By: Josh Shaffer
Today seems like a great day to spread some good words about our wonderful nation, don't you think?
I've recently returned to a normal schedule after a trip to Colorado for early season elk and I'm reflecting on the events that unfolded. These western trips are character building and have lasting impressions on us hunters: I can still smell the dark pine forest scents and feel the sting of the frosty 25 degree morning temperatures on the way up the mountain. Even though I came home with an un-filled elk tag, I still learned a lot about the mountains and came away with pictures of scenic views that few have a chance to witness.
What was the keystone to our safe and successful DIY elk trip? It wasn't any fantastic elk calling tactics or a high dollar piece of hunting gear, it was the ability to walk endless miles in the timber, meadows, and mountains that are situated on America's public lands system. Without the leadership and foresight of those in the back in America's heyday, we wouldn't have these lands to call our own.
In my own curiosity about the public lands system, I did a little background research and found that the first national forest was the Shoshone National Forest and was founded in 1891 as part of the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve. Coincidentally, my wife and I visited the Shoshone years ago en route to Yellowstone. I can attest that it is vast and large! In the years following many more national forests were added to the tally and to date there are 155 separate national forests that encompass some 190 million acres. As the years progressed, 1964 arrived and the Wilderness Act came to fruition during the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration. Initially it protected about 9.1 million acres and 51 years later (2015) protects a very impressive 109 million acres. Interestingly, the famous trophy elk destination known as the Gila Wilderness Area of New Mexico was the first wilderness area designated under the act and encompasses 559,040 acres.
As you can tell my recent trip to the wild and rugged anpublic lands of Colorado has refreshed my appreciation of America's public land system.
Many western hunters coming from all ends of the country rely on public lands to fulfill our hunting dreams. Without our public lands, we'd be limited to trying to obtain ranch tags at a premium under fierce competition. Thankfully, we have many DIY options at our disposal.
There has been a lot of talk in the western states about some of the federally owned lands being auctioned off, leased, and/or transferred to the states and other private entities to alleviate federal constraints. As with any debate, there are always two sides to the story, but I am in favor of keeping these lands under federal control. If these lands are auctioned off, they will never return to federal control for all tax payers to enjoy. I recently found a good article that discusses the different types of federal lands and the varying protections that each has to offer. Give the article a quick read for a better understanding of the various federal protections.
It makes me wonder how the good news of our public lands could be amplified if all the hunters and anglers across America took a few minutes to spread a good word. Please consider sending a supportive email to your state representative: I just did!
In closing, public lands of all sorts are owned by you and me. Keep this in mind next time you are spending time in one of America's parks, forests, or wilderness areas. It's up to all of us to practice good stewardship with what we have been entrusted to manage so that generations to come can enjoy these resources as well.