Public Land Transfer: Time to Act

Since starting this blog a few years back, I’ve tried to steer clear of any controversial or political topics. I believe fly fishing is a way to get outside and forget about all the daily problems of life and stuff like politics and big issues.

But one environment issue I will bring up is public land transfer. In case you have managed to avoid this problem completely, I’ll summarize it here really quick….

Essentially what happens with public land transfer is that land is transferred from federal control to state control. “Public land” includes national parks, forests, and according to most studies, around 70% of the country’s suitable trout habitat. So land changes ownership, no big deal, right? Wrong. First, states don’t have to keep their state owned land available for recreation (fishing, hunting, hiking, etc). And states have to manage their land for profit, as the income generated from them pays for education around the state. So when the lands become unprofitable – like when a fire happens and the state doesn’t have the budget to fight it, etc. – they are LEGALLY REQUIRED to sell the land. You can look at the last records of this. Whenever public land is transferred, it is SOLD.

So the reason I’m bringing this up is because in case you’ve been living in a cave for the past year, we just had an election. And on their first day in session, the House of Representatives made it a lot easier for public land transfer to happen, essentially eliminating any of the hearings and testimony and speeding up the process in which our lands can be transferred and sold.

This does not have to be a partisan issue. Even though one political party is exclusively behind this, there is bipartisan support to stop public land transfer.

As you can see, most citizens of the state’s impacted by this oppose the initiative. This is a case of big business (and stuff like logging, mining, etc.) who benefits from buying the land once it becomes state owned

Here’s what you can do and need to do…

Contact your elected officials. Tell them that you oppose public land transfer and expect them to vote to protect them. Trout Unlimited has a nice and easy website to find all your representatives contact information. Calling is best, then letters, then emails.

This problem is almost exclusively in the western states, but it concerns everyone who cares about our fisheries. Contact western senators and tell them if public lands are sold, you won’t be bringing your tourism out there anymore to fish.

And lastly, if you’re not a Trout Unlimited member, it’s time to get on that. They’ve been on the front of the charge to protect public lands (and trout habitat in general) since the issues have emerged, and it’s a great group to be involved in. They are the premier group in fly fishing conservation, and that is a group to be involved in.

Here are some sources if you want to further educate yourself on this issue.

Trout Unlimited – What the House of Representatives just did

Public Lands Transfer Facts

Randy Newman YouTube Series – watch all 15 if you really want to Learn about what’s happened every time land has been transferred to states. I’d definitely recommend all fishermen watch these.

Trout Unlimited – Join

If you have any questions at all, shoot me an email. My contact information is in the sidebar. I’ve worked around in this field for a while, so I can hopefully answer any you may have.


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18 thoughts on “Public Land Transfer: Time to Act

  1. I will contact my representatives to keep our public lands under federal control. What a shame it would be to undo one of the best ideas the government ever came up with…maybe one of the few.

    1. Thank you Parachute Adams! I agree completely – public lands are the best idea ever, and need to be protected. Let me know how it goes reaching out to a rep!

  2. This is great – thanks for spreading the word. While ideologies, economic policy and voting records and fade or change… Once land is gone, it's permanent. Great to see you spreading the word on this! Ive sent emails, didnt realize calling was better, so Ill use your links and keep at it.


    1. Thank you Will for engaging! You are absolutely correct, once this land is gone, it will be gone forever! And yes, emails are a great step but allying is far more effective for ensuring you are actually heard. I know several legislative assistants for Senators/Reps, and they have said if they receive even as low as 5-10 calls on the same topic, that is an overwhelming amount and enough to often spur some form of action. They are here to represent us, even if they don't always have our best interests in mind.

      Let me know how it goes!

  3. Great information Jo! It's beyond unfortunate that we even have to worry about this type of underhanded, borderline criminal activity by our own government. I don't get too involved in politics but this cause is just too important to me and all sportsmen, conservationists, nature-lovers, and really Americans in general. America's fish and wildlife are a public resource and some of our last relatively unspoiled habitats are on federal public lands. We can't afford to lose these resources to development or other private interests. They belong to everyone and should be protected as such.

    1. Absolutely Adam, we cannot afford to see these resources vanish. I too try to avoid politics when possible, although I'm admit that was hard for me this election cycle, but this is a problem that involves everyone. Hope you're well!

  4. Good to see some debate, but I'm afraid I have to respectfully disagree with most of it.

    First, I've done more research on this than probably 99.9% of other outdoorsman. I've been following this issue since I started fishing, and have made my living in the field for a number of years. And I've lived in the western states, and have seen this happen firsthand. It's simply not practical to write a thesis paper on it here, where it won't be read, hence the shortened summary that this post is.

    About the poll – sure, there's always some bias in polls, and they're not always accurate (this year's election showed first hand…). But it's not the only study. Research on the topic will bring up other surveys (done by other groups) which show the same overarching theme… westerners don't want their lands to be controlled by the state. That said, yes, polls are a bit iffy.

    Not sure what their second amendment stance has to do with protecting land? Please explain if you don't mind. A lot of people benefit from national parks and forests, not just hunters, so I'm not quite sure of your point. Website does have examples of former public land and what has happened since the transfer. That's why I linked it.

    And you are absolutely correct that the federal government doesn't have a perfect record of land management. I disagree with plenty of ways they manage, and in an ideal world, yes, giving the state control would make more sense. But it's not that easy, states just dont have the budgets to manage the large chunks of land they inherit. Which forces them often to legally sell the land. And people have a lot more control with federal management than with a private corporation. The general line of thought for me at least is that it's better to have the land protected, and deal with management after, than it is to keep the land where it can be sold or closed to recreation anytime.

    If I had to sum it up in one point, this is it… In Colorado, state trust land is not used for recreation. Says right on their website, permits are required to camp, hunt, fish, etc. Sure, 500,000 acres of their land are designated for recreation, but that's a lot of land being managed solely for fiscal gains (for education). Now imagine if all the federal land their was state owned. A lot of good fishing waters would no longer be accessible. And I've seen this happen first-hand while living their.

    I realize minds aren't going to changes changed over a blog post, but I didn't post this to change minds. A great majority of fishermen and outdoorsman recognise this problem, they just need to voice their concerns. I encourage you to look at the records for what has happened when land is transferred to states. It's not to great for sportsmen…

    Thanks for your opinion, I'll take a closer look at your link today. Tight lines.

    1. Troy and Anonymous, I admire the civility, thoughtfulness and clarity with which you're both conducting this debate. It's an important issue.

      For me, I want as much public access as possible. I personally can live with access fees if they have to exist, just like I don't mind paying my fishing license fees, but I think land for recreation should be viewed as a public good, not a private one, for two reasons.

      First, it's a natural resource to be enjoyed by all, and I'd hate to see land turned over to private owners, who then can raze the forests, build condos, etc., in a worst-case scenario.

      Second, I think a productive fishery is a great way to ensure that environmental concerns are put on the table. When fish die en masse, we know that something isn't right in the ecosystem.

      So, for me, recreational land is a public good, just like defense, law enforcement, and education. I don't expect the Fed Government to be the most economically efficient in its administration of that public good. But, I personally am willing to live with that to ensure access for all.

  5. The facts you use to support your decision are misleading at best, and flat out wrong at worst. Some research into these topics should be done before we allow our knees to jerk.

    The public opinion bar graph posted is from a survey conducted by Colorado College and is well known to have been biased and unscientific; it doesn't even make sense. Who would support giving up control of their own back-yard to an unholy alliance of non-elected bureaucrats in DC and self-appointed NGOs, instead of locally elected officials?

    Speaking of self-appointed NGOs, one link is to an info-graphic published by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance, an NGO which purports to represent the interest of, among other groups, hunters, but the TRCA refuses to take a stance on the Second Amendment. Good luck rationalizing that one. Most of the claims made in this info-graphic are misleading or pure nonsense.

    With all due respect, the degree of faith placed in the benevolent stewardship of public lands by the federal government is misplaced, and it is the basis of your argument against the Public Land Transfer. (search mismanagement of federal lands for proof). But, let’s face it, history has shown us that federal, state, or local governments are going to mismanage things placed under their control – the big question is, over which of those forms of government do we the people have the most control.

    In the spirit of taking a balanced approach to the management of our public lands, here's a link which contains an opposing view:

    Tight lines

    1. Responded below accidentally instead of here. Looked around on your link too – thanks for sharing. I think I stand by my previous statement, that I'd rather ensure the land is available for recreation and wont be sold. But it is a good source for discussing the mismagaments, of which there are plenty. And they do some good environmental work.

    2. Anonymous, the link you provided underscores the primary reason public land transfer to states is a bad idea: revenue generation. The states are not bound by preservation and conservation. States with land trusts have a fiduciary responsibility to generate revenue. The problem is when they can no longer generate revenue or pay for their own fire and maintenance budgets – after all, money has to go in for money to come out – they can sell off the land for revenue. There are countless factors that can put a state's budget into distress and put the those lands at risk for sale. You simply cannot future proof these lands from being sold to private interests. In the short term, you also cannot guarantee that they will be managed in such a way that recreational access to all federal tax paying citizens is guaranteed. The only way to ensure that access to those lands remains open for now and for future generations is to keep those lands from being transferred to states.

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