COLUMN: Remember Aug. 4, 2020

“There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” 

Aldo Leopold

The U.S. Forest Service was founded on Feb. 1, 1905. The Antiquities Act was signed into law on June 8, 1906. The National Park Service was established on Aug. 25, 1916. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was established on June 30, 1940. And now, on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law. 

Of course, I’m missing many important dates, but those four stick out to me the most in the history of American conservation. Whether it was establishing national monuments, creating agencies to protect the animals we hold so dearly, or the simple pen-to-paper move like when Franklin D. Roosevelt – cousin to Theodore Roosevelt – signed into law the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act of 1934, we have a lot to be proud of in the conservation community. 

We also have a lot to shake our heads at, like when the USFS would get out of hand in certain times – as one of my contacts put it, “They cut the shit out of everything!” – or in recent months when the Trump Administration began chipping away at things like the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act or more to try and wiggle in ways for industry to get their hands on untapped land. 

In this Associated Press file photo dated March 24, 2015, Matt Karlson, right, supervisor for the NROCKS Outdoor Center and Chris Ward, operations manager for the center, walk across a suspension bridge that stretches 200 feet between rock formations at 150 feet above ground in Circleville, W. Va. A recent study commissioned by the Appalachian Regional Commission cites West Virginia’s Nelson Rocks and Seneca Rocks, a formation to the north owned by the National Park Service, as keys to Pendleton County’s “tremendous potential as a tourism destination.” But like all tourism in the Mountain State, it faces challenges. (AP Photo/ Jonathan Drew)

Yes, there’s a lot to be both happy and sad about, but on Tuesday, the entire community celebrated from east to west, north to south. After a long, enduring battle to get the appropriate amount of funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, we finally have it. Each year, the LWCF will receive $900 million for projects ranging from access to public lands to building swimming pools. Not to mention, it also will inject $9.5 billion over the next five years into a deferred maintenance backlog on federal lands. 

It seems crazy to think that one thing could have an impact on every county in this country, but LWCF is that thing. What makes it crazier is that in its 55-year existence, it’s only been fully funded twice. 

While there probably are concerns that we’re giving $900 million on an annual basis to outdoor recreation opportunities, especially during a pandemic, let’s not get tangled up in that but instead ask why our leadership has siphoned off $22 billion to other things in the last 55 years. Let’s also look at the economic impact of this: It creates jobs in a time when jobs are hard to come by, which will in turn reinvigorate the economy and hopefully help us rebound from the knife wounds we’ve suffered from COVID-19. And, if you didn’t know, this money isn’t taxpayer money – it comes from royalties from offshore drilling. 

So don’t get things twisted. We need this, and it’s long overdue. That’s why nearly every outdoor-oriented group has been praising this since it was finally brought forward in March (although Sen. Joe Manchin [D-W.Va.] has been working on this for a decade, according to him). So instead of posting another news story about this for The Dominion Post, I wanted to come down and level with you from the perspective of an American outdoorsman. 

All I’m saying is this: Remember Aug. 4, 2020. We’re currently living through a monumental time. Tuesday will be remembered as the day we all – legislators, hunters, anglers, backpackers and more – cemented our legacy and helped push this bill. I’ve spoken to Manchin, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers President Land Tawney and a handful of people from non-profit organizations over the last two months in crafting stories to tell you about this legislation. I woke up Tuesday morning from a deep sleep in a cabin under hemlocks and eastern pines in the woods of Ohio to learn the wonderful news that this was finally signed into law. What better way to receive the news? 

So now that this is official, I implore you, dear reader, to do something to celebrate this victory. Go on a hike at Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area; go spend a night in the Dolly Sods or Otter Creek Wilderness; go scale a rock wall at Coopers Rock State Forest; go prepare for a hunt on the rocky back of the Appalachian Mountains; toss a line into the bubbling waters of one of our wild streams; or go make a campfire and sip on a beer, simply just celebrating the victory we all, as public landowners in America, are a part of. 

The sun sets over the Dolly Sods Wilderness in late July. Wilderness site designations were a major fight in the mid-1900s, led by men like Bob Marshall and Gifford Pinchot. Dolly Sods was designated as a wilderness site in 1975 by Congress, protecting 17,776 acres. Prior to its designation, it was used for grazing, logging and, during World War 2, the U.S. Army used parts of Dolly Sods as a bombing range. (Andrew Spellman photo)

Aldo Leopold, one of the loaded voices during the many conservation battles of the 1900s, once said as deforestation and other extractive practices rocked the nation, “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

It’s good to know that long after Leopold’s death in 1948, though we’ve still seen industry trying to get to pristine land for their own good, that we do have responsible practices in place and can find middle ground with different entities. But it wouldn’t be without Leopold and the many conservation-minded folks around him and the ones that followed after that those even exist. And it wouldn’t be without laws like the Great American Outdoors Act that we have an abundance of public lands to explore, whether a state forest or the wilderness areas where nature is the “community to which we belong.” As we march along to the victory drums of Tuesday’s win for months and probably years to come, I’d like to go back to that quote from Leopold at the top of this column: “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” 

In our high-tech world where we can go out and get our necessities with ease, I’m glad that I am apart of the minority of those who cannot live without the escapes of the wild. I wish more would join us, but for now, let’s bask in the biggest conservation win of our lives.   

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