The Fight For Public Lands Just Got A Little Uglier

January 10, 2018

Battle lines are forming.

(This is a long one, and it’s a lot more political than I would typically be, so settle in.)

I come more and more to the conclusion that wilderness, in America or anywhere else, is the only thing left worth saving.

Edward Abbey

Yesterday, I received an emailed press release from the Safari Club (SCI). In the release, the SCI took to task certain hunter/conservation organizations, such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), for pushing a “leftist” agenda in defense of Bears Ears and other public lands. Earlier in the day, I’d seen an almost identical diatribe posted by an outdoors writer on Facebook.

The language in the messages was not new. It echoed, exactly, the justifications from the Trump administration for reducing the size of the monuments. There are frequent references to the phrases “land grab” and “traditional use.” It threw in the names, “Obama,” and, “Clinton.”  It suggested that the monument designation was a threat to access for hunters and fishermen. It stated that the designation was contrary to the will of “the people” who live in the area. It argued that this was all about ensuring public access, and suggested that organizations like BHA are actually hurting hunters through their support of this “liberal agenda”.

Much of this has been debunked by folks better informed than I, and I’m not going to repeat all of that right now, except for a couple of points. The land was already publicly owned, and that did not change with the monument designation. You can’t grab land you already own. Also, there was nothing in the monument designation that precluded the current uses, including hunting and fishing. All it really did was protect the land from industrial exploitation.

The SCI hatchet piece went even further, drawing a clear line of conflict between hunters and other outdoors folks (kayakers, hikers, bird watchers), painting the non-hunters as an enemy to hunters’ interests. Patagonia, the outdoors equipment supply company who came out strongly opposed to the reduction of the monument, was also targeted. As justification for their attack, the SCI called out the fact that almost nothing sold by Patagonia contributes to Pittman/Robertson funds… giving the impression that these folks were leaches, taking a free ride on the public land that we, the hunters, are paying for. (Nevermind, of course, that tax dollars pay for a large portion of federal land management, in addition to P/R funds which are more specifically earmarked.) It was a textbook example of inflammatory propaganda.

Of course, the whole thing reeks of a centrally produced, smear campaign, not unlike the “green decoy” campaign a few years ago. I expect a slightly intrepid reporter could quickly connect the dots to find that these editorial attacks are coming from the same, D.C.-based sources, and funded by the industries who stand to gain from opening the wild lands. That’s pure speculation on my part, but I’d stand by it.

“Wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there, we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending our resources as we should — not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water.”

Clinton P. Anderson

Sadly, though, in conflicts like this one, rational thought seems to be the first casualty.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to look at the actions of this Administration, and see who these actions are designed to benefit. From the tax cuts, to stripping environmental regulations, to taking away protections on public land, everything traces a straight line to the bank accounts of the corporate giants. It’s not about you or me, Joe Public. Any benefit to us is purely incidental, and will probably be short-lived.

None of this should be a mystery either, because it’s pretty much exactly what Trump promised he would do during the campaign. He would create an environment where US businesses could thrive in their own country. In itself, I think that’s a reasonably honorable goal… or at least it’s honest in its intent. I don’t think there’s anything particularly honorable about achieving this goal at the cost of consumer and environmental protections, but at least I can understand how this would get some support from a faction of the country. Short-sighted lust for profit has been a hallmark of American “progress” since the very beginning, and a lot of folks still think that’s just fine.

But I’m okay with that philosophical difference. We can debate and disagree.  What bothers me is the blatant lies that are used to implement this strategy. They’re not shrinking Bears Ears to protect anyone’s access to hunt or fish. That monument had no impact on hunting or fishing access. That argument is a cynical misdirection, intended to garner support of traditionally conservative hunters… and totally reliant on the hope that these people are generally (and intentionally) uninformed about the issue.

They’re shrinking the monument precisely because it will allow some corporations to make a profit. If the Administration could get away with it, they’d sell off every bit of that land to the highest bidder. Since that’s not really feasible, they’re essentially opening it up for free. Then again, giving it away for free makes for a better bottom line anyway.  Keep in mind that mines and oil rigs close off our lands to us. Building a mine or setting a drilling pad is no different than building a house or a hotel. It becomes private property and off-limits to the general public. Worse, when these operations shut down, the huge clean-up tab usually falls back on us, the taxpayers. In essence, we pay for the corporations to strip the resources from our lands, and then we pay to clean up behind them when they leave. It’s a pretty sweet deal for those big companies… not so hot for the taxpayer.

Meanwhile, they sell their plans to the public by turning Americans against one another… in this case, casting folks who are concerned about the environment and the protection of public lands as, “leftists,” and, “tree huggers,” and portraying them as the enemy to good, red-blooded, American hunters. Somehow, they’ve turned “environmentalist” into an epithet… anathema to all that hunters hold dear. If “environmentalists” want it, it must be bad for hunting… or at least that’s the bill of goods that’s being peddled to anyone who’ll buy in.

Lost in this nonsense is the fact that, at its root, conservation is environmentalism, and hunters are (or claim to be) conservationists. When we apply our time or our dollars to preserve habitat, we’re being environmentalists. When we shoot deer, feral hogs, or snow geese to manage populations and protect the ecosystem, that’s environmentalism. Cleaning streams and protecting watersheds to keep a fishery healthy… there it is again.

It’s the same when it comes to protecting public land. It’s in our interests to ensure that public land stays public, and that the habitat and eco-systems it supports stay healthy and intact.  Habitat dies?  Wildlife dies.  Hunting dies.

I’ve had my own philosophical differences with BHA, but when it comes to their work to protect and preserve our public lands, I fully support everything they do. Despite the portrayal by SCI and other detractors, BHA is not about preserving public land for some elitist group of users. In fact, they’re about the exact opposite… protecting public land from elite, private interests… whether it’s protecting wild places from incursion by extractive industry, or keeping Federal land in Federal hands.

It’s hard to place a value on wild places, however; it’s easy to put a price tag on them. I, for one, would sure hate to see that happen to our public lands.


Listen in my own voice.


5 Responses to “The Fight For Public Lands Just Got A Little Uglier”

  1. The Fight For Public Lands Just Got A Little Uglier | on January 10th, 2018 18:53

    […] The Fight For Public Lands Just Got A Little Uglier […]

  2. Steve Langdon on January 11th, 2018 20:52

    Hog blog
    Read your blog. As always I enjoyed it and you make some good points.
    I agree with a lot of what you say but do have an objection to the hunting and monuments.
    The problem is with a swipe of a pen a president can make a monument and in that monument they can make it off limits to hunting and or fishing now or in the future like they already have done to a few monuments and the ocean monument in Hawaii. This very important issue could had put a lot of hunters at ease had they just included wording to forever allow hunting in the bears monuments. But they didn’t. Why? Obama was no friend to Hunters.
    Which brings me to BCH. I do not support them but I do not tell people not to join them. As Mr Tawney started Sportsman for Obama then BCH. That should give any Hunter pause.
    BCH continues to push for more closed roads in the west in areas already bottlenecked due to limited access. BHA is no friend to Ranchers and have used the same tactics on Ranchers as SCI used in the email you received.
    I recently had a FB exchange with Mr Tawney. It was actually a pretty good exchange and was pleased that we had the conversation however there stance on wolves and their reluctance to take a solid stance in controlling the overpopulation is a sticking point to a lot of us in the west among other red flag warnings about them.

    So, that’s just my take.

  3. Phillip on January 12th, 2018 07:57

    Thanks for dropping in, Steve, and for sharing your two cents. Like I said, there’s always room for conflicting opinions. We all have our sticking points.

    As far as the monuments, let’s be clear that hunting and fishing was never at risk in the Bears Ears. It could have been restricted, as you say, but the salient point is that it was not. To turn your question around, why didn’t the Trump administration use this opportunity to add wording to forever allow hunting in the Bears Ears? He has just as much authority to do that as Obama did.

    The reason hunting access was never a topic in the designation or expansion of the monument is because this whole thing has never had anything to do with hunting in the first place. That’s the point. Zinke and the Administration only brought hunting into the discussion because hunters are traditionally conservative voters, and the Administration is struggling to find public support for what they’re doing there.

    Beyond that, the ongoing demonization of Obama has surpassed the point of ludicrous. He’s gone. Not coming back. Whatever he did or didn’t do is no longer relevant. His name is nothing more than a dog whistle now, invoked to raise vitriolic response and derail substantial discussion and debate. It’s past time we moved on.

    As I wrote in the blog post, I’ve had my own differences with BHA, but they are not the only organization pushing for protections of public lands and the environment. I expect that probing into the background of many of these organizations will turn up founders and backers who may not support the conservative agenda… which makes sense, of course, since the conservative agenda tends to put industry and development ahead of environmental protections.

    None of this is intended to invalidate your opinion, of course. Whose motives you trust, and your political philosophy is all on you. Follow what moves you.

  4. John on January 23rd, 2018 22:14

    I’ve only had two hunting camp friends, you and my friend, Big D. Listening to your podcast, your reasoned, exceptionally smart and thoughtful ruminations, was like recapturing a bit of my last few years. Thanks, kid.

  5. Phillip on January 29th, 2018 06:29

    Thanks for the kind words, John.