Access Lost: A Familiar Malady

public land hunting
Public access is critical to the future of hunting, fishing and conservation.Tony Hansen

Seems like every hunting season I need to set aside some time to mourn lost places. This year, the place was a spot I call “the Swamp.” It’s not big or flashy, but it is close to home and close to my heart. I discovered the Swamp while mountain biking 20 years ago – my wife and I flushed dozens of does on a summer evening ride. I knew come November, bucks would be there.

I was right. Over a couple decades, I’ve taken several bucks at the Swamp, including two of my best. It’s the kind of place I would like to take my son when he gets older. But I can cross that off the list. For decades, the land was owned by a timber company that graciously allowed public access. But that company reorganized into a real estate trust, figuring it could make more money selling acreages for second homes than growing trees for 2x4s. I can’t blame them, but it still stings.

This fall, I found my familiar routes into the Swamp and been sold and now bristled with "NoTrespassing" signs. I add it to a long list of “never again” hunting spots.

I am not alone. In fact, surveys from the National Shooting Sports Foundation illustrate that lost access is the No. 1 reason hunters are forced to give up their beloved pastime. When I started hunting as a kid, there were about 200 million Americans. Today, that number is north of 300 million. That’s a lot of people, all vying for their space in the world and a piece of nature to call their own. The result is fewer and fewer wild places to enjoy.

To me, “access” is just another word for freedom. When we fight for access, we fight for our freedom to enjoy America’s outdoor traditions, not only for ourselves, but for future generations. But the struggle is deeper than that. After all, what do we need access to? We need access to quality habitat the produces a healthy supply of wildlife. We need access to rivers and lakes that provide the clean water that fish – and humans – need. Those values are important to all Americans, not just the tens of millions who hunt and fish.

American hunters and anglers are among the luckiest in the world. We enjoy hundreds of millions of acres of public lands where we are free to roam. We also enjoy good relations with farmers, ranchers, timber companies and private land managers who see hunting and fishing as a benefit stemming from their careful stewardship. But we cannot take one acre of it for granted. It can all be taken away, one "No Trespassing" sign at a time.

I bet you’ve felt the sting of lost access. Tell me about it.