Smeltzer Op Ed: Sportsmen Want Our Public Lands Kept Public

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

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.


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