Public-land users and abusers

 

I own property that borders several thousand acres of national forest, and with my neighbors control the area's access road ("Public land, locked up," HCN, 12/9/13). These public lands are used for grazing and for recreation. We allow public access, but are also aware that the public is basically clueless when it comes to land ethics. Indiscriminate shooting leaves damaged signs and broken glass; Boy Scouts deface natural features; ATVs trample sensitive areas; wildlife is poached. The worst time for us is summer, when all it takes is some idiot shooting fireworks or a drunken group's unattended fire to destroy the entire watershed.

We take exception to the bad rap given to ranchers, because it's this user who exhibits the most responsible use of the land. The grazing permittee makes sure the fences are in good repair, clears deadfall from hiking trails, moves cattle to prevent overgrazing, and contributes funding and labor to our weed-control program. He's the steward, and he pays for his use. The rest of the public just uses it.

My neighbors and I periodically consider closing our road to protect the public land from the public. Given the anti-grazing sentiment that we all hear and read about, along with all the impacts the public creates, I can't blame responsible ranchers for keeping the public out of public lands adjacent to their homes. As Aldo Leopold said: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community."

Steve Laster
Clancy, Montana