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National view: Stop the great outdoors giveaway

As a lifelong outdoorsman who grew up fishing wild rivers and hunting in the roadless backcountry of our public lands, I've seen the natural cycles of nature ebb and flow. Years of plenty have followed years of lean as surely as the seasons follo...

As a lifelong outdoorsman who grew up fishing wild rivers and hunting in the roadless backcountry of our public lands, I've seen the natural cycles of nature ebb and flow. Years of plenty have followed years of lean as surely as the seasons follow one another.

But today I'm starting to worry our outdoor heritage might be headed for an irreversible decline -- and this time, the cause will be man-made.

Some in Congress are seeking to roll back protections of the same public lands and natural resources that have made our state of Minnesota a destination for sportsmen from across the country and around the world. What's got me really concerned is a bill now under consideration in the U.S House of Representatives that sets funding for the Department of the Interior. A few lawmakers have tried to use the bill to make radical changes that would directly impact the lives and livelihoods of people in our state.

Among other things, the new provisions would:

--Raid the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, diverting dedicated funds away from investments that have protected wildlife and waterfowl habitat, provided access to prized hunting and fishing areas and fueled the multibillion-dollar outdoor recreation industry across the country. Despite efforts by Republicans and Democrats in the House to restore $25 million to the fund during floor debates, the appropriation for the fiscal year 2012 budget still stands at less than one-tenth of the

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$900 million Congress is authorized to spend each year.

--Undo 40 years of efforts to clean up America's polluted lakes, rivers, streams and estuaries. This summer's Yellowstone River oil spill was a stark reminder that these safeguards are needed now more than ever.

--Abolish the temporary moratorium on uranium mining in the public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon and undermine Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's ongoing study about the risk of new uranium claims in an area prized by hunters and anglers. This mining could contaminate the Colorado River water supply for 25 million people and cripple a $700 million tourism industry now employing 12,000 Americans to instead boost profits for foreign-owned mining companies.

These short-sighted proposals amount to gambling with the future of our great outdoors. And it has to stop. Minnesota's nearly 2 million hunters and anglers -- and bait shop owners, outfitters, guides and hotel operators who depend on their business -- shouldn't stand for it.

The outdoor recreation these lands support is an essential building block of our national economy, sustaining more than 6.5 million jobs and contributing more than $730 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Here in Minnesota, some 600,000 hunters spend more than

$482 million each year, providing the state with more than $63 million in sales fuel and income taxes. The ripple effect to Minnesota's economy is greater than $1.47 billion, according to Todd Amenrud, writing this summer in Whitetales magazine.

The House Appropriations bill that contains these misguided proposals could come up for debate again in the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as this month. The good news is that Interior Secretary Salazar has been a strong voice for America's sportsmen and our great outdoors. But he can't stop this giveaway alone; he needs our help.

The president has indicated he would veto this bill if it contained such harmful provisions, but in federal funding negotiations, anything could happen. The White House and our U.S. representatives and senators should know the hunters and anglers of Minnesota will back them up if they stand up for our hunting and fishing traditions and wildlife heritage this fall. We'll be watching.

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David A. Lien is a native of Grand Rapids and is a life member of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. A big game hunter and co-chairman of the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, he lives in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENT
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