I believe it is time for all public land owners to start paying for the conservation of our public lands, water and wildlife. It should not fall on one user group to be unfairly taxed to secure the funding needed to manage public lands. In fact, it should not fall on any group other than the American people as a whole. Our public lands are just that, all of ours. No matter if you live in New York City, the suburbs of Austin, TX or in Jackson Hole, WY this great experiment of Our Public Lands is set up such that every single person can enjoy them.
Recently I wrote another post which alluded to it being time that the Outdoor Industry start being taxed for goods similar to the way that hunters and anglers are taxed. I now see that as short-sighted. It is still exclusive. The park in New York, the river running through Austin or Grand Teton National park outside Jackson, WY all deserve to be fully supported and funded such that our public lands are as well maintained for the next generation as they were for us.
Many have heard my brother's grizzly bear encounter story but if you have not I will give the brief cliff notes. My brother is on a remote Alaskan island, home to the largest brown bears in the world. He is part of a TV show on which they are hunting elk. They successfully kill an elk. They hang half the elk in a tree and take the other half back to camp. The return to the tree to retrieve the rest of the elk. There does not seem to be a brown bear nearby, so they decide to eat lunch prior to returning to camp. While eating lunch a giant brown bear charges them full bore. In an instant chaos erupts. It is time for fight or flight. Most everyone chooses flight. My brother chooses FIGHT! He has a pistol and bear spray but instead, he chooses to fight with a pair of unlikely allies. He stands up, grabs a pair of trekking poles and swings for the fences. As the bear lunges at him, he catches the bear right across the muzzle. The bear, not likely expecting this, turns 180 degrees and chooses flight.
I tell this story for two reasons. First off, I feel like the public lands movement is my brother. We all: hunters, anglers, runners, boaters, climbers, backpackers, birders, ranchers have decided to stand up and fight the bear. The bear in this analogy is many people and it’s hard to put my finger on them specifically. But they are people who only see the trees not the forest. They see our public lands as something to be utilized and monetized right now. They want their Win. They don't have the long term (GENERATIONAL) public interest in mind. They don't understand basic ecology and think in parts, not whole systems.
The second reason for the story is to develop an idea of unlikely allies. It is not time for us to be divisive, it is time for us to be wholly inclusive. For my adult life I have lived in both the outdoor recreation community and the sportsman community. I have stood atop a steep couloir strapped into my skis and gotten that unforgettable feeling of awe and butterflies before dropping into pure powder skiing bliss. I have paddled up to large rapids and felt that feeling of awe and butterflies before successfully snaking my way through unscathed. I have stood on the start line of a 50mile ultra-marathon not knowing if my legs would carry me the distance and then run into the finish line sprinting with joy for the achievement. I have stood in a meadow and gazed at a vibrant meadowlark singing the songs of spring. I have climbed mountains by way of a first ascent and known the feeling of true exploration. I have stood in waist deep water meditating as I cast my fly into the mouth of a 5lb rainbow trout. I have killed elk and come to know an experience of God and filled my freezer, so my family could be fed all year. All of these moments have occurred on public lands and waters. And I wish them to be an experience every American can have for generations to come. And if you have experienced any moment similar to these then you can likely agree that all of us "users" of the outdoors should be allies. Because no one moment can be valued as more important than the other.
Being allies with other users should be a given. The real dream that excites me today is that we unite the entire American people. It is time for all Americans to see the value in Public Lands. In 2016, a year that will go down in history as one of the divisive our country has seen, in the state of Missouri the people came together to vote for a 1 cent sales tax to benefit wildlife and a .08 sales tax to benefit land, water and parks. Eighty-one percent of the voters voted in favor of this tax. The state of Missouri now has over a 100-million-dollar budget surplus to fund conservation efforts.
When I was a really little kid my dad took me out into the woods. It was winter in Indiana. I sat bundled in a sleigh that he pulled around the woods. I am not sure the purpose of the excursion but on that day my dad instilled in me my sense of wonder and love of chocolate. As he trudged through the snow he stopped at a tree and dug around the base of it. He said that he had seen elves here before and thought they might have left something behind. When he pulled his hand out of the snow he was holding a chocolate bar. My sense of wonder was born. We shared the chocolate bar and I was hooked, on chocolate and the woods.
Now it is time for every User of public lands to go into their community and create that same sense of wonder in a friend, spouse, kid, or community at large. Go create unlikely allies and standing up to fight the bear will be as easy as picking up a pair of trekking poles.