Our public lands

I’m so fortunate.

These are some of my thoughts from my last excursion on our public lands.

When most Idahoans think of public lands, they think of a sage brush desert, a vast coniferous forest or a snow-capped peak. But our nation’s system of public lands contains much more than those iconic western landscapes.

With that in mind, I found discount tickets to Puerto Rico a couple weeks ago and flew to Island of Enchantment for the weekend. I visited a 17th Century fortresses at a national historic site that overlooked the Caribbean Sea, which was once a battle ground for European colonial powers. And then I went to the El Yunque National Forest. El Yunque is the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System. It’s known for 13 species of common coqui, a tree frog species that sings from the forest canopy at dawn and dusk. Standing in the that jungle, it was fun to imagine that 4,500 miles away grizzly bears roam another rain forest in the National Forest System —  a pacific temperate rain forest. The Chugach National Forest in Southcentral Alaska is only 500 miles south of the Arctic Circle and is home to salmon runs, marbled murrelets and the aforementioned grizzly bear. Yet both of these rain forests — in Puerto Rico and in Alaska — are public land. And thinking about that fact was really exciting. Not only does our country have a lot of public lands, we have incredible diversity in our public lands.

As Americans, it’s one of our most valuable inheritances. In Idaho we are particularly fortunate to live in close proximity to that inheritance. I grew up in Lewiston, gateway to Hells Canyon, which is one of the most spectacular river canyons anywhere in the world and 100-percent publicly owned. Growing up in that landscape, it was easy to take public land for granted. But when the so-called “land transfer” movement inserted itself into Idaho politics, it became obvious that our public lands only exist because WE made it that way.

There’s no guarantee we will always have the riches of our public lands.

I suppose I always knew how devastating it would be to lose our public lands. But standing in a Puerto Rican rain forest managed by the U.S. Forest Service really brought it home. Our great nation is blessed with some of the most spectacular landscapes anywhere on earth — I’m looking at you Grand Canyon. And the fact that so much of those lands are accessible by a regular-ole’ person like me is inspiring. It’s empowering. It’s enlightening.

I am so fortunate. Whether in an tropical rainforest or a Pacific temperate rainforest that’s on my bucket list, I’m blessed with the riches of my public lands and the treasures and challenges that are within them. I have so much more to see. So much more adventure. I can’t wait to explore as much of it as I can.