This Fourth of July, like many Idahoans, I’ll be heading out with my family to escape the heat and enjoy some much-needed time in the mountains near Stanley. As we gear up to celebrate the birth of our great country, I find myself reflecting on how efforts to transfer public lands to the state fly in the face of what makes America great.
Growing up, my dad took me out hunting on national forests throughout the great state of Idaho. We chased elusive mule deer bucks and the occasional elk wherever we could find them. Our excursions instilled in me a passion for hunting that I am fortunate enough to be able to pass on to my children today.
And yet, our longstanding tradition of being able to use and enjoy our public lands is being threatened by people who, under the guise exerting more “local” control, are trying to transfer public lands to the states. At first glance, the idea seems appealing. I agree that states should have an important role in how public lands in their backyards are managed. But that’s not what this is about.
What this is really about is taking away land from you and me, and giving it to special interests. The end result would be disastrous to those of us who don’t want to encounter locked gates that block access to our favorite camping, hunting and fishing grounds.
The beauty of our public lands is that we all own them; you, me and the rest of the American public.
Land managed by the state, however, is not public. State endowment lands are important to Idaho, but they are managed for maximum economic return, not for recreation and access. Camping, fishing and hunting don’t pay the bills.
If the state of Idaho gets its hands on our lands, they would cease to be public. It’s that simple. As Americans, we are born with the title to hundreds of millions of acres of land. Why would we allow others to take our land from us? Efforts to transfer these lands to the states are nothing more than an attempt by a limited few to swindle us out of what is rightfully ours.
I’ve heard plenty of slick pitches from politicians trying to sell us on the idea of transferring public lands to the states, and most of them have used some fuzzy math to make an economic case for stripping us — Americans — of our birthright. Their hyperbole, of course, conveniently ignores the fact that a cash-strapped state like Idaho would never be able to afford to pay the tab for big-ticket items like fighting wildfires, let alone other management costs.
And therein lies the true sham of what land transfer proponents really want. The state will never be able to afford managing the lands, so they’ll have to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Access to public land is our American heritage, and it is priceless. For me, there is no amount of money worth giving away my ability to pass on a hunting heritage to my children. Having the freedom to hunt on millions of acres of land is simply invaluable, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
As you head out the door for the Fourth of July holiday, don’t take your favorite camping spot for granted. Remember that our American heritage includes the freedom to enjoy public lands that we all own. As Americans, we owe it to the next generation to pass on this uniquely American ideal.
Travis Long, of Meridian, is a native Idahoan, avid outdoorsman and vice president of the Idaho Deer Alliance.