This coming Saturday, tens of thousands of Americans will celebrate Public Lands Day by volunteering their time to help maintain and improve public parks, rivers and wilderness areas. It is the nation’s largest single-day volunteer event to support America’s public lands and guarantee they remain available for future generations.
Here in Bend, we are lucky enough to have the Oregon Badlands Wilderness right in our backyard. I hope that many local residents take advantage of the opportunity to spend their Public Lands Day there, joining other volunteers and enjoying a day of helping to preserve a beautiful area for generations to come. We all can appreciate when public lands and waters are kept beautiful and clean, so this is a great opportunity to give back to those places.
The Oregon Badlands Wilderness is highlighted by its high desert, volcanic vistas and ancient juniper woodlands. Majestic, gnarled juniper trees, colorful wildflowers, and fragrant sage grow from the soil of volcanic ash and give homes and food to many species of native wildlife such as elk, deer, bobcat, coyote, rabbit, eagle, and lizards.
As a protected Wilderness managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness is just a small part of the greater National Conservation Lands – protected lands and waterways spanning more than 28 million acres across the country. These areas have joined the ranks of our national parks and wildlife refuges as places where our natural, historical and scientific treasures are preserved.
The National Conservation Lands were established in 2000, and are irreplaceable links to our past. These are permanently protected public lands that include some of our most scenic and historically significant sites. Many of them can be found right here in Oregon, from the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, to the Lower Crooked Wild and Scenic River, to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail that starts in Canada, winds down through Washington, Oregon and California, and finally ends in Mexico.
Our National Conservation Lands provide people with the opportunity to get outside and experience the outdoors. They are beautifully public invitations to us as Americans, asking us to escape the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, and create our own adventures in the wild beauty of the American West instead. They are ours to explore, each in our own way.
This doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Outdoor recreational activities–such as hunting, fishing and camping–comprise a larger piece of our economy than most people realize. Nationally it supports over 6 million jobs, over $650 billion in annual consumer spending, and nearly $40 billion in state and local tax revenue. Here at home, protecting our lands and waterways through the National Conservation Lands is vital to supporting our local economy.
Our National Conservation Lands also provide us with a vision for how to better protect our public lands. By protecting our public lands we are able to preserve important archaeological sites and whole ecosystems. This allows us to better safeguard our natural and cultural history for all Americans to experience and learn from.
Here in Bend, the Friends of Oregon Badlands Wilderness works with hundreds of local volunteers and community members to connect our community with the land through hands-on education programs and service projects. By giving our families and children an opportunity for a real connection to our lands, we will help us continue Oregon’s outdoor legacy.
As we celebrate Public Lands Day, it is important to note that the tale of our National Conservation Lands is not complete. There are many unprotected locations deserving of permanent protection. We are fortunate to have a treasure such as the Oregon Badlands Wilderness right here at home, but it is up to us to maintain the beauty and relevance of places like this. By protecting these lands, we can preserve our shared heritage for generations to come.