Authored by Trammell S. Crow, Ted Roosevelt IV, and Rob Sisson
The greatest triumph of conservative thought and practice in the United States can be found in our federal public lands. In no other country in the world do a nation’s citizens have the right to freely enjoy its natural resources as do Americans.
More than a century ago—President Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, the father of the U.S. Forest Service—took bold and decisive action to reserve millions of acres of forests and land by which every American today benefits. Pinchot described the mission of public lands conservation as “…the foresighted utilization, preservation and renewal of forests, waters, lands and minerals, for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time.”
Today, some leaders are pushing—even legislating—to turn that conservative ideal on its head, and make public lands serve well-connected special interests. Most recently, the House of Representatives Natural Resource Committee passed H.R. 3650, the “State National Forest Management Act” which, if signed into law, would require the federal government to deed over up to 2,000,000 acres of public lands per state. When it comes to our public lands, our national interest must come first. President Roosevelt identified it when he stated, “Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of our nation.”
Management and oversight of federally owned public lands is not perfect. Whether it is misapplication of anti-terrorism statutes to enforce forest rules or the mind-numbing bureaucratic process that makes decision making a multi-year epic, we can do better. Production agriculture, mining, timber, and recreation are legal and acceptable uses of our public lands, but we often cast one against the other creating a false narrative of good versus evil. Local stakeholders and communities provide important voices which should be balanced with the national interest.
Despite the shortcomings of federal management, current polling on the issue offers a plain and consistent message.
In its annual Conservation in the West poll, Colorado College reported 68% of westerners view public lands as belonging to all Americans, not just the residents of a specific state. 75% of those polled say a candidate’s support for public lands is an important factor in making their decision in the voting booth.
We understand that some elected officials are reacting to parochial interests and demands. However, failure to understand the bigger picture will have ramifications from sea-to-shining sea. In May, National Wildlife Federation polled Ohio voters and found 84% of that state’s voters believe it is very important to keep national public lands in federal hands. 83% oppose any effort by Congress to pass laws to allow federal public lands to be sold or transferred to local or private use. Extrapolate that data to other Eastern swing states like Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire, and it becomes quite clear that a candidate or party’s platform position on public lands will impact the national political landscape.
Given the strong public support for federal ownership of federal lands, it is perplexing why any candidate would support ceding ownership to local or private interests. Our sentiment, and that of conservatives everywhere, was aptly painted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984:
“What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live—our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.”
President Roosevelt once pointed out that the coming generations of yet-to-be born Americans outnumber those of us here today. It is incumbent upon us—it is our patriotic duty—to conserve our public lands for our children and generations to come.
Theodore Roosevelt IV, Brooklyn, NY
Trammell S. Crow, founder, Earth Day Texas
Rob Sisson, president, ConservAmerica