Las Vegas Sun

January 30, 2015

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Guest column:

Why are there public lands? Good question.

As the Republican presidential nomination process moves on to the states of Nevada and Colorado, a new topic has arisen in a race that has already seen many twists and turns. That issue is the purpose and importance of public lands. In a recent interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the leading contender for the GOP nomination, was quoted as saying, in reference to the large acreage of public land in the state, “I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land.” As an organization whose mission is to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places, I think it is important to answer the governor’s query for all people who enjoy and benefit from our public lands.

Our public lands, which include national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and national wilderness areas, among others, are vital to America’s economy. Through recreation, such as hunting, fishing and hiking, and tourism, our public lands contribute over $1 trillion to the nation, not to mention millions of jobs.

Public lands provide much of our clean drinking water and without protection, much of it might be contaminated. Our public lands have also played an extremely important role in energy development, and the economic importance that comes with it. Oil and gas exploration could not have exploded the way it did during the early 20th century without our public lands, and now as we move forward in the 21st century, public lands can help us advance renewable energy development. Public lands provide some of the best places in the world for solar and wind energy and the energy self-dependence that the United States needs.

People of all political stripes in the West understand the importance of our public lands, as the Colorado College’s Conservation in the West Poll indicates. An overwhelming 78 percent of Westerners, across the entire spectrum, says, “We can protect land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs at the same time, without having to choose one over the other.” Sixty-eight percent think, “We should not allow private companies to profit from using our public lands when their doing so would limit the public's enjoyment of ‐ or access to ‐ these lands.” Ninety-six percent agree that public lands are “essential part of each state’s quality of life.” These finding support the contention that our public lands should be conserved and protected so that all Americans can enjoy them and recreate on them. Our public lands belong to all Americans. They are not for an individual state, or an individual company. They are a treasure and a legacy that extends back more than a century.

Gov. Romney has stated that as a child his family, “…went from national park to national park. And they were teaching me to fall in love with America.’’ We hope that as he travels the country, and especially our Western states, he will start to understand the answer to his question: Why does the government own so much of this land? For its preservation for future generations to experience what Gov. Romney did, traveling from sea to shining sea, marveling at the foresight of our ancestors to keep some special places free of exploitation, so all Americans have the chance to fall in love with this country like no other, where all the people own some land.

William H. Meadows is the president of The Wilderness Society.

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  1. I applaud guest writer, William H. Meadows, in his response to "Why Are There Public Lands?" He provides an insightful view and reasons why continuing to value and treasure our pristine wildernesses are important for future generations. All Americans own these lands, and possess the ability and right to enjoy them, now, and in the future.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. Great column, Bill. Destroying the common heritage of all Americans (not to mention all Nevadans!) has been a theme for short-sighted, greed-obsessed hucksters and the politicians who represent them st least since the Civil War. Fortunately, there are enough far-sighted people of both parties committed to conserving and preserving our public lands that we, and I hope our children, will have places to experience God's earth.

  3. It's also important to note that everything in the West was public land to start with, either part of the Louisiana Purchase, the Gadsden Purchase, Mexican War cessions, or the result of Britain and the U.S. settling claims for Oregon Country. What we have left are the public lands that didn't get homesteaded or sold. Romney needs to learn some history as well as something about the current values of public lands.

  4. Once again a highly manipulated and one sided article. No one seems to notice the polling questions and how they were written to ensure a particular result. Asking questions everyone will answer the same way without depth.

    In Romney's case he was asked about Nevada's Federally held lands, yet the writer ignores this and jumps right into national issues compares what Romney said about Nevada to National Parks and tourism.

    Anyone looking for a bit more honesty and depth can easily see the discussion is on the Federal Government's control of public lands that we the public do not have access to or enjoy, the very argument the author tries to turn on its head and reverses it.

    Much of Nevada, as well as Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and other western states have giant swaths of land the Fed controls with absolutely no access to the general public, much of it used only by the government itself or leased out to federal government friendly companies whose revues flow to the fed and not to the states.

    The NTS and Yucca Mountain are perfect examples, the greater part of the NTS IS NOT damaged or radiated but when was that last time anyone you've heard of when up to the meadows on the Mercury side of the highway and enjoyed camping along one of the mountain streams? Never, this is just one example of 10s of thousands of sites the Federal Gov. control that we the people have no access to, does nothing for the tax base of the States they are in, and have so little oversight that the Federal agencies can destroy them, dump in them, and let corporations do the same, often with no State oversight and many that not even the EPA gets to have a voice in.

    IS this the free use of protected lands the author was talking about? I think he either is clueless as are so many others. The lands in each State need to be given back to those who rightfully own them. Let the states control and protect them, and open them up to it's rightful owners to access and enjoy.

  5. Ya--love the land between Tonapah and Hawthorne. Glad the Feds are controlling that Wilderness area. Feds know best.

    Give them your land, Mr. Meadows.