There’s 640 million acres of public federal land in the United States that is open and available for citizens to enjoy year round. This may not be the case if action is not taken soon because legislation is being proposed to transfer federal land to the states so they can manage land as they wish. This may sound like a good thing to some, but there are some very serious issues that need to be looked at before drawing any conclusions.
In The Past
One of the main problems is once a state takes possession of the land, it is likely to sell it for short-term financial gain which makes that land private permanently. Nevada, for example, was given 2.7 million acres when it became the 36th state in the union in 1864. It now has only 3,000. Utah has sold more than 50 percent of its original land grant and other states show the same pattern of selling off public land. States just do not have it in their budgets to manage the newly owned land and therefore have to turn to alternative actions.
Upkeep on public land is very expensive for states to handle on their own. They need to manage trails, roads, fences, campsites and a big cost driver, wildfires. Wildfires cost the federal government $169 million in Idaho alone in 2012.
If federal land was transferred to Idaho, studies show that Idaho would run a deficit of approximately $111 million per year for only managing half of the 34 million acres of public land within the state. States, when faced with this kind of deficit, are likely to sell off the land to avoid being stuck with wasting resources and to collect property taxes.
Currently the federal government pays the states to have federal land within their state boundaries. In return, the government pays each state for the loss on property taxes they would otherwise receive if the land were privately owned.
In Colorado, in fiscal year 2014 alone, payments received exceeded $34.5 million. It really is a lose-lose for the states because they will no longer receive this property tax reimbursement and they have the added cost of managing millions of acres.
Why Should You Care?
Why wouldn’t you care? According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. If these lands are sold, they are no longer accessible to sportsmen or outdoor enthusiasts who rely on them for experiencing the wilderness.
This doesn’t just affect western states. Outdoor recreation supports $646 billion in revenue and 6.1 million jobs annually. If the government sells the land, then what happens to the 72 percent of sportsmen who depend on public land? More than likely, outdoor recreation would dwindle causing revenues and jobs to decline. And worst of all, a decline in the hunting and fishing traditions that sportsmen everywhere have worked hard to establish, protect, and promote.
What Can You Do?
Get the word out. Let people know what is going on and how serious this can be to the hunting and fishing community. You can also visit www.sportsmensaccess.org to sign the petition.