These ONDA members gave the classic American West road trip a public lands twist
Inspired by a desire to see public lands across the West, Michelle Smith and Sam Beebe took a nearly 5-month and 16,000-mile road trip last year to better understand public lands and the current issues and communities around them. They had become ONDA members in 2016 and wanted to take this time to see how environmental decisions are implemented on the ground. They were curious about what mining or ranching look like across the land and how activities impact public access.
While they were planning their trip, the Trump administration made the disappointing announcement that it would “review” 27 National Monuments. Spurred by the review, they visited and wrote about all 21 National Monuments in the lower 48. They also made volunteer service a key component of their trip. As Sam said, “Volunteering takes you places you wouldn’t otherwise go and allows you to develop deeper connections with the people there.”
Michelle and Sam launched their journey on an ONDA stewardship trip to restore sage-grouse habitat on Hart Mountain. Michelle says, “Hart Mountain had already been on our radar to visit, and having our first stop including volunteer service with ONDA felt like a natural place to kick things off.” Sam, almost at a loss for words, chimed in to say, “It’s hard to describe the value of public lands since they draw us in so naturally.”
The most inspiring moments from their trip came from their interactions with fellow volunteers and nonprofit and agency staff working to protect and restore public lands. In Bonners Ferry, Idaho, they met a U.S. Forest Service ranger with 32 years experience who applied for state grants to maintain public access on federal lands. Sam said, “Not only would she find the funding, she would hike in seven miles and cook for everyone, too. It was obvious local staff cared deeply about the land.” Michelle added, “The dedication she showed was reflected in the diversity of the groups she brought outside and introduced to the deeper experience of maintaining public lands.”
While there were many great interactions in their months on the road, Michelle and Sam didn’t see consensus around public land management. One commonality, though, was the deep love of the land. Michelle said, “We saw that connecting with people overcame notions of understanding what land protection means.” Sam also noted that the economic impact of protected public lands increases when local communities embrace the outdoor recreation as another tool for land management. Recognizing that extractive economies operate in a boom-and-bust cycle, one innkeeper, said, “You could cut every tree in the county, and it would barely move the needle on economic growth.”
All in all, Michelle and Sam see hope for the future of public lands. Michelle said, “I’m excited by the potential of public lands, like in the greater Hart-Sheldon region, to provide long-term connectivity for wildlife. Our trip showed us the bigger picture of public lands, that they’re more than isolated pockets of land.”
You can learn more about their trip on their blog – www.publiclandstour.us – and get to know more ONDA members by clicking on the media buttons labeled “Voices” found by scrolling along the right-hand side of our website.