COLUMN: Here Is Your Country

March 7, 2016
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

President Teddy Roosevelt—an avid hunter and outdoorsman—summed up the general feeling about public lands best: “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” In the mind of President Roosevelt, natural resources owned by the public were to be conserved and enjoyed by the many, not the few. Public lands belong to the people, and taxpayers should not be arbitrarily blocked by any federal bureaucrat from access to lands they support with their tax dollars.

In that spirit, the House recently passed, with my support, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act. The SHARE Act not only improves federal management of lands, but it also protects public enjoyment by safeguarding access for hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. In recent years, federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have moved to prevent or impede access to federal lands for those who wish to hunt, to fish, and to shoot. Blocking recreational access for members of the public to land that they support with their tax dollars is unacceptable.

The SHARE Act requires federal land management officials to facilitate hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting on certain public lands. It addresses overregulation by the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Agriculture regarding the use of ammunition and fishing tackle. The SHARE Act includes provisions that protect the ability of gun owners to exercise their Second Amendment rights when they are legally camping, hunting, or fishing on property owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

I was pleased that the SHARE Act included an amendment that I introduced to addresses the lack of transparency when the U.S. Forest Service closes public roads with no prior public notification. Local residents and recreational groups depend on these roads in their daily lives as well as for recreation. My amendment requires the U.S. Forest Service to publish a notice in the Federal Register, along with a justification, for the closure of any public road in public forests.

Finally, the SHARE Act also includes legislation I introduced, the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA), to authorize the Bureau of Land Management to sell federal lands to states, localities, or private entities that then can be put to economically-beneficial use. Since its initial enactment, the FLTFA reduced federal land ownership by more than 9,000 acres over the course of a decade, while also enhancing access for hunting, fishing, and shooting on these federal lands. 

Today, almost 40 million people over the age of 16 enjoy the beautiful outdoors through hunting or fishing in the United States. Teddy Roosevelt would be pleased to know that so many Americans enjoy the great outdoors. I am committed to working to this protect that access because public lands should always be the people’s country.