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Know the West

Sadness from a native son

  Dear HCN,

Your article, "Greens not welcome in Escalante" reminded me why I left my home state (HCN, 5/24/99). Southern Utahns have long regarded nature as an enemy to conquer, dating back to the days when Brigham Young sent them to colonize a howling wilderness. Considering the local belief that the Earth is a mere steppingstone to heaven, it's no wonder rural Utahns see nature lovers as dangerous nuts.

Pro-wilderness groups with a "national agenda" have worsened the situation by pointedly ignoring locals. Most southern Utahns were apathetic about land issues until the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Cowboy Caucus convinced them that heathen outsiders were out to grab their land. I actually sympathized with Barry Barnson's complaint that some people treat locals like a "bunch of idiots."

My flight from Zion began when I ran a humane society in Cedar City, a gruesome and thankless task. For five years, I wrote a pro-animal column in the Southern Utah Spectrum, enduring much abuse from people who think only cows and sheep deserve a life. A column on the realities of predator control was my last, courtesy of a big cowboy fist crashing down on the editor's desk.

Defeated, I wandered a land deforested by fencepost cutters, littered with skinned coyotes, shredded by ORVs, and denuded by overgrazing. My protests to federal agencies were shrugged off by staffs composed of younger ranching sons. I finally left Utah with my tail between my legs. I now live in a well-protected paradise treasured by a populace that doesn't seem to mind losing the right to pillage, plunder and destroy at will.

I feel guilty about giving up the fight, but Utah is a place that can kill the spirit of the most dedicated activist. It's sad to feel so unwelcome in the place where I was born and raised.

Lester Wood

Coleville, California