This is a guest post from Drew YoungeDyke, the Chief Information Officer for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. His message on the topic of public lands is a timely one and equally important. As we discussed on Episode #87 of the Wired To Hunt Podcast, the threats to our public lands are very real. It’s time that we hunters stand up and make our voices heard, from Michigan to Montana and everywhere in between. We need to keep our public lands public. – MK

By Drew YoungeDyke

How many of you played basketball when you were younger? There was always that one kid. You know the one. If he got upset over a foul call, he’d throw a temper-tantrum. Threaten to take his ball and go home. And then you reminded him, “Not your ball, dude.” That’s the exact same thing that’s going on with our public lands right now.

The most obvious example is the Bundy crew taking over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, or even the same family’s very public temper tantrum over having to pay grazing fees for their private use of the public’s grass in Nevada two years ago. But the “I can’t do whatever I want, wherever I want, whenever I want, however I want on public land so it should be sold” mindset doesn’t just manifest itself in self-aggrandizing sideshows like that in Oregon and Nevada, but in Congress and state legislatures, too.

What the Oregon … whatever you call them (armed protesters, domestic terrorists, gullible pawns), and politicians like Utah Congressman Rob Bishop are calling for is the situation that, in many ways, already exists in parts of the Midwest. They want to transfer federal land to the states. The problem with that is that the states will try to sell it to the highest bidder, closing out public access for hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat. In my home state of Michigan, much of our public land is in state hands, but our state land is managed very differently than in those western states. What’s similar is that politicians are always trying to sell it.

In many western states, state land is specifically designated to generate revenue for state programs like education, and no public access is allowed. The states were specifically granted that state land from the Federal government upon statehood for that purpose, and relinquished any claims to retained Federal land within its borders. It’s only Federal land that is open for hunting. Here in Michigan, that’s not the case.

In Michigan, we have 4.6 million acres of state land managed for public trust purposes like hunting, fishing, trapping and outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat, along with timber management. It’s truly multi-use, with some types of uses allowed in some places and others in other places. We have state forests co-managed between the Department of Natural Resources wildlife and forest resources divisions for timber production, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation; state game and wildlife areas managed by the wildlife division for hunting, fishing and trapping; state recreation areas managed for outdoor recreation and state parks managed by the parks and recreation division for, well, parks and recreation.

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Just about every year, though, those of us tasked with conserving our public lands are forced to play whack-a-mole with a bevy of introduced legislation designed to force the Department of Natural Resources to sell our public lands. Some of it we’re able to stop, some of it we’re able to slow down, and some of it gets through despite our best efforts. It comes from the same place, though.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) adopted model legislation in January of 2012 called the “Disposal and Taxation of Public Lands Act.” ALEC is a group composed of corporations and state legislators, where, basically, corporations write copy-and-paste legislation for the state legislators to enact in their home states on behalf of the corporations.

After going through a laundry list of “whereas” clauses that distort history and deliberately misinterpret legal precedent, the model act calls for all federal lands in states be sold to the states, and a state-appointed public lands commissioner to sell that public land with the proceeds going to the state and to the federal government to “pay down the national debt.” ALEC reaffirmed this policy with a “Resolution of Transfer of Public Lands” in September, 2013, which contained the following clause as part of their justification: “Whereas, limiting the ability of western states to access and utilize the abundant natural resources within their borders locked up in federally controlled lands is having a negative impact upon the economy of the western states and therefore the economy of the entire United States…”

There it is. Corporations and politicians want to “access and utilize” more natural resources, and sometimes they can’t. Sometimes federal land is managed for wildlife habitat, and to conserve that habitat industrial activities are more limited. Sometimes it’s even because of ill-conceived lawsuits by environmental groups that are actually worse for wildlife habitat and forest management. The same argument gets made here in Michigan: “The DNR won’t let us ride our ORV’s, or horses, or drive our trucks, or cut as much timber wherever we’d like, whenever we’d like, or sell us whatever piece of land we want for a potato farm or a limestone mine, so let’s call our state senator and force them to sell it.”

When it comes to public lands, we all get to play. Hunters get places to hunt and anglers get places to fish. Energy companies even get places to drill for oil and gas, timber companies even get trees to cut and ranchers even get grass to graze. But hunters and anglers have to pay for their licenses, and can only take the fish and wildlife for which they have a license. And some areas are off-limits to hunting, just like you can’t spend three seconds in the key in basketball. Just the same, there are some places off-limits to oil and gas development, timber companies can only cut what’s been approved, bid and contracted for in forest management plans, and ranchers might have to pay a fee to use the public’s resources, just like the rest of us.

Sometimes federal and state agencies make the right call when managing our public lands, and sometimes they make a bad call. In a basketball game, sometimes the referees make bad calls too. That doesn’t make it right for a player to throw a tantrum, take the ball and go home, especially when the ball is public land and it belongs to the American people.

So there’s really only one thing to say to the people trying to sell off our public lands: “Not your ball, dude.”

Want to support public lands? Join a national conservation organization or one in your own state like Michigan United Conservation Clubs and be sure to sign the petition to stop the transfer of our public lands at SportsmensAccess.org.

More about the author: Drew YoungeDyke is the Chief Information Officer for Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), an avid if often unsuccessful public land still-hunter of whitetails, a lawyer who doesn’t have to practice, a proud graduate of Michigan State University (twice) and a member of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Tomahawk Archers, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Deer Alliance, Quality Deer Management Association, Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Advisory Council.