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Earth Is Now Our Only Shareholder

If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a business—it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is what we can do.

Read Yvon’s Letter

What Are Public Lands?

Jeff McElroy  /  Aug 12, 2020  /  4 Min Read  /  Activism

Our public lands have tremendous value above and beyond resource extraction. Here’s why they’re worth protecting.

“This cultural information is important for all Native people. This is why tribes have set aside any differences and come together: If this information is lost, it’s lost forever.” —Octavius Seowtewa, Zuni elder. Bears Ears National Monument, Utah. Photo: Michael A. Estrada

All United States lands, public and private, are the ancestral lands of Indigenous people and Tribal nations, most of whom were forcibly removed from their homes.

Today, there are 614 million acres (26.6 percent of the US) that are held in trust for the public and managed by the federal government, mostly through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Forest Service (USFS), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Park Service (NPS)—these areas are called public lands.

What Are Public Lands Good For?

Approximately 14 percent of public lands have some measure of protection from development and resource extraction (wilderness areas, national monuments and national parks, for example). The remainder are open for business, and various industries–including logging, mining and drilling–are chomping at the bit. But these public lands have tremendous value beyond the extractive. Here are just a few of them.

What Are Public Lands?

Come for the national parks, forests and monuments—stay for the pizza. Founded by two cyclists in 2005, The Hot Tomato serves East Coast-style pizza to hungry hikers, bikers and straight up carb likers in Fruita, Colorado. Photo: Carl Zoch


Between 1970 and 2014, western rural counties with the highest share of federal lands had, on average, faster population, employment, personal income and per capita growth than those that had fewer public lands.

What Are Public Lands?

Biodiversity made this moment possible. Healthy watersheds support healthy fish and happy anglers. Sammy Elam on the release in the Provo River, Wasatch County, Utah. Photo: Andrew Burr


Public lands facilitate and encourage biodiversity by allowing species to interact, adapt and thrive within their natural environments. Variability within and between species and ecosystems leads to greater stability for all life forms.

What Are Public Lands?

Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska has one of the largest carbon stores in the world. The trees, soil, bogs and peat in this temperate rainforest sequester carbon, which can mitigate the climate crisis. Photo: Lee House

Carbon Sinks

Leaving public lands in their natural state preserves their carbon absorption capabilities, which can help mitigate the climate crisis. Extractive industries not only create CO2 emissions, but also decrease carbon sequestration by interfering with natural systems.

What Are Public Lands?

No filter required. Jack Porter brought his own cup to a no-tellum in Las Pampa, Argentina. Photo: Bryan Gregson

Drinking Water

The water that comes out of most taps has taken a long journey, likely originating from or passing through public lands. An estimated 180 million Americans drink water from rivers and aquifers whose sources are on public lands.

What Are Public Lands?

The research ain’t sappy: For many folks, time spent in forests can lower stress and boost the immune system. Leah Evans thanks a therapist in the Monashee Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Garrett Grove

Mental Health

A study at Chiba University in Japan found that forest therapy reduced cortisol levels (fight-or-flight stress hormones) by 12.4 percent and lowered heart rates by 5.8 percent. Natural “killer cell” activity (an immune function indicator) increased by 23 percent and was maintained for a month after test subjects returned to urban life.

What Are Public Lands?

Dawn Kaaxwaan Jackson harvests thimbleberries in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Citizens of her home community in Keex’ Kwaan depend on the bounty of local lands and waters to fill their pantries, freezers and bellies. Photo: Bethany Goodrich

Hunting, Fishing and Traditional Gathering

For thousands of years, Indigenous people have sustainably gathered wood and plants for food, medicine and other cultural needs on their ancestral lands. Today, public lands allow elk, deer, waterfowl and native trout to grow and thrive so all of us, our children and our children’s children will have game to hunt and fish to catch.

What Are Public Lands?

Sgwaayaans Young leans against a wasgo, or sea wolf, totem pole he carved in the community carving shed in Hydaburg, Alaska. For the Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian people who live in this area, totem poles are a way to consecrate values, document histories, establish governance, give physical form to important stories and display crests. Photo: Bethany Goodrich

Cultural Heritage & Inclusion

Public lands protect Traditional Cultural Properties (TCPs), sacred sites and other places that are historically significant and used in the present day, fostering a shared sense of identity and broadening the American narrative.

What Are Public Lands?

Large or small, parks on public lands are ours to enjoy, protect and share with friends. Leidig Meadow, Yosemite National Park. Photo: Drew Smith


Public lands are not only large, remote places. They are in our cities and neighborhoods in the form of national historic sites and national recreation areas. Plus, state and local parks and preserves amount to almost 200 million acres in the US. Along with neighborhood parks and playgrounds, they are important community assets that provide gathering spaces and outdoor access, particularly for those who don’t have the means to visit our national parks.

Protect Lands and Waters

Conserving lands and waters is essential for maintaining biodiversity, providing habitat for endangered species and fighting climate change. Get involved and help protect the places that protect us.

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