Staff column: Contemplating land for wilderness of the future
My friend Silvio and I were sitting on top of Balanced Rock a few days ago, getting some fresh air and looking for signs of economic recovery below, when out of the blue he said, "I don't think I could hike through nine million acres in the time I have left."
The number rang a bell. "You're talking about Utah wilderness," I said.
"Yeah," he replied, "and I figure I've got maybe 20 hiking summers left to enjoy it and I don't think I could make it over that much land."
"Well, the argument isn't just about you, pard," I said. "There's lots of other hikers and campers out there, from what I hear."
"How many is lots? A thousand out there on any given day? That's 9,000 acres apiece. Ten thousand? That's still 900 apiece," he declared, warming up to the subject. "Thing about us hikers and backpackers is, we don't make noise and we don't need roads. So you could probably put all of us out there on three million acres and we'd never see nor hear each other except maybe at the trailheads or on the trail."
"So you're saying that we only need three million acres of wilderness?" I asked.
"No. We need nine million. Except we don't need nine million instantaneous acres. I've been doin' some higher dimensional thinking and it seems to me that we could get the nine mill forever if we settle for three mill per generation starting now. The whole point of time is that it keeps everything from happening all at once and it keeps any one thing from going on forever. We should take more advantage of time.
"Way I see it, nobody's ever recommended land for future wilderness. It's all about conservation and preservation of past and present. That's too conservative for me, and you know I'm a liberal."
I hadn't considered the idea of future wilderness. "So what you're saying is, you'd be going to someone like Salazar and telling him to get busy with the wild lands study so we'd know what would be perfect for wilderness, but don't lock it all up now."
"Exactly. Look, the country - meaning me - needs energy and jobs now. I need wilderness now, too. We can have both if we plan it out. So play it out in your head. The drillers drill and the pumpers pump and the miners mine on their temporary leases, and when they're done they leave for the next temporary leases. Meanwhile, they reclaim the land for the wilderness it was intended, ordained and established by act of Congress."
I was getting the point. "So the energy companies don't get all the land all at once, and the tree huggers don't get it all, either."
"And the beauty of it is, everybody gets it all, in the fourth dimension," Silvio beamed. "I think the gas people should leave a few well pads and access roads behind though. They make outstanding trailheads for us backpackers."
"What about the animals out there?" I asked.
"Well, when we're divvying up the land between present and future wilderness, we'll just have to avoid parceling out the land in straight lines. Let the biologists figure out what the habitat needs and respect those needs. I've seen deer and elk out by the gas rigs and so have you, so we're not talking about mass devastation anyway. You already wrote about the gas companies improving habitat out by Hiawatha."
"Archaeology, paleontology?" I prodded.
"We already got rules," he answered. "Science first, exploitation second."
Then he changed the subject, or so I thought.
"Been out to the Fairgrounds lately?" he began. "Seen the multimillion-dollar Senior Center, the Events Center, all the new rodeo stuff going in?"
"Sure," I said. "I can see them from up here."
"Well," Silvio declared triumphantly, "They're all built with mineral lease money from energy development. Other people see them as mere buildings. I see them as monuments to the concept of multiple use of public lands. Those monuments will be there when the energy companies are gone and the next generation of wilderness lovers take to the land that produced the money."