The Great American Land Heist: Part 5
Today we bring you Part Five of the Five-Part Series, The Great American Land Heist. For five consecutive days, I will be posting a new article about what may be the biggest threat to the American West since Manifest Destiny.
These articles are meant to inspire action, to stir up resistance, and to make you think. If you like what you read, please, please, sign the petition, write your representatives, tell your friends, and share these articles through your social media channels.
Part Five: The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth
“I have avoided commenting so far because I have been waiting for some insights into what individuals should do about the genuine issues which they have with federal control of lands. So far, though, I have not seen anything to address this (maybe it’s coming in article 5?). I definitely don’t advocate for state control or privatization (in fact, I think we should be expanding our forest, wilderness, and park holdings as much as possible), but can’t see an end to this movement as long as there are significant issues with access and usage which are compounded by a slow and often hidden bureaucracy that is not communicative. It’s hard for me to imagine that signing a petition will matter when the other side gets to play off of the anger felt by ranchers, loggers, mountain bikers, climbers, dog owners, and the many other users of federal lands.” –Anonymous Friend
For today’s final post on the Public Land Heist I had cued up a scathing coup de gras. This was going to be the knockout punch, the one that got through to everyone, the one people remembered. This was going to be the piece that made a difference. This was going to be the one where I laid it all out, in clear, defined colors, for all to see.
But that piece, if you took away all the F bombs, wasn’t much different from any of the others. It was angry, ranting, accusatory, and frustratingly self-conscious. It was bemused and dismayed by the overarching numbness of myself and everyone else in equal parts. “What is wrong with all of us? Why can’t we bring ourselves to care about anything?” That was the jist of it.
And while I think those are important questions to ask, they aren’t the only questions to ask. In fact, a few weeks ago when a friend of mine reached out to me, showed me some work he had done on the subject, and encouraged me to write about it, I had far more questions than answers. And it occurs to me now, that many of you may too.
“Do we really want the government… this government… in charge of anything?” That’s a question I can relate to. And while my answer to that, in this case, may be yes; I can certainly understand the cause for concern. If Indian Creek became part of a national monument, would you have to pay for camping? Would there be a reservation and permit system for climbing? Would you have to jump through hoops to drill anchor bolts? Would rangers suddenly start to come around and pass out heavy federal fines for smoking weed?
Or, if you are a hunter in Montana, would less federal lands mean less hunting restrictions? If you are a mountain biker in Colorado, would defederalization mean greater ease of constructing bike trails? If you are a rancher in Nevada, would the land heist amount to better leasing terms on the land you want to ranch?
In the end, all of these are fair questions. Far be it for me to say the fed, and their management of public lands, is perfect. I have problems with both. And while I may be able to point definitively to facts like “the Koch brothers donate money to X Y and Z lobby groups”; I can’t objectively give you the reason why. All I can give you there is conjecture.
But conjecture can get you into problems. In fact, conjecture might be an even bigger problem in politics today than apathy. Not only do we all seem to disagree with roughly half the country about just about everything, we also presume that we know why half the country is so stupid.
How often do we reach out and ask dissenters in earnest what their reasons are? How often do we take the time to try to understand? How many times have you said “yeah, they think gay marriage is wrong because they’re a bunch of idiot morons”, or “yeah, they want to take away our second amendment because they’re a bunch of spineless bureaucrats who don’t care about the constitution”, or something else to that extent? I know I do it all the time.
Consider the following quote, taken from Part 3 of this series, “The reason the 1% has done that is because as long as we squabble amongst ourselves, nobody will notice when the dust settles and the land no longer belongs to the red team, or the blue team at all.” That is called conjecture. And it’s not fair. Maybe the reason they have done this is because they actually think the states will be better able to preserve and protect federal lands for the people. And while the weighty evidence of history and research is not on the side of that belief, it would at least be worth knowing – if that is what they believe – that our goals are the same.
It could be that the Koch brothers, and Representative Bishop, ALEC, and the ALC, are all the sick cruel lizard people I’ve painted them to be. But my best guess is that they’re probably not. My best guess is that while we may disagree on the means, we would agree on the ends: to better preserve America’s public lands. And even if that guess is wrong, it’s incumbent upon me to find out for sure before I make claims about their motives.
Let’s go back to that quote from my friend in the beginning: “I … can’t see an end to this movement as long as there are significant issues with access and usage which are compounded by a slow and often hidden bureaucracy that is not communicative.“
My friend’s point is a great one. And he’s not the only one thinking about it. Another friend commented on a facebook post, “will you discuss things like Senator Ron Wyden’s Recreation Not Redtape Act?” Click that link, and just give a quick read of the headers in bold, if nothing else.
The whole premise of these articles has been, “wake up and smell the coffee, stop sitting on your ass, get out there and sign the petition.” Of course, the work and the solution does not end there. As both of my friends, and Senator Wyden, and probably you are well aware, if we are going to convince people to that the fed can be a decent landlord for our lands, then we need to give some feedback as tenants. I’ve been frustrated with federal management of lands both as a recreator, and as an employee of the national park service. I know firsthand that there’s room for improvement.
But the way to get there is not to sling mud and stir up anger as I’ve done in the past four articles. Yes, I did that for a reason. Yes, I think sometimes you have to get people fired up just to grab their attention. But no, I don’t want you to walk away on the note of “it’s all their fault, they are evil, they are ruining everything. Sign the petition and tell everyone that someone else is evil.”
Instead, my hope is that you will walk away from these articles 1.) better informed, 2.) interested in getting involved, and 3.) open to negotiating and compromising with people who have different ideas about how public lands should be managed.
I have many good reasons to believe that the transfer of federal lands to the states would be a disaster. But my distrust of the 1%, and litany about how corrupt they are, sounds precipitously similar to a bunch of sagebrush rabble rousers’ distrust of the federal government, and their litany about how corrupt the fed is. In other words, I took their snake oil, and matched it with snake oil.
The truth, I think, is always far more diverse. The truth is, the lands in question were stolen from the only people that could have had some legitimate claim to them; and that those people did not believe in laying claim to the land. What we inherited was not just a ton of free land, but the problem of ownership and management of those lands without a clear-cut rightful heir.
If none of us is a rightful heir, nor any interest group, or industry, or political party, then how are we to say who owns what, and what do they get to do with it? In lieu of a righteous landlord, all we are left with is dispute, illegitimate feelings of priority, and eminent domain. In other words, since there is no one accepted legitimate stakeholder, everyone is left squabbling over their own stakes.
It goes without saying that this problem will stick around; it’s in the very DNA of land ownership itself. If we are going to be truly democratic about land management in this country, we need to be equally receptive to all voices – even those we disagree with. We need to learn to listen to one another, to hear the truth spoken by our foes as much as our friends.
Perhaps the perceived apathy that so frustrates me is not the disease itself, but a symptom. Maybe the reason we are all so apathetic and turned off to politics is because politics is broken. Maybe the solution to all the problems we face is simply to listen to one another, to hear each other out, to withhold conjecture about why people disagree with us.
My gut tells me that by giving one another the benefit of the doubt we will all open ourselves up to the process of policymaking in a much more meaningful and productive way. My gut tells me that the way forward is not defederalization, but reform of federal management of public lands. And my gut tells me that any kind of reform requires compromise, compassion, and consideration of the opinions of people who disagree with you. But so long as we demean, diminish, and put down the people we disagree with, we’ll have a hell of a time finding a bargaining partner when it comes to making decisions about what happens with anything in our country, public lands or otherwise.
That’s it for The Great American Land Heist folks. Thank you all for reading these articles, and for caring what happens to the beautiful wilderness in this fine country. Going forwards, please recall that you DO have power. You CAN make a difference. You ARE able to tear yourself away from facebook long enough to learn, understand, and care about important issues in this country.
Being political doesn’t have to be annoying, and it doesn’t have to be ugly. Get involved, but if you really want to make a difference, get involved by standing upon a foundation of compassion, and sympathy, for those you disagree with. To sign the petition, or learn more about what’s at stake, visit Protect Our Public Land.