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Hunters and anglers react to federal land transfer push by House Republicans

Jan 17, 2017

Earlier this month, Republicans in the U.S. House made it easier for the federal government to give up control of public lands to states.

Many of the most avid users of these lands, especially hunters and anglers, are on edge about the idea.

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But not everyone is against it.

Randy Santucci is the chair of a group called the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania. He thinks energy development has been good for game hunting.

President-elect Donald Trump has said he wants more energy development on federal lands, and this worries some hunters. But not Santucci. He says oil and gas drilling hasn’t been a bad thing for his hunting. 

Pennsylvania’s game lands have been used for energy development for decades, and there are thousands of working oil and gas wells in the Allegheny National Forest near Santucci’s hunting camp.
Credit Brian Peshek

Pennsylvania’s game lands have been used for energy development for decades. There are thousands of working oil and gas wells in the nearby Allegheny National Forest.

Santucci says his group was early to support drilling.

“You aren’t going to stop it. So the second best thing to do is to get on board and be involved with these energy companies to promote proper land reclamation,” he says.

Santucci argues land that’s cleared for drilling actually benefits hunting.

He isn’t worried that Trump’s calls to cut environment and energy regulations will do much harm. He thinks the energy industry is already well regulated - maybe over-regulated - in efforts to protect water quality, and to ensure drill sites are cleaned up.

“I know Trump talked about relaxing some, for every one regulation he was going to get rid of two,” says Santucci. “Well, I’m sure those ones he’s going to remove are probably the ones that are the least intrusive, from a standpoint of causing any concerns to the environment. There’s a lot of over-regulation.”

But many other hunters and anglers are apprehensive.

Other hunting groups across the country are not as confident as Santucci’s that land and water will remain protected.

Jeff Sample is with the local chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

“There’s a big push right now in Congress to basically sell off federal holdings to the states and ultimately to the highest bidders. And a lot of this will essentially go to mineral and resource extraction and what it’s going to amount to is basically closing off access to these public lands to the country’s hunters and anglers,” says Sample.

Sample worries that increased development would destroy wildlife habitat and the solitude of being in the woods.

Groups like Trout Unlimited have issued dire warnings to hunters and fishermen about the Republican party’s goal to transfer federal lands to the states. The group worries that once states take over public lands, and those lands are leased, or sold, they’re gone for good.

Some reactions in Michigan

The Michigan United Conservation Clubs and the Michigan chapter of Trout Unlimited are also opposed to the transfer of federal lands. They’re afraid people could lose access to land for hunting and fishing here as well.

Dan Eichinger, executive director of MUCC, explained by email:

"Public lands are essential to preserving the democracy of hunting and fishing in Michigan and across the country by providing a place for anyone, regardless of means, to exercise the privilege to hunt and fish. Taking away a place to hunt is equivalent to taking away the right to hunt."

And Kristin Thomas with Michigan Trout Unlimited sent the following statement:

Michigan Trout Unlimited shares the serious concerns about plans to aid transfer of federal lands to states.  The last several Michigan legislative sessions have resulted in bill attempts (last session SB39 & SB40) that would limit the amount of land Michigan can own, and have attempted to seriously undermine the transparency and legitimacy of procedures for selling off state lands and managing them.  These bills will resurface quickly with our new legislature.  Michigan currently has many politicians that believe our State owns too much public land on behalf of its citizens, and seek to make rules that will allow easier sales of it to business interests wishing to buy it. With this trend and legislative debate, the federal legislative attempt to force transfer of federal lands to states, should be seen as setting up a severe loss of those public lands. If you hunt, fish, hike, bike, paddle or horseback ride, this will result in a loss of places for you to recreate.  If you care about the health of our environmental, and healthy outdoors, this will result in less land managed specifically for conservation purposes. If you don’t care about the outdoors at all, consider that transference of lands to the State, will result in local PILT (payments in lieu of taxes) payments for all that land, now falling on Michigan taxpayers.  There aren’t many upsides to this, and there are lots of downsides.