For many of us, maintaining access to public lands, water and wildlife is a paramount concern. We not only desire to ensure these things are available to us today, but to guarantee they will be available to our children and all future generations.
These are not “soft” benefits. They are important to our quality of life and also to local, regional and national economies.
Over 47 million people a year in America head into the outdoors to hunt and fish. Hunting and angling are often the cornerstones of many small rural businesses. Hunters and anglers spend tens of billions of dollars annually, supporting our economy at many levels – from coffee shops and gas stations to major companies that manufacture firearms, outdoor clothing and fishing tackle.
These expenditures directly support jobs and ripple through the economy to the tune of $200 billion per year.
In New Mexico alone, approximately $665 million is gained.
At the same time, those of us who care about the opportunity to hunt, fish and enjoy wildlife into the future must first care about the welfare of the fish and wildlife themselves. While we take pride that in New Mexico more than 160,000 anglers spend $268 million a year, this high level of recreation and the resources that sustain it must be managed carefully.
A critical component of this economic juggernaut is the streams that occur on private lands.
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, “Nearly 70 percent of the nation’s fish and wildlife habitat is found on private lands, making conservation efforts on farms, ranches and forests crucial to many species.”
These conservation actions by landowners deliver benefits far beyond their boundaries. In addition, fish and wildlife need refugia, which in many cases is provided by private lands where public recreational pressures are often lower. These “sanctuary habitats” are places where fish can rest and lay eggs in peace and quiet, where birds can nest and deer and elk can drink water and deliver their young.
In New Mexico, streams on private land harbor some of the last populations of imperiled species, including native fish such as the Rio Grande cutthroat trout.
We need to take a “fish eye view.” At what point is recreational access more important than the species itself? Shouldn’t we seek a balance between human-facing habitat and wildlife-facing habitat? In New Mexico’s fragile stream systems, private lands play a crucial role in providing this balance.
There are ways we can solve the stream recreation challenge without undermining landowners’ good faith stewardship of streams and fisheries.
Public/private access agreements already exist in many places. Local guides earn their livelihoods leasing access from landowners and as a result bring in recreational tourists who boost New Mexico’s economy, creating jobs in our rural communities. Many landowners provide special hunting and fishing opportunities for youth, the disabled and for veterans in search of healing.
Public/private partnerships to restore streams and fisheries across public and private boundaries benefit us all equally as well as important aquatic and terrestrial species
If we are to conserve fish and wildlife populations for current and future generations, we need to consider the challenge from all perspectives and to insist that the quality of our engagement with one another remain worthy of the resources and opportunities we all want to protect. Our ability to do so will determine in large measure the world we leave our children.