I love public land and all it represents – a government’s trust in its people and access to nature for everyone, including future generations. I’m sipping out of an Access Fund edition Nalgene water bottle as I write this, and I firmly believe that the National Park Service has the best caption game on Instagram. Despite my libertarian-learning, limited government supporting views, I’m grateful that our federal government has entrusted us with the ownership of 28% of land in the United States.
This land, administered by the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, has been purposely set aside for preservation and recreation. Some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet have been made accessible for hunting, fishing, climbing, hiking and however else we enjoy nature.
But the "Public Trust" film and the fracking debacle in the vice presidential debate are stark reminders that the search for natural resources to make the United States an energy independent nation and the battle for states’ rights threatens the existence of our public land.
Since 1990, we’ve lost 4.9% of our federal land. Those 31,542,118 acres – approximately 23,895,544 football fields – have been handed over to individual states, used by the military for defense sites and sold off to oil and gas companies.
The "big, bad government is mismanaging your lands" argument isn’t a new one. William Taft, successor of the conservationist president Theodore Roosevelt, attempted to cut back forest protection under the pressure of logging and railroad companies.
The preservation and protection of public land is the best thing our federal government has done. It’s also been a fairly bipartisan issue in a political climate that seems to be increasingly polarized. And the outdoor recreation industry generates $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million jobs annually. So why are we letting it be taken away from us?
There are 470 Congressional seats up for election this November. Thankfully, the American Hiking Society has created this handy checklist to make the investigation of your incumbent representatives’ support or lack thereof on environmental bills concerning public land simple and straightforward.
Maybe you don’t have the time to watch Patagonia’s “Public Trust,” although I highly recommend it. Perhaps you don’t understand why I’m vehemently against the seizure of land from national parks and wildlife refuges. But the loss of public land is more than just the loss of a few acres of desolate forest.
Counties with public land tend to be more ethnically and racially diverse than those without. Some federally protected lands have been the ancestral home to Indigenous people where they have hunted and used plants for food and medicine for generations, like the Gwich’in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Federally managed lands are generally free to access and allow camping year round, unlike state parks which typically charge for entry and strictly limit camping. Public land follows a multiple use doctrine, while state owned land must place restrictions in order to generate revenue.
If camping and the protection of Indigenous land doesn’t convince you to double check your legislative candidates’ stance on protection of public land, maybe knowing that the land that we all own is also used for a slew of things like energy development, livestock grazing and scientific study will.
I want my great-grandchildren to be able to enjoy public land just like I have. And though they may not be as enthusiastic about it as me, my number one goal in life is to visit every national park, future generations deserve access to the natural beauty and resources these 50 states have to offer.
Chloe Herbert is a freshman history major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.