As the political season heads into its home stretch this year, the push to sell off our public lands is likely to get hotter than ever. But two recent national stories contain all the ammunition sportsmen need to mount a winning defense.
The Wyoming story is being echoed in every fossil-fuel producing state. From Alaska to Louisiana the crash in oil prices has led to tens of thousands of layoffs, capped wells, mothballed drilling rigs, and huge budget deficits.
I’m using Wyoming as an example because it typifies how the public-land battle has evolved across the West. Like many of its neighbors, this state is home to vast expanses of property jointly owned by all Americans that has long been managed for the optimal use of its many renewable resources.
These included timber, livestock grazing, and the whole list of outdoors spots, including hunting and fishing. The practice made economic sense: As long as the habitat base remained healthy, it would continue to supply the jobs and incomes produced by those industries.
But as the price of oil started to rise toward $100 per barrel a few years ago, a big push began to ignore those permanent jobs for the temporary but much bigger payoff of energy production.
Records show that since 2010, the energy and natural resource industries pumped $435 million into the coffers of congressional candidates.
At about the same time congressmen from those states began their demands that we turn over our lands to the states.
They pointed to the fracking booms making millionaires out of farmers across the country and said concerns for fish and wildlife, hunting and fishing, backpacking and camping were chump change standing in the way of making their states untold billions.
They demanded regulations be pared back, they got energy production a higher priority than wildlife and environmental concerns, and they pushed for blanket leasing and development that would rip up migration corridors and spoil pristine recreational habitat.
They actually got a lot of that accomplished – all while claiming they did it to “make America energy independent.”
Then the price of oil went from $100 to about $30. Suddenly, no one was singing “God Bless America” anymore. The rigs wells were being capped. The bars were being closed. And the unemployment lines were growing.
Meanwhile, the public property that was still intact keeps producing deer, elk, trout and waterfowl, continues to attract people who spend tens of thousands each year on outdoor gear, including guns, cameras, tents, backpacks and binoculars.
In other words, while yet another boom in an extractive industry has gone bust, companies that depend on a healthy landscape remains strong providing not only recreation, but also jobs and taxes.
That’s the value of that Wyoming headline. And anyone who knows much about Wyoming knows this is about the third time they’ve had this boom-bust oil cycle in the last 50 years.
After explaining that one, sportsmen can then use the next headline to remind opponents that the energy industry seldom just “rents” public property, even when the permits are time-limited. When they leave, they often leave a mess behind, a mess that prevents our property from producing those renewable benefits.
So keep those headlines and links handy, as we get closer to November. You’re going to need them.