Friday, May 28, 2010

Responsible Environmentalism

“Wilderness is not quite what it seems”  -- William Cronon

In my research and digging around regarding the environmental movement and more specifically wilderness designations, I have run into the concept of Responsible Environmentalism. For many of us these two words are often at odds with each other. When someone talks about an environmentalist many of us think about a burned out hippy who put down their joint if only for a moment and joined ‘the cause’ or an over zealous academic who has yet to step off the campus quad and into the real world. Granted I may be taking advantage of over generalized stereotypes here, and I truly have respect for academics, but I believe that there are some legitimate and sometimes harsh realities that we all need to face.

I was born into this world bare naked and bawling. From the first breath of life until the last we are all completely and undeniably dependant upon the natural resources that our environment provides. There is no way around the simple yet irrefutable fact that we are a part of the environment.

William Cronon has written and excellent essay titled, “The Trouble with Wilderness.” Independent of what ever side or moral ground you stand on you should take the time to read the fully essay.

Cronon states that for many, “Wilderness is the natural, unfallen antithesis of an unnatural civilization that has lost it soul. It is a place of freedom in which we can recover the true selves we have lost to the corrupting influences of our artificial lives. Most of all, it is the ultimate landscape of authenticity.”

I think with the above statement Cronon is really just setting the stage explaining that this is where the original intent for many who have bought into the theory of wilderness are coming from. As a side note I personally would like to hear your personal reaction to the above quote before reading the rest of the paper or this post. I think that your initial reaction to the statement will say a lot about where you stand on the theory behind wilderness but I digress.

In the next paragraph and throughout the rest of the essay Cronon identifies and explains the realities behind wilderness and the framework by which it is built on.  To be put quite bluntly, “wilderness represents the false hope of an escape from responsibility.”

The dream of an unworked natural landscape is very much the fantasy of people who have never themselves had to work the land to make a living—urban folk for whom food comes from a supermarket or a restaurant instead of a field, and for whom the wooden houses in which they live and work apparently have no meaningful connection to the forests in which trees grow and die.

Worse: to the extent that we live in an urban-industrial civilization but at the same time pretend to ourselves that our real home is in the wilderness, to just that extent we give ourselves permission to evade responsibility for the lives we actually lead. We inhabit civilization while holding some part of ourselves—what we imagine to be the most precious part—aloof from its entanglements. We work our nine-to-five jobs in its institutions, we eat its food, we drive its cars (not least to reach the wilderness), we benefit from the intricate and all too invisible networks with which it shelters us, all the while pretending that these things are not an essential part of who we are. By imagining that our true home is in the wilderness, we forgive ourselves the homes we actually inhabit. In its flight from history, in its siren song of escape, in its reproduction of the dangerous dualism that sets human beings outside of nature—in all of these ways, wilderness poses a serious threat to responsible environmentalism

Why, for instance, is the ” wilderness experience” so often conceived as a form of recreation best enjoyed by those whose class privileges give them the time and resources to leave their jobs behind and “get away from it all?” Why does the protection of wilderness so often seem to pit urban recreationists against rural people who actually earn their living from the land (excepting those who sell goods and services to the tourists themselves)? Why in the debates about pristine natural areas are “primitive” peoples idealized, even sentimentalized, until the moment they do something unprimitive, modern, and unnatural, and thereby fall from environmental grace? What are the consequences of a wilderness ideology that devalues productive labor and the very concrete knowledge that comes from working the land with one’s own hands?

We American environmentalists who quite rightly worry about the future of the earth and the threats we pose to the natural world. Idealizing a distant wilderness too often means not idealizing the environment in which we actually live, the landscape that for better or worse we call home.

These are only select statements out of Cronon’s essay and no doubt does not convey the full message that a full reading of his full essay would give the reader however they are important points that I think everybody on all sides of the issue need to reconcile. Cronon’s essay was written in 1995. I think that this only goes to show that we have not come far and there is still a long ways to go to make a true attempt at living with our environment not against it. They day when I can unashamedly call myself an environmentalist and not have to worry about being a naive urbanite or irrational hippy will be a prolific day.

As I have stated in many posts before wilderness designations within Gold Butte will not solve any problems or fix any injustice that many believe it will. We all love Gold Butte and want protection for it but unchecked amounts of wilderness is not the solution. I truly have to ask if this is not a shameless carrot dangled for political gain. If conservation is the true goal for all those involved is not the political designation of the National Conservation Area and the protection it provides enough?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Conditioned Support

On May 4th the Clark County Commission passed a resolution, with an overwhelming majority, to support legislation for the designation of an NCA for the region that encompasses Gold Butte. Whether our personal ethics or principles allow us to support these types of designations or not I think we need to take a step back and survey the situation.

Washington has shown a strong interest in the issues concerning Gold Butte. They would not have sent out the Director of the BLM Robert Abbey to meet with a select group of people to answer questions had this not been on their radar. We would not have had the opportunity to meet with our Congressional Representatives’ staffers had our Washington politicians not been interested. After it was all said and done it was essentially left to the local political representatives to build a consensus among the residents and special interests that could then be delivered to Washington. In its most simplistic form this is what happened. I am not saying I agree with how it happened, or with all of the details surrounding it, but a resolution was passed.

There are most definitely some points in the resolution that I don’t agree with and I believe will require further negotiations however there are also some positive points included in the resolution.

In a post that I wrote on March 29, 2010 ‘Reaching Out to Our Political Representatives’ I stated that I was concerned about the roads and continued restriction to access at Gold Butte. The BLM Roads Management Plan was something that many in the community helped to build. Although the Roads Management Plan is not perfect it has become something that many of us felt like we could ‘live with.’ The second priority identified in the Clark County resolution is to incorporate the existing BLM road management plan.

I have worried the values that I regard as my way of life in regards to dispersed recreation  would be nothing more than a reminiscent dream. However the resolution makes reference to some of these core values. The second ‘WHEREAS’ in the county resolution recognizes Gold Butte as a destination for numerous recreation opportunities including camping, hiking, hunting, motorized recreation and sightseeing. The first bullet point in the list of priorities as outlined by the County Commission is to provide opportunities for camping and hunting. Are pieces of this resolution not what we were negotiating for?

One of the points in the resolution that I will, and should be, criticized is the astronomical amounts of wilderness that are proposed. In a previous post titled Appropriate Wilderness I outlined how I feel about new wilderness being proposed in the Gold Butte region. It is excessive and unjust that factions believe it is acceptable to go from 30,000 acres of wilderness to proposing over 220,000 acres of new wilderness in one unrestrained land grab. These are dangerous encroachments. Why is the protection that the National Conservation Area gives us not enough?

As I have stated several times in my writing on this blog it is my desire for a long term solution for Gold Butte that will provide us protection with access. It is for these reasons that I think we must try and make the NCA work for us. We need to work together to ensure that our Washington representatives stick to the resolution and uphold our values. Can we not give our conditioned support to a resolution that protects what so many of us consider our way of life?

There is no denying that there have been some misguided and unscrupulous public land management deals in the past. It is these previous actions that continue to plague and fester at the hearts of many of us who have vivid memories of enjoying public lands that are now closed to many types of outdoor recreation. However we can only allow that to taint our foresight to a certain degree before it inhibits progress on other fronts. If there is a workable solution that satisfies most of our needs and ends the long battle, which eventually ends is more restriction anyways, why not support it? We need to work with change not against it. We need to focus our efforts to ensure that our values and access to public lands are protected. 

If our political representatives are willing to legislate the roads upfront and reinforce our values how can we not give them our conditioned support?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Appropriate Wilderness

Appropriate Wilderness -- Additional Wilderness Designations within Gold Butte

How is it that the managing agency of public lands that encompass Gold Butte finds, in a recommendation to congress that no lands are suitable for Wilderness yet our political representatives have given their support for creating vast amounts of new wilderness?

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is one of the federal agencies that are tasked with managing our public lands. Over time The BLM has worked to assess all lands managed by them to find areas that would be suitable for Wilderness by definition of the 1964 Wilderness Act. These would be areas recommended to congress that fit the definition of wilderness as outlined in public law 88-577 for the Wilderness designation. The Gold Butte region was part of this inventory.

As part of the CLARK COUNTY CONSERVATION OF PUBLIC LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES ACT OF 2002 (PL 107-282) Congress created two wilderness areas totaling just shy of 30,000 acres.

The BLM’s research and documentation did not show that any other areas within the roughly 350,000 acres of the Gold Butte region were suitable for wilderness. This was due to lack of wilderness characteristics. Some of these characteristics include naturalness, solitude, primitive and unconfined recreation, special features, and manageability.

In a quote from the Virgin Mountain Instant Study Area on naturalness, “The area does not appear natural due to mining related activities, access roads, ways, trails and extensive range improvements…These intrusions tend to dominate the area.”

These reports can be found by clicking the following links:

Recommended suitable: 0 Acres

Recommended suitable: 0 Acres

This is not to say that these areas are not beautiful or even magnificent, however they do NOT fit the definition of Wilderness as outlined by Congress.

However special interest groups continue enthusiastically to chip away at the West and persistently Bend the facts to fit THEIR theories and not their theories to the fit facts

We were assured after PL 107-282 was passed in 2002 that this was it. Yet here we are looking at a new proposal with an additional 130,000 acres of public lands managed by the BLM plus 90,000 acres of Park Service lands that surround much of Gold Butte for additional Wilderness in Nevada.

I am actually more pro wilderness than most would actually believe, however I only support its designation when it is supported with the appropriate characteristics, genuine conservation and common sense NOT dollars and cents.

I am going to have to spend more time researching SNPLMA and the MSHCP and see how they are funded and who and what projects they spend "their" money on.

I am also interested to see how the back room dealing of the Meadow Valley Wash and Bitter Springs proposal pans out?

These designations should be protections FOR me not FROM me.

There has been much talk about ‘appropriate access’ yet no one is asking about appropriate wilderness.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Political Theater

The commission chambers were filled to the point of overflowing into the halls of the Clark County Government Center on the May 4 County Commission meeting. This was to be the third time the resolution, in support of the Gold Butte NCA, came before the commissioners. However one distinct difference was that this go around there was time allocated for public comment.

From the show of hands, as requested by Chairman Reid in both support and opposition to the resolution, the room was more or less evenly divided. Those on the commissioners left were in support of the resolution and those on the commissioner’s right were in opposition to the resolution.

The left wing of the chamber was filled with representatives of various groups including Nevada Wilderness Project, Sierra Club, and The Center for Biological Diversity, and the likes. The right was filled with long time local families, the descendants of the pioneers who settled this great country and people who love, enjoy and have been stewards of this beautiful desert country.

The commission chamber was nothing more than an elaborate stage for the political theater to develop in the drama that has become Gold Butte. The main roles have already been cast, the plot premeditated, and the director working in the shadows to ensure all goes according to design. The public hearing was nothing more than marginalizing the supporting actors and allowing them their three minutes on stage.

Both sides feed on the others misconceptions. It is in this chaos that those in position find the opportune time to take advantage of the crisis.

The resolution passed with overwhelming support in the county commission.

As I have said before the inadequacy of the proposed solution creates more vulnerability for that which the original intent was to protect. The future of our public lands will become ensnared in a mire of bureaucratic mud with which the only solution will be to restrict the liberties of those who have come to enjoy which are rightfully theirs.

Though the final nail has yet to be driven in the coffin of access to public lands the construction of that coffin is well underway. I am not one who is normally gloom and doom however I must take into account the reality of what is in the making.

If history is any indicator, the bureaucratic management tools passed down from the Hill will work only in favor of restricted access to public lands.

If those who created the laws would live by the laws they created the BLM would have the opportunity to finish the process they have already begun, to manage the public lands in the lands best interest, not the best interests of special interests.