Imagine driving for hours down a dusty Nevada road. That endless kind of dirt road found in the Great Basin. The packed stone and clay are capable of holding a vehicle at high speeds for great distances, arcing in an almost perceived slow motion across tides of sage and sand. You’re on your way to one of your favorite hunting spots – a sparsely visited range far from the beaten path. It’s only signals of modernity beyond the end of the road are the crumbling foundations of a Basque cabin near a spring smothered in cottonwoods and aspens. Nobody has laid claim to this land since those beloved pioneering basquos packed it in a century ago and it returned to the public domain. There are carvings in the ancient aspens. Depictions of an often lonely and vividly lucid people who saw no one from the outside world for months, years. There’s a much more ancient art form adorning the rocks on the mountainside. Ancient homages to creatures long since vanished from the land from ancient hunters who soon followed. There are arrowheads where you would expect them. High on the bluffs and benches where the first people to call this place home found their meals. These places still hold game, and you feel timeless retracing the footfalls of the hunters who came before you. You sometimes find signs of modern wilderness seekers like yourself, a spent cartridge here, a new fire ring there. Yet the deer, the sage grouse and the antelope pass through time like they have for thousands of years despite the comings and goings of our species. It’s not your own private paradise, but it feels damn near it. You couldn’t afford this place in 10 lifetimes even if there were a reasonable price tag attached to it. No reasonable man could ever quantify a monetary value on these lands; it’s beyond our capacity to do so. This is our national rite, our shared treasure of wilderness and enjoyment that belongs to everybody equally.
These thoughts come to an end when you reach the cattle guard that divides the BLM lease land from this sacred range. In front of you there’s a brand new gate, locked and chained tightly under a bright and shiny sign that reads “No Trespassing”. The moniker on the sign above it – “Rich Man’s Paradise Club.”
Earlier this month snake oil salesman Texas Senator Ted Cruz tried to slide an amendment into the 2014 Sportsmen’s Act that would force the federal government to sell off a large portion of our public lands. The amendment would prevent the federal government from owning more than 50% of the land in any state. Luckily the Sportsmen’s Act failed, but not from this particular amendment. What killed the act in the senate after making it through congress were gun control amendments that were also added by Senator Cruz. That fact alone should make you fear the impending auction of our public lands. If this did pass it would seem like a resounding victory for states rights advocates, but only the congressional puppet masters who populate places like the Rich Man’s Paradise Club would see any reason to celebrate. The members of that club have diverse interests, aside from their penchant for guided and fenced in pay to play game hunting on private lands. They own oil and gas companies, mineral extraction companies, and many of our supposed representatives in Washington.
I’m sure the states would purchase some of the land, but they can’t compete with the high rollers of the Rich Man’s Paradise Club (We’ll call them the RMPC from here on). Even if Nevada did purchase the 30% of the state that the feds would be forced to sell – 16,983,091 acres*, a chunk of land slightly larger than the state of West Virginia, the state could never afford to manage that much land on it’s own dime. It would be forced to sell them, and probably at a cheaper price, to the members of the RMPC.
*Figure based on Nevada public lands being 80% federal.
I know that I have complained about federal management before and I will again, and you are probably in the same boat. Glass houses, stones, you know the drill. But the fact remains that even though we may not always be happy with how our lands are run and managed, they are still our lands when all is said and done.
If you’re yawning and unthreatened at the proposed figure of a 30% federal land sell off in Nevada, chug an espresso, a beer – whatever will get you going. Utah has already gone forward in the process to take control of ALL federal lands within it’s borders.
Utah has 31 million acres of federal land, Idaho has 32 million, Montana has 25 million, Colorado 23 million. That’s a lot of our land on the block for the highest bidder, who won’t have the public’s best interest in mind.
My dear fellow Westerners, if this proposed private land grab still doesn’t get under your skin, let’s take a look at Senator Cruz’s home state of Texas. Out of a total of 168,217,600 acres in the Lone Star State, 2,977,950 of them are federal. This includes National Parks and Monuments. Out of those nearly 3 million acres, 1.5 million acres are open to the public to hunt, fish, and recreate. For comparison let’s look once again to Nevada. Out of a total state acreage of 70.2 million acres, 53.7 million are open to the public, for hunting and fishing and general recreation. **
To further simplify – Texas has 1% of it’s giant land mass available for public use. Nevada has 76.5% open to the public.**
**Figures and statistics come from here.
We don’t want to be like Texas. I have family there, and they are avid hunters. My brother hunts tiny swathes of public land, and it’s an alien thing for him to do after growing up hunting the vast public tracts of the West. I applaud him for still pursuing his passions, but even he will tell you it’s a strange and frustrating world when you’re crammed into tiny parcels of land with massive amounts of people who probably feel the same as he does, and have the same ambition to feed their families. On the other side of the Texas hunting coin is my brother-in-law. He buys hunting leases, usually more than one, every year. When I spoke to him this past 4th of July he said they average $1,000 a season, often more. You will often get your solitude on these bought lands, but you’re still hemmed in to a tiny piece of land in the grand scheme of things. And you’re paying as much for your meat as you would for a trip to public land out West.
I know it’s rather draconian to think that Nevada will become New Texas, but I don’t want my favorite spots to belong to the RMPC. I don’t want to be fenced off from the places I love and cherish along with my friends and family. I’d rather stick that in the forefront of my mind and be vigilant than ignore the possibilities and pretend nothing is going to change. I don’t want to tell tired old tales to my children of what it was like to roam freely in the wilds. I don’t want them to be born into a world in which privilege dictates access to the land. Our Western heritage is bound to the land we all own together. Outside is free, and we all need to fight to keep it that way.
Regardless of political party affiliation, state residency, or type of outdoor use we prefer we are all outdoorsmen and women. It doesn’t matter if you’re a bowhunter, mountain biker, rock climber, fly fisherman, backcountry skier, wingshooter or any other passionate seeker of what our vast public tracts have to offer, we have to stand together to keep intact our identity and heritage as Westerners, Americans, and lovers of the natural world.
What can you do right now to help, you ask?
Go bother your congress person, your senator, your state representative. If they aren’t in the RMPC they just might care if enough of you bug the living hell out of them.
Better yet, you can support these fine groups who have more sway in Washington than you or I. Join up, it’s cheap and the money goes a long way.
Join whichever gunslingers you find that represent your outdoor interests in the swamphole known as Washington DC.
And most importantly, tell your friends, tell your family, tell that crazy hobo street preacher what’s really coming around the mountain. I’m sure you have some people that will take up this cause. We need numbers to fight the RMPC, Ted Cruz, and all the short-sided lackeys who play ball at One Percenter Stadium.
Now get busy.