Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Swath of Country

While working on my Bachelors of Science my major was in the field of Geography. Within my coursework in Geography we explored the theory behind Landscape. I was fresh off the farm when we first started talking about Landscape so I thought the definition was pretty cut and dry. My understanding was that landscape was the swath of country that lay before you. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my professors were talking about something entirely different.

The concept behind landscape is an academic abyss of scientific theory enveloped within an indefensible appeal to the human senses. My crude grasp of landscape as simply being the swath of land before me was replaced by something much less concrete. Landscape embodies the sights, the sounds, the smells, the history and the spirit of the given place. It’s not just what I see but also the perceptions that I have about the place. It’s all of the individual characteristics, physical and cultural, coming together to make that place unique.  The idea of landscape can get pretty fuzzy and is no doubt open to interpretation.  This connection or identity can be personal or it can be shared with a community of people who have the same values. One physical location is often defined by many interpretations of what makes up a landscape.

I find it worrisome that the Bureau of Land Management has chosen to run headlong into the theory of landscape as a tool to manage public lands. Our land managers do not exactly a good record when it comes to managing our cultural antiquities. The wrongful implementation or management of the landscape theory can inflict irreparable damage by losing key components of the cultural landscape. This management tool also enlarges the vulnerability in being susceptible to political pressure to modify those aspects of the landscape that aren’t compatible with the current political climate.  As a result one group’s view of what the landscape is gets imposed upon everyone else who henceforth experiences that landscape. True interpretation of landscape isn’t distorted to serve one specific perception of the area but rather to truly encompass the whole history of the area.

Implementing the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System, Senator Reid and Congressman Horsford have introduced a bill in each respective House of Congress to designate the Gold Butte region an NCA with large quantities of wilderness. The NCA is a designation within the National Landscape Conservation System. This real life scenario regarding Gold Butte provides a perfect example of this process being manipulated by outside factors to fabricate a landscape to fit within one group’s view of an area and employing their political influences to modify the landscape to fit their needs.

The cultural landscape of Gold Butte does not reflect a landscape that has been untouched by human existence as the current proposal depicts. Rather the rich cultural tones of the landscape are highlighted with the human struggle to survive and adapt within the setting they inhabit. The cultural features found on this landscape such as rock art, arastras, mines, corrals, barbwire and roads enrich the cultural account of this beautiful and complex landscape.  The theory of Wilderness contrasted against the historical account of humans and their interaction with the landscape of Gold Butte makes the claims by those seeking this designation laughable for anyone who knows the history of the area.

I am not opposed managing our public lands through the theory of landscape; however I am opposed when this concept is used to retool a landscape to fit a political agenda. We need to focus our energy on documenting the full historical account of this landscape and expend less energy on second rate labels and categories to box these areas within. I hate to see the current path the Interior is taking in managing our lands because we will again lose generations of history and culture as their labels and bureaucracy erase what made this country strong.