If I came to you and said, “I have a deal for you. Do you agree to it?” Your response back to me would be, “What’s the deal.” In reply I say, “We will figure that out as we go. What is important is that you say you agree to the deal. So will you take that first step and agree that we have a deal?” This seems absurd, correct? I couldn’t agree more. Yet this is the current state of play in regards to legislative action concerning Gold Butte.
Let us ignore reality for a moment, and pretend that legislation was the next step in the course of events for Gold Butte. There would need to be a clearly defined plan that addresses specific issues upfront and in the beginning stages of any legislative plan. Some of these include such concerns as a fire management plan, minimizing the negative effects of invasive plant species, properly managing water resources, transportation plan, and a growth model built to appropriately handle an influx of visitors coming for the diverse array of recreational opportunities. How will we adequately meet those needs and what kind of infrastructure will be needed to support it. How much money will come with the new designation and how will it be spent and on what? How many rangers will it take to adequately manage this area and what is the ranger to visitor ratio used to project the future management of the area as its visibility grows. By giving Gold Butte a national designation and elevating its awareness to a larger audience, it becomes not a question of, if more visitors will come, but how many and how quickly will they come. The new influx of visitors alone would create a whole new set of issues to be addressed not yet facing Gold Butte. Despite this even small subset of questions the current plans, legislation or talks of legislation address none of this.
I point blank asked the lobbyist representing the wilderness interest the question, “What are you trying to accomplish at Gold Butte?” The response was the same time-worn and ambiguous rhetoric, “Permanent protection for Gold Butte.” That makes for a nice sounds byte but there is more to protection than a label. Protection doesn’t happen with a stroke of a pen in Washington. Protection is brought about with a detailed plan that addresses specific issues and a dedicated group of people committed to that plan. Legislation is not the first step in that plan, it is the last step.
If this was about protection and the long term sustainability of the resources out at Gold Butte then the conversation would focus on those concerns. Not legislating a clearly defined management plan upfront, that addresses as many of the specific issues that face the area as part of the legislation, is a game of chance. People who are willing to take that risk clearly articulate their lack of understanding of the legitimate concerns that face Gold Butte. Their blatant disregard for the current issues and the issues that will be created by putting a gold star on the map for Gold Butte works only to reveal their narrow intent. This isn’t about better public lands management; it is about pushing through a massive wilderness bill.
We need to move the conversation from politics and to better public lands management. This should be about ensuring that my children, the next generation, have the same opportunities to recreate at Gold Butte and see this country as their great grandfathers did and truly enjoy this magnificent piece of public lands responsibly whether that is on a horse, fourwheeler, motorbike, hiking, or solar powered hovercraft when they are invented. It should be about creating recreational opportunities, not limiting them. It should be about educating visitors about the importance of responsible use, not limiting them from use. This should be about identifying the specific threats that face Gold Butte like fires and invasive species and how to limit their effects on the landscape. It should be about properly managing the springs, wildlife and other legitimate biological and environmental threats.
Despite these plain and simple truths the current legislation and plans being pushed for at this point in time do not address any of this. Instead it is focused on who is in congress and how they can be bullied into introducing legislation. This is not a game show and public lands policy should not be about politics.