Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

The National Wilderness Preservation System, Part 3: The Promise of and a Promise to Wilderness

The National Wilderness Preservation System, Part 3: The Promise of and a Promise to Wilderness

Despite its imperfections, the Wilderness Act is a wonderful law, worth defending against all attacks and attackers.

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The Overcrowding of Public Lands

In early January 2018, the National Park Service instituted a new parking reservation system for Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco. Actually, it is more accurate to say “for Muir Woods National Monument in the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area (CSA).” The 554-acre national monument includes 240 acres of magnificent old-growth coast redwood forest. An estimated 1.2 million people visit each year, drawing mainly from the ~8.8 million and increasing humans of greater San Francisco. The mere 232 parking spaces just cannot handle the crowds anymore. It will now cost $8 per vehicle, along with the $10 entrance fee, to park your car if you want to take in Muir Woods. If you don’t plan far enough ahead, you might be able to catch a shuttle ($3) from downtown Sausalito, but those require reservations as well. Farewell, dear spontaneity.

  Mount  Hood from Lost Lake, which has not been lost for a very long time. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Mount Hood from Lost Lake, which has not been lost for a very long time. Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Though four presidents expanded Muir Woods National Monument after Theodore Roosevelt set aside the first 295 acres in 1908, the expansion of the monument has not kept up with the expansion of the nearby population. It’s not like there are adjacent stands of majestic old-growth coast redwoods next door just waiting for inclusion in the monument. Naturally, the coast redwood has a very limited range on Earth (about two million acres in a narrow strip from just south of Big Sur to just north of the Oregon-California border, with 95 percent having been clear-cut).

The National Park Service is doing similar rationing in Yosemite and Haleakala National Parks and is considering the same for Zion and Arches National Parks.

There are two overarching reasons to conserve, restore, and increase the acreage of public lands:

·      to provide for the adequate functioning of ecosystems and watersheds across the landscape (and seascape) and over time so as to provide the vital goods and services that only nature can provide to this and future generations

·      to allow this and future generations adequate opportunities to directly and indirectly engage in recreational (pronounced “re-creational”) pursuits that support and renew the mind, body, and soul

The former—the provision of adequate nature for ecosystem functioning—is extremely difficult but not impossible. The latter—the provision of adequate nature for recreation—is not only extremely difficult but also may be impossible if the human population continues to grow like cancer.

Providing Adequate Nature: Supply and Demand Problems

As to the amount of land and water humans need to conserve and restore in order to provide for nature and her vital goods and services, Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson makes a compelling case in his greatest book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. Wilson’s recommendations come through the lens of species requirements. To exist, species need what they need. It’s not negotiable.

Regarding the provision of adequate nature for recreation, it’s not so much a supply problem as a demand problem. Increasingly, there are too many humans seeking to recreate in the same places at the same time. To a degree, more public lands could be reclaimed for recreational purposes, but, hopefully, not at the expense of the first overarching reason. More national recreation areas should be established on public lands (here is a list of some that and could be established in Oregon) and more private lands should be reconverted to public lands upon which to put more recreation areas. However, demand for natural recreation areas outstrips supply both because demand is out of control and because supply is inherently limited.

In general, there are too many people on Earth for our own collective good, and it’s getting worse. Human population continues to further outstrip the long-term carrying capacity of air, water, and land—and even the human requirement for elbow room. Unless this growth is soon stopped and then reversed, all bets are off.

The supply of natural recreation areas is inherently limited by considerations of both proximity and uniqueness. Most humans live in cities, and there is only so much land and water that can be used for human recreation. While I benefit greatly from knowing that the vast Brooks Range in northern Alaska is there, I—and most others—won’t be visiting it. Instead we mostly tend to visit natural recreation areas closer to home. With regard to uniqueness, there is only one Mount Hood near the Portland-Vancouver-Salem, OR-WA CSA and only one Mount Rainier near the Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia, WA CSA. Conjuring up another Cascade peak to satisfy the demand for natural recreation is not possible.

Negotiating Increasingly Crowded Spaces

The Oregon I grew up in and am growing old in used to be a lot less crowded. Over the decades my enjoyment of natural recreation areas has been a negotiation, mainly in the form of strategic retreat and lowered expectations. For example, in my youth, one could reasonably expect a hot spring in the western Cascades, and certainly in Oregon’s Sagebrush Sea, to be uncrowded. Today, a visit to a forested hot spring near the Willamette Valley will be an overcrowded experience.

To get the solitude that to me and many others is a vital part of natural recreation, I started shifting my recreation in both time and space. For a while, if I went to hot springs during the week, and then late at night (or even better, early in the morning), and then finally in the dead of winter during heavy rains or snow, I could obtain the requisite solitude. There were also hot springs that were an eight- to ten-hour drive from the Willamette Valley, accessible by relatively poor roads, where I could find solitude. That worked for a while, but the crowds from LaBendmondville (aka the Bend-Pineville CSA)—which is nothing more or less than the present easternmost demographic extent of the Willamette Valley—discovered not only those hot springs but also those lava caves, fault-block ranges, post-Pleistocene lakes and other recreational attractants of Oregon’s Sagebrush Sea.

  In 2000, I helped persuade Congress to extend special protections to Steens Mountain (background). We tried to include the vast desolately enchanted landscape to the each, including Mickey Hot Springs (foreground), but had to settle for a mere mineral withdrawal. At least there will never be geothermal exploitation of Mickey and several other other springs.    Source: Bureau of Land Management.

In 2000, I helped persuade Congress to extend special protections to Steens Mountain (background). We tried to include the vast desolately enchanted landscape to the each, including Mickey Hot Springs (foreground), but had to settle for a mere mineral withdrawal. At least there will never be geothermal exploitation of Mickey and several other other springs. Source: Bureau of Land Management.

In response to increasing overpopulation, what came to Muir Woods will eventually be coming to a natural recreation area near and/or dear to you. But actually, reversing overpopulation is not that hard. If all those who wanted children would limit themselves to two, what is now out of control could soon be back in control.

Using the Bundys for Good: Finding the Silver Lining for Public Lands

Using the Bundys for Good: Finding the Silver Lining for Public Lands

Don’t tell anyone, but the more the Bundys—especially the patriarch, Cliven—talk, the better off are America’s public lands. This is true even if Cliven doesn’t again go off-script and full-on racist...

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Abuse of Process by the Bundys: Trying to Make the Law Fit Their Beliefs

Abuse of Process by the Bundys: Trying to Make the Law Fit Their Beliefs

Fresh on the heels of the dismissal of federal charges, Cliven Bundy has filed a new lawsuit against the federal government. The suit was filed on January 25, 2018, in the eighth judicial district in and for Clark County, Nevada.

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Bungling by the Bundys: A Sordid History of Defiance of the Rule of Law

[Note: The Bundy band represents both an existential threat and an existential opportunity for America’s public lands. This is the second of four Public Lands Blog posts that examine the government mishandling of the Bundys, the Bundys’ legal troubles, the Bundys’ legal troublemaking, and the opportunities for the conservation community to apply political jujitsu on Bundy et al. to advance the conservation of America’s public lands.]

The history of Cliven Bundy’s illegal livestock grazing in what is now Gold Butte National Monument is remarkable both for its duration and for the government foot-dragging and incompetence that has enabled it. The Center for Biological Diversity has published a detailed timeline of Bundy’s livestock lawlessness.

   
  
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     Listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1989, Agassiz’s desert tortoise ( Gopherus agassizii ) is an herbivore that grazes grasses, wildflowers, and other plants. Any plant material ingested by domestic livestock is not available for native wildlife. Too bad tortoises don’t wear cowboy hats.  Source: Wikipedia.

Listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1989, Agassiz’s desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is an herbivore that grazes grasses, wildflowers, and other plants. Any plant material ingested by domestic livestock is not available for native wildlife. Too bad tortoises don’t wear cowboy hats. Source: Wikipedia.

Cliven Bundy owes the federal government more than $1 million in civil penalties related to livestock trespass. (Historically, when Bundy did pay his federal grazing fee, he was an expert on government subsidies, as federal grazing fees cost the federal government at least $6 for every $1 generated in revenues.) Despite two court orders that such grazing is trespass and therefore illegal, Bundy bovines still illegally graze on federal public lands that have long been declared an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and more recently proclaimed as Gold Butte National Monument. What, if anything, will the Interior Department and its Bureau of Land Management do now?

Timeline of Livestock Trespass

The Bundy clan first began grazing their livestock on federal public lands in 1954, were granted their first federal grazing permit in 1973, and paid their paltry federal grazing fee until 1993, when they ended the practice. For 1994, Bundy sent the amount of his federal grazing fee to Clark County, Nevada, because in his worldview, the only true sovereign government is the county, not the state nor the federal government. Clark County refused the payment for lack of jurisdiction.

Two federal judges (in 1998 and 2013, a span of fifteen years) enjoined Bundy from illegally grazing his livestock on federal public lands. The BLM finally attempted to round up the illegal livestock in 2014. A few days after the agency started its roundup effort, heavily armed wackos converged on the Bundy compound and forced BLM officials to release the cattle at gunpoint.

All along, Bundy has been selling cattle from his herd illegally grazing on federal public lands.

Adding Injury to Insult: The Bundy Cattle and Desert Tortoise Conservation

In 1989, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) granted Endangered Species Act protection to the desert tortoise because of widespread destruction of its habitat due to livestock grazing, urbanization, and other factors.

In 1991, the FWS issued a draft Biological Opinion outlining guidelines to minimize grazing conflicts with desert tortoise conservation. At the request of the BLM, implementation was delayed until 1993, coincidentally the year Bundy stopped paying his grazing fee.

In 1998, a new BLM Resource Management Plan for the Las Vegas field office allowed for the closure of grazing allotments—including the infamous Bunkerville allotment, now illegally occupied by Bundy’s livestock—to aid desert tortoise conservation. Clark County, as part of mitigating the multiple habitat destruction sins of the urban blob of Las Vegas, paid several BLM federal grazing permittees to end their grazing. Bundy would have been eligible to receive a golden saddle payment from Clark County for his interest in the federal grazing allotment, but, alas, he had no permit, hence no interest.

   
  
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     The range of Agassiz’s desert tortoise in Nevada is mostly in Clark County.  Source:  Jennings and Berry, 2015 .

The range of Agassiz’s desert tortoise in Nevada is mostly in Clark County. Source: Jennings and Berry, 2015.

What to Do Now about the Trespassing Livestock

The BLM was clearly intimidated in the past by the Bundy bunch, but a BLM spokesperson now assures us that the Interior Department is “confident that a new leaf has turned over and that all parties will go forward in a neighborly manner to rebuild the trust that the Department enjoys with ranchers and local communities.” In their dreams. So far, the Bundy gang has successfully resisted the federal government bureaucracy and beat them in court. I agree with Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, who noted in the wake of the recent mistrial that “the failure of this case will only embolden this violent and racist anti-government movement that wants to take over our public lands.”

Four public lands conservation organizations—the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Western Watersheds Project, and WildEarth Guardians—have called upon Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to do what his five predecessors (three Democrats and two Republicans) have not done: put an end to more than two decades of illegal grazing of federal public lands by Cliven Bundy’s cattle. Will Zinke do his job? In 2014, while running for Congress in Montana and just after the Nevada standoff, Zinke said, “Not only was the government wrong, the rancher was wrong, but he was wronged.”

It may be possible for conservation organizations individually to sue individual BLM employees for, in Suckling’s words, “aiding and abetting the trespass and theft of the public property.” In general, one can sue only an agency for illegality, not its individual employees, but being a government employee is not a shield against fraud.

Though it would not result in the removal of the illegal livestock, a suggestion made by Rocky Barker in the Idaho Statesman amuses me: that the BLM declare the more than $1 million in grazing penalties Bundy has been assessed to be uncollectible and send the IRS a 1099 form reporting the $1 million as income paid to Bundy by the BLM. (Hmmm, would it be a 1099-C Cancellation of Debt or a 1099-G Certain Government Payments? Better to be safe and go with a 1099-MISC Miscellaneous Income.)

In the end, it comes down to the rule of law.

Bungling of the Bundys: A Postmortem Analysis of Government Incompetence

Bungling of the Bundys: A Postmortem Analysis of Government Incompetence

The bands of bozos that joined Cliven Bundy and his four sons in legally questionable escapades on federal public lands have mostly gotten away with it.... And now the conservation community has a chance to make sweet, sweet lemonade out of the Bundy lemons.

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