We are Women on Wheels for Wild Lands. In the fall of 2017, we are biked 5,312 miles across the southern United States for America’s public lands.
We are outraged by the current political threats facing public lands in this country. The four of us care deeply about wild places, outdoor recreation, and continuing to have public land to enjoy for generations to come. We know that many United States citizens appreciate and enjoy our public lands and share a similar hope that we do. In 2016, 330 million people visited just the National Parks alone, and public lands generated $646 billion, yet somehow these places are facing a huge risk. These quiet places need our loud voices now more than ever.
In the United States…
we are lucky to have so many public lands for recreation, hunting and fishing, and peaceful getaways. Nevada and Utah, two states we’ll be biking through, currently have the highest percentages of federal public lands in the United States, with 67% and 42%, respectively. The current funding for conservation on federal public lands in the United States, which includes national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, makes up just a fraction of a percentage of the total federal budget! Despite this, the budget is being threatened to be cut even further. What’s more, these pristine federal lands are also at risk of being used for mining, drilling or agriculture, which will alter their health and landscape forever.
What’s the big deal?
With the current U.S. administration and leadership in Congress as they stand, the biggest threat facing public lands is the potential transfer of federally-owned lands to the hands of the state.
Now this might not seem so bad, right? Except the transfer may likely result in losing these lands to private business and industry. Why? States don’t have the resources the federal government has to manage these lands, and they would likely be forced to increase taxes or sell the land to private business and industry. These lands will be closed to the public, used for mining or drilling, intensive agriculture, or turned into shopping or housing developments. Need further evidence? When Nevada became a state in 1864, all of its lands were owned and controlled by the federal government. But the federal government gave Nevada control of a small bit of that land, 2.7 million acres to be exact, about 3.8 percent of the entire state. Today, only 3,000 of those acres remain in the hands of the state, as Nevada has sold off all the rest. Utah has also sold off half of its original land grant. Can you imagine if Nevada and Utah were given possession of all of their federal land today? There is no way those public lands would remain public for very long.
You’ve probably heard of Bears Ears, a 1.3 million-acre piece of land that former President Barack Obama had converted to a National Monument at the end of last year. Before becoming a National Monument, this land’s priceless petroglyphs, pictographs and other resources were often lost to vandalism, looting, and reckless recreation. Now that Bears Ears is a National Monument it will be better maintained and protected from defiling, while still being a place for people to enjoy. The land’s status as a Monument, however, is controversial, since it can no longer be used for oil and gas drilling, expansion, and cattle grazing, something that many people had been looking to for many years. It seems that now more than ever people are divided on the idea of how this land should be used, with local recreationalists and Native American tribes on one side and energy companies and agribusiness supporters on the other. On April 26, President Trump signed an executive order to review the designation of Bears Ears and 26 other national monuments.
Other Reasons To Protect Public Lands
In this fast-paced, technology driven world, we face current and looming threats of climate change and children are spending on average seven hours in front of electronic screens and only 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day. What does this imply for the future health and well-being of human kind?
Children today are not only losing their connection to nature and the environment because of a lack of time spent outdoors, but are also experiencing an increase in physical and behavioral issues because of it, an issue coined Nature Deficit Disorder.
Evidence shows that if children are engaged with the natural world before the age of 11 especially in more “wild” settings, it is likely to shape their behaviors later in life. We want to live in a world of citizens who are connected to their environment and care about what happens to it, and a country that ensures its people access to outdoor opportunities to make this possible.
Finally, because of the threats to public lands in the past year, we have been able to better understand how important natural places are to so many people of various backgrounds. We hope to emphasize not only the importance of public lands, but also how crucial the outdoors is in being an equal playing field for all people to enjoy. We want to celebrate diversity and gender equity.
According to a study by REI, 63% of women said they could not think of an outdoor female role model.
Yet, 72% of women say they feel liberated or free when they are outside and 73% say they would like to spend more time outside. We hope to help continue to change the narrative around championing all people in the outdoors equally. We even have dreams to write a children’s book about our journey when we return to inspire other little girls to shoot for big adventures. Public lands are for everyone!
For all these reasons, we’ve made it our mission to educate and bring awareness to the importance and value of these public lands and the threats that they face today. Click here to read about how we did this.