On Diverse Uses of Public Lands: An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul

9 Jan

The armed standoff in Oregon concerning the Malheur Wildlife refuge is only the latest is a long series of conflicts over “public” lands, as R. McGreggor Cawley has pointed out in a recent op-ed in The New York Times. In a quick overview of that history he points out:

In other words, the federal government has attempted to do what Payne, Ammon Bundy and their compatriots ask — “return the land to the people.” Had the Western states accepted the offer, we might have avoided a long train of controversies leading to the Oregon occupation. But when the Western states declined, the second caveat in the Hoover committee recommendations was put into play, and Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act, establishing a permit-and-fee system for regulating grazing on the public lands. All of that was to be administered by the Department of Interior’s federal Grazing Service — an entity that would eventually become part of the Bureau of Land Management.

But things, as we see, didn’t work out. Conflicts remain. He concludes:

This is what’s important about public-land conflicts: They raise thorny questions about abstract political concepts like democracy. Creating wilderness areas, or instituting environmental regulations, inevitably restricts someone’s access to the land or the purposes they would prefer to see it put to. For those who are restricted, the government’s action may not appear very democratic. It’s in these disputes that we get outside the abstractions of political science and reckon with big questions in a very immediate way: How do we all decide what this land is for, how best to use it, who can be trusted to administer it and how our competing visions for it can be heard — right down to each acre of grass, each deer and each gallon of creek water?

It is in this context that Charlie Keil has drafted an open letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul in which he urges that recognize a diversity of use categories for public lands – the Federal Government administers an eighth of the nation’s landmass – and that we listen seriously to “the armed cowboys in Oregon”.

* * * * *

Open Letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul,

Could you both endorse a statement along the following lines?

We need to recognize a variety of different kinds of public lands: Wilderness, boondocks, the commons, public property, all increase the value, the sacredness, the importance, the preciousness of private property.

We need to create 1) true wilderness areas, 2) wilderness corridors, 3) boondocks surrounding the wilderness areas and corridors working as buffer zones where only a very few people are specially permitted to go there (mostly for religious or spiritual reasons), 4) commons for grazing and other seasonal usages, and 5) public properties with rules for local community sharing. The more we do this, the better off all the diversity of species and diversity of socio-cultural systems will be. The healthier the wilderness, boondocks, commons and public lands are, the happier the human individuals and societies will be.

Finally, the values and treatment of private properties will be enhanced in direct proportion to the amount of land we can safeguard, keep beautiful and healthy all around our human settlements. What might be called a win, win, win, win, situation for all of Creation! And for all of humanity too. The very opposite of a “race to the bottom” or a “tragedy of the commons” in which everyone (people, plants, animals) become losers as a few people with big machinery plunder MotherNature some more.

I don’t believe the armed cowboys in Oregon are Jefferson’s yeoman farmers wanting to homestead. They seem more like the thugs that genocided the Native Americans to steal their lands. They are there in sympathy with convicted arsonists? Burning trees to create grasslands for cattle and more hamburgers? They want to renew the war between grazers and farmers? Do they stand for a land redistribution of some kind that I don’t understand? Let’s hear them out, amplify their message, have some discussions, explain the urgent needs for more wilderness, and then restore the land to wildlife refuge, this time with a boondocks perimeter, plus a commons where Wes Jackson’s perennial grains can be tried out.

Wish I could sign off as a vegetarian but I still crave some free-range chicken once in a while,

Charlie Keil

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