ANOTHER POTENTIAL THREAT TO WILD PLACES
If you are reading this post, then you are probably one of my children, a camper, or a backpacker. You almost certainly value wilderness. These wild places are continually under attack by those who want to turn them into mines, clear cut the timber, turn them into expensive country clubs, or amusement parks. If we value our wilderness, we must continually be vigilant in their protection.
Now we have another one: Senate Amendment 838.
Last year I wrote:
Since the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, it has been under attack. Attacked by those who want to relax the standards and develop wilderness areas for the “benefit “of society, attacked by those who want more intervention via “land management,” attacked by the trail builders who want more well-groomed pathways, attacked by the sign people who want all kinds of directional and interpretive boards to inform people where they are or what they are looking at.
These attackers may seem to be unrelated to each other, but they have one thing in common — all these groups directly or indirectly see wilderness as an economic opportunity. Additionally groups of people such as the trail guide writers, the whitewater raft companies, and wilderness guides are benefitting financially from the wilderness and increasing man’s impact by bringing an increasing number of people into our wild areas. Oh, they say they do it to introduce more people to wilderness, but let’s face it; they do it for the money. More people are not good for wilderness. Especially more people who would not have ventured forward without those who provide information and/or access.
You are on a 3 or 4 day backpacking trip, walking on a favorite trail you have hiked many times. Because it sees little traffic and few people, the trail is especially attractive to you, aside from the fact it is a wild area with marvelous views, meadows, and streams. You are headed towards a large meadow that is bisected by a perennial stream, where you will spend the night. You won’t be camping in the meadow, but on its edge, which is bordered by tall pine and fir trees. You are thinking, it is almost guaranteed you will have the place all by yourself. The only sounds to be heard are birds, your footsteps on the path, and an occasional breeze pushing through the tops of trees. The trail requires no thought; it is like an old friend. In just another 20 minutes and you will emerge from the forest and the meadow will be in view – no gradual visual delight – the meadow will jump into view as you step out into the open, hidden from your view by the forest which cloaks it like a curtain in a theatre.
Twenty minutes later you step out from the shade of the trees and there it is – the meadow. But something is wrong. The meadow isn’t there. The trail ends, blocked by orange mesh plastic fence. A sign, on a 4 X 4 post, yells at you, “Private Property. Keep Out.” What should be a meadow, has been ripped apart. Heavy equipment; bulldozers, earthmovers, and other large yellow metal monsters are parked in long rows; a phalanx of a mechanical army. In the middle is a man-made lake. Radio towers are placed at symetrical intervals, marching to the top of the mountain. A longer look reveals the towers are actually the structure of aerial tramway that will whisk tourists to the top. To the right is a structure of serpentine tubes and slides – water park toys. On the far side of the meadow, opposite of your position, are the graded curves of a road, or maybe many roads, as each road ends in a circle. The mind squints, trying to focus in; squinting, the mind comprehends the images: cul-de-sacs. Around the lake, there is nothing but dirt. Soil that has bee dragged and smoothed. Smoothed into what looks like greens and fairways, sans grass. Golf course, says your mind’s eye. Then you assemble all the parts in your brain, you calculate, neurons speeding around and spinning along in your head. The calculation is done. The meadow is being transformed into a country club and resort.
It can’t be. You pull out your map. No, you’re not lost. You’re not in a dream. You haven’t fallen into a rabbit hole. There is no Alice, no mad tea party, no March hare, no hatter, and no dormouse. It isn’t a fantasy. This is real, the wilderness has been misshapen. It has been “developed.”
You cannot go forward; you cannot continue. You are at the edge of a large parcel of private land. You turn around and head back; back towards your car and then home. It will be a long walk, through the night and into the dawn. You could stop and sleep, but no, you are dazed, pissed and confused.
Once home you launch Google on your computer. This favorite place, once US Forest Service land had been transferred to your State. Senate Amendment 838 didn’t authorize it, but opened a door for legislation that enabled the transfer. The State promised to protect the land, with assurances to do an even better job of preserving it for the enjoyment of its citizens. Then the land was sold to a development corporation. No one can figure out why it happened. Perhaps it was due to the State’s financial crisis that was spurred by excessing spending. There is talk that the development corporation is in fact owned by the largest contract road construction company in the state, but there are so many sub-corporations no one can figure out who actually owns the development corporation. There are accusations and purported evidence the road construction corporation’s owner is the Governor’s second cousin. All of this doesn’t matter. The land is gone. This wild place has been raped by man.
CALL TO ACTION
Dave Chenault recently posted about Senate Amendment 838 on his blog, Bedrock and Paradox. This post has two important components; first, Dave was aware of the potential nightmare this amendment poses; and second, he took action by writing letters to his local elected representatives, and then followed up to one of the responses he received. It appears Dave isn’t going to drop his vigilance on the matter.
The gist of this amendment is the willingness of OUR Federal Government to transfer OUR public lands to the States and their special interest groups, who want to get their grubby little hands on OUR land and turn them into short-term profit centers. We have a finite amount of wild land in the US, much of which will be gone forever if we turn them over to the States. Even if the States were sincere in their stated goal to protect OUR land, the growing and out of control State Governments are going to eventually view these lands as cash cows, as the tax burdens of us constituents gets too heavy to carry.
To read more about Senate Amendment 836, I have collected a few links for your convenience:
If we want preserve and protect our wild lands, each of us must also be attentive for governmental mismanagement of our lands, and more importantly take action whenever these lands are threatened by government.
This post isn’t about Amendment 838, it is about all the threats to our wild lands, and it is about complacency.
I don’t know Dave. He is known throughout much of the lightweight backpacking community and has contributed many articles to several websites. I also don’t how much traffic his blog gets, but I suspect there are a quite a few visitors who are (or should be) outraged over the travesty of SA 838. Two things concerned me about Dave’s post.
The first is the fact that only three people left comments. Had he posted something about a new miracle jacket that was truly waterproof and breathable; how many comments would have been added? Of course, he would have gotten dozens. Does this mean his readers don’t care; think someone else will do something; feel as individuals we cannot change anything; or perhaps are just complacent?
The other thing of concern was the comment one person left,
I must admit, it does sound foreboding at first. The exception to the amendment is the National Park Service, National Preserves, and National Monuments.
I erringly also once thought wild lands that are located in National Parks, National Preserves, and National Monuments are protected.
I was wrong.
In Dave’s post, his senator replied by form letter, stating that SA 838
does not sell, transfer, or exchange any federal lands. Such action would require the enactment of separate legislation. With that said, states and local governments and Indian Tribes routinely come to Congress to obtain land transfers or conveyances to be used for economic development or to address checker-boarded estates or split estates, a common problem for communities in Montana…
Oh, oh, the checkerboard trick pony. A couple of months ago I shared how the BLM was willing to trade 7,000 acres of land inside the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument for 1,280 acres the Agua Caliente Band of Indians own outside the Monument. You might want to read that post to see what will probably happen if the BLM consummates the trade. Many of us are fighting that battle.
Our biggest threat to our public lands is the Bureau of Land Management. Should the Feds transfer land to the States, it will be the BLM who will be transferring most of the land. The BLM’s idea of land management is proactivity trying to lease these lands; especially if they can give it a “green” twist. The Bush administration was criticized by Democrats for a loose policy regarding oil and gas drilling. The Obama administration has replaced that with a loose desert lands rapine policy. Republicans and Democrats alike are more than willing to destroy our wild lands; the only difference is each has a different set of special interest groups they want to give it to.
Today “Green” companies peddling energy farm projects have unprecedented access to our pristine public lands, and the government is turning over hundreds of thousands of acres of untrammeled desert; even short-cutting environmental impact studies, restricting public comments in public hearings, and ignoring other agency studies such as this from the California Energy Commission report on an area that now has 6 square miles of solar panels covering prime desert tortoise habitat in spite of the report:
Project will convert Sonoran Desert creosote scrub, ephemeral wash woodland, and sand dune habitat into fenced-off, graded industrial facility. The project has the potential to affect the flow of water in the region’s washes, especially when its effect is combined with those of other plants planned for the area…
Bird species expected to be affected by the habitat loss include common locally nesting species such as verdins and cactus wrens, as well as species of concern such as burrowing owls, peregrine and prairie falcons, bald and golden eagles, and the federally Endangered Yuma clapper rail.
This particular solar farm is now the largest in the country, and is very close to where the picture below was taken, actually it is visible from this spot. I am standing in a Designated Wilderness area, whose southern border is now the industrial looking solar farm that is, in my opinion, an ecological disaster.
We humans have become like locust, we are devastating our land, moving forward trying to eat up every last piece of the wild. Yes, there are people and organizations who try to raise awareness about the value of wild places and fight to protect it. But it isn’t enough.
You might want to also read the post I wrote a couple years ago, Green Greed. Scroll to the bottom and read about the Ivanpah plant. Now that it is online, we have a new problem. Birds that fly into the area are fried dead in mid-flight by the mirrors reflecting sunlight to those three big towers.
WHO SPEAKS FOR OUR WILD PLACES?
We do. We cannot stand by idly and assume the Government will do the right thing. Each one of us must be attentive to the lands around us, and be ready to fight to keep them wild. It is not only SA 838, the Palm Springs BLM land grab, solar and wind projects on fragile pristine desert; it is all our wild lands – all of which we must work to protect.
Stay informed. Do something when you find out your favorite area, or any area, is threatened by Government. If you don’t, your favorite meadow may soon be a country club.