Paying for National Parks

Recently I saw a comment on a friend’s Facebook page from one of his British friends saying the idea of paying to get into a large parcel of land was something he couldn’t wrap his head around.  Being married to a European immigrant and having spent a fair amount of time in Central Europe, I can understand why someone unfamiliar with the system would feel that way.  National parks in Europe do not get the tourism that national parks in America do, nor do they have the amenities many of our parks do.  

This led me to think back to earlier this year when the National Parks Department toyed with the idea of raising entrance fees to many parks. There was outrage from a certain segment of the population and I just couldn’t understand why.  For one, the annual pass was going to remain at $80 per year (which is an absolute steal).  Two, if the park entrance goes from $35 to $45, is that really an outrage?  If you planned your whole family vacation around visiting this park, are you really going to change your plans over $10? Keep in mind for you unfamiliar, this entrance fee is good for seven days for your entire car.  So, to do the math, if you drive a minivan into the park with six people in it, that’s $1.07 per person, per day.  Are you telling me it’s not worth it now?  Where are you going to go instead?  Disneyland?

Our national parks and public lands are a bargain vacation.  Sure, you can rack up hotel bills, meals out, etc. but you can do that on any vacation.  If you’re willing to do a little work and hit the grocery store, you can save money and have enjoyable meals in the park.   

National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land have few amenities, get less visitors and are usually free (some high trafficked areas might have small day use or campground fees).  However, our national parks get millions of visitors per year which means maintenance on roads, campgrounds, picnic areas, and educational services in addition to a larger number of rangers to serve and protect the visitors in a multitude of capacities.  Although rangers are famous for the hats that they wear, they wear many figurative hats from biologist to police officer.  

Personally, I enjoy getting away from the crowds in national parks and I like to frequent wilderness areas, BLM land and national forests.  These visits rarely cost me a dime.  My daughter, at six, has camped in dozens of these places already on family camping trips.  However, especially for a child, trips to our national parks are a cherished American tradition.  Where else can she see bison from the car or geysers shoot out of the ground?  These are magical places only ruined by the sheer number of other visitors who often have less than desirable manners.  

In 2019 Colorado is raising the price of certain hunting licenses and tags. It’s a few bucks.  While some people are getting upset about it, I’m more than happy to pay the extra money.  It’s still an absolute bargain for everything Colorado Parks and Wildlife does throughout the year.  Our national parks are the same, if you can’t see the value in what you’re paying for, maybe you just don’t value it enough.   

The Politics of a Western Hunter

According to Fox News, Sen. Jon Tester (D) of Montana is campaigning as a hunter but hasn’t held a hunting license for six years. Once upon a time this was a common story, both Republicans and Democrats touted their outdoor skills, well maybe not Dick Cheney, but most politicians did.  Nowadays, hunters are not a big enough demographic to kiss up to in most parts of the country.  

Sen. Tester is a perfect case study for the politics of the western hunter. He is known for being very pro-public land, however, he’s also known for supporting gun control. Western hunters and fishermen depend on public lands, but western hunters also depend on their rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders, as well as large handguns while in grizzly country. As is too often the case, Democrats support public lands, but not gun rights. While Republicans, at least most of them, support gun rights, but want the federal government to lease every acre for mining or energy development. The Western hunter does not have many politicians, if any, who truly represent him in Congress.  

This is not a new problem but there are still no easy solutions in the current political climate.  

Organizations like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have been successful, particularly in the west, in bringing together conservatives and liberals on the issue of public lands. However, there is still a great divide even within that organization on many other issues, including guns. Many outdoor enthusiasts will say they don’t believe in doing away with the Second Amendment, but you will hear things like, “but you don’t hunt with an AR-15.” These people obviously have never hunted feral hogs or coyotes.  

Other times you have hunters themselves contributing to the problem. Whether it is a group like Hunters Against Gun Violence who believe in gun control, or the hunters who show up at protests with signs like, “All you need to hunt is a shotgun,” hunters are undermining other hunters. A waterfowl hunter who hunts on private land in the Midwest is thinking only of himself if he is not actively engaged in both of these issues on behalf of his fellow hunter. Different animals and different terrain require different tools for the job. If the Midwestern hunter doesn’t protect the rifle of the western hunter, then the western hunter will not stand up for the Midwesterner when they come for his shotgun next.  

Politically, what has changed? Where have the Blue Dog Democrats gone? Where have the Teddy Roosevelt Republicans gone? Perhaps the solution is to go backwards, to a time when there were issues that would cause rural Democrats to cross the aisle to work with rural Republicans. The 2016 election showed that rural America is still a political force to be reckoned with, but it also showed that the partisan divide has never been wider.   

That divide extends to Western hunters. Some, who either are bow hunters or support some form of gun control, will vote Democrat. Others, who love public land but love their Constitutional rights more, will vote Republican. This is par for the course for hunters who love to pit themselves against their fellow hunters: traditional bow vs. compound; bow vs. gun; one caliber vs. another; or Western vs. Eastern. Hunters have needlessly attacked each other for generations.

However, if hunters do not find a way to unify on many of these issues, they may find themselves in a position of having guns and no place to hunt or having plenty of places to hunt but no guns to hunt with.  

Public Lands and Manufactured Outrage in the Era of Trump

DISCLAIMER: I hate that this is even necessary, but unfortunately, in the current culture of “agree with me on every issue or you’re my enemy”, I must disclose that I did not vote in the 2016 election.  I lived in Los Angeles at the time and there was not one single candidate on the ballot for any office that I could morally support pulling the lever for.  I thought of writing in a candidate, but figured that was the same thing as abstaining.  What follows is merely me trying to separate the truth from the propaganda.

We currently live in a time of divisiveness.  There is a loud group of people who troll the internet looking for people who say things that are either careless or that don’t fit their narrative and world view and then try to destroy their lives in, what I can only imagine they view as an all-out war. This war is not fought on the battlefields, but it’s fought on social media and, though in a slightly different way, through the mainstream media as well.  Some of these people are simply fools thinking they are doing the right thing, but a majority of them know better, or should know better, but feel like changing the world to fit their views needs to be done by any means necessary.

This has happened in the outdoor world as well, namely surrounding the issue of public lands.  Anyone who knows me knows how important public lands are to me and my family, however, I do not believe that telling lies to achieve my means is morally just. The theme has always been that conservatives, or Republicans specifically, don’t care about the environment, they only care about big business.  Some of this reputation is warranted, however, let us not overlook the contributions of two Republican presidents who did an immense amount for the environment; Theodore Roosevelt who, along with several other high-ranking conservationists, created public land in this country and Richard Nixon, who signed into law the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and created the Environmental Protection Agency.  

Many sportsmen where hopeful when Donald Trump was elected president and when he chose Ryan Zinke as his Secretary of the Interior.  Zinke had a pretty good record in Congress on issues we care about and Don Jr. is an avid outdoorsman and has the ear of his father. Things have not gone as well as many had hoped, especially the liberal contingent of the outdoors community (though this is not surprising).  I have disagreed with several policy decisions they have made (including the first topic I will discuss below), however, I feel like their wins have gone mostly overlooked, unreported and or flat out lied about and even their failures have been maliciously lied about.  So, I am going to break down two of the most controversial decisions of the Trump administration’s outdoor policy and try to separate fact from fiction.

1.    Shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Escalante Staircase National Monuments

First off, let me say, I couldn’t have disagreed with this decision more, however, when Patagonia changed their homepage to say, “The President Stole Your Land” they outright lied to their consumers.  The land that was removed from the national monument is still federally managed land owned by the American people, albeit under the control of the Bureau of Land Management and provided less protections than a national monument designation afforded it.  Not one acre of federally managed land under the Obama administration is gone, in fact, Zinke, along with several other folks helped add to the number of acres of federal land when they managed to gain land in New Mexico that opened up the previously landlocked Sabinoso Wilderness Area to recreation and hunting.

Maybe you want to make the argument that hyperbole was necessary to get people to pay attention.  Except when you lie to people, it’s like the little boy who cried wolf, eventually people stop paying attention to you.  Right now, Utah Sen. Mike Lee actually wants to transfer all public land to the states, who in turn can sell it off to private parties. This, while highly unlikely to pass, is much scarier than changing the designation of two monuments, yet, it’s getting next to no attention outside the usual circles.  Where’s the outrage from the mainstream media on this one?  I know the idea of losing the land permanently is much sexier than just opening it up to mining, but it shouldn’t be (also, if you’re against mining, you should probably put away your iPhones and MacBooks because these things, as well as many parts of your automobile and homes are not possible without mining, at least be honest about your reliance on mining while you’re fighting to innovate and create more sustainable options).

Whether or not it was “illegal”, as Patagonia claimed, remains to be seen.  I’ll leave that one up to the lawyers and judges.

2.    Turning Management of All Wildlife Refuges in Alaska Back to Alaska Department of Fish & Game

This was only sexy for five minutes, but the amount of horse doo-doo spread by the media, social media and lobbying groups like the Humane Society of America was enormous for this short period of time. This outrage was entirely from people who didn’t understand wildlife management, how the states manage wildlife, hunting or the realities of Alaska.  The good people and scientists of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game already managed over 85% of the land in Alaska, most of which is federally managed land, and all this did was restore the responsibility of caring for the other 15% back to them.  

Most of the claims were completely based in the imaginations of animal rights activists, such as one national story claiming that people would now bait bears with “doughnuts and bacon”.  This never happened before and it will not happen now.  Other, small exceptions were exaggerated, such as it being legal to shoot caribou as they were swimming or shooting bears in their dens. These things are done, but in isolated places by indigenous groups with traditions of doing these things out of necessity.  These folks also have exceptions to hunting seals and other protected species for sustenance and tradition, this is nothing new.  I am not going to Alaska this fall to shoot caribou in the water, nor is any other hunter from the Lower 48, and though I can’t say this for sure, nor will any non-Native from Alaska.

For more details on this issue, please see Sam Cotten’s excellent rebuttal here, or check out Steve Rinella’s response on the MeatEater podcast.

Personally, I think Trump and Zinke have done some good things and some bad things.  I’ve spoken up both in support and in criticism and I suggest you do too, no matter whether you agree with me or not.  However, please be honest about things.  If you speak before you fully understand an issue, that’s forgivable, it’s a mistake, but one that we all make every now and again.  What is unforgivable is maliciously giving people false information in order to sway their opinion, their vote or their donations to your cause.  

Either win on the facts and the truth, or it’s no win at all and it’ll end up hurting everyone and the very things you seek to protect.