Count me as lucky. As a passionate hunter, angler, hiker and naturalist, public lands make it all possible. As a father, public lands have been the only gateway to instilling a love of the outdoors in my children. As an employee of Orvis, my livelihood is dependent on public lands being available for the hundreds of thousands of outdoor enthusiasts in the region. In my opinion, all South Carolinians and indeed all Americans can be counted lucky as we are all owners of public lands.
The Outdoor Industry Association just did an independent study on how important the outdoor economy is to South Carolina — 151,000 jobs, $4.6 billion payroll, $16.3 billion in consumer spending and $1.1 billion in local tax revenue — all billion with a B! Some of this buzz of activity is from larger outfitters and apparel stores in metropolitan areas, while a considerable number comes from locally-owned mom and pop businesses in rural counties so pressed for job opportunities.
Can you imagine how dramatically lower the numbers would be without state game management areas and without national parks, refuges and forests?
In an amazing show of support for keeping public lands in public hands, more than 2.9 million Americans submitted comments this summer to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke urging him to preserve and protect 27 national monuments threatened by a recent executive order by President Donald Trump. That was 99 percent of the total comments registered, a total rebuke to the Secretary by those who own and cherish their public lands. The executive order tasked Zinke with reviewing the boundaries of 27 national monuments dedicated by several Republican and Democratic presidents since 1996.
President Trump was in Utah on Monday to announce proposed reductions for two monuments known for their natural beauty and magnificent scenery. We are a democratic nation, but sometimes the 1 percent prevails.
Some of our most treasured public lands, including Congaree National Park here in South Carolina, were controversial when they were first declared national monuments. Just think how much we as a nation would have lost without a Grand Teton, a Grand Canyon, or Acadia — all of which were also protected first as national monuments, and like the Congaree, eventually became National Parks due to overwhelming popularity. These national lands tell the natural, prehistoric and historic stories of America in the midst of breathtaking splendor and inspirational beauty.
Passed in 1906 with the enthusiastic backing of President Theodore Roosevelt, the Antiquities Act allows presidents to protect areas with unique cultural resources as well as important fish and wildlife habitat or outstanding scenic beauty. Throughout the past century, 16 different presidents from both political parties used the Antiquities Act to protect over 150 of our most special of special places.
The Antiquities Act is meant to allow a president to step in to protect special places when Congress has failed to act — and we know how gridlocked Congress has been in recent years. These designations came after local residents, hunters, anglers, business owners and recreationists campaigned — sometimes for decades — for added protection for these areas. And the millions of comments to the Department of the Interior supporting the Antiquities Act and these public lands reaffirm how special these landscapes are to all Americans.
The public and such farsighted leaders as President Theodore Roosevelt spoke long ago when they made a commitment to future generations and us by conserving some of the best features of the American experience. Once again, our national leaders need to listen to the public and keep our heritage intact. And Secretary Zinke needs to address enhancing the visitor experience on public lands rather than trying to diminish a legacy we all hold in common.
Mark White is the fishing manager at Orvis in Greenville, a life member of Trout Unlimited, conservationist, concerned citizen and owner of public lands.