onX Supports Your Public Access

Our Stance

Another year goes by and another attack on public lands is introduced to Congress. This year, Senator Mike Lee of Utah introduced a bill, which would promptly transfer America’s Federal public lands to state ownership, endangering their public access and putting them at risk of sale. Senator Lee argues that local governments can better manage these areas and refers to those who use the lands as elites who want to leave the West uninhabited and picturesque.

Lee’s actions will erode Americans’ access to the great outdoors. An idea that represents American values as much as any other.

To onX, Lee’s plans are unacceptable.

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As a company that prides itself on providing a means to accessing public land across the country, onX is adamantly opposed to any transfer, sale, or other action which would jeopardize the public’s opportunity to experience these lands. In that spirit, we firmly oppose Lee’s threats to federally-controlled lands.

Image of hunter watching the sunset from a rocky mountainside in public lands.

The Issue

We are a data-driven company and therefore base our stance on facts. Here’s what we know:

Americans love public lands. Recreational areas, including the National Parks, break attendance records year after year. In 2016, more than 33 million people traveled to some of the most popular parks in the American West.

If access to these lands was reduced, the economies they touch–including hospitality, recreating and travel–would shrink. The outdoor industry alone, which we at onX are proud to be a part of, brings in almost $650 million in taxes annually.

At a meeting to help bolster the outdoor industry in Montana, Governor Steve Bullock assured onX Founder Eric Siegfried and other pivotal members of the Montana outdoor industry that he will continue his opposition to any public land transfer and help find ways to grow the outdoor industry.

Proponents of land transfers argue that states can better manage public land than the feds. But the truth is, without federal funding and protections, states can’t afford to do so. And what’s more, states often seek federal assistance with disasters like fighting wildfires.

In 2012, the National Forest Service and BLM together spent over $140 million in Montana, which would turn into a sole burden of the state if a transfer went through.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead recently said his administration spent $45 million combating wildfires. If Wyoming didn’t have federal assistance, the cost would have doubled, placing an enormous burden on a state economy ranked 47th in the nation.

If states are left to manage public lands without federal aid or protections they will inevitably be forced to either raise taxes for the upkeep or sell millions of acres to energy and mineral extraction companies.

As an example of what happens to lands without federal protections, we need only look at Texas.

The Republic of Texas skipped becoming a U.S. territory and went straight to being a state in 1845, which kept the federal government from designating any Federal land. After it became a state, Texas granted private property rights to hundreds of millions of acres. Today less than five percent of the second-largest state is open for public access.

To be fair, there are issues with how the federal government handles public lands in the West. The BLM has cited fire management, grazing issues, proper wildlife management and frivolous lawsuits as existing and recurring problems preventing a balanced use of public land and natural resources.

Image of female hunter in camo with a bow walking into the sunset in a field on Western public lands.

There’s no easy solution. But solving these problems—while maintaining public access—will only be achieved through cooperation between states and the federal government.

Last updated: July 2018.

Written by Cavan Williams