As we drove southwest into the setting sun, I gazed out onto the vast, lonely landscape. I was 11 at the time, about to embark on my first deer hunting trip in the Guadalupe Mountains. We drove for a few miles past the “no trespassing sign”, and after another 20 miles through public BLM land, we hit the sign that said, Lincoln National Forest, Land of Many Uses. My family, being of meager means, had the opportunity to spend over five days, exploring, camping, star gazing and of course hunting for deer, in this awesome and beautiful country.
Forty years later, my wife and I have spent the past 18 years taking our kids to these same types of places. While others spent their dollars going to Disneyland or on trips back east, we chose to spend many of ours camping, hiking, fishing, hunting and exploring New Mexico’s great outdoors.
From climbing New Mexico’s highest peaks, rafting and fishing its rivers, sliding down a sand dune at White Sands, backpacking into its many wilderness areas, and running, hiking and biking on trails near our home, our family has been blessed by New Mexico’s natural beauty. Some years spending 30-40 nights in a tent, and generally all for less than the price of a tank of gas.
And finally, there is our hunting legacy. Every year, we spend many hours in the field chasing various game in our state and in our bordering state of Colorado. Once again, free and unrestricted due to the blessing of public lands. This culture is engrained deep in my family, just as it was in mine before me. It’s our way of life.
Unfortunately, there are those now in our legislature and many throughout the west who would take this away. The same politicians who I likely voted into office. These same politicians are considering the transfer of our free, unrestricted public lands to the state of New Mexico with no game plan of how to pay for its management. Many of them have also indicated their interest is in privatizing these lands.
The outdoor recreation economy generates $646B per year in the United States, much of that number in the west alone. A recent study done by WaterShed Economics, shows the West has thrived compared to the rest of the nation primarily due to its proximity to outdoor recreation and accessible public lands.
A recent study funded by New Mexico Game and Fish, shows that the economic impact to our state of hunting and fishing to be around $600M a year. Many of those dollars going to small, rural communities who thrive on the money hunters and anglers spend on gas, food, lodging and retail purchases. The study shows $55M going to the federal tax coffers, while another $51M go to state and local governments. In addition, hunters and anglers pay $1M each year for habitat stamps each year in the state of New Mexico. These dollars go directly into the enhancement of USFS and BLM public lands. Since 1937, hunters have paid excise taxes that go directly into wildlife conservation and habitat of about $2B. Our state wildlife agency is funded solely from sales of hunting and fishing licenses, making this the most efficient and successful user-pay system the world has ever known. Since 90% of our hunters and anglers do so on public lands, the impacts of taking them away are staggering.
I could go on about the economic impacts and how our outdoor recreation pays for itself, but the real value in public lands cannot be measured in dollars. It is a uniquely American birthright which has made us who we are today. It’s not a left or right issue, as my family is conservative in every other area. But, with the stoke of a pen, and votes cast by individuals who are supposed to represent us, it can all be taken away. And our fate is sealed, to live in a state with no free, unrestricted access to public land where only the wealthy can play. Welcome to the great state of Texas.
Join me in contacting our governor and your state representative to tell them this is a bad idea and one that will eventually not only lead to financial disaster for our state, but the loss of what is so great about New Mexico. Our land.
By Jeff Young
“My Public Land Story” is an ongoing feature. Submit your own and you could see it featured on our website or in the Outdoor Reporter.