This morning I woke up early to cold temperatures, put on my ski clothes, hopped in the car and drove to the top of Teton Pass. My friends were already there. We quickly got ready and began making our way to the top of Mt. Glory. In the cold and pre-dawn light, our conversation went from snow and avalanche conditions, to what our work day entailed and talk of friends of family. All of us felt better from the effort, the reward of the views we had, the companionship we shared, the landscape of the Tetons and finally the skiing down.
One of the reasons I love living and working in Wyoming is the amazing access to our public lands and all of the benefits they provide. For me they are a stress reliever, a place to build relationships with my closest friends and meet new people, a place to challenge myself, and a place to sit and relax. I loved that on this morning I could have an experience that didn’t cost me anything, where I was free to explore as I wanted and free to experience a bit of the natural world before beginning a day of phone calls and computer screens.
For many of us who live here in Wyoming and the GYE, or have visited the area, we remember the public lands we have seen from afar or experienced up close. We remember the Tetons, Absarokas, Wind River and Wyoming Range mountains or the vast views of the sagebrush. We’ve experienced moments hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, climbing, skiing, and boating by ourselves or with people, and we will never forget these moments. For me, so much of what makes Wyoming, Wyoming is our public lands. They are an amazing gift to the people who live here and are an amazing part of our lives, traditions and heritage. Public lands also provide so many things we depend on: to heat our homes, power our economy, and in Wyoming, pay for the education of our children.
Public lands, along with Wyoming communities, are what make Wyoming great. Public lands make up nearly 50 percent of our land and are one of our best and most valuable assets. Our Wyoming public lands are fundamental to our character, our way of life and the legacy we leave our kids. It’s where we go to teach our children our values, and where our outdoor traditions are born. Public lands help provide what makes Wyoming great: open space, places to recreate, hunt, fish and places where anyone can go. In addition, public lands contribute hugely to Wyoming’s economy. The outdoor recreation economy provides more than $4 billion to the state each year, and with the start of Gov. Matt Mead’s Outdoor Recreation Task Force, this number is likely to increase in the future.
Unfortunately, right now the Wyoming legislature is looking into amending the state constitution to move public lands into state control. Consultants hired by the state (for $75,000 of taxpayer money) told the state clearly that we can’t afford it, and that it was unlikely the federal government would ever favor a transfer. And Gov. Mead said recently that the idea was legally and financially impractical.
Wyoming, like many western states, is facing severe budget cuts. This year alone, Wyoming is facing a $156 million budget shortfall due to declines in energy extraction. These cuts have already hit social services, and the University of Wyoming is slashing budgets. It’s also unclear how the state will pay for its K-12 school system. People are hurting. And in the meantime, some legislators want to spend their precious time together on an amendment to the state constitution to do something they know they can’t afford, is unlikely to happen and distracts us from issues that are really impacting this state.
And this amendment doesn't fit what the public wants. The public overwhelmingly supports public lands. Nearly three-quarters of westerners oppose the idea of selling public lands, according to a recent Colorado College study. The same study shows nearly three-quarters of western sportsmen depend on public lands for hunting and fishing. In Wyoming, almost 80 percent of voters think our public lands help Wyoming's economy, and 71 percent of voters identify as conservationists. Support for our public lands is one of the few issues right now with broad bipartisan support.
Here's what you can do: On Wednesday, Dec. 14, a sub-committee in the Wyoming legislature is holding a public hearing on this amendment that would pave the way for Wyoming to take over our public lands. Here’s how you can protect our public lands:
● Call, email or write the sub-committee members, and be sure to CC your email to your local legislator. Click here for contact details. Tell the members you support public lands. Tell them that Wyoming faces pressing issues, and that public lands transfer is not only controversial but also a waste of time. Tell them this amendment is unacceptable. It leaves the door open for future sales and for all of us to lose access to hunt, fish, hike, ride bikes, and do all the other things we like to do on our public lands.
● Sign the petition and follow updates at Keep It Public Wyoming.
Thank you for standing up for our public lands!
-- PK (Pat Kearney), Wyoming Conservation Coordinator