From the dusty washes near Bunkerville, Nevada, to polished marble offices along K Street in Washington, D.C., there is a radical cry to wrest our national forests and prairies away from public ownership.

That cry should alarm all Americans who cherish their freedom to hunt, fish and otherwise enjoy the great outdoors.

One of the many blessings of American citizenship is the fact that we, the people, own

450 million acres of national forest, rangeland, wildlife refuges and national parks. Some of these lands are famous, like Yellowstone National Park, while others are obscure “secret spots” and quiet getaways. They include trout streams, elk pastures, duck marshes, scenic drives and huckleberry patches.

Thanks to the foresight of leaders like Theodore Roosevelt, we have an outdoor heritage unmatched in any part of the world. Hunting and fishing is a cherished tradition for millions of American families, not a privilege reserved to the landed elites. Our system is the envy of the world and depends on keeping public lands in public hands.


■ Hunting, fishing and wildlife watching on national forests alone produce $1.7 billion in economic activity, tens of thousands of jobs, and $200 million in tax revenues. This is a sustainable, reliable stream of revenue for rural economies.

■ Our national forests support some 35 million days of hunting, fishing and wildlife watching annually.

■ Over 70 percent of sportsmen and women say they hunt and fish primarily on public land.

■ An estimated 90 percent of the elk in North America depend on national forests for their survival at least part of the year.

■ National forests and public lands provide the headwaters for our most cherished trout streams and clean water for all.

Our lives are richer for our public lands, both in terms of the economy and in ways that cannot be measured with an accountant’s calculator.

Land is wealth, so it’s no surprise that some special interests have their eyes on ours.

Last month, 60 elected officials from nine western states met in Utah to hear a lawyer’s twisted argument that our federal public lands birthright is somehow unconstitutional. The list of attendees included Mark Blasdel, the Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives.

Near the same time, a rancher named Cliven Bundy bullied federal land managers near his ranch in Nevada. He staged a showdown, bristling with rifle barrels, over his refusal to pay $1 million in grazing fees. Even though no western livestock associations would side with a deadbeat like Bundy, some politicians such as Kerry White, R-Bozeman, were eager to voice support.

Politicians who want to grab our public land repeat predictable talking points: they argue that federal government is mismanaging the land so it should be handed over to the states.

It’s easy to find fault in federal land management. Outdoorsmen share many of those frustrations and are working to improve responsive management. But there is no reason to throw the public lands baby out with the bathwater. The alternative is worse.

People should see the “state control” mantra for what it is: a smokescreen. State budgets are already stretched to the breaking point and states are not eager to pick up the costs that are part-and-parcel of managing these lands. Firefighting costs alone would crush state budgets.

States would face only one resolution: sell the land.

Public land liquidation would be a wholesale disaster for the American outdoor family. For all its warts, federal land management guarantees that every American has a voice in how that land is managed and they have an equal right to set foot on it.

Not so if public land suddenly becomes a private hunt club or a tree farm for a timber company.

People around the West need to ask those who represent them some hard questions: Are they siding with the forces that want to liquidate our outdoor heritage? And if so, why should they be trusted with something so rare and irreplaceable as America’s access to the great outdoors?

Land Tawney is executive director of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers ( He lives in Missoula.

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(17) comments

Bob cat

So the nations wildlife watchers and hunters on federal lands generate 1.7 billion for rural economies. Compared to Montana's agriculture which generates 2.4 billion for one states economy. Let's be truthful, if your going to make this issue about dollars the hunters and wildlife watchers loose. The US has over 400 companies which generate more than 2.5 billion a year. The only power we have as hunters and wildlife watchers is the power of organization. Join a group which will fight for you.


Although I don't like the anti everything's in DC managing land with a one size fits all approach, it is better than the states not being able to afford it, and selling it off.

trad man

Thanks for getting the word out, so many folks haven't heard of this and it is one scary thought, hunters and anyone who fishes, hikes, photographers, etc. jump on this and demand a no vote, don't allow our inheritance slide through misguided hands in congress.


I guess some people just want roads built into wild areas, so they can cut more trees - probably at a net loss to taxpayers. Subsidized logging is just another type of welfare.

Still Here

Who is behind te land grab. Read this:

Then look to see who started funds the Cato Institute, The Koch Brother.

Just think, the Ravalli County Commission want to manage land.


As much as I get a kick from these these forums, and I think they're important, this Western land grab thing is happening right before our eyes. What happens if/when the GOP - such as it is - gains control of Congress and all our known bought and paid for reps vote as directed to change federal law and hand public lands over to the states, as requested by the extraction industries? And we pick up the tab in a million unforeseen ways. More is needed than cranky forums and online letters to cheap politicians' websites. At least we should call local and national offices and ask just what it is we need to do to stop this land grab. I believe we have migrated into an arena where old style "write your congressman" virtues get us nowhere fast. And frankly this is frightening. Is Hilary Clinton the only thing that stands between us and the de facto transfer of public lands to Big Fuel and Multinational Corporations? Do not look to cable news for the answer.


The problem is that the federal government is currently run by far left wing environmental extremists. They are locking us out of our public lands just as surely as if it were in private hands in the name of threatened species protection. I've lived in SW Montana my whole life and know first hand that logging, mineral extraction and roads do not jeopardize wildlife at all. If you don't want the states to own the land it's time to rein in the extremists and use common sense in managing it. Multiple use is good for everybody.


I have seen examples of private land owners are blocking access to public lands in Montana. I have not seen any media or other reporting of the Federal government litigating right-of-way matters related to public access.


No Elkguy. You are wrong. You live in a SW Montana dream world. The federal gov has been bending to corporate land and water and air abusers for 6 years now. The far left is not at all happy about it. If you've traveled around the West at all, hunting elk, perhaps, (have you?) you know that there are really very few intact fragments of low-lying wildland forests left. Wilderness and roadless areas tend to be high, dry, rocky, unroadable and don't produce decent timber.

Maybe you could spend some time looking at Google Maps? Search Google Images for "checkerboard cleacuts" or Swan Valley clearcuts to see the truth. The deadzone clearcuts are mile square units - 640 acres - or larger - that were traded over to the railroad industry in one of the biggest industry land grabs in US history. The abusive logging and slash burning practices destroyed the understory and the thin, dry topsoil and much of the abandoned land remains overtaken by knapweed. Note: this will not recover to elk habitat for even your grandchildrens' grandchildren. The habitat is much more dry now, for the long term So now we have Plum Creek as the biggest private land holder in Missoula county, for example, and they are stuck with land that won't produce much in the way of merchantable timber for many generations. And the old giant clearcuts are too ugly for recreational cabins. But shhh, don't tell, their valuations of future stock would plummet.

There just isn't that much pristine land left. We've never done anything with timber here but extract it and there isn't much left for the big animals. something like 4% of the original old growth in the West? Not sure, about the numbers but it won't grow back anytime soon.

The states simply don't have the capacity to manage the lands. They don't have the money or the institutional history - which is a very important aspect of our National Forests and parks. Listen - THIS IS IMPORTANT: GOP legal operatives (search ALEC -Public Lands) who work directly for the Big Timber and Mining and Water Resource extractors have already written the ' model legislation' for all this activity in the states. It comes directly from a slew of hyperconservative libertarian tea party whoever-they-are Koch and Friends STD Billionaires who want quick and dirty unregulated access to the land for more industrial extraction. It's in plain sight just between the lines. It's no secret. It doesn't show up on cable or broadcast news because they're bought, but there are many good sources just below the surface - sources whose journalists operate with integrity. Look for them. Search Also look up ALEC in Wikipedia.

Reasonable Utahan
Reasonable Utahan

I LOVE THIS! I was going to write an article about this, but just shared yours instead. Thank God there are some reasonable, thinking people left in the West. I was starting to lose hope.

mark h
mark h

Turning these lands over to state control may suit some residents, but ignores the obvious interests of the larger number of co-owners--the residents of the remaining states to whom these Federal lands also belong. I don't guess that the majority will support such a land grab by the minority.


There seems to be some confusion with the last 2 posters and Mr.Tawney. Obviously you all are in love with the government and need someone to help you through your day with some kind of entitlement. Compare the financial position of the state to the federal government--state has a surplus, feds, $17 trillion in the hole. Corruption, It's hard to find a federal agency that is not embroiled in some kind of controversy including Bengazi, IRS, VA and on and on. State, nothing. Let the people of Montana manage our resources and everyone will be on equal footing regarding access, resource revenue and land management. Sorry folks but in this case, bigger is not better, in my opinion.


Dubs, I am a Federal Land co-owner. This is not about entitlement, like welfare. This is about the Public Trust Doctrine that certain natural resources, such as water, fish, wildlife and land are held in trust by the government for the benefit of all the people, for future generations. As a conservation hunter and angler, as well as camper and hiker, wildlife advocate, I can enjoy access and rights to those lands, which most state land does not provide to the public.

I moved from Texas years ago, with a 1.9% Federal land holding. I know what it is like for the state and private sector controlling almost all the land. According to the 2013 state polls, 66% Montanans opposed selling Public lands to reduce the deficit. As awareness grew of what we would lose if those lands were turned over to the State, opposition by Montanans grew in 2014 to 78%. I agree, Montanans should manage their land and at least 78% of them want it done federally to ensure our public access for future generations.


There is a difference between controversy and corruption. Not all controversial government actions are criminal. Corruption is a generic term used to describe a variety of criminal misconduct.

Montana government has certainly not been free from controversy or corruption.


Dubs I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but I think you could be better informed about how much is involved in managing public land, and the cost. If you do a search of Fed agencies that care for our public land hereabouts: US Forest Service, US Department of Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, and other public land agencies, you will be in a better position to debate effectively. if you would be willing to boycott Fox News and rightwing radio for a few months (could you do it?) and get your information from ordinary mainstream newspapers and broadcast TV, with an open mind, I'll wager you might even be a little impressed.

I assume that during your or your families' lifetime you won't be needing Social Security, Medicare, emergency rooms, highways, bridges, ports, clean air and water, a safe place to camp and hunt, air traffic safety, due process of law, reasonably intelligent neighborhood kids, a nuclear safety commission, FEMA, National Guard, Coast Guard, (or God forbid the Army), Fed Payment to Counties in Lieu of Taxes, the Postal Service!? and so forth.

If you choose to live in the boonies, and require nothing from society except er, petroleum, ammunition and some seeds, who will help you when ten thousand organized, hungry, mutant, armed Rainbow Militia children decide they like the looks of your castle? I pay Fed taxes and I won't be voting for any jackbooted thugs to protect you. I'll have the Fed mange my federal public lands, thanks.

By whose authority do you get to choose wild and free? Those days are long gone. I'm not sure how you came to have your views of the government, but by my own lifetime of experience I can tell you that federal agencies are not staffed with the corrupt, evil beings you would have us believe.


well said. Have yet to see anything under the state's control that they haven't screwed up.


Couldn't agree more to the points made in this piece. The threat to public ownership is coming predominantly from the far right wing of the Republican Party so pay attention who you vote for.

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