Grand Teton National Park ( - click to enlarge)
Grand Teton National Park ( – click to enlarge)
Grand Teton National Park ( – click to enlarge)

Keeping public lands in public hands is good politics, and good business

By Peter Metcalf and Ann Morgan
— May 6, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt, one of our all-time great presidents, famously embodied the “conserve” in “conservative.” He set aside some of our country’s most beloved public lands, including the Grand Canyon, Muir Woods and Chaco Canyon, and created the National Forest and National Wildlife Refuge systems.

The hundreds of millions of acres that belong to all Americans are critical to fish, wildlife, watersheds and the economic powerhouse of outdoor recreation, which produces $646 billion in economic benefit annually and supports 6.1 million jobs. In the tradition of Roosevelt, Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling convened hunters, anglers and other conservationists in a kind of “big-tent” gathering – the first North American Wildlife Conference – and created the forerunner to the National Wildlife Federation in 1936.

Roosevelt and Darling were among the first in a long line of Republican conservationists to conserve irreplaceable natural treasures and lands that have shaped the American identity and help drive the economy. Unfortunately, some GOP leaders seem eager to dismantle our heritage of public lands, which are open to all Americans and are managed for multiple uses.

At its winter meeting, the Republican National Committee approved a resolution endorsing proposals to turn our public lands over to Western states that want them. And some states are lining up to claim the lands, despite recognized constitutional prohibitions against such land grabs. Utah, for example, has given the federal government until the end of this year to transfer nearly 20 million acres or be sued.

Peter Metcalf
Peter Metcalf

Members of Congress have sponsored bills that would mandate increased logging and drilling on public lands regardless of environmental and economic harm and force federal agencies to sell arbitrary percentages of public lands. In March, the House passed legislation that would undermine any president’s ability to use the Antiquities Act, which has been used to preserve such significant historic and natural sites as the Statue of Liberty and Arches and Bryce national monuments, later upgraded to national parks. Because of these extreme proposals, organizations and businesses, including Black Diamond, are joining forces with the National Wildlife Federation to urge the Republican National Committee to honor an important American legacy by rescinding its misguided resolution on public lands.

The RNC is clearly on the wrong side of this issue. Surveys show it. Economic reports show it. Public sentiment shows it. The 2014 Conservation in the West Poll, a bipartisan survey by Colorado College, found that nearly two-thirds of the voters in the Rocky Mountain region consider themselves conservationists, and most agree that public lands are an essential part of their state’s economy.

Herd of Elk (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service - click to enlarge)
Herd of elk (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service – click to enlarge)
Herd of elk (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service – click to enlarge)

Figures on the economic benefits of public lands back up the survey’s findings. The Outdoor Industry Association reports that in addition to the annual $646 billion contribution to the economy, outdoor recreation generates nearly $40 billion in annual federal tax revenue and roughly the same in state and local tax revenue. Hunters and anglers spend at least $90 billion a year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The total spent on all wildlife-related activity, including wildlife watching and photography, was nearly $145 billion in 2011, or the equivalent of 1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

Business and gateway communities took big hits during last fall’s government shutdown and closure of national parks and other public sites. An Interior Department report estimated a loss of $414 million in visitor spending compared to a three-year average. Businesses also recognize the value of public lands and the lifestyle they offer in terms of attracting top employees and deciding where to locate, as a 2012 survey by the Small Business Majority demonstrated.

We call on the Republican National Committee to embrace the party’s conservation roots and support the public lands that provide so much and that help our western communities to thrive and make this country the greatest on earth.

— Peter Metcalf is the CEO and president of Black Diamond Inc., based in Salt Lake City. He co-founded Black Diamond Equipment in 1989. Ann Morgan is the executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center and a former state Bureau of Land Management director in Colorado and Nevada.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at

— REPUBLISH THIS GUEST COLUMN: For details on how you can republish this post or other WyoFile content for free, click here.

— Please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.

Join the Conversation


Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Whenever people seek to justify the federal governments vast land holdings they use National Parks and monuments rather than the BLM lands that are scattered throughout the West. While its easy to make a case for keeping Yellowstone public it isn’t so easy to argue that every isolated tract of sagebrush should remain in federal ownership. Not only is the federal government unwilling to sell federal lands that are surrounded by private land the federal government has an unquenchable appetite to acquire more private land. Much of the federal land is land that homesteaders rejected in favor of the claimed for private land. The greatest myth is that the federal government is a good manager. I know of one spot on federal land where the government allowed asbestos , scrapped from a pipeline that was being removed , to be dumped in a draw. The asbestos is still there seventy one years later. The BLM lands that are not in grazing districts could easily be transferred to a state. Such a transfer would benefit the public schools. Isolated tracts of public land could be sold as origionaly allowed by federal law. We certainly do not hear the private land states crying out for the benefits of public land. I doubt many counties in Iowa would want to loose their tax base in exchange for a local BLM office. Wyoming will always be a colony of the federal government as long as the majority of the land and minerals within the state remain in federal ownership.

  2. I also agree that this would be wrong. However I am not a hunter and have been told many times I have NO RIGHT to public lands since I don’t “pay for it” so I guess I don’t really care what happens to it. Maybe if you want to better preserve your lands you will get better at sharing them with others. Unless you think the shrinking number of sportsmen can really fund it all by themselves.

  3. I agree with you, that the states taking over Federal lands would be wrong. However, I think we should look at why so many people are frustrated with our current management. South of Interstate 80, in southwest Wyoming we have
    a feral horse problem. The BLM has not managed these. They tromp every waterhole and spring out in this magnificent desert. Where is the outcry for the other wild things that try and make a living out there. The recent 12 year drought has only compounded the problem. We have sage grouse, deer, antelope
    and other diverse wild things that are being crowded out because of these feral horses!!
    So look at why they are frustrated and do something about that and maybe the cry to take over federal lands will subside.