Andy Kerr

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

A Stage Theory of Elevating the Status of Federal Public Lands

If one rationally considered the probability of succeeding at elevating a discrete piece of federal public land to the status of a congressionally designated national what-have-you area (wilderness, wild and scenic river, national park, national monument, national recreation area, national wildlife refuge, or such), one might never embark on the voyage. One usually has to overcome an entrenched establishment of industry, locals, and government that doesn’t want things to change. Yet, conservationists proceed anyway, and if they are smart, clever, and persistent (with emphasis on the latter) enough, they do find success. It often takes a generation to change the world, or even a part of it.

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Though incorrectly attributed to the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, this popular quotation is nonetheless true. Almost every Oregon wilderness area or other piece of Oregon federal public land singled out by Congress for special protection went through these three stages of truth. Any national what-have-you area must and will go down the same path. So bring on the ridicule now so the violent opposition may soon commence and we will all live long enough to glory in the self-evidence.

It takes time to achieve any national what-have-you area. Time for the final truth to win out. Time for opponents to process the Kübler-Ross five stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (Remember, the stages need not be processed in order and can be repeated.) Table 1 summarizes how opponents of the northern spotted owl (which typifies Pacific Northwest old-growth forests) processed and how the opponents of a national what-have-you area anywhere will process the change.

A national what-have-you area proposal will provoke a public discussion/debate/conversation about the highest and best use of those federal public lands. It will be fractious, spirited, and heartfelt on all sides.

How long will it take? As long as it takes. Sometimes the political stars will align relatively quickly, but most times they will not. The greatness of an idea is not measured by how quickly it can be achieved. A national what-have-you area is worth spending time on.

Ultimately, the irrepressible strength of the idea—along with the irrepressible demographics (for example, Oregon is becoming more urban and suburban, the timber industry is declining in both relative and absolute economic terms)—means that there will indeed eventually be many more very large national what-have-you areas for the benefit of this and future generations.

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. . . . If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden: A Life in the Woods (1854)