This Land is Your Land

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Photos by Marty Sheppard

By Mia Sheppard

In the West, we are blessed with endless access to public rivers, mountains, forest, grasslands, and backcountry areas. These places are every American’s playground.

As a steelheader, mother, and outfitter who relies on public access; I’ve made central Oregon, and the rivers that flow through its basalt outcroppings and sagebrush foothills, my playground. Like most steelhead and trout rivers, the ones I fish and float are held in a trust for the American people by the federal government and managed, along with the rest of our country’s 640 million acres of federal public lands, by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service.

These are lands that give us access to fish whenever we want, at minimal cost. In Oregon, I have the freedom to explore and find new water to over 200 public rivers and creeks. I can’t imagine fishing a river where I had to pay a premium to do what I love, go fishing and hunting.

Have you ever wondered where you would go fishing or hunting if you didn’t have public access? We can’t just take this lifestyle for granted.

standing-in-river-photo-by-martyThere’s a movement afoot to transfer public lands that fuel our sports. Harkening back to the homesteaders of the 1880s and the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s, this group is rallying around the idea of taking back federal lands that supposedly belong to the states. This modern-day sagebrush rebellion, which is well-funded and well-organized in places like Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Montana, advocates for the transfer of millions of federal acres to the states that claim to be able to manage them better.

In 2012, the Utah state legislature passed the “Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study,” demanding that 31 million acres of federal land be given to the state by December 31, 2014. (This demand was never met.) As futile as Utah’s effort may sound, a total of 37 bills were introduced in 11 Western states promoting the transfer of federal public lands to state holdings during the 2015 state legislative season.

And the fight has moved to Washington, D.C.: In 2015 the U.S. Senate passed a non-binding budget resolution that encourages Congress to “sell, or transfer to, or exchange with, a state or local government any Federal land that is not within the boundaries of a National Park, National Preserve, or National Monument.” Read that again—your Senators passed this symbolic measure 51-49. Idaho’s Senator Mike Crapo and Senator James Risch both voted for it. This is such an important issue that the presidential candidates are talking about it and the newly approved Republican platform supports turning over federal land to the state. Theodore Roosevelt who was a avid hunters knew that preservation would protect our fish, wildlife, and way of life. He would be rolling over in his grave.

steelhead-by-martyYou may be asking, why should it matter to me whether I’m stepping onto federal or state lands, as long as I’m having a great day on the water? Well, because states manage their lands quite differently (hint: it has everything to do with profit) from the feds, who are constitutionally mandated to make your access to fishing and hunting areas a part of the “multiple use” equation. And states simply don’t have the financial means to take on the vast amount of public lands that they’re demanding from the federal government, so more than likely, they’ll have to liquidate to make their profits.

Think about the exorbitant cost of fighting wildfires and noxious weeds or maintaining roads and campgrounds. How will states fund these projects?  When state lands lose money, places like the Elliott State Forest near Coos Bay in Oregon are sold off. Our federal public lands—what every American can now enjoy as a birthright—would likely face the same fate under state ownership: Privatization or development barring nearly everyone, from hunters and anglers to birdwatchers and backpackers, from accessing them forever.

What will happen to our rights to public land, if we don’t speak up and defend them?

I’m disturbed by Congressional actions that would limit my right to access the rivers that I love on public land. In an increasingly crowded American west, where open space is a valuable asset to our way of life, ensuring that public lands stay in the public trust is more important now than ever before. Help your lawmakers to understand the value of our public lands, and let them know that you won’t stand for the loss of our access to hunting and fishing. Sign the petition and learn more at

Watch this video for more info.


Mia Sheppard
Gink & Gasoline
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8 thoughts on “This Land is Your Land

  1. Nice piece, and y’all had better vote. Remember that the Mike Crapos and James Risches of our country were elected by a group of people who will be voting again this year. You had better get up off your fanny and vote because the “state land loonies” will be out in force given the Trump encouragement.

  2. Nice article Mia, standing up to this needs to be done, or it will be like the privatization of the campsites around us or like what Weyerhauser is attempting to do in the Siletz gorge… pay to play, and only those who can afford it will be granted access. A rich persons world is one I will not choose to live in. And once it is taken away, it is always harder to get it returned, thus the situation becomes the new normal.

    (Nice to see you on the Met last Spring with my tribe.)

    – S.C.I.

    • Amazing that Weyerhauser is still trying to lock up the Siletz gorge. I fished that stream from 1972 to 2000 and they were always trying something new. Fortunately, complaints to state officials kept them at bay.

  3. I’m not sure you’re looking at this right.

    The federal govt seems as motivated (by graft, bribery, blackmail etc) to sell off public land as any state might be. Maybe more so.

    Be careful what you wish for.

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