Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wilderness and "Closure"

The feds agents have all kinds of ways to entangle public lands in complicated schemes that, for all practical purposes, prevent them from the stated multi use public dedication that public land management purpose is supposed to be dedicated to.

Just what does true multi use really mean? Obviously it means different things to different people, and has not been static, through the years.

Just ask the former loggers who have this food product on their shelf what they think about the preserving the ecology of old-growth forests to maintain a habitat for nesting spotted owls.

In 2008, my partner and I bid for some forestry contracting work clearing overgrown forest land in the Fishlake National Forest. The contract work start date was contingent on pending surveys of the nesting goshawk population. If there were found to be nesting goshawks in the area, the beginning of work operations in the area would have to be delayed appropriately to avoid disturbing the nesting and brooding goshawk pair.

Why does the use of one preclude the good pleasure of another? Who gets priority or first pick? Why does one particular group or interest represent more "goodness" or "merit" than any other particular group?

I don't know. The loudest voice, or the most popular, seems to rule the day.

When I lived on the Colorado Front Range for several years, I saw dramatic illustration of how irrational this rule can have been applied in historic times. During the frantic settling and mining history of the West, Colorado was ruled by railroad and mining interests. If there was something to be dug out of the ground, or needed some rails to get you there quick, you only need bring enough men and shovels and dynamite, and mountains could be overcome.

Eventually, mountains were overcome, and there was nothing left in places but barren ugliness. That was such a sadness, if we had known what we were doing, we would have wept at the madness. In these beautiful places, we bypassed the beauty to hurry through dark underground labyrinths, past the mountains and forests and the rivers and streams, on our way to more of the man-created ugliness. Incredible.

Okay. Enough of the hubris. Stop, before we destroy everything that brings wonder and joy to human hearts. "Tree hugging" is certainly justified, from this very personal perspective.

And who is to say, after we fell all the two thousand year old Douglas firs in the forest, how will they ever be replaced for our children?

These kinds of questions cannot be answered. There are no answers, only questions. The point is to ask them before it is too late, and ask the informed question there IS an answer for now. We must ask before we do a thing we now know that we CAN do, if we SHOULD do? Therein lies wisdom.

My friend, Patricia, mentions an incident that took place some few years ago in one division of the Canyonlands National Park, where a temporary closure of the area was implemented and permanent closure was urged by some certain extreme advocates. If it is the same event I have researched and have received reports on now, the closure was implemented in the summer of 1995. It was occasioned by an unusual event documented at this NPS WEB site. Some visitors to the Horseshoe Unit "Great Gallery" happened by chance to discover some invaluable and as yet unknown cache of artifacts in that immediate vicinity.

The people were good enough to report their find undisturbed to the park service officials, and the closure was implemented immediately, so that archaeologists and other scientists could have a chance to study this find in place, undisturbed as it had been cached for aeons of time. They also took the opportunity to comb the area for any other such artefacts. After they were satisfied that the search was complete and thorough, the closure was lifted. Thus it has been explained to me. Sounds reasonable and prudent.

On the flip side of that story, I am personally aware of professional pot hunters who take little regard for public interest in such artifacts. They are interested in the merchantability of artifacts on the black market, and it is apparently substantial.

Private collectors prize the baskets and pots of the ancient peoples for their own private viewing, and care little for public interest or ownership of such property. I really don't care either, but I believe in upholding the law of the land.

When I was working with Rocky Mountain Research, my partner for a time was a forester who had invested substantial time and effort studying and arranging a forest timber sale that was timed to benefit the harvest cycle of the trees, and thus public interest in profit and merchantability. The plan was to selectively harvest the area with clear-cutting methods that are most efficient for that predominant species and the loggers working the area, as well as rapid reforestation and recovery efforts.

The proposal for the timber sale was opposed by a local environmental group, and tied up in court. It has never been settled. Most of the standing timber is well past prime now, and not worth logging. The Forest Service would likely have to pay a contractor to clear cut the area rather than use the profits from harvesting timber to pay for their logging operations. In the mean time, the predominantly lodgepole pine stand has become heavily infested with bark beetles and dwarf mistletoe disease, and is largely without value at the sawmill, but stands as a substantial hazard to wildfire threat.

Is this the point of environmental activism?


When I was working for the US Forest Service Ashley National Forest some years back, I noted something difficult to understand that made me sympathize with the "tree huggers" completely. I saw a beautiful grassy green meadow, perfectly surrounded with access road paved with nice drainage and gravel.

The meadow are was posted thoroughly around with signs indicating that it was a sensitive area and was closed to 4wd and ATV traffic. Yet this lovely green wet muddy meadow was criss-crossed with fresh scars running every which way forward and back and nowhere at all, and bogging deep holes in the mud.


Speaking of posting, you may have noticed that public land management agencies have resorted to new space age materials for signage in recent times. One of the reasons for this is simply economy. The materials are cheaper plastic based and last longer. The other is a more sinister indicator. It is because the newer materials are more resistant to vandalism and destruction.

When I was first introduced to the forest environment, I had read the works of men like John Muir and Gifford Pinchot. I would no more consider destroying a sign or defacing something in the forest than I would spit at my mother. But a new generation apparently regards the forest differently. They somehow see the world through a different set of lenses.

They don't regard the sacrosanct in every forest glade and grotto, like I do. What enjoyment do they derive from wilderness?  In the wanton and seeming senseless destruction of things, apparently.

The new sign posts are resistant to damage from being shot, driven over stomped, uprooted, spit upon, ect, ad nauseum....


My definition of "wise use" is best summarized thus:

Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;

Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;

Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;

Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.

And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.

And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.  (Doctrine and Covenants:59:16-21)


Anonymous said...

I don't even know what to say about all of this. It seems utter nonsense to me. That's why I tell you I'm not an environmentalist.

But I'll hug a tree any day, as long as there aren't any spiders on it.

Jim Cobabe said...


I joined the Sierra Club when I was in high school, but I have since become very "confused", as you put it. I don't understand what the objective is. The farmers and ranchers who advocate "wise use" have my sympathy. But so do the "tree huggers", in some ways. Yet, my friend's tree stand sale that was frustrated by "tree huggers" was just a stupid gesture calculated to demonstrate the power of environmentalists. It would probably benefit the forest environment in the long run to clear-cut the lodgepoles and clean out the old growth. This has been the cycyle of nature for hundreds of thousands of years, interrupted only in recent times by the modern "only YOU can prevent forest fires" Smokey the Bear simple mentality fostered by public land management publicity campaigns, and effectively propagandized and drilled into the brains of two generations of people. Now everyone KNOWS that forest fires are unequivocally BAD. Problem is, it just ain't so. Thus goes the credo of tree huggers and environmentalist activists, zealots dedicated to a cause they cannot afford to consider logically. If they did, they'd be as "confused" as me and others who share my more moderate views on "wise use" of our stewardship of the land.

Patricia said...

Fascinating post. Thanks for finding out about Barrier/Horseshoe for me; I read the NPS report you linked to. Having some experience in archaeology, I was able to make it all the way through. I thought the story the writer told at the end about the hunter/point blank collector quite a nice touch, fun to read.

I hadn't heard about the artifact find. Did you hear anything else about the folks who tried to get the canyon closed permanently?

And I have noticed the new signs. Not only do they have the "NO OHV" info, but they're often graced with little morals, too. They're posted around Crossfire--bendable, difficult to break or move things. The metal sign showing the topo boundaries of the closure has been shot four times: twice in the chest and twice in the back. The BLM recently had to replace some signs down at the lower end of the closure range that someone had somehow ripped out of the ground. The BLM put up even more signs than they had placed there previously.

I grew up feeling about as close to the natural world as you could get. I am comfortable out there. My kids were growing up deeply attracted to the electronic frontier. One reason for that is that we were pretty much housebound during the crisis years with my special needs daughter and as we turned inward to solve frustrating puzzles, we simply didn't have the time or resources to properly introduce our other two children to the wide outside. The first time I took my son to the desert--to Horseshoe--he took personal offense at the ants that were everywhere and repeatedly demanded to know, "WHY DO YOU LIKE THE DESERT!?!"

Other trips gave him reasons to reconsider his question.

My fear that my kids would grow up without that vital connection to wildlands and wild creatures is part of what prompted my husband and I to move them out in the middle of nowhere--except, it's everywhere I want to be. Now they can hear coyotes almost every night.

And mom is a much happier camper.

Jim Cobabe said...


I rejoice to hear that a more comfortable equilibrium is forming in your family. That is so very important and precious.

There is more and more of a schism between factions in the Forest Service these days, and this issue is typical, but I have heard noting specific about Canyonlands in particular. I know our unit of the San Rafael was locked up in a BLM "study" for more than a decade while they argued about ATV and ORV closures in the various areas. I did not follow it too closely because I have alway been just as fond of boots on the ground, but I believe I have mentioned the Temple Mountain controversy before. There are many others. Some advocates want every extreme, from no restrictions to closed completely, most are in favor of somthing more moderate, in the form of compromise that all can live with.

We'll see what happens.