Are you listening to what candidates are saying about our public lands?

Given the deeply polarized politics that have come to characterize our nation, it might seem foolish to advocate that voters focus a great deal of attention on a single issue. After all, that’s one of the many reasons we’ve ended up with a hopelessly gridlocked political system.

But anyone who enjoys the outdoors should pay close attention to what’s being said about our unique American birthright: public lands. Timothy Egan summarized what’s at stake in a beautiful post entitled My Summer Home in the New York Times Opinionator blog last September:

The immensity often gets lost in the superlatives stirred up by the most outrageously scenic sites. But in the aggregate, this is what every citizen owns: 530 million acres, of which 193 million are run by the Forest Service, 253 million by the Bureau of Land Management and 84 million by the National Park Service. The public land endowment is more than three times the size of France.

Given recent statements from some Republican presidential candidates, it’s an odd twist of irony that the entire public lands system owes its genesis to an extremely wealthy Republican president: Theodore Roosevelt. Thank God that our nation once had politicians with vision and foresight that extended beyond gotcha soundbites tailored for the evening news.

In a recent post, The Trees Are All Right, Egan writes:

… A clueless rich man, Romney can afford the private ranches of Texas, where one-percenters chase exotic animals without breaking a sweat.

The rest of us need our public land. The West is defined by new, fast-growing cities surrounded by the mountains, mesas, forests, sandstone spires and various shared settings. There is no other place in the world where urban and wild coexist over such a huge area. If you are poor, you can feel rich just minutes from the city, in your estate that is a national forest. …

And further:

Not to be outdone, Rick Santorum has channeled his inner robber baron while in the West. Speaking in Boise last month, he promised to sell our land to the private sector. The last time somebody seriously proposed that — James Watt, the secretary of the interior under President Reagan — he got a bipartisan round of boos from all corners of the West.

Anyone who enjoys even one day a year in our public lands should be alarmed by politicians with views like these. But for people who view outdoor recreation as a cornerstone of their lifestyle — and that obviously includes anyone like me who camps or uses an RV — it should also be a call to action to prevent fools like Romney and Santorum from ever getting the opportunity to desecrate a fundamental component of our democracy: our public lands.

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