It’s National Public Lands Day, a time to celebrate the connection between people and green space in their community and to inspire environmental and wildlife stewardship.
I can’t help but think about a few trips I’ve taken to Oregon during my six years of being an editor at Friends of Animals.
I can still see the towering cliffs and honeycombed rock formations of Leslie Gulch canyon in Jordan Valley; the majestic ponderosa pines along the spectacular Deschutes River in Tumalo State Park, and the unbelievable blueness of Crater Lake National Park.
Each time, I felt small, yet my connection to the natural world suddenly felt massive as did my desire to preserve it. I became more cognizant than ever that humans are just a small piece of the large pie of our ecosystem here on Earth.
Living in a densely populated part of Connecticut, I sometimes find it easy to feel disconnected from wild places and underestimate their role in my quality of life (scientific research shows nature is good medicine for stress and depression) and overall health of the planet.
However, being enveloped by the Leslie Gulch canyon and having the good fortune of seeing wild horses and other wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, a long-billed curlew, a burrowing owl and even a rattlesnake during that particular trip, I was never more grateful to have no cell phone service—unshackling me from my iPhone and the internet and just allowing me to be present.
Lucky for me, my work at Friends of Animals is a constant reminder that no matter where you live in the U.S, you should be invested in protecting public lands. Remember, this land is your land—however it’s being increasingly commercialized and wildlife is being wiped out.
Today, upwards of 2 million cattle graze public lands, and now the government is increasingly authorizing thousands of oil, gas and mineral extraction projects on BLM managed properties. The result truly is a crisis—these commercial activities will continue to substantially fragment and reduce the amount of habitat left for western wildlife.
And guess what? Federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management are banking on the fact that Americans, especially those who don’t live out West, won’t notice.
But Friends of Animals is watching. Case in point is when the BLM snatched 150 wild horses from Three Fingers Herd Management Area in Malheur, Oregon in 2016 after a brush fire swept through the northern portion of the area. They thought they could say it was “an emergency action” and avoid the National Environmental Protection Act.
But last year U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon agreed with FoA that BLM’s decision to permanently remove these wild horses was made without compliance with proper environmental analyses.
While this is a tremendous victory, Friends of Animals will not be satisfied until the wild horses are returned to the Three Fingers HMA Area since we saw with our own eyes the great abundance of appropriate forage that has sprung up due to record-breaking precipitation that the area has received.
Take notice of what’s happening to public lands
The National Park Service offers suggestions to celebrate National Public Lands Day: Visit a National Park for free; take part in a volunteer work project; enjoy the health benefits of being outdoors; share your favorite outdoor activity on social media channels with the hashtag #NPSVolunteer, #FindYourPark, and #NPLD!
I’d add to that—perhaps start a movement to designate a national monument or National Park where wildlife and the environment is imperiled. Since National Parks, which can only be created by an act of Congress, provide the gold standard in American protected areas—hunting and resource development activities (mineral extraction, fracking, timber harvesting) are prohibited—the truth is, America needs more of them.
And you can make every day National Public Lands Day by joining Friends of Animals. We put wildlife and critical habitat protection at the core of our mission. Our Wildlife Law Program works tirelessly to get wildlife Endangered Species Act protections and to prevent animals from being delisted.
This work is more critical than ever considering the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken the ESA. It’s just another example of the powers that be trying to prioritize their view of economic value over the quality and value of our environment.
I was so proud Thursday to stand alongside Connecticut Attorney General William Tong in Hartford as he announced that the state where FoA is headquartered is joining 16 other states in suing the Trump Administration for trying to gut the Endangered Species Act for economic interests. It’s gratifying to be part of the coalition that urged him to join this fight for wildlife. He reminded everyone that phone calls and letters to legislators do make a difference.
I saw my first family of bald eagles, a species saved by ESA protections, in CT this summer on Bantam Lake so his words during the press conference really resonated with me: “How do you put a price on a bald eagle?” he asked.
Putting price tags on wildlife and the environment is not only a crime against nature, but also against Americans who enjoy the outdoors. According to the BLM’s own data from 2015, human recreation activities in Oregon alone contributed $526 million to the nation’s economy while livestock grazing in Oregon only contributed $152 million.
Government agencies need to get their heads out of the sand and stop reducing habitat for wildlife and instead encourage the public to engage in wildlife watching.
And I don’t mean by creating more paved roads, but rather by simply putting up some signs to point them in the right direction as their feet touch the earth while hiking.
While writing this blog, I joyfully discovered Indiana Dunes National Seashore received National Park status this year, a feat that’s been 103 years in the making. That brings the U.S. number of National Parks to 61.
The NPS says Indiana Dunes National Park hugs 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan and that hikers will enjoy 50 miles of trails over rugged dunes, mysterious wetlands, sunny prairies, meandering rivers and peaceful forests.
The Chicago Tribune reported this month that the Indiana Dunes National Park saw its highest number of visitors this summer after receiving national park status, tallying 131,662 visitors in the first eight months of 2019, breaking its all-time annual record.
If you designate it, they will come.
Nicole Rivard is editor of Friends of Animal’s quarterly magazine Action Line. She beings 23 years of journalism experience to the front lines, protesting and documenting atrocities against animals.