"Hey, what are you doing here? This is my trail, and no mountain bikes are allowed on it! Oh no, there's a cow pie right in the middle of my mountain bike trail. It will get all over me! Yuk! What is that horrible noise? It must be an ATV; no, it's a motor bike! Oh no, a Jeep, I thought those were banned. There should be a law against those guys ruining my forest experience. Oh no, I just heard a gunshot. That scares me,and just think of the poor animal they are shooting at. That is so wrong. Woodsman, spare that tree! My forest should be protected from all those crass people destroying what I like."
That is not a comedy routine. It is the real everyday thinking of much of our populace regarding the public lands and forests. The public land agencies have been told to focus on visual impacts and recreation. That, of course, is impossible without pandering to each individual interest group, playing one against the other, all at the expense of the rest, and neglecting management of the resources.
This used to not always be a problem, so what has happened? Here in Colorado, the problem started in 1876 at statehood when the eastern Congress unconstitutionally withheld over a third of the lands from the new state. Those lands just happened to contain the highest level minerals, timber and water known at the time. Following were several congressional acts that built on the unconstitutional base. The lands were later declared to be national forests, held for all the public to benefit from, not just Colorado. Interesting that eastern states have more control over the resources in Colorado than we do, but we have no control over any eastern state. It troubles me that the eastern power structure controls if and how we can use our own resources and live our lives.
The controversy we currently have over our public land use would not have happened if the Constitution had been adhered to from the beginning. It also would not have happened if the Forest Service had continued to manage and develop the forest resource under conservation principles of wisely using and producing the greatest good for the greatest number.
Today we have a generation that does not realize that all the lands and resources were afforded to us by our Creator, to till, use, enhance to provide for our food, shelter and economy. It was a joy to be able to work as long as possible to provide for our family and help our neighbor. Instead, the goal of the majority today is to retire from work as young as possible, so they can spend their time and plastic money indulging in consumptive pleasures instead of producing for the future. For some reason, they think it is the federal government's responsibility to provide entertainment and pleasure for them, when, where and how they choose. They do not want to be responsible for their own lives, actions and futures.
Don't get me wrong; recreation and relaxation are very important; we all need that. The problem comes when some want their preferences to be ensured, at the expense of others and the natural resource that provides the work and economy for the others.
The public lands need to be intensely managed for their own future and to provide for the needs of the local area. This includes recreation as well as timber, water, fuel, food and other economic opportunity. This was done in the past and must be started again if Southwest Colorado is to survive economically and culturally. We all know that Denver, Boulder, etc., hardly know we exist and occasionally throw us a bone to keep us quiet. Washington only cares that we send them all our money. It is up to the counties to plan the future. We can do this by being in control of the management and development of our public lands and resources.
There can be wood product industries to use the dense forests instead of burning them up. There can be fuel for homes and businesses. There can be better hunting for both food and sport. There can be vast amounts of recreation opportunities developed, including bike trails for both motorized and non-motorized, ATV use, four-wheel drives, water and winter sports.
This area could be a major recreation destination point for all varied forms, while the resources are being developed and managed economically. The opportunities are limitless; the only sticker is, the counties must be in total control of the planning and implementation. Currently, the federal government is dictating planning and implementation parameters from Washington and the eastern-controlled Congress, who are directly influenced by international agendas, not local problems, issues and opportunities.
We are in very trying times. We need to all pull together to implement the shared liberty afforded us by our Creator to live our lives to the fullest and ensure our liberty does not infringe on our neighbors. We need to look to and plan for the future today. The first step is to have the state secure its constitutional and rightful ownership and control of its entire land jurisdiction. Along with that, have the state acknowledge that the local county commissions are designated under state law as responsible for the health, safety and welfare of the county and its residents. With that legal charge given them, the county commission must be the final authority in all land management actions within the county's jurisdiction.
Dexter Gill is a retired state and tribal forester who lives near Lewis.