Threats to America’s Public Lands

America’s public lands are for the enjoyment of all Americans and provide incredible opportunities for spiritual growth, education and outdoor recreation as well as act as essential habitat for fish and wildlife. Although America’s public lands are part of our nation’s heritage and identity, our public lands continue to face various threats ranging from selling off these lands and taking them from public control, to removing key protections for land, water and wildlife, to irresponsible land use and development. Below are a few key threats to our public lands:

Public Lands Transfer–America’s public lands and our access to them are in danger. Some state and congressional lawmakers are seeking to transfer federal public lands to state or private control. Transferring federal public lands raises serious concerns around responsible stewardship, continued public access, and sustainable management. Studies have shown transfer of federal public lands to the states would reduce public access for outdoor recreation. Further, the potential for privatization of public lands also arises as state’s seek to generate revenue by developing or selling off these lands to the highest bidder. In some states like New Mexico, state trust lands are constitutionally mandated to be managed for maximum short-term profit and can be sold or developed at any time—New Mexico has sold off 4 million acres of its lands since statehood, cutting off public access. If America’s public lands were transferred to the states, state taxpayers would also have to take on the costs of fighting wildfires, maintaining roads, addressing invasive species, and conducting habitat restoration. Wildfire suppression spending by the U.S. Forest Service in each Western state is so large that it can exceed what many Western states spend on police protection and law enforcement. The cost of maintaining and managing these lands will likely lead to higher state and local taxes as well as budget cuts in other key state departments such as health and education. Seeking to keep public lands in public hands, spiritual leaders from Earth Keepers have been outspoken advocates against public lands transfer as well as have helped pass city and county resolutions opposing public lands transfer.

Natural Resource Transfer–Similar to public lands transfer in some states there have also been movements seeking to transfer the subsurface rights for oil and gas under public lands to states and private entities. This would not only severely impact public access, opportunities and the use of these landscapes, but also likely have devastating effects on wildlife habitat and corridors. In some cases, the subsurface areas below public lands being pursued were also in highly populated areas near urban centers raising concerns from local communities and serious ecological justice issues.

Attacks of National Monuments–In 2017, an unprecedented attack on America’s National Monuments occurred when 27 National Monuments came under review by the Department of the Interior. The Administration targeted monuments formed after 1996 that were 100,000 acres or larger and ranged from rare wildlife habitat to Native American archaeological sites. These National Monuments stretched from Maine to California to the Pacific islands. The review intended to shrink the boundaries and eliminate critical protections within the original national monuments’ proclamations. The historical, natural and sacred importance of these 27 national monuments are irrefutable as they inspire and teach us about the natural world, support local business, and provide opportunities to boost our physical, spiritual and mental health. Spiritual leaders from Earth Keepers have been instrumental in defending our national monuments.

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac   

Unfettered Development and Degradation of Public Lands–With a push toward “energy dominance” the past two years has given rise to unfettered development of America’s public lands by extractive industry. In many cases, permits for such leases on public lands have been fast-tracked and expedited while limiting public participation. Proposals for drilling near Native American sacred sites, like New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, have also been arisen. Furthermore, counter to their own Secretarial Order 3362 on Wildlife Connectivity, the Department of the Interior has granted many of these leases in essential wildlife habitat and key wildlife corridors throughout the west. The degradation of wildlife habitat and climate impacts from this rapid development may have irreversible and long lasting negative consequences for America’s public lands, ecosystems and human communities. Spiritual leaders from Earth Keepers remain active in raising awareness about these issues as well as are actively encouraging the administration and lawmakers to pursue paths focused on strong stewardship, adaptive and resilient land management practices and responsible and sustainable long-term development.  

Poor Land Use Practices: Another major threat to our public lands is poor land use and bad stewardship. This includes: illegal dumping and wood cutting, defacing sacred, historical and archaeological sites, poaching and impermissible taking of wildlife, creation and use of unlawful roads and trails and unauthorized use of fire. Leaders from Earth Keepers have worked with state and federal agencies to develop educational resources for the public focused responsible stewardship and ethical practices for using our public lands.