On the first day of the new Congress the new Republican led U.S. House voted to ease the transfer of public lands signaling that the threat of our public lands being given or sold to state and private interests is real and imminent. This is a part of an outrageous broader scheme by some in Congress and state legislatures to transfer or sell our public lands and rivers and must be vehemently opposed by all Americans regardless of political party.
By adopting new rules to avoid costs to the federal treasury they came up with an accounting trick—decreeing that public lands have no value. Of course in so many ways this couldn’t be further from the truth. The real dollar of value public lands provide us is in fact immense. Our public lands and wild rivers provide billions of dollars annually in clean drinking water, outstanding recreation, and important fish and wildlife habitat.
The value of clean drinking water flowing off of our National Forest lands alone is estimated to be $7.2 billion annually according the U.S. Forest Service. These lands are the drinking water source for many rivers and aquifers that provide drinking water for 180 million Americans in 68,000 communities including Atlanta, Los Angeles, Portland, and Denver.
According to the Outdoor Alliance recreation contributes $646 billion to the economy annually supporting 6.1 million jobs. Close to 75 percent of the nation’s outdoor recreation takes place within one-half mile of streams or other water bodies and river-related recreation alone contributes over $97 billion annually to the U.S. economy. Once our public lands are transferred or sold we will likely lose access to many of these lands and rivers.
Aside from the economic arguments and perhaps more importantly: our public lands are simply a birthright and help define what it means to be an American. Our forefathers made sure these lands would not be owned or sold by a lucky few but held in trust for all Americans for all time. Let’s keep it that way.
Rivers on public lands across the country are at risk — including the Chattooga in Georgia, the Rogue in Oregon, the Au Sable in Michigan and the Gallatin in Montana. In the coming weeks and months we will be featuring some of the public lands, watersheds and Wild and Scenic Rivers across the country that are threatened by this extreme action by Congress.