As a continent-sized country filled with tall mountains, deep forests and long coasts, it is no surprise the landscape of the United States leaves people in awe of its beauty. Just as unique as the American landscape is the tradition of protecting land from commercial or private use.

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law establishing Yellowstone as the first national park in the United States and likely the first in the entire world. This momentous achievement marked the beginning of the age of American conservation. Furthering that tradition, President Theodore Roosevelt took conservation to another level during his time in office.

Why Utah’s delegation is frustrated over recent national parks funding
Utah leaders bid farewell to Interior Secretary Haaland with warning against ‘unilateral’ decision

Roosevelt was a naturalist, avid hunter and a believer in protecting public lands. During his life, Roosevelt witnessed great economic growth in the country, but he also recognized that the economic growth and our land would not last forever unless steps were taken to protect the land and its natural resources. Roosevelt, who protected more than 230 million acres of public land during his time in office, said:

“It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements.”

Roosevelt recognized the need to protect public land, a need which still exists today. Since Roosevelt’s time, conservation has been a hotly contested political issue. We don’t need to agree on everything, but protecting our public lands should be an easy win for all sides. It’s not just Democratic hikers that enjoy public lands, but Republican mountain bikers, too.

For years now, conservation has been associated with Democratic activists. Protecting public lands does not mean you are a Democrat, or a “tree hugger,” or anything else. It means you want to maintain our country’s natural beauty. To conserve and protect that beauty, Americans of all political backgrounds should familiarize themselves with the ongoing efforts to chip away, use and exploit our public lands. Just recently, we became perilously close to having uranium mining near the Grand Canyon until Congress took action.

Our country’s national parks, national forests and other protected areas are constantly under attack by large companies and corporations that wish to use and exploit these lands. We cannot expect these corporations or anyone else to protect our public lands. If we don’t become aware of such efforts, and if we don’t act to defend our public lands, then we stand at risk of losing them.

Whether it’s hunting in Fishlake National Forest, or mountain biking in Utah’s majestic national parks, or any other outdoor activity which uses public lands, we are blessed to have the opportunity to get out and explore the natural beauty all around us. How grateful I am of the steps people took long before I was born to protect the land and its beauty to ensure it could be enjoyed for years to come. It’s our duty to protect our public lands for future generations to be able to enjoy the natural beauty our country has to offer.

Public lands belong to all of us. For those who enjoy hiking, biking, hunting or any other outdoor activity, if you don’t stand up to protect your public lands, who will? This Earth Day, let’s not make conservation a political issue, it’s an American tradition.

Bryant Holloway is an avid outdoorsman and a resident of Provo.