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Know the West

Goring our own oxen

  Dear HCN,

I almost needed earplugs to read your cover story, "STOP: A national forest tries to rein in recreation" (HCN, 1/17/00); seems that some folks thought their oxen would never get gored, and are now caterwauling as if flesh wounds were fatalities. It's kind of entertaining, and long overdue.

Recreation has become, with our technology and our exploding population, an extractive industry, one as potentially destructive of wildlife and ecosystems as mining, logging or agribusiness can be. This is a depressing, but accurate, admission; we need to make it, then act accordingly. The motorized crowd and the ski industry do most of the damage and will suffer the greatest curtailments, either now or eventually. But mountain bikers, cross-country skiers, equestrians and, yes, backpackers and hikers (my own ox pasture companions) will have to act responsibly as well, and accept limits. Closing roads is paramount, and Alternative D makes a good, though modest, start. Pedestrians are affected by road closures, because trailheads get drawn back out of the core, enticing backcountry to more buffering locations, and these increased distances will discourage some hikers. Most backpackers are motorists, even at times four-wheelers; I've only recently gotten rid of my old Toyota 4x4, and will henceforth go Greyhound or not at all. It can no longer be ignored, the first law of wildlife and wilderness protection: Access kills, and easy access kills easily, and quickly.

I would go so far as to propose an Alternative Z, which would establish what might be called "zones of forbearance' - areas where no human entry is allowed. Let wolverine and lynx, desert tortoise and coatimundi have a bit of true refuge; our official wildlife "refuges' are too often anything but.

It will be very embarrassing if we public-lands visitors begin demanding absolute scientific data to justify any and all restrictions, behaving just like the coal and auto industries in the face of global warming. Let's instead teach by example, exercising the same self-restraint we so often urge upon others.

John Wahl

Flagstaff, Arizona