The crackling of the fire is enticing as we stood with cold toes against the cold ground. The tent set-up, sleeping bag ready to embrace our bodies, but the stars were performing a show that could not be missed. You could hear crackling from a nearby fire by a lone wolf, but it was primarily the chatty trees as they swayed in the night.
We barely gained access to this camp area in the Willamette National Forest located in Central Oregon, as it is under a strict limited-access permit entry system by the Forest Service. Lucky we felt, grasping the last spots available for the entire day.
I couldn’t imagine how volatile I’d become if my family could no longer have access to this campground if the Forest Service one day decided to transfer ownership and sell it off. I’d be angry for many reasons, but primarily because it’d feel as if it was a personal attack on who I am, and the memories I cherish, and timing that by ten, because I’m not the only one with a story. There is a chorus of stories that are being dangled dangerously close to a flame splintering at the end of a match.
THE REASONS ARE ENDLESS WHY WE NEED PUBLIC LANDS, BUT HERE ARE 5 OF THE TOP REASONS:
Attributes of Public Lands ranked by importance
1. ECONOMIC PROSPERITY:
If you could put a value on the outdoors, what would your guess be? Any guesses folks? The Outdoor Recreation economy generates over $887 Billion annually in consumer spending, and provides 7.6 million American jobs. Tax wise, it generates $65.3 Billion in Federal taxes and $59.2 Billion in State and Local taxes. Say what now? It generates nearly 91% as much taxes at the State and Local level as it does at the Federal level? Does it smell like prosperity to you, or is that simply the rushing river nearby? By simply investing in our Public Land system, we are providing prosperity for better health, better relationships with friends and families, job opportunity- the benefits go on. It is a powerful economic sector that drives the tourism economy, as people spend when they access our outdoor spaces for work or for pleasure. Think about it, whenever people visit Yosemite National Park, they don’t only spend inside the park. Visitors splurge on transportation, groceries, lodging, gear, activities, and times that by the amplitude of the family. Money is spewing in several different directions, but it is all driven back into local economies. It is not limited in its bountifulness. Economic prosperity is so tightly rooted at the foundation of public lands that in 2016, the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act was passed, in which there must be a yearly assessment and analysis of the outdoor recreation economy and how it effects are attributable to the American economy.
Public Lands are where we seek adventure. It serves as a guide for hiking, camping, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, fishing, hunting, climbing, mountain biking, you name it. It is our standard infrastructure for recreation, and can take place on hiking trails, biking trails, coastal lines, water ways, forests, and remote wilderness. Much of public land is defined as, multiple use, which means that the management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people. This ties back to protection, but also permits public land be managed to support sustainable recreation for long term public use. Recreation is one-way people choose to exercise, improve mental and physical limitations, connect with friends and family, or simply adventure on the daily or during vacations. It’s been proven as a valuable resource for Veterans with PTSD, children with ADHD, depression, retirees, children in general, really, it caters towards anyone. We can all benefit from the positive physical and mental effects of what public lands can offer.
3. EQUAL ACCESS FOR ALL:
The outdoors doesn’t care if you are wealthy or poor, white or black, or anything in-between. Public Land provides equal access for anyone seeking to enjoy it. It’s a unique system that we Americans have created, as it provides affordable, and often, free access to many of the unique systems. You have your own selection of accommodations with the freedom to choose if you want to boondock on Bureau of Land Management land, all the way up to paying for nightly full hook-ups for your rig in a National Park. The prices are equally reflected for entrance fees as it is does for camping. The Department of Interior provide a range of access fees for the several types of public land it manages. Now, we don’t argue that there are certain barriers people face to receive this equal access. That has been created by other aspects of the system, but nature itself is non-biased, and there to serve as a guide to exploration. Advocacy is critical to ensure equal access for the long term.
Land that is in the public domain are managed with a purpose of protecting historical, cultural, and natural features. For example, the Bureau of Land Management’s mission is to, “sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” These places are unable to be developed for commercial use, but can be utilized for extracting natural resources, like water sheds for public use. Conservation is the proper use of nature. Without it, logging, mining, grazing would have more laissez-faire restrictions that could end up damaging the area, or decreasing the land’s economic value. That is why you can drive down a gravel forest road and see loggers plowing away. Ski lifts on National Forests. Hunting and fishing on federal land. It hinders the stronghold of human impact, but ensures it is being used in the best way possible that won’t tamper the land from continued use. To simply co-exist with wilderness.
The philosophy is similar to conservation, but is the key element in the pyramid of attributes of public lands. It’s dissent to conservation is analogous to John Muir vs. Gifford Pinchot. Both seek to protect natural resources, but preservation seeks to preserve buildings, objects, and landmarks, and nature from use. This ethic is behind the creation of National Parks to leave them unimpaired for generations to come with its intrinsic value of being invaluable. Leave No Trace is a respected principle for preservation. The land can be explored, and slept on, but please- leave it as if you were a night rider and was never there. When camping, be respectful of the tools that are best suited to comfortably enjoy the outdoors, but won’t leave damage. This means using biodegradable materials, packing out all trash, burying the poo, and simply living at minimum 100 yards away from water. Preservation keeps lock on the historical, cultural, and natural forces that simply define what America is. Pristine in its formality (Wilderness Act of 1964,) never to change unless the climate decides to make its own modifications- which some argue that it has already begun to do so.
Public lands are at the base of who we are as an Americans. It’s simply both a right and a privilege to have access to outdoor spaces, free to access without mandating prior authorization from private land owners. Leave No Trace, and majority won’t know that you were even there. These five reasons attributes of Public Lands are at the foundation of what makes public land prosper. Each component is deeply grooved within each other, and are integrated to impact the other. Without preservation, there would be no economic prosperity near these spaces, and without economic prosperity, there would be no one to visit these buildings, objects, and landmarks. Impacts of these natural places are meant to linger like a memory that never ceases to feel permanent. Arguably, we can define the argument around our public lands as the ethical battle between conservation and preservation. Somehow, this debate is meant to affect ALL the various land uses, but don’t we already have law to separate the two? Public lands are a right that many other countries don’t have, it’d be unfortunate to make it only a privilege.