Protecting our public resources for the greater good.
[by Ben Romans]
IT’S THE LAST SATURDAY OF JULY 2016, and I just hiked out of the Bob Marshall Wilderness—a mere three miles from the end of our voyage on the South Fork of the Flathead. But it’s a somber trek. I have no idea what’s going on in the world, though I dread catching up. After 75 miles of dusty washboard road, we “officially” reach town, and smartphone and FM radio reception. I opt to simply avoid whatever madness might travel over the invisible waves, and turn everything off.
But in the town of Hungry Horse, we can’t avoid the insanity. I certainly don’t speak for our group, but personally, it’s a sour reintegration. A string of newspaper vending machines outside a gas station remind me of what we’ve missed. It doesn’t matter what side of the political line you sit—red or blue—2016 is a disheartening year.
I’m not a Republican. I am not a Democrat. I’m for common sense. I’m an advocate for logic, compassion, practicality, and, of course, the protection of our nation’s public land and water. Not just for me, but also for my children, and for my children’s children, and for all the other children’s children that make this great country their home.
I read, listen, and interpret all I can from journalists, pseudo-journalists, bloggers, op-ed writers—even some of the faux “news” facets. Depending on the source, the nation is either optimistic, or discouraged. Still, I hope, fret, and pray these inevitable shifts in power don’t undermine all the work done to protect public interests since Uncle Teddy carried his big stick.
Why are we even having discussions about selling public land to private interests, or passing the task of managing these large swaths to states? Where would we be without our public land ideology? Where would we be without the Wilderness Act? Where would you fish if it were not for public access, the foresight of virtuous legislators, and that natural line known as the high-water mark?
I know where I’d be. Lost. I cut my teeth on northeastern Ohio farm ponds and Great Lakes tribs before migrating to Montana’s seemingly never-ending flows. When the Bitterroot became my home water, I learned more about people, bugs, fish, ducks, deer, and all things wild than I had in my previous 18 years—and call it sacrilegious, but when the dollars ran out, the river and public land around it provided me (and my cohorts) a few meals; white meat and red.
In the midst of travel bans, executive orders, and other initiatives that stretch far beyond U.S. borders—please, please, please, don’t forget your backyard. It doesn’t matter if you live in Ohio, New York, Arizona, or the last pit stop on Key West—you own an equal share of public land in Wyoming, North Dakota, and Arizona. If you live in Nebraska, there is public land in Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin that belongs to you as much as it belongs to me. If your address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, you share an equal stake below the high-water mark on those same stretches of Bitterroot River I plied to put food on my secondhand table. . . . Just remember, I said “equal,” not “more.”
And so is my plea for all the newly elected and incumbents—respect, nurture, and protect our public resources. Don’t transfer national lands to state control. Fight for clean water, unpolluted air, public access, and all the other facets that make the United States a great place to live, work, and recreate.