Conservation Public Lands & Waters

Official GOP Platform: Sell America’s Public Land

I’m a public-land junky, and I’m proud of it. I hunt both private and public lands, but the public ground is special, no matter how crowded it might seem at times. Public land has been one of the greatest gifts this country has given to hunters and anglers. It’s also the legacy of conservation started by Theodore Roosevelt. TR created what became the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. His far-sighted vision has ensured that places like the Roan Plateau, Boundary Waters, and Bob Marshall remain as they have been since humans started making trails in them.

I value the jobs created by public lands, and the lifestyle that rural Americans enjoy due in large part to access to this great legacy. I value the wildlife and the amazing hunting and fishing opportunities I am afforded because of these public lands.

Perhaps that’s why I find is incredibly disappointing—shocking, even—to see things like the Republican Party’s platform on public land:

“Experience has shown that, in caring for the land and water, private ownership has been our best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while the worst instances of environmental degradation have occurred under government control. By the same token, the most economically advanced countries – those that respect and protect private property rights – also have the strongest environmental protections, because their economic progress makes possible the conservation of natural resources. In this context, Congress should reconsider whether parts of the federal government’s enormous landholdings and control of water in the West could be better used for ranching, mining, or forestry through private ownership. Timber is a renewable natural resource, which provides jobs to thousands of Americans. All efforts should be made to make federal lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service available for harvesting. The enduring truth is that people best protect what they own.”

That’s directly, verbatim, from the Republican Party’s platform. They are calling for selling off public lands. They’re also selectively rewriting history when it comes to environmental problems (more often than not caused by politicians and lobbyists) on public lands. It’s when regulations have been stripped or relaxed that we have these problems; problems created by the same people who are now trying to sell off our public lands. It’s akin to blaming a burglary victim for having nice stuff in their house.

This statement from the RNC also ignores the reality of what’s happening in the West when it comes to private timberlands and the public good. In fact, companies like Plum Creek Timber continue to look to the federal government to purchase their vast holdings of timberland. In Montana, we’ve been able to parlay that into new areas for wildlife management and increased hunting opportunity.

The policy laid forward by the RNC does more to move this country towards European style hunting than anything before it. We can argue about auctioning off tags, season setting, landowner incentive programs and the like, but without public lands, we have fewer and fewer hunters. That’s a plain, solid fact.

So, I have to ask, in the context of this platform plank: is the Republican Party anti-hunting? It seems too ludicrous to be true, but what other conclusion do you reach after reading this plan to sell the very commodity that keeps most of us hunters hunting: America’s public land?

I look forward to a conversation about this policy initiative, and whether anyone can tell me how it makes sense for a middle-class, public-land hunter.