By ambassador Michael Cravens
The Missouri Ozarks raised me. I look back on my childhood years fondly. Times were different then and children were free to roam, explore, and learn about the natural world on their own terms. I was no exception.
Growing up in a small town's outskirts, I would simply leave in the morning and spend the entire day outdoors. I'd wet my line in creeks, hunt for rabbits and squirrels, and explore the Ozark's hills and valleys with no regard for property boundaries. When darkness fell, I would find my way back home exhausted but happy, happy in the way that a young boy should be, dirty and hungry but filled with an unquenchable curiosity about the natural world.
While the Ozarks are where I developed my deep sense of gratitude for nature, as I grew into a young man, my curiosity about places further and further from home grew, too. This curiosity took me across our country’s vast public lands from east to west on all sorts of wonderful adventures. It’s this same curiosity that eventually led me to Arizona.
My wife and I moved here nearly ten years ago. We came here for a few specific reasons: vast public lands to recreate on, abundant and diverse habitats to explore, and equally ample and diverse wildlife populations. We were young and free when we came here and only planned to spend a couple years exploring this great state before returning home to Missouri. Well, those two years have now turned into ten and we’re still here. A great deal has changed in that time. We now have two amazing children, careers, and a wonderful circle of friends. In short, Arizona's home.
America's public lands, those lands that I and every American citizen own, are uniquely part of our national identity. Nowhere else in the world do the people have a birthright to such wealth regardless of their social status or their bank accounts. In Arizona, residents are blessed with over 30 million acres of public lands that host an amazing diversity of habitats and wildlife. These lands provide a vast array of uses from timber harvest and cattle grazing to countless recreational activities that my family takes full advantage of.
Mine is a life that has been defined by wild places, wildlife, and the public lands that allowed me to access them. Public lands are the reason I live, work, and am raising a family in the west. As a sportsman, I take great pride in the fact that my family eats the healthiest and most environmentally-friendly meat available. As a parent, I insist that my children have access, albeit in a more supervised way, to the same things that allowed me such a rich and rewarding childhood. And finally, as a society, we need our public lands to escape to, where we can reset our internal clocks, and rediscover that natural curiosity that we all had as children.