640 million acres of the American land belongs to you and me. It is over a quarter of the total surface of the United States, eighteen times the size of Arizona, and almost all of it is available for outdoor recreation. From national parks and forests to state and city parks, public lands form a quintessential part of American heritage. But recently, the growing threat of privatization has ignited anger within the outdoor community.
The past three years have seen an “unprecedented number of bills, executive orders, resolutions, and legislative rules that push to diminish, dismantle, and dispose of our public lands,” according to Access Fund. A new, must-watch documentary—Public Trust —reveals the machinations of businesses and politicians wanting to benefit from public lands at our cost. Produced by actor Robert Redford and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, the movie opens the eyes of the audiences to what has been described by the press as the theft of American land.
Collectively-owned by all American citizens, public lands are held in trust and managed by state and federal agencies. They are used for multiple purposes including recreation, ranching, timber harvesting and energy development. A vast number of sacred Native sites are located and protected within the borders of public lands. Add to that their huge importance for the ecosystem, and it is easy to see why they are legally protected.
Although public lands cannot be disposed of, once their ownership is transferred from the general public to state governments, officials are free to sell them — often at ridiculously low prices —to private entities. This is what happened in Alaska where a vast wilderness area was sold for oil drilling, endangering the livelihood of native communities hunting for caribou. This also happened in Utah where over half of the public lands were liquidated in a similar way. And, according to National Geographic, the same threat looms over national parks such as Yosemite.
Get involved to protect your land
If you speak up, public lands have a much greater chance of remaining in public hands. Outdoor Alliance is a non-profit organization that provides information tools for action. A good place to start is by signing this petition or talking to your representatives. Activists from The Trust for Public Land say that letters and calls from constituents can have a great impact: here's how to do it.