Extremists want millions more acres fenced off

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted May 15, 2000

Stumbling across a wild animal or a breathtaking vista in some remote area is a memorable experience. Wanting to preserve at least the possibility of such an experience for younger generations is admirable.

To the extent that philanthropists and private outfits like the Nature Conservancy can buy up unique pieces of fertile wildlife habitat, maintaining them in a natural state either through voluntary donations or (where appropriate) fee-based camping or even hunting at a level designed to mimic prehistoric predation, such efforts should be encouraged -- perhaps even through tax waivers.

And surely the government should stop building lumber roads at taxpayer expense, without which active forestry in remote areas would be economically prohibitive -- a typical result of leaving such lands under "collective," political control.

But it's much more tempting to use the might of government to indulge one's nostalgic reverie of the forest primeval, isn't it, forcing one's half-baked notions of "wilderness" on the residents of distant places -- even on private property owners whose losses you'll never actually have to see?

America was born in the spirit of men and women courageous enough to go into the wilderness and tame it. They did this to win a measure of personal and economic freedom unknown in Europe, where all land was considered to be first the property of the crown, subsequently divided among the feudal aristocracy based on military and political expediency. A "right to be secure in his home"? Not if the peasant's cottage was provided only at the pleasure of the local baron.

And don't today's most extreme environmentalists really seek a return to such a pre-revolutionary regime -- at least here in the distant West -- with the federal government now conveniently filling the role of Prince John, who owned "all the deer in the forest"?

A coalition of radical environmental groups led by The Wilderness Society is now petitioning Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to renounce the inventory of federal wilderness lands conducted in the late '70s under President Jimmy Carter. Instead, they seek to arbitrarily declare hundreds of millions of additional federally-controlled acres to be de facto "wilderness" -- under a new definition meaning fenced off and guarded by armed men against human travel, mining, grazing, or other uses "until a more detailed wilderness inventory can be completed."

Which is to say, forever.

As it is, the Bureau of Land Management has set aside 5.1 million acres of Nevada (just for example) as "wilderness study areas" -- areas which Congress has not identified as wilderness, mind you, but which are still "managed as de facto wilderness" -- off limits to new roads, off-road vehicles, mining claims, or virtually any other human use until such time as someone can get around to "completing their study."

The BLM is now recommending that 1.8 million of those acres be retained for "wilderness" in the Silver State, while the rest should be returned to "multiple use" -- still a far cry from being paved over as parking lots.

But John Wallin, coordinator of the Nevada Wilderness Project, complains that the original BLM inventory arbitrarily eliminated another 10 to 44 million acres of land that could and should have been considered "wilderness."

Such extremists contend the BLM missed "50 to 70 percent of the wilderness out here" in their original inventory. "This petition is coming at a time when the BLM is shifting toward becoming a greener agency," explains Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society.

In truth, the Republican Congress has made some modest improvements in restoring land rights since that party swept to power in 1994. For instance, Congress managed to block some of the most onerous provisions of the original National Biological Survey, under which private land owners were to be blackmailed with automatic "endangered species habitat" designations of their property (marking huge parcels off limits even to farming) unless they "voluntarily" allowed federal officials to trespass on their properties in search of "threatened" rats and bugs.

In truth, what the green extremists really sense now is that the approaching end of the Clinton-Gore administration puts them under a short deadline to get additional millions of acres "set aside," out of the reach of "greedy exploiters" who might want to increase the nation's timber and mineral and agricultural wealth, feeding their own families and improving the standard of living for the whole world in the process.

It is a measure of the wealth of this nation that we can even toy with such notions. But make no mistake -- abandon the traditions of entrepreneurship, sharply limited government power, and private property rights which created our national wealth, and it can still change.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site http://www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html.

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