It’s been a little over two years when over 2,000 Idahoans converged on the steps of the Idaho state capitol building to rally in support of public lands. On that rainy day, hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, birders and horseback riders – public lands users from both sides of the aisle – showed up in solidarity to rally in support of a common cause. It was the largest public lands rally in the nation. Threats to Idaho’s public lands, attendees of the rally said, would not be taken lightly. The sheer volume of public lands users at the event was a testament to that fact.
Since then, support for public lands has only increased. In a Colorado College poll released earlier this year, 74 percent of Idahoans said the ability to live near, recreate on and enjoy public lands was a significant reason they live in the West.
Public lands are part of Idaho’s DNA. They are inseparable from the outdoor culture and custom of our great state. And it’s with that in mind that Conservation Voters for Idaho celebrates 2019 Public Lands Month.
This year has already been a great year for public lands. In May, Idaho Governor Brad Little proclaimed May 2 as Public Lands Day in Idaho and affirmed Idahoan’s deep love for public lands, “Our public lands are one of Idaho’s greatest assets, from the richness of their natural resources, timber, and rangelands, to the opportunities they provide for solace, humility, and challenge for outdoor enthusiasts and sportsmen.”
Idahoans are certainly outdoor enthusiasts. The Colorado College poll showed three-quarters of us consider ourselves outdoor enthusiasts while 92 percent believe the outdoor recreation economy is important for the future of Idaho. There’s a reason for that perception. The Outdoor Industry Association reports outdoor recreation generates 78,000 direct jobs and $7.8 billion in consumer spending.
With 33 million acres of public land in our state, Idahoans have limitless opportunities to get outside and enjoy our world-renowned landscapes. From the Owyhee Desert ecosphere of southern Idaho to the red cedar forests of the northern panhandle, the diversity in Idaho’s public lands is tremendous.
But none of those lands would exist without our protection and diligence. For decades, well-funded special interests have turned misguided politicians against our public lands and Western heritage. And even after our 2017 rally, some politicians continue to threaten our public lands.
During this year’s legislative session, Conservation Voters for Idaho successfully fought back against dangerous anti-public lands legislation by educating lawmakers and elevating the voices of concerned voters from across the state. The largest threat of the session came from H 162, an effort to throw a wrench in public lands management led by the most prominent anti-public lands legislators. CVI called on Idahoans from all walks of life to come together and send a message that rings true for all of us: public lands belong in public hands. Over 200 of you joined us to flood the statehouse, showing near unanimous opposition to the bill. Hundreds more called in or sent emails to their legislators, speaking up for their values and doing their part to defend our outdoor way of life. In the end, our message was impossible to ignore, and H 162 went nowhere.
Our public lands are an indelible, inseparable part of what it means to be Idahoan. And through our work and your continued support of our efforts, we will fulfill our most important obligation: to pass our public lands on to future generations for them to enjoy and explore. That’s an incredibly large burden to bear.
We’re up to it.