Vail Daily column: Sportsmen embrace Public Lands Day
Colorado Public Lands Day today, is significant for many reasons, and particularly important for anyone who hunts, fishes, hikes, camps or otherwise recreates on our great public lands estate. For starters, it’s the first official Public Lands Day in Colorado (or any other state) and long overdue.
With more than 23 million acres of public land, Colorado boasts some of the best hunting and fishing in the nation. To put this into perspective: Colorado’s public land acreage is equal in size to the entire state of Indiana. And a survey by the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation showed that 92 percent of Colorado hunters use public lands.
In some neighboring states, such as Utah, extremist politicians are endeavoring to transfer ownership of federal public lands to states and/or private interests. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is catering to them by reviewing a long list of national monuments — created by both Republican and Democratic administrations, many of which protect access to public lands hunting and fishing — to see if protections should be removed in favor of extractive industries and other development interests.
Earlier this year, Conservation Colorado placed a half-page ad in The Salt Lake Tribune saying, in part, “We have stronger beer. We have taller peaks. We have higher recreation. But most of all, we love our public lands. … We have honored and fought for our public lands by defeating land seizure bills and embracing new national monuments. … Colorado knows protecting public lands is just good business.”
A National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation conducted for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found more than 8.4 million fishing days and nearly 2.2 million hunting days contributing to total expenditures of more than $1 billion in Colorado. Another 6.9 million wildlife-watching days contributed to an additional $1.4 billion in related expenditures.
Nearly 920,000 Colorado residents consider themselves hunters or anglers, and another 1.8 million take part in wildlife watching. In addition, 80 percent of respondents in Colorado College’s 2017 Conservation in the West Poll supported keeping national monument designations in place. And more than 70 percent of Coloradans oppose public-lands seizures. Gladly, the majority of Colorado’s elected legislators agree.
State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, started the push for a Public Lands Day during the 2016 legislative session, saying, “Whether it’s skiing, hunting, rafting or fly-fishing, all of the activities that come to mind when you think of Colorado depend on our 23 million acres of public lands being accessible. … Public lands support our way of life and form the backbone of some of our key industries.” It didn’t take long for her bill to reach Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk.
Hickenlooper considers our state’s public lands “spiritual and economic assets,” and says, “We need more public land, not less.” He adds, “Our protected public lands are part of what makes Colorado special.”
Speaking for sportsmen, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers president and CEO Land Tawney said, “This issue is our second Second Amendment. Any attack on public lands is a non-starter for us.”
David Lien is a former Air Force officer and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation,” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a Hero of Conservation.