Protect Hunting by Keeping Federal Lands

By Patrick DurkinOctober 23, 2016

Whenever you’re hiking, fishing, canoeing or camping in our national parks – or doing all those things or hunting in our national forests, wildlife refuges and other federal lands – pause to thank Theodore Roosevelt for being so thoughtful. We as stewards of the land must fight to protect hunting by keeping federal lands.

If not for TR and his conservation colleagues like Gifford Pinchot, you and I wouldn’t own roughly 640 million acres of federal property. These conservation giants realized it’s in our national interest to protect America’s natural resources, scientifically manage them, and open them to the public.

federal lands

Thanks to the hard work and efforts of Theodore Roosevelt, we can enjoy wild public places with friends and family.

When setting aside the Grand Canyon as a national monument in 1908, for example, Roosevelt said:

“Short-sighted men … in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things … The ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us to restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations.”

Don’t you wish you’d written that?

No matter. Feel free to use that proud Republican’s words when calling out our “unprincipled present-day minority” working selfishly beneath capitol domes in Washington and various states to abandon those public lands. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, realize who’s holding the stick that’s beating you, and make them stop.

federal lands

If you enjoy the wild places that are open to the public through federal lands, you better be willing to fight for them in the days ahead.

Granted, we’re currently distracted by a chronic foot fungus we call presidential candidates, but let’s recognize something: The Republican Party in July again used its presidential platform to attack our birthright and Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy.

Page 21 of the GOP platform makes this demand: “Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states.”

Why? Because the platform’s authors find it “absurd that all that acreage must remain under the absentee ownership of management of official Washington.”

That might please some ears and sound like mere rhetoric to others, but it’s sneaky compared to the GOP’s 2012 platform. At least four years ago they were honest about their long-term objectives:

“Experience has shown that, in caring for the land and water, private ownership has been our best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while the worst instances of environmental degradation have occurred under government control. … Congress should reconsider whether parts of the federal government’s enormous landholdings and control of water in the West could be better used for ranching, mining, or forestry through private ownership. … The enduring truth is that people best protect what they own.”


Management of national lands is a much bigger task than anyone can possibly imagine.

When that lie didn’t fly in 2012, the GOP revised it this way for 2016: “The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live. They practice boots-on-the-ground conservation in their states every day.”

That might sound practical and commendable, but it’s just more buck pellets. Few states could afford to own and manage the federal lands within their borders. They’d be forced to sell them. Does anyone think Wisconsin, for example, could take on the costs, duties and professional staff to manage the 2,400-square-mile Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest?

Heck, that state’s capitol’s occupants don’t like the duties and financial responsibilities of managing Wisconsin’s current 1.5 million acres of state land. And yet we’re supposed to trust them with a 1.5-million-acre federal-land transfer from Congress? All those public hunting, fishing, hiking and camping gems would turn private, just as the GOP platform wishes.

Realize, however, that in terms of federal lands, Wisconsin and most Eastern states are small-time owners compared to Western states. Anyone who treasures the West’s public lands for bowhunting elk, exploring wilderness areas, or fly-fishing the Rocky Mountains’ backcountry has more to lose than the Chequamegon-Nicolet.

Western states hold the bulk of our nation’s federal lands, and lawmakers like Rob Bishop, R-Utah, are among those behind currents effort to transfer them to the states. Make no mistake: State ownership would not last long, and even if it did, public access isn’t assured.


The bulk of public lands are in the western United States.

Western states own lots of land already, and their land boards routinely forbid public recreation on them. In fact, they’re often mandated to sell state-owned land that isn’t profitable. That’s why Western states have already sold off vast holdings originally granted to them by the federal government. Consider:

— New Mexico received a federal land grant of 13.5 million acres when it became a state, and it has 9 million left. It has sold one-third of its state-grant lands to private interests.

— Arizona received 10.5 million acres and has 9.3 million left. It has sold 11.4 percent of its state-grant lands to private interests.

— Utah received 6 million acres and has 3.4 million acres left. It has sold 43 percent of state-grant lands to private interests.

— Montana received 5.7 million acres and has 5.2 million left. That’s good by Western standards, but it charges fees for all recreation on state-grant lands.

— Colorado received 4.8 million acres and has 3 million acres left, a 37.5 percent sell-off.

— Idaho received 3.7 million acres and has 2.4 million acres left, a 35 percent sell-off.

— Oregon received 3.5 million acres and has 1.6 million acres left, a 54 percent sell-off.

— Nevada traded its 3-million-acre federal grant for the right to handpick 2.1 million acres of its most productive lands. It has since sold almost 2 million of those acres, a 93 percent sell-off.

Combined, those states received nearly 50 million acres from the federal government upon becoming states, and have already sold 32 percent of it to private interests.

Discussing this “state-transfer” charade doesn’t mean we must trash one political party or applaud the other. Republicans and Democrats alike should denounce this anti-hunting initiative, and let no candidate ignore its potential impact on our national heritage.

We owe Teddy Roosevelt that much, as well as all Americans yet to be.

Patrick Durkin
President at Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association
Patrick Durkin is a lifelong bowhunter and full-time freelance outdoor writer/editor who lives in Waupaca, Wisconsin. He has covered hunting, fishing and outdoor issues since 1983. His work appears regularly in national hunting publications, and his weekly outdoors column has appeared regularly in over 20 Wisconsin newspapers since 1984.
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