Rallies show strong support for public lands

Rallies show strong support for public lands

Conservation Northwest / Jan 19, 2016 / Protecting Wildlands, Public Lands

Washingtonians speak up in defense of “America’s Best Idea”

Nearly one hundred people braved the rain to rally at the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle today to show their support for America’s parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands. Check out more photos on Facebook here!

The Seattle ‘Public Lands For All’ event was coordinated with rallies in Spokane, Boise, Portland, Eugene and Malheur, Oregon, where a group of armed extremists have seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge demanding that the federal government turn over or sell off all public lands it manages in the West.

“A few extremists want to seize or sell off our public lands that belong to all of us” said Shelley Spalding, a leader of the group Great Old Broads for Wilderness and a speaker at the Seattle rally.

The Seattle rally was organized by conservation, environmental and outdoor recreation groups, including Conservation Northwest and other organizations. Speakers talked about the importance of public lands, often called “America’s Best Idea”, for outdoor recreation, local economies, quality of life, wild landscapes and healthy fish and wildlife populations.

“Those here today and many more Americans have had enough of extremists who want to seize our public lands and turn them over to special interests,” said Chase Gunnell, a spokesman for Conservation Northwest and one of the speakers at Tuesday’s rally. “We have a responsibility to ensure that these public lands are there for future generations, not sold off for the benefit of only a few.”

Organizers at the Seattle rally touted that public lands not only protect our history, wildlife habitat, and natural beauty, but draw visitors from across the country and around the world. More than 292 million people visited national parks last year, and even more hiked, camped, fished, watched wildlife, and enjoyed other public lands like national forests and wildlife refuges. These places are vital to millions of small businesses in nearby communities, and an important part of our nation’s economy.

Speakers from the Vet Voice Foundation and Great Old Broads For Wilderness noted that the small group who have seized the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is just the fringe of a larger movement of state and federal politicians and big money backers, including the Koch Brothers and American Lands Council, who would like to see public lands sold off or opened up to greater natural resource extraction or private development.

“It’s a coordinated, well-funded and focused effort,” said Mark Heckert, a business owner from Puyallup  who spoke at Tuesday’s rally in Seattle and is a member of the group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “If we don’t push back and stop this effort, they’re going to steal these lands from under our feet.”

Bi-partisan polling has consistently shown broad public support for federal ownership of public lands, in spite of armed extremists grabbing headlines recently by seizing the wildlife refuge in southeast Oregon.