"Can't we all just get along?" With those words Rodney King became the world's most unlikely idealist. Prior to that famous videotape of his beating at the hands of LA's finest, Rodney was not only misbehaving, he was out of control. The man whose violent behavior led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots wondered aloud why people couldn't just behave a little better.
That's an extreme example, of course, but
out here in the West many of our public-land debates center on the
simple failure to get along. A snowmobiler uses a ski trail,
spoiling a quiet day for others. Jet boaters seem oblivious to all
but their own pleasure. Mountain bikers zoom down a trail,
Going fast holds no allure for
me. I see people on jet boats and snowmobiles and just don't get it
"- why come to a quiet place to make noise? That is a large part of
the public-land debate these days: Some like noisy and fast, others
quiet and slow. In the same place at the same time, the noisy ones
always have more fun.
The concept of "multiple
use" makes no sense when applied to incompatible simultaneous uses.
I don't envy the job of public-land agencies as they struggle to
devise rules that keep us apart while at the same time ensuring we
have room for all our sports. Since our great grandchildren will
need unspoiled land too, many areas of the forests and national
parks are currently off limits to motorized use. I think it has to
stay that way.
I took my kids fishing one day,
unknowingly parking within a hundred feet of a "No Trespassing"
sign. When we got back to the car, Fish and Game agents were
waiting. As the officer did his paperwork, I brought up the subject
of snowmobiles intruding into wilderness areas in Montana. The
agents said the problem boiled down to this: They need money from
citations to pay the salaries of officers who enforce the law. But
once snowmobilers know that Fish and Game people are around, they
quit misbehaving (just as I'll never fish that hole again). It's
the ripple effect "- the traffic cop by the side of the road has a
bigger impact than a speed limit sign.
year brings more trespassing, more new roads colonized and more
pressure to keep all roads open. I watched a debate once between an
environmentalist and a snowmobiler about allowing the machines into
Yellowstone National Park. The snowmobiler's rationale for his
unrestricted travel through the park was simple: He needed to
exercise his right to choose, which outweighed any need for
restraints. He called it "personal freedom."
definition of freedom is contradictory because along with freedom
comes more need for restraint. If all of us are free to do as we
wish, chaos is the result.
The snowmobiler who
uses a cross-country ski trail disrupts a quiet day for others. The
4X4 that leaves the road to explore new territory creates a new
scar and encourages those who follow to do the same. The jet boater
who crosses a fishing line contributes to the flaring tempers and
resentments that characterize our public-land debates.
The motorized recreation industry has lobbied
our elected officials for more room and fewer restraints on their
machines. Recently, the Bush administration overrode an extensive
public process and decided not to ban snowmobiles in Yellowstone
National Park. This is the same lack of respect that has
characterized motorized recreation on the trails as it has expanded
these past few decades.
We need limits, both
public and private. Imposing law from on high is only partially
effective if the reason for law is not internalized. The rest has
to come from us. It's a good sign that many snowmobile and ATV
clubs have already enacted their own codes of ethical behavior and
are encouraging their members to police one another. It's a good
sign when mountain bikers acknowledge that their disruptive
presence often makes hikers uncomfortable.
conflicts of the modern West are the natural outcome of affluence.
We have more time, more money and better technology than our
But our ability to go farther and
faster through wild lands gives us less privacy. If we quiet folks
have to make room for our friends on motorback,then they, too, have
to give a little. They must, in the name of freedom, accept the
limits we impose on them.