October 27, 2012
John Smeltzer, Board Chair of CWF, wrote this Op Ed which was published in the Ft. Collins Coloradoan on October 25:
Sportsmen want our public lands kept public Oct. 25 coloradoan.com Although one of this election season's presidential debates was held in the West, neither candidate discussed his plans for the region's millions of acres of public lands. The omission is particularly troubling because of various proposals by state legislatures and individual lawmakers to turn public lands over to the states, sell the land or leave it to the states to be the sole regulators of drilling and mining on the current public domain. Even more unsettling is the call from fellow Westerners to carve up, auction off and dismantle our public-lands legacy, a gift from farsighted policy makers such as President Theodore Roosevelt and many of his peers. Their legacy distinguishes this country from all others. There's nothing more American than being able to hunt, fish and enjoy wildlife in backcountry that is open to everyone. We should never underestimate the value of having access to the forest without having to ask permission of the "king." There would seem to be nothing more conservative than taking care of and maintaining resources that for generations have provided minerals, grazing land, drinking and irrigation water, food and recreation. But the concept of public lands stewardship gets lost in this polarized political environment. Sportsmen and women are typically a conservative lot, but our ties to the land and our passion for sustaining fish and wildlife populations know no political boundaries. A recent national poll of self-identified hunters and anglers shows that conservation is on par with gun rights when it comes to our priorities. Nearly half the respondents in the National Wildlife Federation survey favored protecting public lands even if it meant placing limitations on energy production. The sportsman's vote can't be taken for granted. I've been a life member of the National Wildlife Federation for decades. I'm also a "Benefactor" life member of the National Rifle Association. Hunters and anglers are paying attention to what the candidates say about access to public lands and keeping the waterways and air clean. I've worked in wildlife conservation for almost 40 years, 23 of those with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. My conservation roles have ranged from educator to law enforcement professional to researcher. In 2004, I retired as the state assistant director of field operations, and I'm now chairman of the Colorado Wildlife Federation board. Based on my experience, states don't have the capacity to manage millions of acres for the public good without more funding, which isn't likely. States would feel pressure to sell public land, and hunting and fishing likely would be limited to the privileged few, much like the European model. Businesses and communities across the West benefit from hunting, fishing and other wildlife-related activities on public lands. A new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey estimates that spending on fishing and hunting totaled $1.55 billion last year in Colorado. Add wildlife watching and related activities and the total is closer to $2.9 billion. Reasonable people should be able to find reasonable ways to maintain public lands for many purposes, including regulated hunting and fishing by the average American. John Smeltzer of Fort Collins is a longtime wildlife conservation professional who retired in 2004 as the assistant director of field operations for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. He is the chairman of the Colorado Wildlife Federation's board of directors.