Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Our Public Lands (Part 1)

Regular readers know that the prevailing theme of the conservation posts on Dispatches is summed up in this simple equation: access to healthy habitat creates recreational opportunity and that creates economic activity and jobs.

By and large that healthy habitat is found on the lands owned by all Americans and managed by federal, state and local governmental agencies on our behalf. If you think about it for a minute without those national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, wildlife management areas, local parks and greenways we would be hard pressed to find places to play outside.

All to often we take these public lands and the people who manage them for granted. We forget that those lands create jobs in many local communities far beyond the governmental jobs. Gas stations, diners, motels, hunting and fishing retail stores, all are small business in local communities that benefit from public lands.

Of course just because I think public lands are a good thing doesn’t mean everyone does. My years as a conservation lobbyist has taught me different. I know there are elected officials who are skeptical about the value of public lands (more on that in future posts).

So what does the general public think about our public lands?

Let’s look at a recent post, “Government does a good job of protecting our natural history” in the Hill’s Congress Blog:

“Fully 87 percent of American voters agree that their “state and national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are an essential part of my state’s quality of life.” A near-unanimous 96 percent of those we polled in six inner West states likewise agreed.

But voters don’t stop there. Seven-in-ten Americans and nine in ten Westerners agree that these public lands are “an essential part” of their state’s economy. Think about it: in six states with some of the highest proportions of land in public hands, voters were even more likely to view those lands as a valuable economic resource. The numbers quantify what voters tell us in Western focus groups: that public lands bring tourists, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationalists to spend money in their communities; that their neighbors moved there for the clean air, trails, and trout fishing; that a growing company chose their town because they knew future workers would find the nearby natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities desirable too.”

Our public lands are something to be proud of. Maybe it is time we remind our elected officials and the politicians just how proud we are of them.

Give that some thought.


  1. What gets me Tom, is that of that 96% in those western states a majority of them will vote straight ticket for a party that wants to SELL OFF public lands to the highest bidder, rather than protect it for future generations.

  2. Exceedingly proud Tom. But are these public lands fiscally self-sustaining or do they require a taxpayer subsidy? In which case, there are always free-riders…

  3. Steve, As I understand it there is a 4 to 1 ROI on public lands. But I know we will argue about what constitutes self-sustaining and what is an appropriate taxpayer subsidy. The iist of “free-riders” is not limited to public lands. I think we agree that without bi-partisan cooperation and political will, solving the myriad economic challenges our nation faces will be impossible. The point is there is strong public supports for public lands and the economic contribution they provide. Those public lands are not just a “nice to have” asset or function of the government as some would argue.

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