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One of the core tenets of responsible hunting and fishing is to respect the land and wildlife. We teach our kids this lesson from a very young age, and outdoor groups have been critical to some of our country’s largest habitat conservation efforts. In Colorado and Wyoming, there is a new approach to conserving critical public lands underway that all hunters and anglers should be able to support.

Master Leasing Plans are an approach to development and conservation on our public lands that balance the voices and interests of all parties who seek to use our public lands. This tool is being used by the Bureau of Land Management in Colorado, Wyoming and across the West, where proposed Master Leasing Plans include areas that are of critical importance to those of us who love to hunt and fish. These land management proposals replace the old outdated system of picking apart lands piece by piece for development, and instead bring together from the start hunters, anglers, businesses, energy developers and other stakeholders. Those groups work together to determine which of the lands must be protected because they have an important role as habitat or as a delicate ecosystem, and which can be responsibly developed.

Public lands provide thousands of outdoor recreationists and sportsmen and women like us, open spaces to hunt, fish, hike, bike, and explore. In Wyoming, the Greater Little Mountain area is home to bull elk, mule deer, moose, bear and antelope. A Master Leasing Plan for the Greater Little Mountain area would help to protect this prized habitat and ensure that Wyoming hunters for generations can continue to find big game on our public lands. The same is true in Colorado, where the proposed South Park Master Leasing Plan would protect gold medal trout fisheries that attract thousands of visitors from across the nation.

Too often our public lands are undervalued, but more communities are realizing the impact of outdoor recreation as a $646 billion industry that attracts companies with high-paying jobs and provides a quality of life employees are looking for. Master Leasing Plans help western communities and economies benefit by carefully considering the wide range of uses and values our public lands offers – and ensuring that one industry is not given preference above the rest. Before the tool was created, there wasn’t an effective or comprehensive way of determining which places could be developed and which would be protected; the piecemeal planning process was ineffective at satisfying such a wide range of interests. It was costly and time-consuming which created uncertainty for all involved and served as an obstacle for long-term planning and development.

Outdoor enthusiasts depend on our public lands, much like energy developers and ranchers. Master Leasing Plans provide a process for us to make our voices heard in decisions about how those public lands are used. This opportunity should be welcome to all who enjoy our great outdoors. A conversation about our nation’s public land use would be incomplete without the voice of thousands and thousands of hunters and anglers.

It’s not very often that sportsmen and women, conservationists, local businesses, ranchers, and the energy industry have the opportunity to come to the table and work collaboratively. Now that we have a tool like Master Leasing Plans for protecting our public lands, we should not go backward. We should embrace this balanced path forward that values the voices of community members, businesses, hunters and anglers. Our country should continue to use Master Leasing Plans as an opportunity to make our voices heard as a community and create a lasting legacy for the next generation of sportsmen and women.

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David Leinweber is the owner of Angler’s Covey, the chairman of Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance and a 35-year career outdoor enthusiast. Chris Steffen, a lifelong Wyoming resident, is a family man and police chief in Green River as well as the chair of the Southwest Chapter of the Muley Fanatic Foundation.

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