With over 646 million acres of public lands in America or one-third of our land mass, including our National Parks, forests, monuments, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the citizens of this free country can contribute much of our American Identity to these lands owned by the public and carefully managed by the Federal government for our enjoyment and use of resources, but most importantly of all, for the numerous species that live within this framework of habitat that requires clean water and open space for survival.
Protecting and managing our public lands is a birthright of being an American, as there is not another country in the world that has set aside as much land for public use as the United States of America. Our national heritage and the economic opportunities that are derived from these lands is numerous, including natural resources such as timber, oil and gas, minerals, and water.
The benefit from a recreational perspective is significant and can not be ignored, as recreation is the third largest economic sector in our country, with over $650 billion in annual contributions and more than 6 million jobs to keep us strong. Public lands and the lifestyle that revolve around them open the doors of opportunity for those states that embrace the spirit of space, and in places such as my state of Colorado, where quality talent and great companies are locating here simply because of the diverse playground that we have protected within our borders, we have been able to generate over 33.5 billion from outdoor recreation and create 313, 000 jobs! We are the least obese state in the union, which in turn alleviates the burden on our health system. Being fit is good for the economy, and by having a population of outdoor intellectuals and spirited creativity, we are better prepared to send a clear message to the world that healthy open lands is a vital link between our fragile habitat and economic health.
As the CEO and founder of a fly-fishing products company, I am acutely aware of what clean water, open space, and federally protected lands mean to my business, the guides, the retailers and the small towns across the landscape. The idea of current Federal public lands ownership being transferred to state management is flawed, as these special places face the threat of exploitation for private financial gain. They would become chips to gamble with in a high stakes game of political charade’s that would pit the recreational values against resource extraction, which is much farther down the totem pole in terms of economic value to the country. Right now, we need a balanced approach of how we use our public lands, and we must continue to work alongside those that give us our energy, who like my company, are actually in the business of conservation, as they have a responsibility to first and foremost protect the species and natural habitat on the lands from which they gain their income. The success of our companies cannot be measured by revenue alone, but by the impact we can have to help influence others to take notice of the beauty and fragility of what exists in our own backyards.
Some of the most important water sources in the country either exist upon, or flow through our public lands, and fuels the sport-fishing sector’s 828,000 jobs, $50 Billion in retail sales and an economic impact annually of $115 Billion. Our nations recreational and natural resource heritage is a part of the American persona. It is the core or heartbeat of how we are perceived by the outside world. Our ecosystems, so vast and differentiated, are our valuable assets to help grow our economy.
Let’s band together as hunter’s and angler’s, bird watcher’s and dog walker’s, energy producer’s and clean energy evangelist’s, to embrace the common bond we fundamentally know is as important as anything in the first amendment: the right to access public lands that are forever protected by the federal government, for the people, by the people.
Johnny Le Coq
This article appears in the March issue of Fly Fisherman Magazine.