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Scott Rall: Monumental decisions are on the horizon

SCOTT RALL Daily Globe outdoors columnist I was given a compliment the other day that I think is one of the best I have ever gotten. A friend told me that when it comes to Scott Rall and conservation issues, you always know where he stands. He ex...

SCOTT RALL

Daily Globe outdoors columnist

I was given a compliment the other day that I think is one of the best I have ever gotten.  A friend told me that when it comes to Scott Rall and conservation issues, you always know where he stands.

He explained that there is no beating around the bush on tough questions.  He said he felt I formulate an opinion after thoughtful research and then take a position and defend it with all my convictions.

I have always been a fan of clear and concise communication. It causes less problems and eliminates unnecessary misunderstandings. I have never claimed my opinion to be right but I do put forth a concerted effort to be well informed.  I have in many circumstances become better informed and changed my opinion.  Admitting you’re wrong when you are wrong is hard for some but not for me.

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There is an issue that has been brewing on the conservation front for the past 30 years. It has to do with federal lands and who should hold and control what happens on these lands.  

There are more than 640 million acres of land controlled by the feds in the 12 most western states in the U.S. including Alaska. These lands are managed by the U.S Forest Service (192 million acres), Bureau of Land Management (270 million) along along with a few other agencies.

Back in 1881, Congress passed a law that said the president could set aside lands in federal ownership for the public good.  The western states cried foul but the mass voices of those in the East drowned out those of the
West.

Back in the 1980s President Reagan  joined the Sagebrush Rebellion and was a big pusher of divesting the federal government of these lands. This movement has never died but has never really gotten off the ground, either, until as of late.

With one party in power of the U.S. government now, this move will most likely get more legs.

The move to divest these lands has been primarily a Republican issue. Those who want the states to have these lands have all kinds of reasons behind their thinking.

They cite the following:  If the states owned the land there would be less federal regulation as to what activities could happen there.  There could be more mining and oil and gas exploration.  Expansion of development opportunities for housing and business could then move forward. This could help the economies of these states.  They claim there would be better oversight and states could do better with wildfire suppression.

Some think the states would do a better job of managing the wildlife that lives there.

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On the other hand, those who oppose this shift say that these lands would just be sold off to private investors and the general public would lose all rights to recreate on them. Others fear that some of our most pristine wilderness areas would become nothing more than an ATV park or tourist garbage drop-off site.

I really do know what side of this fight to be on.

I am a staunch proponent of public lands.  These lands allow for the rich, the poor and everyone in between to have a place to visit, recreate and enjoy. Thousands and thousands of different wildlife species occupy these lands and provide a refuge of sorts from human encroachment.

Do I think all federal lands are management perfectly? The answer is no.  There are large swaths of federal land that is surrounded by private land.  The only folks who can use these public lands are the ones that own property that adjoins them.  

This makes my lands and your lands a private hunting preserve for the rich and famous few.  This needs to be addressed and should be part of any discussion regarding our public land acres.

Minnesota has lots of land held in state ownership.  Most of these lands are state and national forests in the northern part of the state.  They are managed for timber harvest and some acres even benefit the school systems across the state. Some of those lands, not many -- less than 3 percent of all acres -- are in southwest Minnesota.  Without these lands there would be far fewer places for wildlife to live and thrive. Recreation including hiking, photography and hunting are all allowed on these spots.

Without public lands across Minnesota there would, for all practical purposes, be no place for the average rank and file Minnesotan to hike and hunt. I support the current system of federal land ownership, but the discussion should continue as to how best utilize these lands and their resources without turning them into industrial parks with the goal of squeezing out every last drop of profit by their demise and consumption.

There is one possibility that could make both sides content.  These would be public land trusts to hold these acres.  It could be pilot tested on a small scale to see if it could work.  These trusts could possibly better identify what options are suitable for, say, 1,000 square miles and see if it could be expanded in other places.

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Minnesota has two of these operating in the state.  They are the Trust For Public Lands and the Minnesota Land Trust.  I know the folks who run these organizations and their model might work on a larger scale.

I do not want to see our most pristine areas converted to large scale industrial operations. How would you feel if they did this to Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Areas in northern Minnesota?

We need to be very careful moving forward on any plans to shift these lands to different ownership. When they are gone they are gone for good and there will be no getting them back.

Get informed on this issue and then tell your representative how you feel.  The history of lands given to the state and then being sold off to private entities is clear. The threat of this happening is real.

Nevada was allotted 4.1 million acres when it received statehood and has since sold off all but 3,000 acres of it.  Utah has sold more than 50 percent of the state lands they once owned.  Idaho has sold 41 percent of their state lands.

In Colorado only 20 percent of all state lands are open to sportsmen.  Wisconsin is selling 10,000 acres their state lands to ease their government budget woes.  

This is the time to stand up and make your voices heard. Make no mistake about it, these lands are used and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of United States citizens every year. Ranchers graze on these lands at a fraction of the normal cost.  If these were to become private, grazing rates could increase ten-fold.  It could wipe out the small ranchers in the west in a very short time period. If you support small farmers and ranchers you should hitch your buggy to federal ownership.

There might not be another issue this big on the conservation plate for decades to come.  Get educated, do a little reading and act now or don't complain about the outcome when the fat lady has already finished her song.  

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