Just call me a RAC star

  • Walt Gasson


I got a note from Ken Salazar the other day. I was glad to hear from him. It had been a while since we had visited. Well, OK ... we've never visited. The secretary of Interior doesn't know me from Adam's cat. But still, it was nice to hear from him. I don't get all that much mail, aside from the Cabela's catalog and the AARP magazine. So I opened the darn thing.

And lo and behold, it said I'd been appointed to the Wyoming Resource Advisory Council (RAC). What the heck is that, you ask? Well, according to my note from Secretary Salazar, it's a group "composed of citizens from diverse backgrounds," whose job is to "provide advice to the Bureau of Land Management on management of public land resources."

Dang ... I guess I'm a citizen from a diverse background. Short of California, you can't get much more diverse than Sweetwater County these days, though this eighth-largest county in the country boasts only four persons per square mile. And I've been advising just about everybody who would hold still on public-land resources for a long time, not that anyone has paid much attention. But now I'm a RAC star, because a while back I apparently told the BLM that I was willing to serve.

As a brand-new RAC-and-roller, I have an unusual perspective. I've come to think that public-lands policy in Wyoming was created by Lewis Carroll. Lots of times I feel like Alice in Wonderland. If you remember the story, Alice tumbles down a rabbit hole and ends up in a hall with many locked doors of all sizes. It's a lot like Wyoming: Behind this door is some outfit representing the gas industry and suing the Department of Interior because it isn't processing gas leases fast enough.  Behind that door, Interior is jacking up the gas industry for sitting on thousands of acres of undeveloped leases.  Behind still another door, you've got the suits in Houston who'd happily drill on their mother's grave, or at least on your mother's grave. Behind the next, you've got some angry activists on the green left whose furnaces apparently run on rainbows and gumdrops.  Curiouser and curiouser...

No less amazing is the feral horse dilemma. As near as I can tell, the public land of the Interior West is loaded up with feral horses, and no one seems to be willing to admit that our current system of adoption and incarceration doesn't work. It's not unlike the Dodo in Wonderland, deciding that the best way to dry Alice and the other tear-soaked characters would be a Caucus-Race, in which everyone runs in a circle and there's no clear winner. If anyone is winning in the feral horse dilemma, I'd sure like to know who it is. We sure seem to be running in a circle.

The whole thing feels a little like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party (not to be confused with the political entity of the same name) at which the Hatter asks the question: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?"  When Alice gives up, the Hatter admits that he doesn't know the answer either.

Maybe that's the point of it all. I think Secretary Salazar is a smart-enough guy to know that neither the Department of Interior nor the Bureau of Land Management knows all the answers. I've been watching Salazar for some time now, and frankly, I like the guy. Heaven knows, he inherited a mess beyond all comprehension from the former Bush administration. But he's trying hard to take a balanced, thoughtful approach.

We're no longer approaching gas leasing the way frat boys approach beer. And I think Salazar gets the feral horse issue. Being from one of the oldest ranching families in Colorado, I think he knows which end of the horse eats and which end doesn't. I think there's a chance that he's the real deal.  So I'm hoping that this upcoming Western RAC concert will accomplish something: That if we round up a group of Wyoming folks and ask them to help out, they'll come through - and maybe things will get a little less weird out here.

The secretary says that there will be RAC meetings (RAC festivals?) two to four times a year.  That's good -- my cardiologist won't let me have donuts more often than that. But along with free pastries, what I'm really looking forward to is coming up with common sense ideas without a lot of rigid thinking. I just saw a list of my fellow RAC stars, and Secretary Salazar has tapped some pretty smart folks. I hope the BLM listens.

Walt Gasson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an op ed service of High Country News (hcn.org). He runs the Wyoming Wildlife Federation in Cheyenne.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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