P O S T E D B Y A L B E R T
I. Enemies of the Motoring Public
As I drag my way out of a week in the Sierras and crawl up the nearest magazine rack, my vision obscured by hovering midges, I discover in the July/August issue of Mother Jones that I’ve been framed as an elitist enemy of the motoring public, a bugbear of the “non-hiking people.”*
A little known law, Revised Statute 2477, passed in 1866 to encourage development by granting rights-of-way on publicly owned lands, is being used by Washington-hating local officials and big industry lobbyists to stake road claims all over the western states. Trails inside of wilderness areas and national parks are not exempt.
According to San Juan County (Utah) commissioner Lynn Stevens, who is championing an RS 2477 claim on a canyon leading to scenic Angel Arch, “These are cherished, beloved places among [local residents]. … It’s elitist to say if you can’t hike, you’re not entitled to have that beauty.”
The Bush administration is supporting many local claims, despite the fact that the feds are technically the defendants in these cases.
II. The Big Gubmint Lockout
Last year, according to the Mother Jones article, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, “the voice of the American off-road rider,” sponsored an ad
featuring a trio of cigar-chomping gangsters aiming Tommy guns and wearing slouch hats labeled “Sierra Club” and “Wilderness Society.” The headline read, “These guys wanna rub you out! Their racket is to lock you out of YOUR public lands.”
This is a sobering reminder of the value-neutrality of the Third Sector, where one man’s tax deductible donation supports another man’s environmental nightmare.
III. The Borderlands
The off-roaders are bankrolled by powerful timber, mining, oil, and gas companies, as well as by the $4.8 billion off-road vehicle industry. The environmentalists, for whom fundraising is “a 24-hour begathon,” are being backed mostly by other environmentalists.
How do we keep money from distorting what should be a reasoned debate about the proper use of a public good?
Where is the place, outside of the courts, that Joe Snowmobile and a tree-hugging sissy like me can meet and talk through our differences?
IV. Into Thin Air
And what would be our common language—besides English, I mean?
I assume the off-roader would have a sense of the sublime and that I would clearly intuit the thrill of a joyride in a big-wheeled truck.
I was somehow convinced—long before I ever went on my first hike, and before I acquired any kind of political identity—that some lands are worth preserving in their natural state until the sun goes nova. I’m not special: the same arguments that swayed me are accessible to all.
And yet what a strange discussion it would be. We’d be placing the palpable heft of the present on one side of the scale, and, on the other, an incorporeal eternity.
* “Off-Road Rules” by Christopher Ketcham.
Photographs by the author.