Like many Americans, I grew up taking our public lands for granted. I was fortunate to hunt, fish, ride, and play on thousands of acres of state and county land right in my “backyard”. I treated it like it was mine, and I never considered the hard work, dedication, funding, or legislation that kept it protected and accessible. All the while, it was a defining part of who I was.
After graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh in 2016, I moved to Syracuse for graduate school. Leaving the North Country, I naively wondered if I would ever find a place to hunt and fish and roam. Soon after settling in, I stumbled upon a couple of decent public properties not far from my apartment. They had good access, diverse habitat, and an abundance of deer sign to boot! I hunted this area for a full season before I ever realized just how special it was. One day, while driving home from a November deer hunt, I passed a sign that I had never noticed before. I pulled over, got out, and walked up. It read, “Land and Water Conservation Fund”.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a commitment to protecting natural areas, water resources, cultural heritage, and outdoor recreation. Established by Congress in 1964, the LWCF uses offshore oil and gas earnings rather than tax dollars to fund conservation projects across the US. LWCF funds have been used to purchase public lands for protection and managed use, to provide grants for parks and boat launches, and for a wide variety of other projects. Almost every county in the nation has benefited from LWCF funding!
Last week, the LWCF made the headlines again, and for good reason! On Wednesday, June 17th, the US Senate voted 73-25 in favor of The Great American Outdoors Act, a bipartisan bill that provides full and permanent funding to the LWCF, in addition to annual funding for the maintenance backlog on federal public lands. At a time when funding is more crucial than ever, this is a huge win for conservation. Now, it’s on to the House of Representatives!
The Great American Outdoors Act has seen support from both sides of the aisle. President Trump endorsed it, and Senators from across the United States came together to support this important legislation. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico called it “a once in a lifetime opportunity”. Public lands are at the heart and soul of this bill, and thus the heart and soul of many Americans. Thousands of hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, and bird watchers alike called and emailed their representatives to voice their opinions about The Great American Outdoors Act. Many did so as individuals, but many as members of various conservation organizations.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has been at the forefront of this issue, and has kept their membership well informed over the last few months. BHA members support a mission built upon an appreciation for public lands, so it is easy to see why they would stand and fight for this bill in particular. It’s a big win for public lands conservation, and for the future of hunters and anglers.
Other groups and organizations joined the fight as well! Joel Pedersen, director of Governmental Affairs for the National Wild Turkey Federation stated, “Recreational access is vitally important for hunters and other land users, but so is access to achieve conservation and land management goals on these lands. Impassable roads and collapsed bridges, for instance, prevent crews from performing much-needed work, which, in turn, affects ecosystem health, jeopardizes watersheds, increases the risk of catastrophic wildfires and endangers communities.”
Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and many others have encouraged their members to voice support for The Great American Outdoors Act, showing once again the incredible importance of conservation organizations in America.
Do you participate in any outdoor recreation? Are you a member of a conservation organization like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Ducks Unlimited, the Ruffed Grouse Society, or the NYS Conservation Council? If not, you should be! For the price of a tank of gasoline, you could purchase an annual membership and join an incredible community focused on protecting the wild things and wild places that you love.
It’s easy to get involved. You can reach out, find out what is happening in your area, and join the party. Groups like the New York Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have facebook groups, pint nights, fundraisers, film events, fitness challenges, public land cleanups, and more. Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, the Quality Deer Management Association, and others have annual banquets, youth programs, golf tournaments, educational opportunities, and conservation projects. There are a great deal of opportunities to dip your toe into the water and see what these organizations are all about!
Each and every conservation group aims to inspire its membership to do their part to protect the resources we use and love. The Great American Outdoors Act is but one example. Do your part for wild things and wild places. You’ll feel a deeper connection and a strengthened appreciation for the spaces and places around you. I would challenge anyone to think of a natural resource that they hold dear, choose a conservation organization that stands for the protection and management of that resource, and purchase a membership! Due to Covid-19, many fundraising efforts have been cut short or cancelled, and thus support for these organizations is needed now more than ever. Fight for them, and rest assured that they are fighting for you!
Try to get out and explore some public land and water. Check out the Finger Lakes National Forest, New York's only National Forest, and a gorgeous piece of land that belongs to you, the American Citizen! No matter where you are in the state, there is most definitely some type of State Forest, Wildlife Management Area, County Reforestation Land, State Park, public beach, or boat launch nearby.
This weekend is a Free Fishing Weekend in New York State. If nothing else, go fishing! Enjoy the world around you, and try to find your place within it. You just might discover a lot worth fighting for!
Nate Kennedy is a Liverpool resident who works in Waterloo. An Ogdensburg native, he is a lifelong hunter and angler who holds a master's degree in environmental communication from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and he is a 4-H educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. Kennedy loves to write about and share his outdoor pursuits and his column appears the final Sunday of the month.
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