Crossfire Canyon: A study in conflict, part one

September 26, 2007 | 44 comments
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Crossfire Canyon is not the canyon’s real name. Following the trend in nature writing, I have refrained from providing any obvious identifying names or details. Otherwise, this three-part series describes actual events and conversations.

Mormons in Utah, especially in southern Utah, often find their concepts of stewardship put to the test when predominantly non-Mormon environmental groups act to preserve resources they perceive Mormons (or any others) are abusing under their stewardship ethic or are allowing to be abused. Learning to navigate through the most recent controversial land use skirmish in my newly adopted, Mormon-dominated, southern Utah community has presented an opportunity for me to reconsider my own ideas about stewardship, which seem to be forever under construction anyway. I don’t like telling people what to do; where the gospel and stewardship are concerned, my greatest responsibility lies in changing my own thinking and behavior. But I can’t resist making some observations. Here’s the story of my first experience with a local land use dustup.

On September 13th, I dropped by a green blog and followed an in-post link to discover that the Utah Bureau of Land Management had closed eight to nine miles of Crossfire Canyon very near where I live to OHV (ATV) traffic. According to the linked Salt Lake Tribune article, ATV riders had caused “severe damage near [1800-year-old-and older] Anasazi archaeological ruins.” The closure, the article said, is not intended to be permanent but will last for as long as it takes to assess the damage to cultural resources and “fix the problem.”

I haven’t lived in the area long, but after years of confinement while I dealt with my disabled daughter’s needs, Crossfire has helped me replenish personal resources, spiritual and physical, I had sorely depleted. Even with ATVers, the canyon remains wild enough to rekindle the level of engagement at which I feel happiest. The prospect of being able to hike the canyon without ATV traffic—well, that drifts into the realm of my wildest dreams.

After my initial shouts of glee, I thought of my nearest neighbors, nearly all of whom are avid ATVers, devout Mormons and fellow ward members. Many are the offspring of pioneers who settled the area and built it up so that out-of-towners like me could move in and lose themselves to find themselves among the region’s geological wonders and some of the finest dark-sky views of the galaxy left in the United States. I knew the BLM’s unceremonious closure of one of my neighbors’ favorite ATV trails would outrage them. The possessiveness many feel toward the land goes well beyond the acreage they actually own. Individual and community identities extend along 60 mile radii to points on a three-hundred-and-sixty degree vista, taking in the Abajo Mountains, Elk Ridge and the Bear’s Ears, and expanses of desert shooting off into seeming indeterminacy east toward Colorado and south toward Arizona and New Mexico.

On September 15th, I walked with my daughter to the ATV trailhead into Crossfire to see if the closure had been posted. It had. On the way out, I ran into the BLM law enforcement officer assigned to enforce the closure. Also present were a couple of ladies of retirement age loading equipment into their vehicle and a gentleman of similar age with a camper and an assortment of dogs. The BLM law enforcement officer mentioned in passing the ladies were members of a group I assumed to be a hiking club. As I chatted with the officer, one of my LDS neighbors drove up in a pickup and asked what was going on. The BLM officer informed him of the canyon’s closure to OHVs. He proclaimed what a “bummer” that was, “because all this,” he said, with a sweeping gesture that took in the canyon and surrounding area, much of which is BLM land, “is more or less my backyard.” He left and met other neighbors mounted on ATVs. They sat talking three or four hundred feet away, discontentment rolling off them like heat waves off an Arizona highway.

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44 Responses to Crossfire Canyon: A study in conflict, part one

  1. Patricia Karamesines on September 26, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    Readers, feel free to comment, but since you won’t know how this story ends until parts two and parts three go up over the next couple days, you might want to wait till you read the full story to express opinions, etc.

    Since I’ve witnessed quite a lot of the ATVers vs. hikers vs. humans- have-no-business-intruding-on-other-species’-spaces advocates and seen how ineffectual such language is, I beg you, dear readers, to please refrain from wrestling over such tar babies. If we could keep the discussion focused on stewardship, progress, and what we can learn from this story, that would be especially nice.

  2. Adam Greenwood on September 26, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Looking forward to the follow-up posts.

  3. Kaimi Wenger on September 26, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    Good questions, Patricia.

    For my Eagle scout project, we worked on repairing a desert wash that had been torn up pretty badly by ATV riders. We planted plants, removed debris, seeded the ground.

    Several of the boys in the ward were regular ATV riders. They went and found a few _huge_ rocks, and positioned them at various points in the wash, designed to disrupt any potential ATV use. They were very possessive about the wash once they had participated in fixing it up — and knew all too well that it would likely be trashed again. It was interesting to see the boys (who had doubtless torn up their shares of desert land) taking all the steps they could think of to protect this particular spot.

  4. kevinf on September 26, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    I am interested in how this plays out. First, because I love the deserts of Southern Utah, especially now that I live in somewhat damp Western Washington.

    I am reminded of D&C 107:17, which says: “For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.”

    I’ve heard this phrase used in defense of not being good stewards of the earth. I’ve always looked at the second half, where we are reminded that we are agents, or as I interpret it, accountable for our actions in relation to God’s creations.

    There seems to be in Utah, continuing since I moved some 14 years ago, a sense of entitlement or ownership of public lands, and that all public lands ought to be used by all. Once you begin to understand the delicacy of desert ecosystems, ie the cryptobiotic soils, erosion, the effects of large animal grazing, you begin to see that it is indeed very fragile, and it doesn’t bounce back the way a bent piece of grass will in a forest meadow.

    It has been suggested that no ground water in the west is safe for drinking unfiltered anymore due to the spread of the giardia parasite. that in turn is spread by may animals, including deer and beaver, but the major culprit in spreading across large areas of the west is the grazing of cattle and sheep on public lands. In the mountains of Northern Utah, a few acres is all that are required in many instances to support a single cow. In the Southern Utah deserts, that increases to many square miles to support the same cow. They have to range over much larger areas to find forage and water. Most individual or family ranching operations could not afford to privately own that much land, so they became dependent on public grazing rights, and in my view, began to regard those public lands as their own, and not belonging to everyone, including the hiker.

    It’s a difficult topic, and not easily resolved. I still remember hearing of the Grand County Commissioners bulldozing a road into a proposed wilderness area, so they could claim it as not qualifying for designation as wilderness, and thus have exclusive rights to continue grazing. These were the elected officials, and if I recall correctly, charges were brought up, then dropped, over that incident.

  5. kevinf on September 26, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    “That in turn is spread by many animals”

    The longer the comment, the worse dyslexia typing my becomes. :)

  6. Adam Greenwood on September 26, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    “It’s a difficult topic, and not easily resolved.”

    None of that difficulty is evident in your very one-sided comment.

  7. Jacob M on September 26, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    “There seems to be in Utah, continuing since I moved some 14 years ago, a sense of entitlement or ownership of public lands, and that all public lands ought to be used by all.”

    Well, they are public lands, after all. Are you suggesting that only some of the public should be allowed to go to these lands?

  8. California Condor on September 26, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    I’m anti-ATV. They should be banned for the noise pollution alone.

  9. Patricia Karamesines on September 26, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    Kaimi, where did you manage/participate in this eagle project? Why did you choose such a project? Did you announce it, or post the area? How did people react to it? Did the local newspapers take any note of it? Have you revisited the project area since?

    Inquiring minds want to know. A meaningful success, no matter how small, is like other kinds of good news — it expands the possibilities. And that’s what I’m interested in here — people who have experienced success in changing the way things are done and thereby increased the choices for anyone interested in that particular problem. I have no expertise in range science or ecosystem management or anything like that and can’t offer folks much directly.

    You can bet I’m going to be down in that canyon over the next six months to a year keeping track of the changes it undergoes in my amateurish way. I guess that means more field notes. (Gasp! Oh no!)

  10. kevinf on September 26, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    Adam,

    Well, perhaps. I just was trying to point out some of the reasons behind why these issues about land use in Southern Utah are so highly emotional. You’re right, I tend to fall on the side the environment on these, but it’s hard to find the green movement equivalent of bulldozing a road into a wilderness study area.

    And, I suspect, this is one of those tar babies that we were warned about by Patricia. So I repent, and let me return to the topic of stewardship.

    I like Kaimi’s example of how his Eagle Scout project changed some perspective on the part of his ATV riding friends. We recently completed a stake-wide major clean-up service project on the chapels in our stake, and there has been a noticeable change in how members, both adult and youth treat the buildings and grounds. Accountability is the part of stewardship that helps us to keep our perspective.

    I believe that the stewardship over the earth, given first to Adam, and thus to us, is a responsibility to care for and nurture it. That verse in D&C 104 tells me there is enough there if we are careful stewards, but all bets are off if we foul our own nest. Anymore than that, and I start smelling tar on my fingers, so I’ll pull back.

  11. kevinf on September 26, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Jacob M,

    Tar Baby alert. We do already have differentiated uses of public lands to begin with. The rules for a National Park use are certainly more restrictive than a National Forest, or BLM lands. I can’t pitch a tent and expect to stay in a city park without permissions, or decide that since I am part of the public that I can fence off a portion of a county park beach on the lake and keep it for my exclusive use.

    I’m only trying to point out that the least restrictive designations of public lands, of which BLM certainly qualifies, sometimes does put us at odds with multiple uses, and can lead to long term negative results.

  12. kevinf on September 26, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    Patricia, my apologies if I have gotten off on the wrong foot here. I read your last comment, and now have a different take on your post. Kaimi’s story is probably more of what you were looking for, and I’ll try and post at least one similar success story.

  13. Kaimi Wenger on September 26, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Patricia,

    It was park land. Part of Usery Mountain Park (a state park), I’m pretty sure (though the parks kinda run into each other out there and I’m not 100% sure we weren’t across the border onto other state land). [Edit: Actually, I think we might have been in part of Tonto National Forest. It all kinda blends out there.]

    I had been looking for ideas for an Eagle project — we looked into painting a playground for a school, which another kid had done, but that would be complicated and require permissions and supplies and stuff.

    Meanwhile, a guy in my ward was good friends with a park ranger, who mentioned to him that several parts of the park had been trashed by ATV riders, and that the rangers didn’t really have the manpower to try to restore them all. This created all kinds of problems — erosion would further damage the land if it was left like that. The park rangers had seeds for replanting, but didn’t have bodies.

    A deal was struck.

    I was the first one to do it, in our ward. We went out to the spot ahead of time, the ranger showed us where he wanted us to go to. He was hoping we’d get 75 yards of it fixed up.

    We went out there with the boys. We picked up seeds from the rangers, and we brought some tools — rakes and shovels and the like — to replant where needed, and to seed, and to gather up the trash, and so on. And we had fifteen boys, and a big jug of kool aid, and a few king-sized packages of hot dogs.

    We spent all morning in the desert, and ended up fixing up about three times as much as the ranger had expected. It was a lot of fun. We took pictures, and submitted them to the committee so that I got my Eagle.

    I left the ward a year later for my mission, and didn’t stay long afterwards, either. But from what I understand, this was the first piece in what became a great working relationship between the park rangers, and the ward and other wards in the stake. These projects were relatively easy, helpful, didn’t require money or permits or other things. And when a boy needed an Eagle project, he could always check with the ranger. There were a _lot_ of places the park needed work. So many other boys in the stake ended up doing similar projects.

    There wasn’t any newspaper mention. (I don’t know if any later projects got any newspaper attention.)

    I went back after my mission, a few years after the project, and looked over the area. It looked good. Plants were growing. It wasn’t trashed.

    I went back again to look at it, just a few years ago — just about fifteen years after the project. And here’s the best news of all:

    I couldn’t find the spot. Not at all. I just couldn’t tell it apart from the rest of the desert.

  14. Patricia Karamesines on September 26, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    kevinf, what’s the saying? No harm, no foul?

    I’ve read here and there that the church and others have adoped state of the art cattle ranching that causes much less impact on the environment. If anybody out there knows something about this and can cue us in, that’d be great.

    Of course, raising cattle comes with many problems, some of which lie along slopes so steep that some concerned citizens, like animal activists, can’t negotiate them at all. Rather than trace the problem backwards into seemingly bottomless chasms of old wrongs, I’d like to just talk about what’s changed, what’s worked out better and why. My bottom line: There’s always a way, sometimes simpler than we might think, to solve problems and engage progress.

  15. a random John on September 26, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    I’d like my street to be declared a no ATV zone! Every weekend it is a constant stream of kids as young as five racing up and down the street all day long.

  16. Patricia Karamesines on September 26, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    Woo-hoo, Kaimi! Great story. I’ll read it to my kids, who will be happy to hear such a tale, and one of them’s up for an Eagle project. He was looking at a book drive for a new children’s library on the Ute rez south of us, but it looks like the library’s hung up in paperwork.

    Some folks in my area would find a project that attempted to erase their presence in the area somewhat arrogant, but there are probably ways around that.

  17. Patricia Karamesines on September 26, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    arJ, IMO, sooner or later that behavior will change. Probably your city or town has noise ordinances and laws governing ATV use.

    We live on a rural, dead end road with the field across the street and the one immediately east of us occupied by colonies of Gunnison prairie dogs. The locals have long been in the habit of driving out here and shooting the prairie dogs from their vehicles, which means they shoot from a moving vehicle (against the law) on a public road (also against the law) and within 600 ft. of a residence (three strikes). When a bullet, probably a ricochet, hit the ground 30 feet away from where I was standing one morning, we decided it was time to try to get the law enforced.

    Once, my husband caught up with a truckload of youngsters who were shooting from their vehicle with a shotgun and then went up the street and set up high-powered rifles at the edge of the road and started shooting across a popular hiking trail. When my husband asked them to abide by the relevant laws, they said, “But this is the way we’ve always done it.”

    That phrase, “But this is the way we’ve always done it,” lies at the bottom of many a failure of imagination.

  18. Patricia Karamesines on September 26, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    Oh, CC, #8: “They should be banned for the noise pollutions alone.”

    I’ll bet there are ways to make quieter ATVs. I’ve never ridden one and don’t know anything about the differences in makes, models, etc., but as I’ve shared the desert with them I’ve noticed some are definitely noisier than others and I’ve assumed they were made to be noisier. There are certainly louder motorcycles and quieter motorcycles. If ATVs were quieter, that might win them some brownie points.

  19. Sonny on September 26, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    What exactly is proper “stewardship of the land”? From my perspective, there are very differing opinions, from one political extreme to another. Most of us I believe fall somewhere in between, but some people will feel that ATVs are sheer evil and have no place in a natural setting while others feel they have a right to ride anywhere on public land.

  20. Bob on September 26, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    I was in the Yosemite Valley a few weeks ago..it’s getting better! I have been going there for over 50 years. The thing is, everything I think improved it, was a BIG fight: No camping in the valley, no campfires, fewer places to stay, more places to eat, fewer places to park ( lot of free trams).

    You can now camp outside the valley and have your fire in better campgrounds, the new Lodges or hotels, are over the top, and just a few miles outside the Valley. There is no more bumper to bumper traffic, most of the cars are parked in two or three lots. People just walk or tram.

    Yet, it still fills the needs of Millions of Nature lovers and their kids. Yes, some still say it have being turned in to a Disneyland ( it always was), but for millions of kids..it is the only ‘ Nature Miracle ‘, they will ever see.

  21. Travis on September 26, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    I think it bears noting 1) that the BLM has an astonishingly poor track record with regard to protecting the environment (being nicknamed the Bureau of Livestock and Mining only slightly exaggerates their failures in this regard), so I’m inclined to think the situation must have been pretty bad to prompt their intervention. Hence, I’m 100% supportive of the imposed restrictions. And 2) the use-restriction doesn’t limit who can use the land, just how it is used. ATV enthusiasts can still access the canyon like everyone else. They just have to get off their lazy, noisy, destructive rear ends to do it. So, I’m persuaded they deserve little sympathy in this case.

    And, yes, I think there is ample evidence that most Utah Mormons, to the shame of all, have a record of environmental responsibility almost as poor as that of the BLM, Our political leanings alone are very telling in this regard, since the overwhelming majority of Utah Mormons are republicans and avid supporters of an administration that has arguably done more harm directly and indirectly to the environment than perhaps any other presidency. We seem to vote as if the only moral issues in contemporary politics are those that involve sex–abortion and homosexuality, in particular. Thus, the appalling lack of health care for the poor, frightening environmental abuses, an abyssmally low minimum wage, corporate excesses and corruption, an unjust war, etc., are not considered moral issues for such voters, and the political party that does consider them moral issues is labelled by most Utah Mormons an immoral political party simply because it is generally gay friendly and pro-choice. There is something very suspect about such a morality.

  22. Patricia Karamesines on September 26, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    Sonny, #19: “What exactly is proper ‘stewardship of the land’? From my perspective, there are very differing opinions, from one political extreme to another. Most of us I believe fall somewhere in between, but some people will feel that ATVs are sheer evil and have no place in a natural setting while others feel they have a right to ride anywhere on public land.”

    One of the points I’m heading toward is that concepts of stewardship are due for major remodeling in nearly every neighborhood where they can be found. As I’ve written before, our species — humankind — doesn’t really know what’s going on on this planet yet; furthermore, the awkwardness we demonstrate when out in nature is an extension of the awkwardness and confusion we exhibit toward each other. Any ideas we form about stewardship are likely to change as we learn more about what other species need and what they’re doing; in the meantime, we ought to try to determine what the best information is and how to act upon it, looking forward to doing even better one day. Also, as deeper understanding of our own species unfolds, as we progress and overcome errors of human relation — places where we’ve cliched ourselves, commercialized and exploited ourselves, so on and so forth, we’ll see new ways to relate to other species and help them do whatever they need to do.

  23. Russell Arben Fox on September 26, 2007 at 10:03 pm

    …since the overwhelming majority of Utah Mormons are Republicans and avid supporters of an administration that has arguably done more harm directly and indirectly to the environment than perhaps any other presidency.

    Where’s the evidence for this? (Not the majority Utah support for Bush part; the “more harm…than perhaps any other presidency” part.) I’m no fan of Bush (an unapologetic wo-time Nader voter here), and I’m fairly green (though not particularly Green, if you catch my meaning), but even I can spot the hyperbole here. There hasn’t been a single American president, Republican or Democrat, since the rise of the modern environmental movement that has had a truly admirable and informed ecological agenda, so holding up Bush as “arguably” the worst of them all, considering that they’re all a lousy bunch, is just silly. (The only president from the past 50 years that seemed to have some genuine environmental conservatism in him was Richard Nixon, and all the good things he did were, I think, outweighed by the atrocious affects his agricultural policies had on rural ecosystems and watersheds.)

    Sorry, off-topic rant. I promise I’ll confine myself to stewardship questions from here on out.

  24. Patricia Karamesines on September 26, 2007 at 10:13 pm

    Bob, #20. Interesting news about Yosemite Valley. I wonder if battles are the only way to change things. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. For instance, what has happened to education’s role in enabling change? Anybody know if BYU has an environmental science program yet? I know UVSC (or whatever it’s called now) has a fledgling program, as well as Westminster in SLC. If I could, I’d get a degree in environmental science.

    “Yes, some still say it have being turned in to a Disneyland ( it always was), but for millions of kids..it is the only ‘ Nature Miracle ‘, they will ever see.”

    Kids and nature — a good match. I grew up in rural VA and am deeply grateful I had as much exposure to nature as I did. I moved my kids to the Utah desert so they would have opportunities for the sort of wonder at the differences of and experience with other species I had.

    We have done things a certain way thus far — built certain kinds of cities and invested in particular patterns of architecture, found certain ways to get around, developed routes for providing food, etc., but just because we’ve done things in those ways doesn’t mean they’re the only ways to do them or that we ought to settle. There’s better stuff out there.

  25. Patricia Karamesines on September 26, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Travis, #21: “So, I’m persuaded they deserve little sympathy in this case.”

    The topic isn’t sympathy; the topic is change and how to accomplish it. Keep Off the Tar Babies!

    The way you’ve connected my partial story to all social (Mormon) ills interests me. Now that you’ve gotten all that off your chest, have you participated in any program that enabled you to act upon your concept of stewardship or helped you to improve it? Have you seen Mormons or any other group or individual take steps you thought inspired and that created a new way to relate to and move through the, well, Creation?

    There is something to the process you engaged in where you drew your dot-to-dot picture. All these things _are_ connected, but not, perhaps, in the way you lined them up. See my comment # 22.

    We can play the blame game all night; I guarantee, that’s a game nobody will win. I’d rather play the change game. It’s more fun, exciting, and while it starts out scary, it gets exhilarating fast.

    As for you, RAF–nice, even-handed rant. Are we done now?

  26. Bob on September 26, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    #24: For John Muir, the Yosemite Valley was his home and his love. But he also saw it as the biggest sales campaign Nature could put on. He brought Kings, Presidents, city folks, kids, the Rich, the powerful…all to see Nature. He knew nothing could sale Nature like Nature. Nothing could save Nature, like these people smelling it. To him, that was his and Yosemite’s ‘calling’.

  27. Patricia Karamesines on September 26, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Bob, excellent.

  28. a random John on September 26, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    Patricia,

    We’ve called the cops. More than once. Guess how much they care. This is the middle of Sandy.

  29. tom on September 27, 2007 at 2:31 am

    hi you all
    we live in east tennessee and in less than ten min. from our house you can be so deep in the trees you cant see people or hear anything but forest. our branch covers three counties one of which contains a national forest. while our mountains are not as tall as out west they sure are green
    we dont have the impact of so many people at this point so our “wild” is still good.
    come visit and we can go up in the mountains and pan for gold

  30. mlu on September 27, 2007 at 4:43 am

    I don’t mind ATVs, except when they’re misused. It’s the nature lovers and their McMansions all through the woods that I find bothersome. Everyone wants their Walden or their shack on the Wisconsin River. Maybe we need restrictions on reading Thoreau and Leopold.

    Stewardship of the land seems often linked to dislike of other humans. No more houses with front porches facing the street, where we can sit outside enjoying people watching. Instead, private refuges with odd little satellite dishes to beam in electronic simulacra of persons. . .

    I used to belong to Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and a few other such outfits, but over the years I’ve dropped out and developed an expectation of being annoyed when someone starts down the environmental route.

    This post sounds as though it might not go the usual places, so I’ll stay tuned.

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the backcountry with people passionate about “nature” whose sense of stewardship I don’t trust. In the long run, I’ll side with people who love other people. Lots of loggers I know qualify.

    Of course people with ATVs shouldn’t wreck ancient sites. But still, the ATV isn’t the problem.

  31. Adam Greenwood on September 27, 2007 at 8:59 am

    the BLM has an astonishingly poor track record with regard to protecting the environment (being nicknamed the Bureau of Livestock and Mining only slightly exaggerates their failures in this regard),

    I work with the BLM professionally, often on behalf of ranchers and miners, and I can only wish this were true. It isn’t.

  32. Patricia Karamesines on September 27, 2007 at 10:16 am

    mlu # 30: “I don’t mind ATVs, except when they’re misused. It’s the nature lovers and their McMansions all through the woods that I find bothersome. Everyone wants their Walden or their shack on the Wisconsin River. Maybe we need restrictions on reading Thoreau and Leopold.”

    Heh heh. I think it’s about more than going to the woods because they want to live life deliberately in McMansions of self-contradiction, don’t you? I think folks crave that link with nature but don’t know how to go about it. Not many people do, really. Not yet. But have faith.

    “Stewardship of the land seems often linked to dislike of other humans. No more houses with front porches facing the street, where we can sit outside enjoying people watching. Instead, private refuges with odd little satellite dishes to beam in electronic simulacra of persons. . .”

    In these comments, the term “stewardship” is proving itself to be amazingly mercurial, which is one of the problems in the language surrounding people and place that I’m interested it. Obviously, like any other term, phrase, or slogan, it can be trotted out to support whatever underdeveloped or overblown agenda people want it to. I agree that dislike of other people lurks behind some uses of the idea of “taking care of the Earth.” See my comment #22.

    “I used to belong to Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and a few other such outfits, but over the years I’ve dropped out and developed an expectation of being annoyed when someone starts down the environmental route.”

    Me, if I had the time and energy, I’d join both the ATVers (if they’d take someone without an ATV) and SUWA (or Sierra Club or whatever) and work with the angsts of both groups, which I’d bet would bear remarkable resemblances to each other’s. But I’m not here any more. Too much to do at home.

  33. Patricia Karamesines on September 27, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Tom, # 29: I appreciate your southern hospitality. I know something whereof you speak. Grew up in VA, myself. Had similar seas of green to go swimmin’ in.

  34. Patricia Karamesines on September 27, 2007 at 10:26 am

    # 28 arJ: 1) Make friends with a cop; 2) Work for change in accordance with your energy level and best abilities; 3) Move.

    #3 is what we did when we became too overwhelmed to do anything else.

  35. Sonny on September 27, 2007 at 10:54 am

    “Me, if I had the time and energy, I’d join both the ATVers (if they’d take someone without an ATV) and SUWA (or Sierra Club or whatever) and work with the angsts of both groups”

    I think this is a healthy and refreshing attitude that, I believe, is sorely missing between opposing groups on environmental issues. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t see a lot of preemptive dialogue going on that may find solutions that benefit all parties.

  36. Jim Cobabe on September 27, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    I stood at the edge of a spectacular green glade one day, in a remote area of the John Day wilderness in central Oregon. Marveling at the subtle sounds of nature — the wind whispering through the pines, insects humming, birds singing. Then, intruding on the edge of my attention, a growing sound of discord. Eventually a pack of half dozen ATV riders plunged through an opening in the trees at the meadow’s edge and ripped across the muddy flats, one after another, engines screaming and wheels tearing. Apparently without a thought to what they were doing, in a space of less than five minutes, they opened a scarred and muddy trail through the center of the wet grassy meadow that most likely will not be erased, not in a hundred years.

    After wounding the earth beyond repair, they went speeding away into the trees over the next ridge. None of them even paid a backward glance.

  37. Jim Cobabe on September 27, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    The multi-use dilemma is virtually impossible for government agencies to solve. Judging from my friends in the business, very few people join the BLM hoping to serve as a policeman. Public land management agencies have long seen this need, but are slow to respond, in part because it has never before been such an explicit part of their mission, and also because is a particularly unpleasant and thankless task.

    Those of us who work in the wilderness would rather not be burdened with the consequences of ignorant and careless visitors and users of these areas. How long we have vainly hoped that they would just go somewhere else.

  38. Sonny on September 27, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    “After wounding the earth beyond repair, they went speeding away into the trees over the next ridge”

    To be fair, don’t you think this is a bit of an overstatment? Beyond repair?

  39. Patricia Karamesines on September 27, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    #36 Jim Cobabe, Welcome back from the mountains! I’m glad you dropped by to read and rant.

    “After wounding the earth beyond repair, they went speeding away into the trees over the next ridge. None of them even paid a backward glance.”

    When I returned to Crossfire a little over a week after its closure, I was surprised by changes that had already taken place. In the canyon bottom was a single set of ATV tracks, but on parts of another trail where there has been no traffic, rain, wind, plants and gravity had already begun the work of eroding/tearing down/overgrowing the trail. In places where the trail passes through rabbit brush, big plants were stretching healthy stalks across the way, forming a fragrant, flowering gate I had to push open to pass through. Nobody had been driving through them, breaking them off. In swampy spring bottoms, plants were filling in the ruts. I realized that in a year, when the supposed temporary closure is supposed to end, parts of the trail will have already become overgrown. Who knows, some stirring and stress might even have stimulated plant development.

    Furthermore, I was struck by other changes, changes I don’t have words for, because I can’t tell yet where my changed perspective of the canyon — changed because it’s closed now — leaves off and the canyon’s actual new and improved atmosphere begins. Since I’ve spent many hours in that canyon, especially in one part of it, I’m excited to document what differences I’m able to perceive.

    “Those of us who work in the wilderness would rather not be burdened with the consequences of ignorant and careless visitors and users of these areas. How long we have vainly hoped that they would just go somewhere else.”

    Sticks and stones, Jim — IMO, primitive rhetorical tools. Can’t you come up with more progressive and effective ways of discussing differences than ornery labeling?

  40. Stephen M (Ethesis) on September 27, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    “no ground water in the west is safe for drinking unfiltered anymore due to the spread of the giardia parasite. that in turn is spread by may animals, including deer and beaver, but the major culprit in spreading across large areas of the west” is tourists who managed to contaminate the entire American watersheds, north and south. Sigh.

    Otherwise, these land use conflicts are fascinating, especially since I retain a DR interest as a hobby.

    “The multi-use dilemma is virtually impossible for government agencies to solve.”

    The problem is access, the different qualities of experience and money.

    I used to windsurf. But you know, powered watercraft are a blast as well. They both induce different mental/emotional states that you can’t reach with the other. I’ve only used a jet ski once, but I was impressed. There are places I could go and things I could do in hours that would take a week end to windsurf.

    I’m looking forward to the next essay.

  41. Jim Cobabe on September 27, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    I was surprised by changes that had already taken place.

    Natural healing potential is not the issue. I suppose that if humans became extinct tomorrow, the earth would restore itself to pristine condition in short order.

    The problem is the repetitive and cumulative impact of a few careless or ignorant ATV operators. Newly created, an obvious trail across the pristine meadow attracts more traffic. Others will follow, some with the assumption that where a machine has gone before, it is okay for them to also rock-n-roll.

    Many of us who have watched this happening are appalled, more responsible ATV operators included. Land-use managers stand virtually helpless in the face of such rapid destructive power. In just a few minutes, a troop of ATVs can wreak almost unimaginable havoc.

    Certainly, the scars would heal — left alone, given sufficient time. We even help repair the damage in a few instances where it is obvious and egregious enough to raise public concern. But we can’t keep up with the pace of wounds so casually inflicted by a few careless irresponsible machine operators.

    I am probably more easily offended by wilderness closures than most. Some of my favorite spots on the San Rafael Swell have been closed for years. I often sympathize with the frustrated few who spent their bullets and shotgun blasts on the closure notice signs the BLM keeps posting.

    But I can clearly see the other side of the argument as well.

  42. kevinf on September 27, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Stephen M, # 40

    Giardia outbreaks that we hear about usually are the result of municipal water supplies being contaminated, and in some areas, such as the Rio Grande River drainage, sewage plant discharges are probably the most likely source.

    However, ground and surface water in the back country, rural areas, and others away from large concentrations of people are a little different. If you want to say that man is the source, well, that could be correct. Humans have long had Giardia and other intestinal parasites, but as they moved West in the 19th century, humans brought their animals with them, and grazing increased in mountains and deserts. Cattle that have been infected then have their feces washed into lakes and streams, where beavers, deer, feral pigs, and the occasional hiker/backpacker then drink the unfiltered water, and thus spread the disease.

    Point of Patricia’s post, though, is about resolving conflicts. I loved Kaimi’s Eagle Scout project as an example. My own experience in scouting did include planting trees, doing trail restoration, and other kinds of restoration activities. Sadly, though, my recent experience in seeing Eagle Scout projects here in Western Washington have been driven more towards raising the visibility of scouting in the local communities where BSA raises money. As a result, a young man that I was acquainted with had come up with a scheme to get donations of obsolete (in our country, anyway) medical equipment, get it cleaned up and repaired, then send it to various 3rd world countries where it is still a step above their current levels of medical technology. His project was turned down by the local BSA council as not doing anything for the local community. Urban trail restoration is more likely to get approval than something in the Cascade back country.

    I wish I could say that I have seen more cooperative efforts to resolve conflicts like Patricia describes, but unfortunately, it seems that both sides are hardening their positions. Here, it seems that Salmon habitat preservation and restoration runs into the intense pressures for development.

    We had some recent good news with reclaiming a stream that runs near, but not adjacent to our home. Shade, gravel beds, native vegetation and other restoration work has returned the stream to something resembling its former state, but the zones around it have now been designated wildlife sanctuaries, including my yard. I don’t have any direct problems with it, but there are costs. I’ve seen coyotes on my morning jog in our residential neighborhood near Microsoft’s campus, including one with a small cat in it’s jaws. I tried to frighten it off, but it ran through a backyard into the area near the stream, never dropping the cat. I now look at the missing pet signs that go up around our neighborhood on fences and mailboxes with a different perspective.

    Humans and nature don’t always co-exist peacefully.

  43. greenfrog on September 27, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    “…stewardship…”

    I think for this sense to arise, one must form a relationship to the land. In my life, at least, those kinds of relationships form best with the least degree of intermediation between me and the land. Perhaps some can make that connection from the seat of an ATV (and I affirmatively love bombing along dirt trails on ATVs), but I find that when I’m astride an ATV, the relationship I form is with the ATV, not with the earth.

    Kaimi’s project seems like the perfect opportunity to make that sort of connection.

    Unlike his admirable model of stewardship, my own lesson came from a Boy Scout campout I went on as a kid. We were in the backwoods of eastern Maryland, and a group of us (unaccompanied by an adult, as will become obvious in a moment) meandered through the woods and came upon a pond. By the side of the pond was a pile of several dozen old tires. We promptly began hurling the tires into the pond, spinning ourselves Olympic-hammer-event-style, to see who could make the biggest splash.

    After pitching all but three or four of the tires into the pond, another scout troop came up to us, highly dismayed. Their leader informed us that they had just spent that morning fishing the tires out of the pond as a part of an Eagle project to clean it up.

    So my troop splashed our way into the pond and had as much fun fishing the tires out as we’d had flinging them in.

    We ended the day with a little bit more sense of stewardship than we’d started with.

  44. James Francisco on October 2, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    re: #42: Kevin, Eagle Scout projects are required by BSA national policy to be of benefit to the local community. This is something that is specifically outlined in Eagle Scout requirement #5. While your young friend’s idea has merit, it does not meet that requirement. The Chief Seattle Council had no choice in the matter. When you state that “Urban trail restoration is more likely to get approval than something in the Cascade back country,” that is a truth for the Cheif Seattle Council, which is an urban council. However, projects out in the back country do get approved in Western Washington. Councils in Everett, Kennewick, Spokane, and Tacoma approve back country projects regularly because the back country is a part of their local communities.

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