Republican politicians want to sell your National Forests, Wildernesses and Wildlife Refuges to private interests. And that’s particularly controversial out west, where state economies rely on outdoor recreation for billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs. New data shows this will be a hot issue in key battleground states.

Back in March, nearly the entire Republican Senate voted for a measure that would give states control of public lands within their borders. The move was unilaterally opposed by democrats. It appears as if this was the opening salvo in a battle to sell these lands off to private companies for the purposes of resource exploitation.

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This Land Is Our Land, a conglomeration of entities gathered to protect America’s public lands, sums up the whole thing succinctly:

An aggressive campaign to transfer public lands to state control threatens hundreds of millions of acres of national forests, rangelands, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas and historic sites. A handful of out-of-touch politicians backed by wealthy private interests are working to seize public lands, disposing them to state governments or private entities to generate revenues. The public land heist threatens the landscapes we love and the notion that public lands belong to everyone. America’s craggy mountains, golden plains, and rivers belong to all of us, whether we live in New York or Montana, whether we visit these places weekly or hope that our children will someday see them.

How would giving states control of federal lands end with those lands being sold off? The New York Times explains:

The costs of managing these lands could bankrupt state governments. Over $3.9 billion was appropriated for federal wildfire management alone for the 2014 fiscal year. The only way states could foot the bill for administering America’s public lands would be to raise taxes or sell or lease large expanses to developers and other private interests, including oil, gas, timber and mining companies.

This would also result in a proliferation of locked gates and no-trespassing signs in places that have been open to the public and used for generations. This would devastate outdoor traditions like hunting, camping and fishing that are among the pillars of Western culture and a thriving outdoor recreation economy.

The outdoor recreation economy is the fiscal side of this argument. In total, it accounts for $646 billion of consumer spending in America each year and provides 6.1 million jobs. And a huge portion of it relies on access to public lands for recreation opportunities like camping, hiking, rafting, fishing, hunting, etc.

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Colorado and Nevada are shaping up to be key battleground states in 2016. And both are states where outdoor recreation is a significant part of the economy. Consumer spending on outdoor recreation contributes $13.2 billion to Colorado’s economy each year, and $14.9 billion to Nevada’s. And that’s before salaries paid to the 125,000 jobs it accounts for in Colorado and the 148,000 in Nevada.

To gauge awareness of the public lands issue and to determine opinions on it, the Outdoor Industry Association polled voters in both states. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of continued protection for these lands.

  • 98 percent of Coloradans and 97 percent of Nevadans surveyed believe it is important to protect National Forests, National Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and other national public lands.
  • Outdoor recreation and tourism was third on the list of industries voters in those states would like to see more of, after only renewable energy and technology.
  • 81 percent of Coloradan voters and 64 percent of Nevadans think the presence of these lands helps their state’s economy.

The poll took place by telephone in October, 2015 and included 500 likely Republican, Democratic, and independent voters in both states.

“People in Colorado and Nevada, but really all across the West and around the country, regardless of political affiliation, know that outdoor recreation and access to national parks, national forests and national monuments are key to quality of life, job creation and healthy economies in their states,” explains Amy Roberts, executive director of the OIA. “It’s no wonder that an overwhelming majority of voters are in favor of protecting these places and will support candidates who share these beliefs.”

Americans do not want to see their national heritage sold off to the highest bidder. We’ll be covering this issue in greater depth as it develops.

Top photo: Bryce Bradford

IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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