In the last few years, some opportunistic politicians have attempted to turn public lands into a partisan debate, with Republicans ensconced on one side, and Democrats dug in on the other.
But it hasn’t always been that way. And there’s a good reason for it.
Our public lands have a long history of bipartisanship. More than 100 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, set aside land for the public good by creating over 150 national forests. Two decades later, another Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, a Democrat, created 29 additional forests in his bid to protect our nation’s forests for generations to come.
Even in Idaho, the bipartisan nature of public lands is unmistakable. Craters of the Moon, a geologic wonder in central Idaho, was designated by President Calvin Coolidge, a Republican, and enlarged by John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, both Democrats.
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More recently, Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican, worked for nearly a decade with a wide range of stakeholders — some Democrat and some Republican — to craft the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill that was signed by President Barack Obama.
There’s a reason we work together across political divides to resolve conflicts on public lands. You’ll see it in the Idaho backcountry this month, where both Republicans and Democrats finish up their last backpacking trips of the year, or head out with their friends and family for the start of another hunting season. You’ll find people from both political parties taking advantage of all the opportunities our public lands give us as Idahoans. No matter your political views, Idahoans share a love of this special place we call home.
That’s the reason why both Democrats and Republicans can and should work together to protect our natural legacy. We all know how special these landscapes are, and we feel a deep obligation to pass them on to future generations. The next time politicians tell you otherwise, use your vote in November to support candidates who support the protection of public lands. Remember, public lands make Idaho a great place to live, work and raise a family.
Courtney Washburn is the executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho, which is dedicated to protecting our public lands for future generations and works to elect pro-conservation candidates from both parties.