There is over 2.7 billion acres of public land in the United States. Some land is home to iconic landmarks and wildlife, other land is barren and sparsely vegetated… but one thing that is important to remember, is all of this land is your land.
Lately, our public lands have been under attack. Certain groups and politicians attempt to sell these lands or convince voters that Federal Land should be managed by the State. This is a frightening thought to those who utilize public lands, but others are not only oblivious to the threat, but unaware of what is at stake.
This website is dedicated to sharing the value of public lands through the consumptive and non-consumptive uses that are available throughout the public lands. Additionally this website will also explain how anyone can join in on utilizing this amazing resource.
One of the most popular consumptive uses on public land is hunting big-game animals. Managed through state agencies, permits are allocated to a certain number of individuals in each area in accordance with very strict management guidelines that promote healthy wildlife populations.
Wild game provides a sustainable source of protein for many individuals and bypasses the subsidized agriculture system that supports most people’s meat consumption.
Hundreds of thousands of people utilize public land for recreation every day. Within the Rocky Mountains, skiing is a very popular land use in the winter. Backcountry access on Forest Service land is utilized in many areas, however, resorts with chairlifts can also exist on public land.
Bridger Bowl, a popular resort among Gallatin Valley residents is one of many ski areas that is on public land.
A major staple for Montana’s economy, recreational fishing brings in millions of dollars of revenue from visitors enjoying the many blue-ribbon trout streams.
While catch and release fishing has become very popular, the consumptive use of fish can provide a sustainable high quality protein source for many people as well as an important management tool for Fish and Wildlife Management agencies.
Another recreational activity that is done by thousands of people every day is biking. On public lands, mountain biking is especially popular. In numerous cases biking communities have rallied together to take clean up and maintain trails which benefits not only bikers but anyone utilizing the trail.
The vast majority of trails that are available for mountain biking exist on public land. Certain areas benefit greatly on the tourist revenue that biking brings to their communities.
Sustainable logging on public lands is critical for many people’s jobs throughout the Western United States. Public land agencies manage for healthy forests and use the best available science to determine the amount of timber and where trees can be removed
Personal use for firewood is also critical for individuals who rely on wood to heat their homes. Also many people who choose to heat their homes this way view the gathering of wood as a recreational opportunity as well.
Camping opportunities in public areas are tremendous. Everything from developed campgrounds for motorhomes to remote off trail backcountry sites can be found on public land. This is another huge player in the source of income for the tourist industry.
The recreational aspect of camping is one of the most utilized non-consumptive uses on public land.
Stories from the Land
I had only been in Bozeman a few months when I ventured to Bridger Bowl on an epic day full of two feet of fresh snow. I had never experienced anything like this before. I have had my fair share of powder days but I didn’t know what to expect as I got off the chairlift that morning. I followed my brother as we sped towards a narrow traverse and absorbed the bumps of avalanche debris across the slope. Previous skiers tracks began to disappear into the bowels of the drainage. My brother continued across the slope until we reached a cliff covered in snow snakes. From this point we had to sidestep through the vast amounts of snow up and above the cliff. Covered in sweat and with my muscles throbbing I reached the top of the ridge. Leaning against my poles, I looked over at my brother as he mouthed “go for it”. I caught my breath and pointed my tips down into the narrow chute. Within seconds, I was immersed into the lightest snow I had ever felt. I couldn’t see anything except for a brief second at the apex of each turn. In that moment, free floating, flying down a mountain was a truly incredible experience, one that I continue to live for and seek out every winter.
Misery and Rewards
We left camp early in the morning, biking up a winding gravel road. Reaching the trailhead, my friends and I became excited as we had never done a ride like this before. About a mile in we hit snow, which was not exactly the most fun to bike through. The snow continued to get deeper until we could not ride anymore. We threw our bikes on our backs and continued on post-holing through the icy crust. This continued for several miserable miles, until we finally reached a snow free rim overlooking a vast desert valley. We were all excited to hop back on the bikes and roll down the next eleven miles of spectacular downhill single-track trail. It was an incredible trail, we all crashed, learned a few things and soaked in some unbelievable views. We arrived back in town right before dark soaked in sweat, mud and blood. A Wendy’s Frosty never tasted so good.
Meat for the Winter
Scrambling over deadfall I wandered through the lodgepole maze and made my way up the mountain. I was mostly guessing on the way to get to the meadow that was my destination. After hours of climbing, ducking and crawling through fallen trees I popped out right where I hoped I would. I found a nice hiding spot inside a small patch of trees that dissected the meadow and waited. Nearly dozing off, I began to feel several raindrops strike my head followed almost immediately by an elk’s bugle. I got excited and nocked an arrow. Soon I could see a cow elk skirting the tree-line at the bottom of the meadow. More cows followed along with a little bull elk. My heart jumped as I threw up my binoculars and saw that he had a brow-tine, at which point my excitement grew as this was a legal elk to hunt. I patiently waited for the elk to get closer, but another elk emerged from the trees asserting his dominance with a tremendous bugle. He got bellow me and I let out an aggressive elk call. The bull responded immediately and headed directly towards me. I could only see his antlers through the grass as I drew my bow. He stopped at thirty-six yards and turned broadside, I settled my sight pin and sent an arrow soaring towards the animal that would feed me throughout the year. through the heart of a half ton creature.
Pushing through Pain
Trying to block the feeling of pain pulsing though my body I imagined massive golden trout biting my fly, jumping out of the water… I then heard “fuck dude” which brought me back to reality as I looked over at my friend staring up the ridiculous pitch ahead of us. For a solid mile we could only see boulder fields filled with house size rocks that we needed to climb with sixty pound backpacks. It was one of the most miserable climbs I have ever done, but well worth the reward that awaited us above. We reached the lake right before dark and setup camp and grabbed our fly rods to see if we could catch some dinner. Pretty soon Rocky let out a “whoop!” as he caught his first golden trout. Not too long later I too had my first golden trout at the end of my line. Already our goal had been met but we were still hungry for more. The next morning we spent all day fishing the two lakes of the breathtaking mountain basin. We caught some beautiful trout and feasted on some of the most delicious fish that I have ever had.
I can’t help but smile every time we get an electric bill in the winter as our balance maintains a low rate. Others complain of their bills topping $200 a month, and keep the thermostat low to save money. For the most part we are able to stay quite warm in the winter with our wood stove heating the household. Every late summer and fall we take to the woods, chainsaw in hand to procure dead timber to heat our house for the winter. We target large lodgepole pines that have been dead and drying for several years. We cut them into manageable pieces to later be split at home in preparation for the wood stove. There is a different and higher level of satisfaction knowing that you worked for and provided the heat in your home.