Public Lands & Waters photo

Here’s a vital question hunters and anglers need to ask their congressional representatives:

Will you protect us, or will you protect oil and gas companies, mining and timber interests, and real estate developers?

That question should be asked as soon as possible because the drive to sell off federal lands that make public outdoors sports possible is underway. And some answers to that question are already coming in.

Last week the Senate approved a measure by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to support and fund state efforts to take possession of federal public lands—the land we depend on to hunt and fish.

The vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans voting “sell” and Democrats saying “don’t sell.”

So Alaska sportsmen already know what Murkowski’s answer is: She clearly values developers over sportsmen.

You can find out if your senator voted to protect hunting and fishing or developers here.

Sportsmen’s groups were clear in what they thought of that vote, and the entire effort.

“Public lands are the fabric that binds America together, and last night’s vote by the Senate sends an alarming message to sportsmen and women—along with every citizen who values our publicly owned resources,” said Land Tawney, executive director of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, in a statement. “Nationally, an organized, concerted movement is underway to sell off and limit access to America’s public lands and waters. These are not merely the actions of a lunatic fringe. Now is the time to double down and fight back against this ill-conceived idea.”

Last week’s vote was just the opening shot in this assault. For example, even before that action, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told hunters and anglers in his state he prefers to protect interests other than hunters and anglers, rafters, backpackers and campers by introducing a measure allowing the sale or transfer of national forests, wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges and historical sites.

The reason and urgency for this and similar actions are often “for the purpose of balancing the budget or reducing the deficit.”

This is alarming for three reasons:

First, it basically removes any restrictions on how much public land could be sold. With the national debt at $18 trillion and growing, every acre of fish and wildlife habitat would qualify.

Second, selling off public land will increase the deficit, not reduce it, because it will rob the national treasury $30 billion in annual tax receipts from a $646 billion industry supporting some 6 million jobs. When the public lands go, so does most of that outdoors recreation. And this doesn’t even include the billions in royalties private companies pay to extract wealth from our public property.

Third, no one can truly believe congress will only approve sales that send money directly to the treasury for the purpose of reducing the debt. Extractive industries such as energy and mining will quickly make the case that their use of our land will add jobs and tax dollars to the feds—which qualifies as reducing the debt.

Murkowski, Lee, and many others who voted to sell fishing and hunting habitat are members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, a group that supposedly looks out for the future of hunters and anglers. Yet every major sportsman’s conservation group opposes selling off the public property that makes our traditions possible.

A better example is Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico). He’s introduced a measure that would prevent the sale of public lands to reduce the deficit. He’s made his choice—he’s voting to protect hunters and anglers, and all other outdoors sports folks.

Don’t let another day pass before asking your congressional reps who they will vote to support. Let them know you’re watching, and their answers will have consequences.