Sunday, April 03, 2011
The Case of Insatiable Appetite
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
Leaning against the fence last night, I watched an old pet horse eat his evening ration. He started as he does every time I feed, helping me unfasten the lock into the hay barn. There he leans in to supervise the unchaining of the gate. If I am slow, he will attempt to lean in further to nose the lock placed there because his buddy, Papalote, can unlock anything short of a keyed lock.
When we have the door opened, I start the process with retrieving the pitch fork and sorting hay. He always reaches in for a quick bite before I get back to the open gate with the first fork of hay. That is our routine and I am patient because of what he means to me.
Too many horses later everybody is fed and in his or her own place for a few minutes of unchallenged eating. It is only when the horse of our conversation, old Sebás, finishes in vacuum cleaner fashion the preferred part of his ration, the alfalfa leaves that fall through the hay onto the cement. He is then on the hunt.
Normally, I am not present to witness the rotation that occurs thereafter, but I know what goes on. Sebás runs little Jimmy Fudge off and proceeds to consume what is left of his share of the alfalfa leaves. When he is finished with those he is worried that his assigned station may have some of the same preferred stuff left and he again runs the mustang cross gelding off that has ratcheted into that spot. This goes on and on as the more alpha horse in the mix gets into the act. At that time it is a game of musical chairs.
In waves of priority predicated on palatability and texture preference, the hay is consumed. Every day the pattern is repeated in similar fashion. It is limited only by the amount of feed available and or my presence. I must admit that if I didn’t think so much of that old horse, I wouldn’t put up with his antics. I would put a stop to it at least as long as I was present.
As I stood there, though, I was struck with how similar the process of feed selection among this equine herd was to another exercise in consumption that our country faces.
When the crown jewels of our national parks and forest systems were selected, there was little disagreement with the grandeur of those places. If anyone ever gets to stand out there in on the Merced River in Yosemite Valley in springtime and witness the astounding beauty and immensity of that place there is no denial that it is God’s own sanctuary. It takes your breath away.
Likewise, the impact on your being is similar at the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Mt. Rainier, or any number of other first generation Congressional selections. They astound you, and, as a visitor, you hope they remain that same way forever.
The saga of Sebás, however, can be extended to subsequent passes across the width and expanse of our country as the next level national treasures are extracted from the countryside and placed into protected status under our land agency management. White Sands made a fair impact on a young kid, but modern day TrackWays and El Malpais just don’t have much charm to the views and expressions of the wide swath of folks who do not flock to them from around the world. Where? What? You’re kidding, right?
To the Wildlands
As the latter of these purportedly important selections are arrayed against the whole, they start to look like stems and straw in the Sebás model. Granted, they remain interesting to him because they are the only things left, but, remember, he has an insatiable appetite. In his mind something is always more important than nothing.
When Interior Secretary Salazar made his Christmas recess announcement about the intent for the federal government to embark on yet another foray across the land in search of the next best lands for protection, outrage was the dominant reaction among those with duties, responsibilities, and investments on the western lands that will receive the scrutiny. When is enough, enough?
In southwest New Mexico, we have a fair idea of what the next and subsequent passes are going to be. Sitting in a wind storm on top of the Florida Mountains and looking in a 360° arch to the east there remain the Organs, the Potrillos, the Las Uvas, the Robledos, and even Massacre Peak with its sovereign private lands. To the west are the Cedars and Big Hatchet. To the north are Cook’s Peak, the Nutt grasslands, the Caballos, and the Gila itself.
If multilayer selections are to be allowed, the highest points in succession followed by the Nutt grasslands will be targeted. In analogy, the leaves, the stems, and finally the straw will be the pattern. Sebás teaches us that . . . and we must remember he has an insatiable appetite.
What research implies
In research done over the last several years, it is clear that the wilderness industry drives the environmental agenda in our country. Literature by wilderness experts details how original characteristics must be maintained. Human use and visitation result in corruption of original standards. Those characteristics, therefore, can only remain uncorrupted by the expansion of wilderness.
Since original standards are to remain inviolate to the environmental community, the dilemma can only be resolved by designating more wilderness. As such, wilderness is elevated to the top of the management complex. All other lands must be added to a roster ready to be seized in order to maintain the original standards of the wilderness model.
It doesn’t hurt that economics have come into the game. Wilderness creation begets more funding, and more wilderness begets more expansion. At some point, though, leaders must understand what that implies to the landscape in terms of impact and demand. In the current model, wilderness sanctity is only assured by the translocation of pressures elsewhere. Fairness and equality in the wilderness game isn’t the outcome.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch
As I sit here typing, I hear Papalote working on the lock into the hay barn. I can imagine that Sebás is now there along side him offering encouragement or he’s licking the cracks in the concrete checking once more to make sure nothing is left. If ‘Pop’ is successful in unlocking the gate, I will have to intervene or he and Sebás will be in the hay stack, and my favorite pitchfork will again be in jeopardy.
I can do that, but where is the policing authority on the wilderness creation industry? The palatable leaves are all consumed. The stems are gone as well and the straw is left on the horizons. Is that what we envisioned when Congressional testimony leading up to the Wilderness Act promised, “in no realm of the imagination”, would 50 million acres ever be in the wilderness managed system? Do you know what that number is today? It is 153 million acres of designated Wilderness and or lands still arrayed for such congressional action. With Salazar’s Wild Lands plan . . . who knows?
I am going to put a stop to the racket going on out back . . . we all need to do the same thing with the Environmental agenda.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “The false economy that exists with federal dollars and designated wilderness is destroying productivity in the West. When the dominate land owner is the federal government, how can it also be an advocate of the American people. Owner of the property and advocate of the tenants . . . are contradictions. They cannot exist in dual roles with any measure of fairness. ”