My personal relationships with the national parks is complicated given my love for lonesome spaces and lack of regulation combined with my dedication to adventuring with Sprocket. Because of that, I didn’t get deeply into the centennial. I adored Ken Burns’s documentary of the National Parks and I highly value them as an American asset, I’m just more personally connected to our National Forest and BLM lands. After our election, however, the differentiation between land management agencies seemed to matter a whole lot less than preserving our public lands—all of them.
While standing in Seattle’s glorious Elliot Bay Book Company (that I might be starting to forgive for moving from their Pioneer Square location), I caved and bought two hardcover books. It wasn’t really in my budget after Christmas but 2016’s book buying freeze was hard guys! I mostly stuck to it but oh man, there is little I like spending money on more than books. The Hour of Land was one of the books I picked up.
I waited until I was back in Colorado to start the book. On Martin Luther King day, after rambling around on some BLM land near Uravan, we got home in time to make lunch. Days off at home are not something I have very often any more so I built a roaring fire, grabbed a blanket, a pillow, and a cup of tea and cracked a new book.
This was one of those books that you alternately want to savor and one where you just want to just keep turning the pages because it is so good.
Tempest Williams speaks about a wide variety of national parks, monuments, recreation areas, and historic sites from Grand Teton to Alcatraz to Effigy Mounds to Gettysburg. Each of the parks can almost stand alone and they still fit together in a way that matches the despair about how our parks are handled and also the hope and awe inspired by them.
I jokingly said that my one hope for the book was that it wouldn’t make me cry. Of course it did. The Hour of Land is a beautiful look at the diversity of our parks and also the diversity of people who love them. As I probably should have expected, I loved this book. Our public lands are incredibly important and this book captures their beauty.
I actually had a day off for Martin Luther King Day. I wasn’t needed at the coffee shop and school was out. I’d pretended to create some grand plans for hikes but I just wasn’t motivated. I was a little burnt out after a week of shedlife and some extra work after Christmas and I was just ind of coasting on fumes. So rather than having a grand plan, Sprocket and I took advantage of some warm weather and headed towards Uravan to see where we could hike.
I was sure all of the roads would be muddy and that we’d wind up just hiking a canyon directly from the highway. Instead, right at the site of Uravan, I noticed that the road climbing the cliff to the east looked pretty dry and decided to give it a try.
Our hike was just a few miles of meandering around. I hadn’t loaded Uravan onto any maps on my phone so we were just wandering around. We drove past some old mines on the way up. We scrambled down small muddy washes, we shimmied up little ledges, we found our way back down the cliffs towards the Jeep.
My handsome old dog was all about the sniffing and being outside. I don’t think the hike was long enough for him but that was okay.
There were pretty rocks and lots of just being happy to be outside.
My views out towards the La Sal Mountains wasn’t too shabby either.
I’ve been meaning to write about the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge for weeks but I just haven’t been able to. My keyboard simply can’t put up with the frustrated key mashing that ensues when my fingers attempt to act as a safety blowoff valve for my thoughts. While I’m not sure that I have a totally unique perspective on the issue, I can’t hold my proverbial internet tongue any longer.
I recently got in a (Twitter) debate with a denizen of the eastern portion of our country who mused about the small percentage of public land east of the Mississippi as compared to the sizeable percentage west of the Mississippi. I didn’t really keep my cool in the debate. To me, a life long westerner who has spent just enough time in the east to make me aware of differences, our public lands are one of the biggest reasons that our country is great. I have written about this before and shared a lovely piece by Tim Egan about the luxury of a public land area more than three times the size of France. This is one of the amazing things about America; we have set aside large swaths of our country for recreation, preservation, exploration, and, dare I say, healing.
The first answer to “why is there so much public land in the West?” is the climate. Explorer, self-taught scientist, and amazing public servant John Wesley Powell understood that the American West was too arid for agricultural development like that in the east and argued for cooperatives between farmers and rancher for small scale water development funded by themselves, not the federal government. We ignored him and built large dams and the government funded disjointed water projects throughout the west. (I reviewed and highly recommend Wallace Stegner’s Beyond The Hundredth Meridian for more background in Powell.) This land is public because the economics of private ownership do not work (federal grazing fees, of which Cliven Bundy still owes over $1 million, are drastically lower than on private land as a result of lower quality and infrastructure costs plus fees not keeping pace with inflation). Oregon’s eastern “outback” is arid and sparsely populated much more like Utah than like the wet valleys west of the Cascades.
Secondly, and perhaps the better answer to “Constitution” wielding Malheur occupiers, Oregon gave up rights to those public lands when they became a state (as did Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and Nevada) under a disclaimer clause found in their respective statehood enabling acts (excellent opinion piece in High Country News, subscription required). Each state had to give up “all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States,” a power granted to the federal government by the Property Clause (Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2):
The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.
Reading comprehension is not the strong suit of the militia since this clause clearly grants Congress the power to regulate federal lands as they see fit, including as a National Wildlife Refuge.
My heart goes out to the people of Harney County and of Oregon. It breaks for all of us, the ones who look forward to hiking Steens Mountain, value the irreplaceable migratory bird habitat, and treasure the artifacts of pre-Columbian use of the land.
Kofa Wildlife Refuge
Many of my blog readers will have already heard about the occupation and are property incensed but I encourage each and every one of you to explain the absurdity of occupation and, perhaps more importantly, the wonder and value of our public lands, to your friends, your parents, your children, and anyone who will listen. Our country gives each and everyone of us the inheritance of our public lands and it is our job to protect that inheritance for the generations that follow.
Update: Less than 12 hours after I hit “publish” on this post, the Ammon and Ryan Bundy plus several others were arrested by the FBI and Harney County Sheriffs somewhere between Burns and John Day. Ammon later issued a statement asking the occupiers to “stand down” but the issue is ongoing. Coverage from The Oregoniancan be found here.
Last week, my friends Casey and Rebecca, helped bring to light the horrible story of Casey Nocket, aka Creepytings, and her vandalistic spree through our western National Parks. Casey’s post “Art” In The Parks, on his website Modern Hiker has an excellent summary of the whole issue (including updates on the case as they happen!) but in short a 21-year old named Casey Nocket using the Instagram handle “Creepytings” is a suspect in vandalism cases in eight National Parks and National Monuments; overall she has been implicated in vandalism in ten parks and monuments.
Cosmopolitan, often known as “Cosmo,” proclaims itself as “Fun, Fearless, Female.” Much of its content is relationship, sex, and dating related although each issue also includes content on the success of women and refers to challenges faced by women in the world. Normally, I consider Cosmo to be mostly a positive force for women. It focuses more on appearance than what appeals to me but I feel as if it also encourages women to embrace their sexuality not to mention really pursuing things in their lives and careers that drive them.
This article, however, completely blew that tradition out of the water. Helen Gurley Brown, who was responsible for this iteration of the magazine in the 1960s, would be mortified.
First, writer Lane Moore, referred to Casey and Rebecca’s as having “ratted her out on the Internet and to authorities.” Um, ratted out?
If I were willing to let that inflammatory phrase go (and I really wasn’t…I was disturbed that Cosmo would be sympathetically aligning themselves with Ms. Nocket), it got worse…
“…it’s hard to know where in the world Creepytings is right now, but wherever she is, she’s inspiring a lot of girls to break some rules.”
WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?
I’ll admit, I have a soft spot for Cosmo. Every few months I’ll buy a copy and enjoy it’s frivolousness. Moreover, one of my best teenage memories was the first time my parents let me take my friends on a two hour car trip. During spring break my sophomore year in high school, we were allowed to drive out to the ocean for a day. Along the way, we bought a bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs and our very first issue of Cosmo. I was a naïve, young sixteen year-old and I felt so so naughty reading about sex and dating in its pages.
I feel so let down that this magazine (or at least its online equivalent), would be telling me, or even worse that sixteen year-old girl I used to be, that I should be inspiredby Creepytings is absolutely appalling.
So I tried to do something. I emailed Cosmopolitan.com asking for a retraction. I Tweeted at the author Lane Moore and at the main Cosmopolitan account. I tweeted at Cosmopolitan.com editor Amy Odell, Executive Features Editor Lori Fradkin, Senior Community Manager Elisa Benson, and finally the Sex and Relationship Editors Emma Barker and Frank Kobola (Moore is normally a Sex and Relationship writer for the website). I have had no response from anyone at Cosmo (although Moore does appear to have deleted a tweet regarding just “blocking” those who were mad about her article).
So what now? Well, I guess I should just let it go. It’s not really hurting anything. However, usually the comments section of a controversial piece is a really scary place. This time, it’s been really supportive preserving our parks and almost 100% of the commenters called out Cosmo for endorsing Ms. Nocket’s behavior.
I’m still hopeful the article can be made to go away, or even better, to be replaced with an appology and a celebration of women who support our National Parks.
I’ve embedded my tweets to the editorial staff below. Feel free to retweet them often:
I wrote this a few months ago (not so long after another Public Lands discussion)—I’ve tried to let my anger simmer down a bit but it still just astounds me that beer cans and water bottles (and fireworks debris and discarded clothing) don’t distract from some people’s outdoor experience… Then last week I was riding my bike to work and watched an individual toss their Kleenex on the side of the bike trail. I wasfurious.
Kim Kircher put up a post today called, “Don’t Be A Pig” and I figured now was as good a time as any to put up my post.
We drove by the first can abandoned on the gravel road and then the second. After spotting a few more cans, Forrest started slowing down so I could reach down, grab them and toss the garbage into the basket of the quad. At each passing can…Budweiser…Bud Lite…Coors…Mountain Dew…I got more upset.
Surrounding me were modest mountain peaks presiding over beautiful basins. Creeks full of clear, cold snowmelt rushed down and through it all winds a terrific tangle of Forest Service roads and old mining and timber roads. Harmlessly they sit there and allow for enormous amounts of recreation. A jarring exception to this beauty is the collection of garbage left behind by those who came to recreate.
We turned on to a less well-traveled trail that headed up into a small valley. Marking the entrance of the 4-wheeler trail to the main road was a Solo cup and a disintegrating wad of toilet paper. Just up the trail, more beer cans, water bottles, a blanket, and granola bar wrappers. And lots more toilet paper (it was likely buried in the snow by snowmobilers…out of sight out of mind).
On to our quad when the wrappers, bottles, and cans and as we drove away from the beautiful but toilet-paper-stained-place I seethed. These are our lands. Americans have more space to explore and enjoy the outdoors than any individual could possibly expect to fully know in their lifetime and rather than take the simplest of steps to preserve our abilities to enjoy the outdoors, the opportunities are taken so horribly for granted.
I’m an advocate for wilderness and motorized access. Team 3Up uses both areas for recreation. Those who abuse the land are usually the ones to pipe up most shrilly when gates are put up and motorized access is curtailed. (I almost never see garbage more than a half mile up a foot traffic only trail and really never see it beyond a mile…) Motorized access depends on treating the land well.
The rules are simple, unobtrusive and easy to follow: Pack out trash. Bury human waste (and do so well away from trails). Stick to established trails (of which there are plenty). Pick up the wrapper that may have strayed from its owner.
Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. -Teddy Roosevelt
America has a lot of public land—in fact, more than 30% of our land area is public. In August of 2010, I heard Tim Egan speak in Wallace. He spoke about Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, the Fire of 1910, and his book The Big Burn. The thing I remember most, and that I scribbled in my notes from the evening, was his comments on the importance of America’s public lands, “‘We didn’t have a home on Hayden Lake like the swells,’ Mother said, ‘We’re richer than the bastards! We have the national forests!'” In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, he elaborated: “Not long after I was old enough to cast my first vote, I realized that with American citizenship came a birthright to my summer home.”
The land area of the United States is about 2.26 billion acres. Of that, the Federal Government owns 605 million acres that are administered by the public lands agencies: the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the National Parks Service, and the National Wildlife Refuge system. In addition, state governments own 197.5 million acres. The lands are administered in a variety of ways, they include recreation areas, forest land sold for timber purposes, and the lands in the National Wilderness Preservation System (cited data). Whether it is Tim Egan acknowledging the wealth the lands grant to all Americans (and millions of foreign visitors) or Teddy Roosevelt designating 230 million acres of public lands America’s public lands have been repeated acknowledged as an asset to our country.