Access to public and wild lands and waters has been important to the people of this country for a very long time. During this time of responsible recreation, wide open spaces may be even more important today than ever.
Here is a brief history of some of the current federal agencies that manage our public lands. On Feb. 1, 1905, the USDA Forest Service was established within the Department of Agriculture. The agency was given a unique mission: to sustain healthy, diverse, and productive forests and grasslands for present and future generations.
By Executive Order of March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt established Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, along Florida’s central Atlantic coast, as the first unit of the present National Wildlife Refuge System. In 1940, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is created by combining the Bureau of Fisheries and the Bureau of Biological Survey within the Department of Interior.
By the Act of March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” and placed it “under exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior.”
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior responsible for administering public lands. With oversight over 247.3 million acres, it governs one eighth of the country’s landmass. President Harry S. Truman created the BLM in 1946 by combining two existing agencies: The General Land Office and the Service.
Places like parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wild and scenic rivers, recreation areas — they were carved out and are managed for you and me.
In the outdoor recreation news lately, there has been a great deal of attention and tracking of the Great American Outdoors Act — a bill in Washington, D.C.
According to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, June 8th, the Senate took a monumental step toward passing the historic Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422), which represents the single greatest commitment to increasing public access and advancing conservation in a lifetime, by voting to proceed to final consideration of the bill on an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 80-17.
S. 3422 will provide $9.5 billion over 5 years to address the crumbling infrastructure on America’s public lands and waters. While the National Park Service will receive $6.5 billion in funding, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) worked to secure the inclusion of $3 billion in funding to be set aside to repair and maintain public land infrastructure overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS), and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which are critically important to providing recreational opportunities to sportsmen and women.
The inclusion of funding specifically for BLM, USFWS, and USFS lands and waters will ensure that Americans have the opportunity to access some of their most cherished places to participate in hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. Over 246 million acres, or 99%, of BLM lands are open to hunting and fishing while the USFS reports that 99% of the 193 million acres it administers are open to hunting and at least 99% of USFS administered rivers, streams, and lakes are open to fishing. Collectively, BLM, USFWS, and USFS annually support more than 25 million hunting days and nearly 45 million fishing days, highlighting the importance of these lands for America’s sportsmen and women as well as the outdoor economy.
The Great American Outdoors Act also provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually. LWCF is one of the most successful and influential conservation programs in our nation’s history. As a testament to the impact of LWCF, the program has completed a conservation, recreation, or access project in every single county in the country since its inception in 1964.
Ellis is the author of a newly published collection of past stories — “Hunting, Fishing and Family — From the Hills of West Virginia.” Available at WV Book Co