I find it interesting the relationship many Westerners have with authority. We hate it. We really don’t like to be told what to do. Maybe we had too many bossy older siblings when we were growing up. We are all a little bit libertarian in the crazy John Galt/Ayn Rand sort of way.
What is rightful authority for us? I have to hand it to those who put their life on the line and work for the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
I read an article in High Country News how BLM and Forest Service employees are increasingly being threatened by gun-toting citizens in Utah and the West. Those who are making the threats are either nuts and/or are in the Clive Bundy category.
These federal land managers do a marvelous job attempting to maintain our public lands, while trying to work with all the various interest groups who are using the land and our natural resources.
They walk the tight rope of multiple use and ecosystem management, so that we will have trees, rangeland, clean water from well-maintained watersheds, and beautiful places to hike. They attempt to prevent those who have mining leases or grazing permits from overly impacting the land and water, so there can continue to be healthy ecosystems that can support wildlife, livestock and recreation.
One just has to look around to see land not maintained by the Forest Service or BLM to know what are the other possibilities.
Driving along SR-6 to Moab, there are stretches where I feel like Mad Max along a post-apocalyptic landscape. There are successive tracts of land that are covered with every car, refrigerator, washer and dryer that generations of particular families have owned.
When one arrives at Moab, the areas of private land are easy to see along the Colorado River. These tracts are covered with old motor homes, trailers and all sorts of junk from the folks who are living there on their land. The contrast between the beauty and ugliness is quite stark. It is apparent that the BLM land is maintained to be beautiful and natural, while the private land is left to the devices of its owners.
A different example would be our ski resorts in Utah. Most of the land is Forest Service that is leased by the ski resort. Depending on the ski resort, there is a bit of private land that was once claimed by miners. This land was sold for pennies by the miners, or their descendants, and now it has become land for multi-million dollar condos.
Skiing at resorts with this private land is a different experience, since the ski trails are flanked by multi-million dollar condos. Land that isn’t public soon is cemented over, built upon, or becomes the ski home for the leisure class who have more money than God to spend $5 million for a place they stay at maybe a couple of weeks a year.
I love living in the West because it is beautiful. I love open space, wilderness, and places untrammeled by us. Without our land management agencies, a greater portion of our environment would become a junkyard, become homes for the ultra-rich, or be destroyed by over-use, over-grazing, or some form of mineral extraction.
Our land management agencies have been given the mandate by Congress, and we the citizens, to maintain the ecosystems of natural places and to maintain them for the good of all American citizens. Some lament that a good portion of Utah is managed by the BLM and the Forest Service, but this is our saving grace and the only reason we still have open space.
Our Catholic tradition has a lot to say about the common good. We don’t hear about that often in the US. We hear about individual rights and liberties (which are important, don’t get me wrong); however, we rarely hear what is the best for all or most people. We have difficulty seeing beyond our nose and we are impeded by our own myopic vision to discern what God would want and what would future generations desire.
I have difficulty thinking of something more anti-Christian than Ayn Rand’s principles on freedom without responsibility for the common good, for the poor, and for the health of our planet’s ecosystems. I am thankful to God for the Forest Service and the BLM. They are keeping the few from destroying what is precious to most of us.
Rev. Dinsdale is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.