Public Lands — The Looming Catastrophe Part II

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This is from Martin Hackworth, the Executive Director of Sharetrails and he wrote this for the Idaho State Journal.
Link for the article, but the whole thing is copied below also.
I have permission from Martin to post this here.

https://idahostatejournal.com/opinion/columns/public-lands-the-looming-catastrophe-part-ii/article_04885f99-686a-5d06-bdf4-c19d499595af.html


Last week I wrote about the reckoning that I predict is coming for public land in this country. The bad news is that I’m willing to bet more than I can afford to lose that within a century there will be little public land in this country as we know it today. The good news, for what it’s worth, is that I will almost certainly not be around to see it. That is the only thing that makes any of this bearable.

Whatever happens down the road there are those of many persuasions around right now who will bear a large share of the blame for what may come to pass. Go to a public lands gathering anywhere, chuck a rock up into the air and it’ll likely land on someone who’s not particularly helpful. It’s like killing Caesar — everyone’s guilty.

Public land is one of the important things that makes this country great. More than half of Idaho, all by itself, is public land. You don’t have to be rich or famous, or enjoy special privileges, or have special connections to go out there and have all of the fun that you can handle. It’s yours. And all that you need to get started is transportation, the appropriate clothing and a set of shoes. The amount of public land that we have in this country and the ease with which we can access it makes our situation unique in the world — and has a huge impact on the quality of life we enjoy.


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Americans excel at two things: creating technology good enough to get us to the Moon and back and screwing wonderful things up. Only in America could we take a flawless golden sphere and turn it into a lead balloon on Jupiter. We’ve already kluged education, social services and most anything that the government touches simply because we are, as a lot, a selfish bunch. As a whole we’ve demonstrated throughout our history that we tend to be unconcerned with anything other than what’s important specifically to us. That’s not exactly the glue that binds a productive society together.

All of this is especially true with public lands. The public part means that they are a shared resource and that we need to cooperate in their stewardship. It’s amazing the number of folks who don’t and won’t get that.

I spend a lot of time on public land — both professionally and privately. I’m amazed at how poorly cared for much of it is — often especially areas locked up in restrictive status. Many parts of Western public lands are becoming burned out messes with poorly maintained trails that are, for all intents and purposes, unavailable to most recreationists. When few go there few care. One of the newly created desert monuments has areas literally filled with trash. When a group I’m associated with offered to clean part of this up about a year ago we were rebuffed by officials who were worried that we would be unable to distinguish between artifacts and old TV sets. I kid you not.

Every year I go to a meeting at the Department of Interior in D.C., where the future of public lands is the agenda. I’m not hearing a lot at these meetings that makes me feel hopeful for the future. So far most of the public lands brain trust seems to think that the key to increasing interest in public land is to make sure that all of the infrastructure in national parks is privatized and there’s Wi-Fi available everywhere.

I beg to differ. The key to increasing the public’s interest in public land isn’t to do everything in the world to discourage the public from using it, it’s to do the opposite. Responsible recreation is a key to that. If we can figure out a way to encourage more folks, rather than less (especially those in large cities), to hike, climb, ski, hunt, fish, bike, motorcycle, snowmobile, Jeep and otherwise enjoy public lands we’ll have a lot more advocates. The math is not overly difficult to discern. And in my experience fun generally equals interest just about every time.


But that’s not were we’re at. There are just too many people out there who think that they and they alone know what’s good for public lands and screw everyone else. I recently heard a conversation where someone opined that they didn’t go out into the woods anymore because they could feel their own impact there too acutely. That paradigm is eventually going to prove to be our undoing because there’s no future in a crowded society with significant financial stress for inaccessible nature preserves.

So to all of you elitists out there who look down on every form of recreation of which you do not approve, enjoy the future you are helping to create — one where most public land has long since disappeared. Be sure to enjoy the Wi-Fi available everywhere that’s left.

Associated Press and Idaho Press Club Award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer and retired ISU faculty member who now spends his time happily raising three children, llama farming, riding mountain bikes and motorcycles and playing loud electric guitars.