Our public lands lay at the very heart of what defines America. From the vast, wide-open spaces of the west, to the lush forests and valleys of the east, the federal and state lands that make up our public spaces represent almost 25% of the total land mass of the United States. The US Forest Service alone manages 193 million acres nationwide, or roughly 8% of the total land area in the United States.
Most state and federally managed public lands are open for recreational use. Recreation opportunities depend on the managing agency, and run the gamut from the free-for-all, undeveloped wide open spaces of BLM lands to the highly developed and controlled national and state parks. Wildlife refuges and state wildlife management areas, managed primarily to improve habitat, are generally open to wildlife watching, hiking, and hunting. National forests generally have a mix of maintained trails and roads, wilderness and undeveloped portions, and developed picnic and camping areas.
Typically each parcel is governed by its own set of laws and rules that explain the purpose for which the land was acquired, and how the land may be used. The private uses of public lands continues to be a challenging issue in the United States. Historically in the western United States, most public land is leased for grazing by cattle or sheep.
Now however, some cash-strapped western states are attempting to regain control of federal lands that lay within their borders. Perhaps most notable of these cases is Utah, where the state is attemptng to gain control of federal national Forest Service lands in the southern portions of the state. Proponents claim this will generate revenue for the state, while opponents claim that mining and drilling will spoil these pristine landscapes.
So where is the trade-off between responsible stewardsip, and development of our natural resources? Can they exist side-by-side? As pressure mounts to develop domestic natural resources, expect to see more debates about the future of our public lands.
For members of the Outdoor Industry, it is critical to our collective economic health that there always be an abundance of well-maintained public lands and campgrounds which our customers can access and enjoy. And we beleive that responsible development of natural resources can co-exist with preservation of our public lands to the benefit of all Americans.
These lands are your heritage. With increased pressure on administraters of public lands, and changes certain to come in the future, now is the time to speak up about how you want YOUR lands protected for future generations.