Elk NetworkNever Privatize Those Lands: An Open Letter To Steve H. Hanke

Conservation | July 20, 2017
Rolling Thunder Wyoming

Following is an open letter from RMEF in response to a recent article in Forbes magazine by Steve H. Hanke of Johns Hopkins University advocating for the privatization of public lands. Use the links at the bottom of the letter to share the message.July 19, 2017
Professor Steve H. Hanke
The John Hopkins University
Ames Room 209
Baltimore, MD  21218

Professor Hanke,

We recently read your piece in Forbes, “The Best Deal Going: Privatize US Public Lands.”  A quick Google search shows you have been on this bandwagon for many years. In the Forbes article you reference the intellectual and the economist and yet you seem to ignore the public, the land itself and the wildlife; three key elements when evaluating public lands. I am not anti-free market and we are not against private lands at all, however this is a different issue for us.

Understandably in the intellectual or economist world it is likely difficult to relate to our view of public lands. Where I grew up many in the intellectual world would be challenged to survive more than an accidental night or two in the middle of our vast public land forests or prairies. And certainly most ranking economists would be challenged and perhaps even bored stiff fishing for high mountain brook trout in a glacial lake OR hunting elk in Montana with bow. So can we agree that most things are relative to one’s perspective?

The concept of privatizing public lands is a losing proposition for many reasons not the least of which is culture and heritage. There are those of us who still believe in the freedom of the American West and its wild places. It has value economists could not possibly equate to dollars and cents. I do not fault you for what appears to be a disconnect with how some of us might feel about something like public lands and all that goes with it. I do take issue with you and others who see no more value in it than some economic multiple “if only it were in the hands of the private sector.” Again I am a big believer in the private sector in the proper time and place, this isn’t it.

Sadly, your view is missing a value beyond comprehension when it comes to what public lands represent and what they actually support in terms of rural values and the most successful wildlife system in the world. We could discuss management of public lands or the lack thereof in places but that is for another day. Public lands must remain public if we are going to have any chance of keeping our American wildlife system alive. It is that simple.

Once the vastness of our American public lands is gone, it’s gone forever. And one thing I suspect about economists is at some point in the future they will be on to something else to generate a new multiple and the once public lands will be yesterday’s inventory. I invite you to come experience what our public lands offer, maybe you will see it differently. Come on out to the West and see from the ground what our public lands offer.

Review the extensive elk migration study done by Dr. Arthur Middleton from Yale and now Berkley; see how the vastness of our public lands contributes to the migration of thousands of elk in the greater Yellowstone region. This study is encapsulated in a film Elk River; search National Geographic online for it.

Thank you for your consideration.


David Allen

President & CEO

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation