The Value of Public Lands - A climber's perspective

 Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson

AAC Conservation and Advocacy Team

As climbers, we have a unique connection to public lands. According to research by Access Fund, more than 70% of climbing in the west happens on publicly owned lands. Can you imagine if the splitter cracks in Indian Creek, the bloodthirsty off-widths of Vedauwoo, or the bold, big walls of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison were suddenly off limits to climbers?

As you read this, all these climbing resources and many more across the west are in danger. Members of Congress, state legislators, and various presidential candidates are promising to transfer these public lands to state governments, sometimes with the express purposes of selling them off. Even worse, last year it went beyond promises: the United States Senate passed a budget amendment that would pave the way for large scale transfers to the states. [1]

What does it mean to transfer public lands to states?

By their very nature, federal lands are owned by the public. We all have a right to be on them and to have a say in how they are managed. The transfer of public lands from the federal government to state governments is being promoted as a way to make land management more local. This narrative is fundamentally incorrect, for a very important reason. Federal lands are held in trust for all the people of America, while state lands are merely a source of revenue for the state that owns them. State lands can be sold by the state to anyone, largely without citizen input. Transferring public lands to the states would actually reduce the amount of say the public has in management of the land. [2] 

People fear the specter of distant bureaucrats controlling the lands in their backyard. The reality is that management of federally owned lands is incredibly decentralized. More than 80% of federal land management staff for the Department of the Interior are already based in local places out west. The AAC works diligently to provide both national policy makers and regional land managers with public input, bringing the voices of climbers to the management discussion.

At the AAC, we believe that public lands, including all the climbing resources located on them, belong to us all, and we are part of a coalition of nonprofits and outdoor businesses who believe the same.[3] Together, we are tracking state legislation and speaking up when damaging public lands bills are introduced.

In the last 18 months, nearly 50 bills in 11 Western states have been introduced in state legislatures demanding transfer or sell off.

We need you to help stop this from happening.

Until people who love to recreate outdoors speak out, policymakers will continue to entertain bills that give away our lands. Our public lands need defending. If you believe that public lands belong to everyone, not a few private interests, please let your legislators know. Sign the petition now. This petition is the first and most important step, and will keep you updated with what is happening in your state. So far, we have 15,000 signatures. Let’s get 15,000 more.