The short answer is maybe. It will depend upon how much people who love and use these lands are willing to be involved to maintain them in public ownership.
If you enjoy camping, hunting, fishing, skiing, mountain biking, snowmobiling, taking an OHV ride, horseback riding, bird watching, rafting, mountain climbing and many other outdoor recreation activities without having to face a “No Trespassing” sign, then you should stay informed of efforts to transfer them out of federal ownership.
Very few of you enjoy these activities on private land. You go to our public lands that every American owns. If you do not oppose the efforts to dispose of our public lands, there certainly is a chance it could happen.
We believe President Theodore Roosevelt was right. Our public lands belong to all Americans and should be managed under federal protection. Roosevelt acted to protect America’s diminishing natural resources and brought 230 million acres of public land under increased protection as national forests, refuges, parks and monuments. These public lands are the envy of the world and are managed using scientific principles and public input by professional land managers who live and work in the communities in and around the public lands they manage. Go in any direction in Idaho and enjoy the wide open spaces on the public lands we have enjoyed for over 100 years.
History shows that giving the national forests and other public lands to the states could be a step to their eventual sale to the highest bidder. Most of the Western states have land they were given at statehood. In total, Western states have disposed of about 31 million acres of these lands. In Idaho, approximately 30 percent of the 3.6 million acres of lands granted to Idaho by the federal government at statehood in 1890 were no longer in state ownership by of 1990.
You might have heard of the recent sale of 172,000 acres of Boise Cascade timberland north of Boise. The billionaire Wilks brothers from Texas bought it and immediately closed it to hunting and other recreation. All of this is their prerogative, of course, because it is now their land. But think for a moment how you would feel if this happened to parts of the Boise, Payette or Sawtooth national forests or the abundant Bureau of Land Management lands that are all just a short drive from your front door.
So what to do? We in the National Association of Forest Service Retirees believe the answer is to get involved in whatever way you can. If you are an elk hunter, join the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. If you snowmobile, join your local snowmobile association. If you enjoy watching birds, join the National Audubon Society. There is an organization for every outdoor pursuit. Then you can work together to make a difference.
And above all, as an individual, contact your legislators, go to their town hall meetings, and let them know what you think about transferring or disposing of your public lands.
Dick Smith retired as the forest supervisor of the Boise National Forest and lives in Boise. Contributing writer James Caswell served as the forest supervisor of the Targhee & Clearwater National Forests and as the director of the Bureau of Land Management and lives in Emmett, and contributing writer Jack Troyer retired as the Intermountain Regional Forester and lives in Ogden, Utah.