Giving Back to the Land


NOTE: This is a guest post from Mike Matz, Director of the Pew Environment Group’s Campaign for America’s Wilderness.

Teddy Roosevelt, in a frequently cited address, once noted that, “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

On September 24, we will celebrate both National Public Lands and National Hunting and Fishing Day. This occasion provides an excellent opportunity for Americans to get outdoors and give something back by becoming active in local projects to protect our nation’s natural splendor. It’s also a crucial chance for people across the country to tell leaders in Congress that the allure of short-term economic gain is no reason to strip protections from tens of millions of acres of still pristine areas. Unfortunately, a pending congressional proposal could undermine decades of progress in preserving this wondrous heritage.

Take action: Stop the giveaway of America’s great outdoors!

Lands at Risk from H.R. 1581

Our national forests, wildlife refuges and other public lands are a resource for all of us. Scores of Americans annually take advantage of these special places. This July, just over 900,000 people visited Yellowstone National Park, the second highest number for any single month ever recorded.

That’s what makes National Public Lands Day so special. It encourages people around the United States to volunteer to clean up parks, plant trees or maintain trails. It also reminds us to take care of the natural legacy we’ve been given.

Likewise, National Hunting and Fishing Day honors the conservation leadership that hunters and anglers historically have provided in restoring wildlife populations to previous abundance and protecting the habitat on which many species — from birds to bears — depend. Established by President Richard Nixon in 1972, the day also serves as an opportunity for parents to introduce the wonders of nature to their youngsters and teach our children about just how fragile these special places can be.

We are losing open spaces at an astonishing rate: more than 3 million acres a year, or nearly 8,000 acres a day. You see this loss in meadows converted to malls, forests cleared for subdivisions and wild places being opened to new oil and gas drilling, coal extraction and hardrock mining. These activities can be an important source of jobs, but we need to strike a balance between development and protection because America’s wild lands are a finite resource.

We must bequeath to our heirs some semblance of the diminishing natural world. And fortunately, that’s been happening over the last half century. Since the enactment of the Wilderness Act — a legal tool that allows Americans to safeguard some of our public lands in perpetuity — we have had the foresight to conserve more than 100 million acres.

Saving places as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System keeps pristine areas in an untrammeled state and free for us to enjoy. Moreover, because of citizens’ calls for action, more designations are under consideration.

Some in Congress, however, are currently pushing legislation that would open more than 60 million acres — an area the size of Wyoming — of now-protected areas to extractive industries. Known as the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011, this bill would strip current safeguards for irreplaceable old-growth forests, sinuous canyons and sagebrush plains before they can be properly assessed or otherwise conserved.

Take action to help protect our public lands!

If industrial development and off-road vehicle use are allowed, these places will become permanently ineligible for wilderness consideration. Moreover, the release bill would abandon the balanced, bipartisan approach utilized by our nation’s leaders over the past several decades to ensure that America’s last undeveloped lands are protected for generations to come. Indeed, President Ronald Reagan signed more wilderness bills into law than any other president in U.S. history, working with a Democratic Congress to enact 21 proposals in 1984 alone.

As both National Public Lands and National Hunting and Fishing Day remind us, we are fortunate to have unspoiled places we all can enjoy. And as President Roosevelt so wisely warned over a century ago, if Americans are to continue to enjoy this nation’s rich “natural heritage,” we must actively protect it.

This Sept. 24, millions of Americans will do their part. Congress should follow suit by rejecting this misguided wilderness release proposal.

Related Stories:

We’re Rich In Magnificent Nature — But It’s Under Threat

Top 10 American Vacation Spots the House’s Anti-Environment Bill Could Ruin

Why America Needs Wilderness — Video


Sarah M.
Sarah M6 years ago


Mary Deforest
Mary DeForest6 years ago

Savitri U.-thank you for your comments. In my state-we can have part of our taxes go directly fish and game. Also, we can buy special license plates, where a certain amount of money goes to fish and game.

Mary Deforest
Mary DeForest6 years ago

There's idiots everywhere. In Texas ranchers lease hunting rights out to out-of-state hunters. They are supposed to be off the land at certain hours, so you can check for dead beef and horses- been shot at by them when checking. I spurred my horse and charged them. Roans have to be put up as some hunters think your horse is an elk. Considering all- I'd rather live in a country that allows hunting-and I prefer to be around hunters than many people. My complaint is off-roaders that leave gates open, oil and gas in alpine creeks, and tear fragile land up. If you don't like the laws in your area-go to your state legislatures- by the way- you sound like urban sprawl-

Elizabeth K.
Elizabeth K6 years ago

Savitry, because hunters trump everyone else.

I pay the same taxes and contribute to public lands, yet during hunting season I cannot ride or walk on the "public" lands, they have become "hunter" lands.

The rest of us are SOL.

And they are not content to stay on the "public" lands, every year I run hunters off my property, and every year they shoot cows, horses, sheep, etc. on private property. And of course, each other. But that doesn't bother me.

Mary D., hunters don't have halos.

Savitri U.
Luna D6 years ago

It's disappointing to see a lot of comments here putting down hunters in the "us vs. them" mode that seems to be the default setting in our culture. Why do we focus on conflict? Why can't we celebrate common ground instead? Of course hunters value and protect public lands - that's where they hunt. Moreover, most state fish and wildlife agencies raise their budgets primarily from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses rather than tax revenues, so hunters and anglers contribute to conservation in a very direct way.

Alicia N.
Alicia N6 years ago


Mary Deforest
Mary DeForest6 years ago

Hunters developed the federal wetlands program for ducks and geese in the 1930s. Private hunters were buying wet lands that was open to the public. Many hunters clean-up plastic sandwich bags and other trash left by families-which choke deer-bears fish etc. I guess you never had a foaling mare ate alive by coyotes. In the West they come into cities and attack small children and pets-they have super coyotes in Canada that killed an adult. Hunters are interested in deer and elk habitabt-if it weren't for hunters and their programs, there wouldn't as much out there for you to visit. Part of the problem is that excessive farming destoys habitant-so don't be proud of yourself if you're a vegetarian-you guys leave a carbon foot print and destroy nature too. I guess you never read about the Grand canyon experiment where all hunting was banned-deer overpopulated-and died of starvation and disease.

Mary Deforest
Mary DeForest6 years ago

We need to control our population. We need to control sprawl-if we had less sprawl-less gas would be used-we might even exercise more because we could walk to a store or job

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

We need to add plants / trees....not kill off more.

David Menard
David Menard6 years ago

Becky S It would be nice if they did. Unfortunately I wouldn't hold my breath.