If you’ve enjoyed a national park this year, camped or skied on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), or grazed animals or cut trees in a national forest, you know that good management of publicly owned land is critical to rural economies. The outdoor recreation industry alone contributes $646 billion to our nation’s economy, and thousands of jobs depend on timber harvest, oil and gas exploration, mining, grazing, and many other activities on public lands.
Plus who doesn’t love a quiet walk in the woods?
For communities that exist near public land, involvement in decisions related to that land is important, because some uses of public land do not easily exist side by side. It’s also important for land managers to understand how the land is being used currently, so that additional uses, especially extractive ones, can mesh well with existing activities.
The Center for Rural Affairs recently organized county commissioners and state legislators in seven western states on a letter to Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell. In it, the 76 signers request that Secretary Jewell maintain a balanced approach when it comes to public land management, such that one activity does not take priority over others.
The concern arose in part because during the first Obama administration, 2.5 times more land was leased for oil and gas development than was conserved for public access and enjoyment. Balancing energy development with other uses of public land is essential to maintaining rural economies and the quality of life in our communities.
The letter does not ask for outdoor recreation or conservation to be prioritized above other uses - there are places that are appropriate for oil and gas development and should be explored appropriately and responsibly with input from rural communities before and after leasing. Instead, conservation, recreation, responsible grazing, wildlife habitat, and other uses of public land should be seen as equally important as energy exploration, similar to many past presidential administrations.
The access to beautiful public places is a top reason why many people move to the West, and the letter communicated to the Secretary the importance of keeping these places beautiful and easily accessible. Thanks to all the elected officials who signed!
Photo image of mountain goat at Glacier National Park by Ester Lee
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