Looking for Shane while debating our great outdoors

February was a busy month if you’re interested in western Colorado’s great outdoors and all it has to offer in both its natural and altered states.

Interior Sec. Ken Salazar’s revived procedures regarding BLM designation of wild lands as part of Bureau of Land Management planning processes and promise of a review of actions regarding oil shale development made news. Club 20 was predictably wringing its proverbial hands over the wild lands order. Sen. Mark Udall filled the ballroom at Mesa State College’s Student Center with locals anxious to offer their opinions regarding possible designation of the Colorado National Monument as a national park.

All of that accentuates one of the great continuing debates in the modern West — control over the public lands that are seen both as a place of respite and a linchpin for economic development. More often than not, those two edges of the argument are presented as being mutually exclusive.

But are they?

It wasn’t surprising, the concern expressed by the “Drill, baby, drill” crowd that dominates Club 20 discussions, about designating wild lands as part of local planning processes that, not incidentally, require public involvement. It’s predictable that Salazar and BLM Director Bob Abbey will take another look at 2008 regulations covering leasing of federal lands and reduced royalty rates for oil shale in order to settle lawsuits that are the latest example of delay and litigate tactics by some in the environmental community.

The fact that most of the 250 or so folks in the room at Mesa State last week seemed to favor designation of the Monument as a national park might be explained by the fact Udall organized a discussion outside the restrictive confines of a Chamber of Commerce study, a study being conducted in the context of concerns we might not be able to make our air dirtier with that switch. Air quality requirements, said Monument Superintendent Joan Anzelmo, won’t change if the signs say “Park” instead of “Monument.”

Still coloring the name-change discussion are lingering resentments about administrative actions, past and present, by the folks wearing the flat hats up in the spectacular, red-rock canyons. Those include the past battles over access to Glade Park and trailing livestock back and forth from summer ranges. And the current dust-up over running part of the Quiznos Classic bike race over roads previous races and tours have utilized with no apparent long-term damage.

Most of us, I suspect, are somewhere between the lines in the dirt drawn by those on the edges of these sorts of arguments.

We’re likely OK with the sort of community dialogue that both protects some wilderness lands within the McInnis Canyons and Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation areas while allowing additional uses on other territory within the NCA boundaries. Those wilderness portions, by the way, include areas designated as study areas and managed as “wild lands” under previous BLM planning processes.

I don’t think many of us would, like Kathy Hall, call those efforts an “underhanded attempt to create wilderness.” We understand better than my rancher friend Harry Peroulis or Western Colorado Oil and Gas Association executive director David Ludlam, the value of occasionally finding some solitude on public lands in which we all share ownership and responsibility.

We’d agree, I suspect, that not every square inch of public land needs to support an energy job, that it can also support hunting, fishing, hiking, rafting, camping, horseback and ATV use, and other aspects of Colorado’s multi-million dollar recreation economy. Or maybe, just maybe, a little can be preserved so our kids and grandkids can enjoy just a bit of what some of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did.

At least that’s one answer to Harry’s question of “What does that crap (solitude) have to do with anything?”

You’re not alone if you’re feeling a bit confused. Perhaps, like me, you can relate to the following quote from one of the West’s most revered writers:

“We see ourselves as a society of mostly decent people who live with some connection to a holy wilderness, threatened by those who lust for power and property. We look for Shane to come riding out of the Tetons, and instead we see Exxon and the Sierra Club. One looks virtually as alien as the other.”

— William Kittredge, “Owning It All/The Next Rodeo.”

Jim Spehar’s given up on Shane, but has higher hopes for the rest of us. Your comments are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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