Let’s look at three recent examples of defiance of federal public lands management and see what they have in common:
Cliven Bundy, Nevada rancher, has continued to graze cattle for 20 years after his permit was cancelled because he refused to abide by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land-use regulations developed to protect endangered desert tortoises.
Phil Lyman, San Juan County Commissioner, plans on May 8 to lead dozens of offroad vehicles into Recapture Canyon, near Blanding, which is closed by BLM to motorized use in order to protect archaeological sites. In 2009, an illegal route was built by motorized users in Recapture Canyon, severely damaging archaeological sites.
And look outside your Moab window: in September 2013, the governor-appointed Wildlife Board directed Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to airlift exotic Mountain Goats into the small alpine area of La Sal Mountains in violation of Forest Service regulations prohibiting human disturbances to the alpine Mt. Peale Research Natural Area and protecting two alpine plant species listed as sensitive.
Bundy wants to graze cattle, regardless of endangered tortoises. Lyman wants to ride offroad vehicles in Recapture Canyon, regardless of archeological sites. And, the Wildlife Board apparently wants hunters to be able to shoot Mountain Goats in the La Sal Mountains, regardless of inevitable impacts to this rare and sensitive alpine area.
Bundy says he doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the federal government; Lyman says he’s tired of waiting for BLM to decide whether to make the illegal Recapture Canyon route into a permanently motorized route; and it appears our state’s Wildlife Board does not honor Forest Service enforcement of its research natural area and species protection regulations. One Utah Division of Wildlife Resources staff person recently told me he thinks the Forest Service just has too many regulations.
It seems all these people do not recognize the logical extension of their actions: anarchy. The two definitions given for anarchy by the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary are 1. a state of society without government or law; and 2. political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control.
How would Bundy respond if a Native American rustled 100 or so of his cattle, because the Native American just doesn’t recognize the federal government, either? How would Lyman respond if Great Old Broads for Wilderness built effective barriers on all motorized BLM routes near streams because they’re tired of waiting for BLM to recognize that fish need better protection from sediment and motorized stream crossings? How would the Wildlife Board respond if most hunters simply shot any number of bull elk they wanted because they don’t recognize the legitimacy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources saying “no” to unlimited hunting?
These people also fail to appreciate the multiple values their fellow citizens place on our finite public lands. If everyone acted like Bundy, Lyman, and the Wildlife Board, these shared lands of our nation would be destroyed forever. No desert tortoises for a Wisconsin visitor who has never before been out West. No archaeological sites for those who are more interested in who came before us than in the crowds who just roared by. No areas where we can learn what the land is like when our footprint is minimized. Perhaps no more La Sal daisies to see in the only place they had lived on Earth.
There is no question we have some crazy laws and regulations. Laws that allow millionaires to pay no taxes. Laws that imprison citizens for decades for non-violent marijuana violations. Laws that say a corporation is a person. Regulations that allow streams to be fouled, air to kill, and species to be offed. Gratitude is due to those among us who are working to make better laws and regulations.
But we also have laws and regulations that prevent us from acting as if no one else matters. Laws and regulations that prevent us from killing endangered species with our livestock, riding our engines and tires over ancient homes, and dumping large, exotic animals into small alpine areas where they can dig wallows among rare native plants.
Public lands depend on protective laws and regulations, because sharing isn’t always our first impulse.