and conservation leaders Thursday to speak out for conserving America’s public lands and against attempts to sell or get rid of the lands that sustain fish and wildlife populations as well as hunting, fishing and the country’s multi-billion-dollar outdoor recreation industry.

The National Wildlife Federation’s 49 state affiliates have unanimously approved a resolution that calls for keeping public lands in public hands and opposes large-scale exchanges, sales or giveaways of federally managed lands. This week, 41 of the state affiliates sent a letter to the Republican National Committee asking that it rescind a resolution adopted this year that urges Congress to turn over public lands to the Western states that want them.

The affiliates noted that public lands help grow America’s economy by supporting an outdoor recreation industry that generates $646 billion in economic benefit annually and supports 6.1 million jobs. The organizations stressed that wise stewardship of the lands that belong to all Americans is a long tradition that cuts across political and social lines.

Shadow Mountain Lake, Colorado. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Shadow Mountain Lake, Colorado. Photo by Lew Carpenter

“Despite the economic importance of federal lands to wildlife and people, they remain under constant threat. In recent years, several state legislative proposals have called on the federal government to transfer ownership of public lands to the states, which in turn would pass them off to private interests in many instances,” the organizations wrote.

The Interior Department’s latest annual economic report shows the agency’s programs and activities generated $360 billion in benefits and supported more than 2 million jobs nationwide in fiscal 2013. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar started preparing the reports in 2009 to highlight the department’s contributions to the U.S. economy.

“The nation’s public lands are the birthright and priceless heritage of all Americans. Our policymakers and elected leaders should be working to preserve and enhance these multiple use economic engines,” said Salazar, who served as Interior secretary from 2009 to 2013.

The National Wildlife Federation is on the front lines of conserving fish and wildlife and the places where they live, and in large part those places are public lands, O’Mara said.

“The National Wildlife Federation, our 49 state affiliates, and four million members and supporters strongly support keeping our public lands in public hands. As a diverse federation of hunters, anglers, hikers, wildlife watchers, and nature lovers, we are united in our passion for protecting public lands, which provide amazing outdoor experiences for all Americans, landscapes for deer, elk, pronghorn, and bison herds to migrate, forests for grizzlies, bighorn sheep and lynx, and critical habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 1,000 species of fish and 250 reptile and amphibian species. For more than a century, protecting land for the benefit all outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife has been an essential element of the American experience—and we must pass on this legacy to future generations,” O’Mara said.

The wildlife federations have worked through the years to conserve the public lands necessary for fish and wildlife and hunting and fishing and will continue to do, said David Chadwick, Montana Wildlife Federation executive director.

“Every few decades this idea of selling off public land pops up, and public opinion always beats it back. Meanwhile, the challenges facing our national forests and other public lands have continued to grow,” Chadwick added. “We need our elected officials to quit wasting time on these speculative, ideological proposals and instead take action on the common-sense, collaborative efforts under way all over the country to improve land management.”

Hanging Lake, Colorado. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Hanging Lake, Colorado. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Surveys and polls show overwhelming support for public lands among voters in the West, the target of many of the drives to dispose of public land. That support extends beyond the region to other parts of the country where hunters, anglers and other wildlife enthusiasts enjoy the backcountry, rivers and forests, said Tim Gestwicki, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation CEO.

“Sportsmen and women and wildlife watchers in the Southeast value our public lands, from the Appalachians to the coast. We also value the Western lands and their abundant wildlife, big open spaces and great hunting and fishing. We stand with our fellow sportsmen and women in defending public lands and protecting the special places that offer some of the best of what this country is about,” Gestwicki said.

“Sportsmen are on the front line in this effort to prevent the transfer of federal public lands. These are the very lands where we hunt and fish, and where we pass on those traditions to our kids. The idea that somehow our federal public lands are dispensable is an affront to all hunters and anglers, and we are determined to protect these lands for ourselves and for future generations,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

America’s national parks, monuments and rugged landscapes are not only a draw for people in this country, but across the world, said Peter Metcalf, CEO and president of Black Diamond, Inc., a leading manufacturer of outdoor sports equipment and clothing.

“No other country in the world has the public land infrastructure that we have. There’s such a richness of landscape and wildlife. Our public lands and outdoor recreation and lifestyles are coveted by people around the world and are a draw for communities and employers competing for new businesses and workers,” Metcalf said. “Black Diamond’s brand is synonymous with these iconic landscapes that capture the imagination of people all over the world. In addition they are a source of inspiration for our designers, engineers and marketing people.”

Additional Resources: `Valuing our Public Lands: Safeguarding our Economy and Way of Life,’

National Wildlife Federation affiliates’ resolution on transfer of public lands.

NWF affiliates’ letter on transfer, sale of public lands.

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Populations trends are declining for mule deer and pronghorn antelope herds on both sides of the Colorado-Wyoming border and herds may not be able to fully recover unless federal and state agencies act to protect core habitats, according to a report released last fall by the National Wildlife Federation.

“We are seeing a slow, inexorable decline in populations of both species and a corresponding decline in hunting opportunities in both states,” said Steve Torbit, NWF’s regional executive director. “If we are to maintain our native deer and pronghorn populations and our hunting traditions, land managers and wildlife agencies need to address the landscape-wide impacts that undermine the habitat vitality wildlife relies on.”

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which has jurisdiction over almost all of the West’s vast federal lands, has management responsibility that stretch across state lines and over the interior Rocky Mountain West.

“The BLM must recognize the cumulative, landscape-wide impacts of its decisions and that a lease or permit granted in one area or state can directly result in added stress to migrating game herds in an adjacent state,” Torbit said. “The needs of wildlife over the entire landscape need to be fully factored in before permits for oil, gas, wind farms, agricultural practices or any other human activity are permitted.”

The report, “Population Status and Trends of Big Game along the Colorado/Wyoming State Line,” was prepared by veteran wildlife biologists John Ellenberger and Gene Byrne and can be found at http://www.ourpubliclands.com. Rather than look at only the most recent data, Byrne and Ellenberger analyzed wildlife agency statistics collected over the past 30 years, including population, hunter harvest and hunting license trends.

Statistics for game management units in both states were reviewed in an area roughly bounded by Interstate 80 on the north, the Green River to the west, U.S. Highway 40 on the south and Laramie, WY and Walden, Co on the east.

“The information we analyzed clearly shows steady population declines in both states for many of the deer and pronghorn herds that we examined,” Ellenberger said.

“We are concerned that at some point, the resiliency of these herds to recover will be lost, creating a situation where we can only expect further declines,” Ellenberger explained. “It is our professional opinion that federal land managers need to consider the full impact their decisions about development will have on our native wildlife or we risk further declines in our wildlife resources.

“Evaluations of impacts to wildlife and wildlife habitat need to be performed at the landscape level, not just localized impacts,” Ellenberger said.

Both Torbit and Ellenberger emphasized that a growing body of peer-reviewed research has shown that the cumulative impacts of energy development, human population growth and agricultural practices have limited the natural resiliency of the habits wildlife need to survive. When natural factors such as periodic drought or disease affect a herd, the human impacts pile on top of each other, becoming “additive.” The result can be cumulative, potentially long-term declines.
“When there is a drop in the density of animals in an area that usually results in an increase in the productivity of a herd and the recruitment of young animals” Ellenberger explained. “”If that doesn’t occur, then there are serious issues with habitat limitations.”

For wildlife managers, “low recruitment” means that too few young animals are surviving to adulthood. Typically, populations of deer, pronghorn and other native species recover quickly to herd declines caused by drought or changes in habitat as soon as that specific factor is removed. For example, in the area in and around Yellowstone National Park in the late 1980s, the big-game populations suffered dramatic declines due to severe drought and the largest fire in the park’s recorded history. But within two years, the game populations were increasing thanks to adequate moisture and flourishing habitat.

Some area residents have suggested that predators such as coyotes are the reason for declines. But, who has worked extensively in both Wyoming and Colorado, emphasized that pronghorn and mule deer herds have always lived with predators.

“These game herds evolved with five different predators: wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions and coyotes, and they still thrived,” Torbit noted. “We now have only three of these predators along the border with grizzlies and wolves no longer present.

“What’s changed are the intense demands we are placing on Western landscapes,
 Torbit explained. “It appears that the new predator is the increased development and other human activity that has picked up pace over the past several decades.

“Mule deer and pronghorn are now experiencing 40-acre spacing of gas drilling pads and thousands of miles of roads and pipelines. Too often, decisions have been made on individual projects while the impacts are occurring on a much broader scale.”

Torbit said he fears mule deer and pronghorn populations may follow the steady decline of greater sage grouse that has been widely documented by wildlife researchers.

“Forty years ago a hunter could see hundreds of sage grouse in a single day,” Torbit recalled. “But due to landscape-wide factors, the sage grouse population has suffered a slow, inexorable decline and so has sage grouse hunting.

“As a Westerner, biologist and hunter, I don’t want to see that same decline occur in our mule deer and pronghorn,” Torbit said.

NWF biologists have met with BLM officials and the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish to present and discuss the new analysis of deer and pronghorn herds. A series of public meetings is scheduled in communities within the study area in Wyoming and Colorado.

“Ultimately, it will be up to all of who value our wildlife herds to urge federal and state agencies to make decisions that will protect our wildlife resource,” Torbit said. “The future of our hunting heritage and the billions of dollars wildlife brings to the region’s economy are at stake.”

 

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