Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. -Teddy Roosevelt
America has a lot of public land—in fact, more than 30% of our land area is public. In August of 2010, I heard Tim Egan speak in Wallace. He spoke about Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, the Fire of 1910, and his book The Big Burn. The thing I remember most, and that I scribbled in my notes from the evening, was his comments on the importance of America’s public lands, “‘We didn’t have a home on Hayden Lake like the swells,’ Mother said, ‘We’re richer than the bastards! We have the national forests!'” In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, he elaborated: “Not long after I was old enough to cast my first vote, I realized that with American citizenship came a birthright to my summer home.”
The land area of the United States is about 2.26 billion acres. Of that, the Federal Government owns 605 million acres that are administered by the public lands agencies: the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the National Parks Service, and the National Wildlife Refuge system. In addition, state governments own 197.5 million acres. The lands are administered in a variety of ways, they include recreation areas, forest land sold for timber purposes, and the lands in the National Wilderness Preservation System (cited data). Whether it is Tim Egan acknowledging the wealth the lands grant to all Americans (and millions of foreign visitors) or Teddy Roosevelt designating 230 million acres of public lands America’s public lands have been repeated acknowledged as an asset to our country.