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The Wyoming PLI — one small step for man

October 21, 2018 GMT

This past week something extraordinary happened — the public actually won a small battle for the public in public lands. After years of squabbling The Teton County Board of Commissioners voted not to forward land-designation language onto the Wyoming County Commissioners Association.

This means that they will not be recommending that controversial Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) near the Idaho/Wyoming border be made permanent Wilderness — thus banning access for mountain bikers, snowmachiners, motorcyclists and others.

This may be one small step for some outdoor enthusiasts, but it’s one giant leap for public access. A decade ago locking up more land in restrictive designations in a place like Teton County would have been a fait accompli by the time it got to public input. Now, not so much. When it comes to what the public expects of public lands the tide appears to be changing.

It’s about time.

WSA’s, for those unfamiliar, are areas set aside for study as potential Wilderness areas. Wilderness areas must be legislated into existence by Congress — something that is relatively difficult to accomplish. Wilderness Study Areas, however, may be designated at the agency-level — a much easier process. WSAs have been used for years to lock up large swaths of the West in de facto Wilderness areas without having to clear the relatively high bar of congressional approval. It’s Wilderness by bureaucratic fiat.

I have to give a lot of credit to the mountain biking community for coming around on the Wilderness issue. I know that this is a tough one for a lot of those folks. But the recognition that Wilderness means “them too” has galvanized a segment of that community into joining with the rest of the multiple use community to push back on overly restrictive designations for public lands.

I want to also give a shout to AMPL — Advocates for Multiple Use of Public Lands (https://amplcommunity.org/) — who’ve done a marvelous job of standing up for responsible multiple-use recreation while separating themselves from extractive interests.

One of the favorite smears environmentalists like to use against recreationists is that we are in league with those who profit from the rape, pillage and plunder of public lands. It’s BS, but it works among their crowd when unprofessional psychological bad-mouthing just won’t do.

For many years the environmental/preservationist communities have enjoyed a run of victories in locking up large swaths of public lands from the public. Wilderness designations, National Monuments, and Endangered Species protections have all been used to keep the public out of the lands that they pay to maintain — often on the flimsiest of pretenses.

Many wilderness areas have few actual wilderness characteristics. Some endangered species no longer exist in their native environments and have achieved protected status in areas where they would not naturally thrive.

Since bulldozing one’s own home for grizzly bear habitat restoration seems to be just plain off the table I reckon that Plan B is to go after everyone else. And I think that increasingly many Americans see things in these terms.

If you purport to be a defender of the natural world (whatever that means exactly) above all else, well, knock yourself out. But don’t expect the rest of us ignore the hypocrisy as you pontificate from the comfort of a home that sits on land that used to be in a much more “natural” state.

If you live in a house, drive a car, use energy or gripe, moan and complain about the rest of us via electronic media you are part of the problem. And the more that you try to have public lands your way while still enjoying all of the perks of modern living made possible by beating nature into submission the less attention the rest of the world is beginning to pay you.

A trend I thoroughly endorse, just in case you were wondering.

Associated Press and Idaho Press Club award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer, consultant and retired Idaho State University faculty member who now spends his time happily raising three children, llama farming, and riding mountain bikes and motorcycles.