“In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” – Henry David Thoreau
Many of Thoreau’s words and beliefs provide a foundation for modern day environmentalism. A purist, an idealist, and a naturalist, could he have imagined the multiple uses of public land in the future? Could he have conceived of motorized use, or even knobby mountain bike wheels spinning along a trail? Not likely.
The increase in population nationwide has created more public land use conflicts as more people seek to use this property for a variety of purposes. The federal government responds with more restrictions as these conflicts continue. Along the way, as happens so often in public policy, someone is bound to get offended. And so it goes – between the motorized recreationists, hikers, mountain bikers, ranchers, and conservationists, everyone seems to have a separate agenda.
Conflicts in our beloved West abound – yet – we here at Kate’s are convinced of one thing: responsible use should be universal. Taking an interest in the outdoors and choosing to use public lands for recreation also means packing out your garbage. It means not venturing off trail if there are restrictions in place. It means using the land for the purpose that has been assigned to it:
…public lands (will be) managed in a manner that will protect the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archeological values; that, where appropriate, will preserve and protect certain public lands in their natural condition; that will provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife and domestic animals; and that will provide for outdoor recreation and human occupancy and use. [Federal Land Policy & Management Act, 1976]
The Human Angle
Recently while on a trip through Kemmerer, Wyoming, I ran across a native of Moab, Utah who had been settled in Wyoming for some time. She explained that she is getting ready to retire – and to return to her childhood neighborhood. She mentioned public lands, and how use has become so restricted. From her point of view, the blame should fall on the conservationists.
If those that embrace recreational use of public lands accept that conservation has to be in place and if the conservationists accept that public lands should be open for a certain amount of use, would the conflict cease? If many of us chose to volunteer for trail maintenance through local or national non-profits, assisting federal agencies with the upkeep of access, would we see fewer trail closures?
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 summarizes that “changing social values and competition for land use have required that public land management decisions achieve greater balance among sometimes conflicting resource uses.” A lot of factions are seated at the table of public land use. If every group with an interest kept the needs of others in mind, a shift could occur. Instead of the “us versus them” mentality, one of cooperation and support could be established.
The Bottom Line
It isn’t unheard of for citizens of this country to come together in cooperation with a common goal in mind. Coexisting and working as one to find solutions is possible. Understanding the value and benefit of our public lands can be gained through education and awareness. On December 16, 2008, the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued Order No. 3280 officially designating the Bureau of Land Management Public Lands as the “National System of Public Lands.” In making the designation, the Secretary stated:
These lands constitute an invaluable recreational, cultural, economic, and environmental legacy for the nation. And yet, those who own the lands – the American people – remain largely unaware of their critical importance to our quality of life, their value to present and future generations, or even the purpose for which these lands are preserved in public ownership.