Access and disparity

 

Marshall Swearingen’s article on the ongoing battle over access to public lands (“This Land Is Their Land,” HCN, 2/2/15) highlights two of the most crucial concepts in the formation of the culture of the West: private ownership rights and the large amount of land held in the public domain. These two elements and the balancing act required to respect them both stand at the heart of what it means to live in the West. While most Westerners could undoubtedly add their own examples of denied access, there are also numerous compromises that have continued to ensure access to wild areas. Recent decisions on Colorado’s Roan Plateau and the working trade-off brokered by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance are two that come to mind.


What the article barely alludes to, however, is the increasing disparity in wealth in the United States. As the middle class continues to shrink, countless Americans will be added to the ranks of those able to find recreational opportunities only on public lands, unable to afford the prices of prime Western lands or the fees of trophy-hunting outfitters. The problem is exacerbated in a climate in which increasingly wealthy interests (whether private or corporate) are allowed to treat the public domain as a private holding.


W. Vance Grace
Grand Junction, Colorado