Too often, many in Utah's congressional delegation, including my representative, Rob Bishop, ignore the importance of protecting public lands in Utah.
Perhaps they've forgotten the legions of Utah hunters and anglers who use these public lands and waters and are passionate about protecting them. We care not only for our own ability to hunt and fish, but also so our children and grandchildren can have the same experience years from now.
Hunters and anglers rely on public land to pursue our passion. Sportsmen (and women) know that undisturbed, protected public lands are the natural habitats that provide ample game and fish. Most of us don't have access to vast tracts of private property for hunting and fishing, so these public "common lands" are our birthright and heritage.
As an avid outdoorsman, I've seen firsthand the havoc to game populations that new roads and development can have on an area that previously had abundant wildlife. Because I love to hunt, I often pack miles into public lands with my horses to find quality hunting ground not impacted by roads and vehicles.
But not everyone has the time or energy to do this. Think of the hunter who grabs his son after work on a Friday night and needs to find a place where he can park his rig and find abundant game nearby. These places are getting harder and harder to find, as more development impacts wildlife habitat.
If more sportsmen knew what was going on in Washington these days, Congress would have an uprising on its hands. For starters, Reps. Bishop and Jason Chaffetz have co-sponsored a bill to completely remove wilderness-like protections from 5.1 million acres of public lands in Utah. This legislation, spearheaded by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., would open up many prime hunting areas protected by BLM Wilderness Study Areas or Forest Service Roadless Rules to new roads, logging, mining, and other development destructive to wildlife populations.
I'm not saying that every one of those 5.1 million acres is equally deserving of protection, but removing all restrictions, without even a thought about their importance to hunting and fishing, is just shortsighted.
The McCarthy bill is just the start. The proposed 2012 House Interior Appropriations bill has dramatic cuts to key conservation programs that have been hugely beneficial to Utah hunters and anglers. The North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, which has preserved and improved key duck hunting wetlands around the Great Salt Lake, is proposed to be cut by 50 percent. That's after a 21 percent cut last year.
Another program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has opened up access to hunting areas across Utah, is scheduled for a 70 percent cut. Earlier this year, Rep. Bishop supported eliminating these programs.
Another attempt by Congress to poach public land protections would prohibit using funds for new national monuments designated by the president under the Antiquities Act. This law has been used by presidents, both Republican and Democrat, to protect important public lands across our nation, including Giant Sequoia, Vermillion Cliffs, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Upper Missouri River Breaks, and Carrizo Plain. Just think of the combined economic impact of hunting, fishing, and other recreation in those areas alone.
You can see from this picture that an unprecedented attack on public lands protections is under way. I call on my fellow hunters and anglers to be informed and get involved. Let's not let our proud history of standing up for public land and water be forgotten.
John Pollard is co-chair of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. A Summit County resident, he regularly hunts elk on horseback in the Uinta Mountains.