Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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FENCING OFF THE LAST WASTELAND

Flying over the desert West, looking down on an ochre or red-brown surface more than a little reminiscent of Mars, more than one traveler has remarked, “Good gracious. There sure is a whole lot of stinking desert down there. Doesn’t it ever end?”

Those who had to traverse these arid lands before the days of motorized transport, finally topping out on the ridge and seeing ahead, not the oases of California, but a lot more of the same, doubtless expressed the same opinion in terms even less polite.

The desert has its beauty, of course. But as we celebrate the unexpected delight of a desert wildflower bloom, let’s also acknowledge that the first impression is not entirely wrong. Most of the Great Basin remains sparsely settled, and likely always will. There’s a whole lot of empty out there -- surely room enough to leave alone and be let alone.

Yet there are always those who can’t stand the idea that someone, somewhere -- no matter how far out of sight or hearing -- may be singing or dancing, wearing shiny buttons or driving around whooping it up for no good Godly purpose.

As the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies have progressively barred off-road travel from more and more of the vast landscapes of Colorado and California, all-terrain vehicle owners from those states have shrugged and retreated -- increasingly packing up their stuff for the week or the weekend and repairing to Utah’s desolate Factory Butte area, 180 miles south of Salt Lake City.

“If ever there was a place God created for off-road recreation, Factory Butte is it,” says Michael Swenson, executive director of the Utah Shared Access Alliance.

Northwest of Caineville, the land consists of rolling wind-sculpted hills of Mancos shale soil sliced by shallow ravines. ATV riders celebrate the lift or bounce their machines enjoy on the spongy, dry soil, comparing it to skiing on powder.

Of course, the extremists who would fence off all the wild lands, calling on the federal government to use its authority and power to help them “establish” the Gaian religion by forbidding any use but their own nature worship (yes, that violates the First Amendment), have long complained that these vehicles are noisy despoilers, cutting trails that encourage erosion -- as though erosion isn’t what gave these lands their distinctive character in the first place.

Ah, but while environmental degradation by “natural” wild horses (what?) and other creatures must be accepted, the works of man are a blight upon the earth, the nature cultists explained.

When that didn’t work, the extremists played their trump card: They went weed-hunting.

Sure enough, the little Wright fishhook cactus, listed as “endangered” in 1979, and the equally diminutive Winkler cactus, actually a succulent listed as “threatened” in 1998, turned up in the Factory Butte area. Game, set, and match.
The BLM will now issue new regulations, as early as September, designed to spare these plants from disturbance by the only species whose migrations, activities, needs and livelihood deserve no “protection” -- homo sapiens.

At the very least, the BLM should err on the side of fencing off as small a “cactus sanctuary” as is viable, while leaving as much land open for “mixed use,” as possible.

For one of these days, those who would fence off the American taxpayers from their own wild lands will push too far.

Private land owners quickly come to realize that “preservation” is expensive. The bulk of one’s holdings have to be put to productive use to cover the costs, if one wants to indulge the luxury of setting aside and “preserving” a small swamp, pond, or meadow just because it’s pretty to look at.

But because these extremists enlist the armed might of government to do their bidding, the costs (increased resource costs due to restrictions on mining, for instance) are seldom seen, let alone sent to them as a bill. No one demands any reasonable trade-off; they’re never required to mark on the map “wide open area where you can do anything you like” at least equal in area to those they wish to fence off and “protect.”

Instead, the creative list of excuses for blocking off trails and access roads -- “riparian habitat study area”; “archeological study area”; “ghost trail eradication zone” -- goes on and on.

At least so far.

But like many a desert creature, while peaceful land users may retreat and retreat while they’re able, eventually they will find no choice but to turn.

Already, a popular bumpersticker advises those who spot an endangered owl or woodpecker on their property to “shoot, shovel, and shut up.”

If the green extreme is willing to show no restraint, no moderation -- if today, while they hold the upper hand, there is a not a single acre where they cannot and will not find some sand fly or slime mold to “protect” -- how many of their works do they expect the other side to respect and preserve, when the tide finally turns?

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