Trying to connect the dots 
in public lands management

Somewhere between Rabbit Valley and Moab, as we chugged along slowly in four-wheel-drive with a handful of fellow Land Cruiser enthusiasts, along the four-track sections of Kokopelli Trail, the dots started to line up. 

We were traversing wide-open, high-desert vistas framed by the snow-capped La Sals, bright spots of emerging early paintbrush adding an occasional bit of brilliant red to an awakening desert, all the while enjoying a landscape we all own.

We take them for granted, these vast swaths of public land that checkerboard the West. Unless, of course, we’re periodically fighting over them, engaging in the age-old conflict between use and preservation, too often assuming the two are mutually exclusive. Most of the time they’re drive-by landscapes too seldom accessed.

The conflict in our own backyard currently manifests itself over primarily one section, the Travel Management Plan, in a proposed revision of regulations for oversight of public lands under the purview of the Grand Junction office of the Bureau of Land Management.

Over in Utah, where our weekend journey ended on Sunday afternoon, there’s pawing and snorting about efforts for that state to take over federally-managed lands. Back home, we argue about making Colorado National Monument a national park.

The noise from all that tends to go away out on the trail, no matter whether you’re afoot, astride a mountain bike or motorcycle or horse, riding an ATV or, as we were, crawling along in low range. Argument gives way to enjoyment when you discover a lone fishhook cactus in a place you don’t expect, while you’re trying to determine just what species of bird is warbling at you at your campsite or whether to just classify it as another LGB (Little Gray Bird).

But “civilization” intervenes and the sights and sounds are very different in the meeting rooms and public hearings over management of our collectively-owned lands, waters and critters. 

Locals want the final say over “their” public lands, forgetting they share ownership with 300 million-plus other Americans and that they might also be reluctant to cede their ownership in such distant places as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone and other national treasures. “Multiple use” becomes a rallying cry useful so long as their desires are not impinged by conflicting needs of others.

Productive discussion gives way to demands, statistics are mustered and manipulated, giving credence to Albert Einstein’s warning that “information is not knowledge.”

I’ve watched off-road advocates and local motorcycle dealers assign the total dollar value of our outdoor recreation economy to their narrow interests, ignoring that important elements of that economy rely on the solitude and uninterrupted habitat their particular uses can disrupt. 

Motorized access for hunting won’t be as important, for instance, when herds decline because birthing and breeding areas, winter habitat and connecting migration routes are split by roads, travel and development.

Being a good neighbor, acknowledging needs of others, takes a back seat. Increasing use and resulting pressures are ignored. Reason is ceded to anger.

“Angry people are not always wise,” Jane Austen warned in “Pride and Prejudice.”

Let’s be clear. I’m no purist. 

I was on the Kokopelli in a motorized vehicle. There are six-wheelers in our hunting camp, along with all manner of four-wheel drive vehicles. I get just as upset as anyone else when a locked gate blocks my way or four-track ends and I can’t get to my desired destination. But I also see plenty of extraneous routes in my public-land outings.

We’ll see how this all turns out, this sometimes contentious back-and-forth over our local public lands. Whether it’s “winner takes all” when the final BLM Resource Management Plan is adopted, whether Colorado National Monument becomes a national park because its landscape supports that or only if the “so long as I can have my bike race and veto management decisions I don’t like” caveats are included.

Meanwhile, get yourselves outdoors and enjoy the incredible mountains and deserts and rivers that surround us.

“Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient.” — Aldo Leopold.

Jim Spehar plans on putting a few more scrapes on the old Land Cruiser while enjoying the great outdoors this summer. Your thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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