Protecting public lands protects quality of life

To the Editor:

Last week, North Carolinians joined citizens from all over the nation to celebrate Great Outdoors Week to focus on public lands and their importance to the state’s economy. Getting people outdoors is a growing business in North Carolina, accounting for almost $7.5 billion a year and 95,000 jobs. The money isn’t always easy to track, but it benefits many rural western areas of the state.

There’s a ripple effect through the economy. When somebody comes to the mountains, they buy supplies, they fill up their car with gas, they purchase equipment for their activity from outfitters, they stay at a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast; they go out to eat — and so those dollars support the local economy.

Janna Martin, owner of the Pinecrest Bed and Breakfast in Asheville, said, “Our guests come to this tiny hamlet from all over the country and the world — attracted by the remarkable natural beauty of the area. A good part of our business is folks from all walks of life who come to explore the forests, to hike the trails, to paddle the rivers and to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. We are truly blessed by the mountains that surround the city of Asheville.”   

North Carolina is home to many remarkable publicly owned treasures …. That are important for clean water, wildlife and the recreation economy in our state.

However, current threats in Congress would remove current protections for more than 60 million acres of public lands. The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, H.R.1581, disregards the importance of our public lands to the American public. Industrial activities such as mining, logging and drilling are already allowed in more than half of our national forests and other public lands. This bill proposes to open up most of the rest. As a result, roughly 70 percent of America’s most valuable landscapes and waterways could be degraded through large-scale development and off-road vehicle use.

The measure is just one of multiple attempts by lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and the state to undo fundamental environmental protections for clean air, clean water, endangered species and public lands.

Great Outdoors week calls attention to and is a celebration of these magnificent lands. Hundreds of people joined outings throughout the Southeast which included hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and biking. These activities were especially important to raise public awareness and provide an opportunity for the public to get out of doors – leading up to Sept. 25 when Gov. Beverly Perdue proclaims “Public Lands Day” in recognition of these valuable public treasures. 

North Carolina residents are encouraged to get out and enjoy their public lands and to speak out for their protection. I hope Great Outdoors Week and Public Lands Day gives people a chance to appreciate areas they might sometimes take for granted and to recognize that they can play a part in keeping these regional treasures protected.

They also serve as essential sources of clear water and habitats for fish and wildlife. We must ensure that they are protected and that we leave our public lands to future generations in as good or better shape than they were left to us.”  

Mark Shelley

Executive Director

Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition

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