Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wilmeth's West

Roads and Lands
Travel Management and Wish Lists
The Path to Checks and Balances
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

     The message was the Forest Service Travel Management Plan
     On Friday, March 4, 2011, a rally was held at ground zero of the Rewilding Zone, Silver City, New Mexico.  The press reported how about 100 people rallied to remind the world how important it was to support the Forest Service plan to close the majority of the roads in the Gila National Forest.  The call to support the idea was based on their reminder that, in a democracy, reasonable compromise is the only acceptable approach to such an issue. 
     The next day another rally took place within a few miles of the first.  From the looks and the tone of the crowd, the message seemed to suggest an outcry of emotion reminiscent of when Silver City was still known as San Vicente de la Cienega and residents had no choice other than to stand on their own two feet.  Those in attendance seemed to remember that they had grown to resent the fact that reasonable compromise in matters of the Forest Service always resulted in the loss of freedom.      
     The news service reported that 700 people were there the second day to listen to their Congressman, Steve Pearce, and other interested parties discuss the intentions of the Gila to close the roads. The prevailing sentiment was that closing as much as 90% of the forest roads couldn’t be described as reasonable compromise.
     The Rush to Save the Land
     Americans need to realize that the underlying agenda in the environmental feeding frenzy has been taking root for many years.  It isn’t totally predicated on, but can be mapped and traced to the expansion of federal lands management agencies. 
     Every citizen must become acquainted with the agenda of Rewilding, and, although it is a fascinating topic to discuss at Friday night swill mixers at Western New Mexico University and other liberal arts institutions, it isn’t acceptable.  The underlying intent to reduce civilization within the grand wildlife corridors is not a reasonable measure of authority to place in the hands or in the minds of any men.  Any suggestion of eliminating human beings is truly age old blasphemy that transcends any and all political correctness. 
     To the land
     Although the founding fathers were dead set against the long term ownership of lands by the government, a practical problem arose.  The progressives arrived in offices of influence before the process could be solidified.  By the time there were enough people to inhabit and accept the transfer, the least common denominator, the sovereign individual citizen, was arrayed against Washington progressive presidential leadership and a variety of growing land management bureaucracies. 
     Land managers with budgets, ambition, and authority became a competing force to the individual.  Over time, the power of those forces discovered that denigration and ridicule of citizens were tools for further expansion.  Land owners and industries tied to the land became subjects of criticism and condescension.  The message was heard in the halls of places like WNMU and institutions across this country.  Two full generations of new graduates have now gone forth to carry the message with a pledge to protect the land.
     Government ownership of all lands in the 11 contiguous Western States represents 62% of the entire land mass.  Government ownership of lands east of those states represents 12%, similarly.  Perhaps those in the West must start asking how such a discrepancy of distribution equates to racial equality.  Isn’t racial equality one of the constant bylines of the progressives who tend to rally for Rewilding concepts?
     Likewise, why does the government remain intent on acquiring more land?  Notwithstanding the budget crisis we face, the current administration has elevated requested funds for acquiring critically important lands from $346.1 million when Bush left office to a proposed $900 million for 2012.  A billion dollars for the acquisition of more and more lands predominately in the private land starved West is the plan!
     To the first phase of checks and balances  
     It appears unlikely that the government will alter the impact of the runaway agenda schemes that are being carried out.  Perhaps it is time the poor folks of San Vicente de la Cienega mentality offer some check and balance recommendations for their own good.
     First, the public is constantly reminded that the lands being sought by the federal land agencies and the Rewilding agenda are critically important.  That must imply that other lands are not as critically important.  Therefore, it would seem reasonable that, for every acre added to the 463,791,000 acres of government owned land in the West, three acres of lesser important land must be released for sale.  Those liquidations must be done concurrent with the acquisition or the transaction could not be made.  History has shown that the government, given any chance, tends to forget simple obligations to the American people.
   How far should that process go?  As in any self correcting process, the progression should be allowed to continue until an equitable balance is struck.  In the case of government lands in the West, the take and sell process should continue until the target ownership represented by the 12% government ownership in eastern states is hit.
    If the Eastern states were ready and willing to raise the share of government holdings in their midst perhaps the Western states would be willing to find equilibrium at a level higher than 12%, but equilibrium must be found.  It is only there that true equality can exist.
    States like Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho that have in excess of 70% government ownership would necessarily have to be the states where the process was accelerated.  Right is right . . . fairness is fairness . . . and equality is equality. 
     Travel management recourse
     Since the same underlying agenda is in place in both the funding of more land acquisitions and implementation of travel management plans, it is important that the same measure of equilibrium be struck back in Silver City where the rallies just occurred.  Since reasonable compromise has been proposed by the progressives supporting road closure, reasonable compromise should be the intent of the process. 
     A place to start would be Forest Service itself.  With the wholesale elimination of forest roads, logic would suggest that the agency’s vehicular demand would be reduced.  The elimination of some percentage of those vehicles base on the impact of road closures would be in order.  Since speculation of how many vehicles to eliminate would become argumentative, a more simplistic approach is in order.  That algorithm does not even need numbers.  In exchange for the roads being closed, the Forest Service should start buying and servicing their vehicles outside of their federal budget.  That change would take place on the basis of collected revenues.
     Where would those revenues come from?  They would come from tolls levied upon good citizens wanting to venture forth into the wilds of the forests.  If those wilds generate such enjoyment to folks, it would be reflected in the tolls collected.  If the tolls proved to be adequate, everybody would be happy.  If there were shortfalls, however, the Gila SO would have to determine what to cut in order to continue to operate.  The taxpayers secured their end of the deal when their diminishing rights to use and enjoy federal lands were absconded by the Forest Service in its plan for extensive closures. 
     The Long Term
     Long term, arguments of right versus wrong or conservation versus local needs must be resolved in a manner that, if not fully fair to the local folks with San Vicente de la Cienega mentality, at least fair enough that they understand how the deck is stacked against them.  Tort reform and governmental backed litigation mechanisms are major problems for local communities.  While those communities assume they are waging legal battles on equal footing they are being opposed by the Rewilding camp funded with federal dollars.  That is yet another travesty that transcends all political correctness. 
     As such there should be no federal dollars in any litigation involving local communities and the federal government or the Rewilding organizations.  Winners must take all and losers must pay all.  If the federal government loses, the agency suffering the loss cannot go back to the tax payer well and come up with the funding.  The funding must come from the sale of assets.  Vehicles, lands, buildings, easements, or so called extractive industry permit revenues must all be in play upon any failure or loss of judgment. American taxpayers can no longer be hit on both sides of the equation.
     Similarly, no tax payer dollars should be allowed into the coffers of the Rewilding organizations.  In the case of conservation litigation, no workouts should be allowed either. If litigation is brought to bear, legal conclusions and not settlements must be achieved.  Winners take all and losers must pay all.  No longer can the tax payers foot the bill from simple saber rattling and a rush to settlement.  If the federal government loses, the payments must be made from the sale of assets.  If the Rewilding camps lose, they must go back to their private trust funds and pay the bill.  The American taxpayer can no longer be the cupboard that is raided  . . . and raided . . . and raided.  This cupboard is bare . . . . and it has lost patience with empires built on the backs of sovereign Americans.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico.  “The Gila story is going to be important historically.  The rise of the environmental industry and the retreat of the primary production industries there is a microcosm of the American West.  It has divided families and the community.  The haves have become those folks who derive their income from tax money.  What happens now in Grant County, New Mexico will have national implications.” 


Wilmeth's article reminds me of an idea put forward years ago by Walt Greeman and Jimmy Bason - The Equal Access To Federal Lands Act.  These gentleman were very concerned about discrimination against Easterners, i.e., they didn't have the same access to federal lands that we "enjoyed" in The West. Discrimination pure and simple.  "We didn't think it was fair they had to drive so far to access these lands" Greeman jokingly told me Saturday evening.

To remedy this terrible situation they proposed legislation that would cap federal land ownership at 25 percent of any given state.  Federal lands in excess in any state would be sold and the revenue used to purchase lands in those states suffering from a shortage of federal land.  This way, over time, all Americans would have equal access to federal land.

One must admire the caring these gentlemen have for their fellow man and their willingness to share.

There is one irony in this however. Several years ago Greeman was so fed up with the federales he moved his ranching operation to a private lands state...a state that under his legislation would now be subject to a 25 percent acquisition by the feds. Maybe Walt will sell his ranch to the feds and move back to New Mexico!

If nothing else, he could go into the burro bodyguards business with Bason

Wilmeth also mentions Rewilding.  Below is a map that used to be on the Wildlands Project's website.  It was displayed in a 14 part series written by rancher Judy Keeler which can be read here.  Start with The Wildlands Project Comes To Hidalgo County.

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