“Give me land lots of land under starry skies above. Don’t fence me in.”I’d bet that Bing Crosby’s lyrics strike a note within most Westerners’ hearts. We are people of space and pine forest. Even if we dwell in an urban area, our consciousness is with nature and the wonder of being in vast landscapes populated with birds and wild animals.
And then, there is government. We find that land is either privately or publicly owned. There are restrictions on what we can do on the land. Wild animals and birds are managed. Water is not always ours to use when we want. Life on Earth has gotten complicated.
Why? We have decided to feed starving people. We have decided to eradicate disease. There are over 200 million more people in the US than the year I was born, over twice the number of the year I graduated high school. The world has gone from 3 billion to 7 billion in the same time frame in spite of wars and natural disasters.
I grew up in a family of proud conservationists, and I am still one. My father, however, was becoming upset with the new realities of land stewardship by the time he died at 90. As a child, I thought nothing of hunting the plains of Colorado for Indian artifacts or “plinking” at tin cans with rifle or pistol. Now I would be running afoul of the antiquities act or gun-use restrictions.
Nature and its use has become a contentious political issue because of both science and population. Restrictions of land because of enduring public interest has begun to restrict a good many people’s sense of the right to private property and needed economic activity. This is not a new issue in Idaho, but strategies needed to peacefully solve the issues may have to change.
The federal government has proposed 13 new regions to oversee land regulation across the US. Only Hawaii and Alaska have their own region. Montana and Texas dominate the land area of the two largest proposed regions. Idaho will be in two regions shared with parts of Washington, Oregon, Utah and Nevada. Considering that all of these states have more congressional clout than we do, our interests may be sidelined.
The purported reason for this re-organization is a noble one. Local jurisdictions should have a major seat at the table when discussing the use of natural resources. As always, there is appropriate concern that industrialization could be allowed to lay waste to important environments. It is also true that privatization of public lands could deprive those seeking recreation of the resources to do it.
Idaho always casts a jaundiced eye at federal regulation, and I want to suggest that even this new idea of local control may require skepticism. What is needed is state institutions which are firmly committed to preserving Idaho’s natural resources for Idahoans. We’ve done a good job adjudicating water. It is not impossible to use science and our natural love of nature to do the same with all of our land use. We must protect the ecology as well as the landscape. The appropriate cliché, I believe, is “beat ‘em to the punch.”
One of the gifts to coal operators given by the Trump administration is what I call the “Go out of business without liability” deregulation. Instead of being accountable for reclamation of mining areas, coal operators can now walk away and not look back. No jobs, even in mine cleanup. Appalachia will be on its own, but Idaho can impose strict standards on anyone extracting resources from our lands. In the age of maximum population, this must become the cost of doing business as well as the cost of the resource to the consumer.
Environments, of course, do not recognize state lines, and it appears at first glance that the Interior Department regions take that into account. Bi-partisan cooperation with adjoining states should be our first choice, but as we consider Idaho and it’s natural bounty, maybe we should adopt the motto on the Gadsden flag: “Don’t Tread On Me.”