In a wilderness of political wilderness designations
There are plenty of nature-centric places in New Mexico to preserve, but not to exclude human entry. Preserve the nature-centric areas of New Mexico for all Americans but make sure all Americans can enjoy those areas.
Years ago, “wilderness” meant a place where man had not set foot. Now, after decades of wilderness legislation, no one can define wilderness. It means whatever politicians mean it to mean.
The intense politics around wilderness designations make winners and losers. The winners are the political operatives and lawyers who make their money in courts. The losers are the American public. It is a giant scam.
Take the wilderness problems of Tombstone, Ariz. Their water plant was built before any wilderness designation and served the town well. Last year a flood damaged the water pipes, which the town wanted to repair. They were told the land now was wilderness and they could not repair their water system.
How can wilderness mean iron water pipes, roads and water collection areas? It can, because the wilderness advocates and the thousands of lawyers who make millions of dollars advocating an odd sort of wilderness designation say it is.
Nature vs. urban
That got me thinking: We need new terminology to understand American wilderness issues. At opposite ends of a continuum are the concepts nature and urban. Nature-centric are areas whose attributes are those of nature as opposed to urban-centric whose attributes are those of the urban environment. Compare the wilds of Alaska with New York City.
Where we have problems is when the two intertwine either just a little or a lot. Some places in America are nature-centric with some urban intrusion. That is where we have the political rub. No matter what anyone says there are very little virgin nature landscapes, and all of them are in Alaska.
Other places have mostly nature-centric landscapes but there is always a little urbanization that creeps into nature. So it is the degree of blend that matters, eh? Speaking of creeps, politicians have perverted the language of wilderness such that wilderness can be a place where planes fly over, there are one hundred years of roads and if you are standing in a high place you can see Wal-Mart trucks on the freeway, but it is a wilderness. It is really nature-centric with urban intrusions.
The question that we have spent almost 50 years on is the purpose of our nature-centric lands. Years ago the idea was to have areas of our country where people could get a good nature-centric experience and then return to their urban-centric homes. We have lots of forests and mountains that are nature-centric. Then someone decided the deal was to exclude Americans and make areas where essentially no Americans can go.
This is the wilderness movement today. It takes land with roads and houses and cattle operations and attempts to clear the humans from the landscape by making it almost or entirely impossible for Americans to enjoy those nature-centric areas. It is done all in the name of “wilderness preservation.”
No ‘wilderness’ areas in New Mexico
To be blunt: there are no “wilderness” areas in New Mexico. All the areas have had roads; all have planes flying over, and all have lots of human pressure on them. They are nature-centric with some urban-centric intrusion. Not wilderness. There has not been wilderness in New Mexico for hundreds of years.
Even Alaska, as remote as it is, has planes flying over and into the wilderness areas such as the Brooks Range of mountains. It is the most like the wilderness stories of America in the early 1900s. But remember, even then there were lots of Native Americans already on the land. We have to go back 20,000 years or more to get land not trampled by humans.
So for those trying to curb the urban intrusion, is there some way to do so without scamming people into calling some place wilderness when it obviously is not? The limits of urban intrusion can be managed as long as it does not exclude Americans full access to the land.
There are plenty of nature-centric places in New Mexico to preserve, but not to exclude human entry. When entry must be by foot, it excludes the majority of Americans. Quit paying millions of dollars to environmental lawyers to exclude Americans from their own land. Preserve the nature-centric areas of New Mexico for all Americans but make sure all Americans can enjoy those areas.
Swickard is co-host of the radio talk show News New Mexico, which airs from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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