Introduction: Message from Mike Matz: Conservationists and Conservatives Should Celebrate Our Public Lands

"We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune,” declared President Teddy Roosevelt, who achieved greatness in large part because of his commitment to conserve our nation's wilderness and wildlife resources for future generations.

Generations of Republicans and Democrats since have made their own contributions to preserve this legacy. It was President Richard Nixon who signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. Rep. John Saylor (R-PA) was one of the champions of the Wilderness Act of 1964, an organic law establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System and the process for designating public land as a part of the system. President Ronald Reagan used it more than any other president; in 1984 alone he signed 21 wilderness bills into law, a record of accomplishment in one year that still stands today. Perhaps he was inspired by another of Roosevelt's sayings: "The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom."

Today, we still find many conservatives who prevent the wasteful or harmful overuse of our natural endowment of public lands—embodying the true definition of the word “conserve,” which is also the root word of “conservative” —and that stands as something to trumpet as the nation celebrates National Public Lands Day, as well as National Hunting and Fishing Day, on September 24. Congress currently has under consideration more than 15 bills that would conserve untrammeled land as a gift to future generations, if enacted into law.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) has authored a bill to give lasting protection to the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in the central part of his state. So, too, have Representatives Darrell Issa for portions of the San Bernardino National Forest and David Dreier for Beauty Mountain in their southern California congressional districts. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, also Republicans, have written a bill to protect a legacy in the Cherokee National Forest. They join other colleagues who are working in a bipartisan manner to protect special wild places from Colorado to Oregon, Montana to New Mexico, and Michigan to Washington.

Despite these laudable initiatives, we also witness in Congress today proposals to give away a vast swathe of the public domain currently safeguarded as roadless lands or under study for potential wilderness designation. A bill, H.R. 1581, would lift protection for 58 million acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas and six million acres of Wilderness Study Areas, under the auspices of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, respectively. This giveaway of America's great outdoors—an area the size of Wyoming—short-circuits the opportunity for people from affected communities nearby these lands to determine how best to utilize this “glorious heritage” that Roosevelt extolled.

Hunters, fishermen, local elected officials, outdoor industry people and small business owners have all expressed alarm and registered opposition. We have so little remaining of that which is emblematic of our freedoms, our values, our commitment to the future.

These are your public lands we celebrate on September 24. You can give something back, and honor our heritage and traditions, by contacting your representative and senators to let them know Congress shouldn't give away our last remaining old-growth forests, sinuous redrock canyons, lush sagebrush plains and wildlife-rich mountains. Teddy Roosevelt's important legacy and inspirational words should motivate us.

Each one of us must do our part.