When the first European settlers made their journey across the Atlantic to our shores, they discovered something they had never known before. Before them, in this great and unsettled land we now call America, was a wild, natural world unclaimed by man. They’d escaped a land of oppression, where all that they worked for—from the fields in which they toiled to the animals of the forest—was owned by the lord of the land. But here in the lush and game-rich forests and fields of America, they were able to provide for themselves—free to hunt and harvest. America was founded by hunters, and in their newfound freedom they discovered a love for the sport that remains with us today. Whether it’s an old deer rifle passed down from father to son, or a plot of land we hope our daughter will someday hunt it’s important to keep our traditions alive. For this to happen, though, we need to have land for future generations to hunt. That’s where public land comes in.
Public land is a vital resource for hunters. From the vast and seemingly endless sections of national forest to smaller, but well-maintained sections of Block Management land, public land provides hunters with places to pursue the sport they love. One of the more frightening aspects of our modern age is that more and more land is being privatized. This makes public lands all the more important for hunters. The good news is that outdoor recreational demands are on the rise, with nearly half of all Americans regularly going outside to play. With more than 640 million acres of land owned by either the public or being managed for the benefit of all Americans, there are many options from which they can choose.
Of those millions of acres, a significant chunk is used exclusively for both the conservation of wildlife and for providing wildlife-dependent recreation such as hunting and fishing. There are more than 76 areas managed by the National Park Service, while the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages 336 national wildlife refuges and 36 wetland management districts. There are also more than 220 million acres of BLM-managed public lands that permit hunting. But it does take a great deal of funding for these places to remain available for use, and that money must come from somewhere.
Traditionally, Congress allocates funding for America’s public lands. This funding has been supported mostly from revenue that extractive industries, such as logging and mining, provide. These companies essentially lease public land from the government and pay rent and royalties in exchange for obtaining resources while using the land. This generally remains true with Block Management land. In 2019, a whopping 1.2 billion dollars was sanctioned by the government for the care of BLM lands. This money is primarily focused on energy- and mineral-management programs, which use BLM lands but also open them for outdoor recreation.
However, with efforts to encourage conservation, this practice of extraction has lessened greatly. Now other public lands have begun to rely on the sportsmen who use them to exist. In recent years, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and U.S. Forest Service have received a smaller share of the federal budget. Much of the public land funding has turned toward contributions and fundraising from different conservation groups. These groups, such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited, work incredibly hard with both private landowners and resource-extraction companies to secure land acquisitions and receive contributions to ensure vital game habitat is not only preserved, but available for public use.
In a world with an ever-expanding population, the need to preserve our public lands is vital for our future. State grant programs, which exist in all 50 states, recognize the fact that hunters are vital to successful conservation. Between private donations, sponsorships, and volunteers, these state grant programs can help lead the charge toward preservation of our public lands. It is our responsibility as hunters to ensure that we do all we can to contribute to these programs and conservation groups. Doing so ensures the availability of public lands, which in turn guarantees that our hunting heritage will never be eliminated.