Selling what's priceless is the nuttiest idea of all

  • Jeff Welsch

 

Of all the nutty ideas floating around the West of late -- that Wyoming needs an aircraft carrier to prepare for the coming apocalypse, that Idaho residents should be allowed to lure wolves by using pets as bait, or that Yellowstone bison in Montana are “bio-terrorists” because they might cause brucellosis -- none can match Utah’s on the incredulity meter.
 
Some in the Beehive State are abuzz about the current effort to seize control of all public lands within its borders except for national parks, wilderness areas, military bases and Indian reservations. But unlike the seasonal silliness in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, this Utah land grab has traction. The state Legislature passed a bill asserting eminent domain over public lands — our lands — and the governor has signed it, pledging a lawsuit if Utah doesn’t receive nearly 30 million acres by 2015.
 
The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are shrugging off Utah’s chest thumping as little more than election-year bluster. They view it as a revival of the failed Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s, and are confident that any takeover effort will be laughed out of court.
 
Yet the very idea should give us pause, and ranchers, outfitters, guides and other small-business owners whose livelihoods depend on economical access to our public lands should be on the alert because parallel conversations have taken place in other Western states. Some Arizona state legislators keep pushing to add 25 million acres of federal lands and similar drumbeats echo across New Mexico and Colorado.
 
In Montana, Rep. Denny Rehberg, who apparently feels that 32,000 miles of roads on our Forest Service lands aren’t nearly enough, supports releasing the nation’s few remaining non-wilderness, roadless areas for development. This has flabbergasted a broad range of constituents who view open space as essential to their livelihoods and the Montana way of life.
 
Let’s be clear about motives: These politicians want our lands so their financial backers can mine, drill, pave and otherwise develop without having to deal with such pesky matters as clean air, clean water and other health safeguards. Special interests in Utah want to drill for oil and gas right next to national parks, and their counterparts in Arizona are itching for a uranium mine on the fringes of Grand Canyon National Park.
 
Not stopping at his own state’s borders, Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns has floated the idea of selling some of our national parks to private interests. Just think of the possibilities: Utah’s Arches National Park could be renamed Golden Arches National Park and leveled for a McDonald’s theme park. In California, John Muir’s favorite spot on the planet could be sold to Warner Bros. and renamed Yosemite Sam National Park. When in North Carolina, we could view theR.J. Reynolds Great Smoking Mountain National Park from the comfort of our cars on a new highway dubbed Tobacco Road.
 
Lest we forget, public lands provide us with clean water, clean air and essential wildlife habitat. These are the places where millions of Americans go to hunt, fish, hike, camp, ride, run, ski, pedal, photograph, explore or simply find solitude in a rapidly shrinking and increasingly noisy world. These lands provide hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars that benefit the economies of small rural communities. Above all, public lands are the embodiment of American freedom and individualism — places where anyone can go regardless of race, creed, color or stock portfolio. Our 750 million acres of public lands, much of it established more than a century ago by forefathers with wisdom and vision, sets our nation apart.
 
If anyone thinks wilderness locks up land, wait until all of us in the West get met by miles of fences, gates, padlocks, corporate signage and corner posts spray painted in bright orange. If you think government programs are Europeanizing this nation, wait until you have to pay a premium to hunt or fish on lands your grandparents once freely traversed. Do the simple math: More people plus less public land equals less access and more crowds on the few equal-opportunity landscapes we have left. All of which leads to more rules, regulations and expense for the average American.
 
Most of us recognize the economic, ecological and spiritual value of our public lands. A whopping 93 percent of Colorado voters recently polled sees them as essential to the state’s overall health. Sell our public lands? Seriously? For anyone who thinks that nutty idea will sit well on Main Street America, I’ve got an aircraft carrier onYellowstone Lake to sell you.
 
Jeff Welsch is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is communications director fort he Greater Yellowstone Coalition in Bozeman, Montana.

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].

High Country News Classifieds
  • BACKCOUNTRY FILM FESTIVAL MANAGER
    Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for an experienced and highly motivated individual to organize our annual Backcountry Film Festival and Tour and coordinate additional...
  • LAND CONSERVATION MANAGER
    SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM ATTORNEY, NEVADA
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.