Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Friday, September 16, 2005

Loving Our Lands

by Senator Larry Craig

As I grow a little older, I find that it is getting a little harder to keep track of all the commemorative days, weeks, and months designated to celebrate all kinds of different events. However, I’m convinced that the challenge is not my old age. Rather, every year there are more and more of these commemorations showing up on the calendar.

There is Earth Day, Groundhog Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, National Preparedness Month (September) and more. Did you know that September 19, was designated by some groups as “International Talk Like a Pirate Day”? Obviously, some of these commemorations are more lighthearted than others. But one of the days that I do like to keep track of every year is National Public Lands Day, which falls this year on Saturday, September 24.

The first National Public Lands Day took place in 1994, sponsored by three federal agencies. The purpose is to encourage citizens to give back to our public lands by restoring trails, building bridges, removing invasive plants, protecting natural and cultural resources, planting trees, and much more. In the first year, 700 volunteers turned out to participate. Today, in just its 12th year, National Public Lands Day will include nine federal agencies, dozens of corporations and organizations and nearly 100,000 volunteers.

Public lands are especially important in western states like Idaho. The federal government owns about 63 percent of the land in the Gem State, and Idahoans love to experience those lands. We use the lands to make a living, like many loggers, ranchers and miners do, or for recreational uses, like hiking, rock climbing, skiing, camping, snowmobiling, using off-road vehicles, hunting, fishing, boating, swimming. Although views on the best use of public lands may diverge, we all value these resources and understand that we must work together to keep them healthy and vibrant for future generations.

Unfortunately, these resources and recreation opportunities are under attack by certain special interest groups. Some are fighting to halt all resource management on our public lands, while others are working to restrict and, in some cases, eliminate human access to our public lands for recreation.

Yes, we must manage our public lands responsibly, which includes restrictions on some activities in some areas. What we must not do is unreasonably restrict or eliminate certain activities. Despite our differences over the best use of public lands, I believe that it is possible for everyone to work together to produce solutions all can live with.

What we do not want to live with are thousands upon thousands of acres of our public lands burned over by catastrophic wildfire. Although the fire season has not grabbed the headlines this summer, more than 8 million acres have burned in 2005, nearly double the 10-year average. Several fires in Idaho have burned more than 40,000 acres each.

This is the result of a hands-off approach. The evidence shows that when our forests are left alone, they often become choked with unhealthy, dead and dying trees, which ultimately provide fuel for fires. In these overgrown forests, fires can burn so intensely that the soil is sterilized, and recovery becomes extremely difficult.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again—we will never completely eliminate fires, nor should we. Fires are a natural part of the process of rejuvenation. But well-managed forests are much more capable of surviving a fire, which in turn preserves vital habitat for our wildlife and protects sensitive watersheds.

If you are interested in doing your part to take care of our public lands, please visit the National Public Lands Day website at http://www.npld.com. There you can find a list of activities taking place throughout the state on public lands near you. By giving something back to the lands we love so much, we can make National Public Lands Day a day to remember.

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