Newspaper column: Feds would rather spend money than allow machines in a wilderness

Workers will use hand tools to repair trails on Mount Charleston damaged by fire three years ago. (Photo courtesy Daniel Thompson UNLV via R-J)

When it comes to preserving the pristineness of pristine wild lands, federal land managers are willing to spare no expense — since it is merely tax money, of which there is an endless supply.

U.S. Forest Service plans to begin work soon on clearing trails on 12,000-foot Mount Charleston in northern Clark County that were closed after a 28,000-acre wildfire three years ago. The fire downed trees that will have to be removed and subsequent flooding due to reduced vegetation eroded some areas.

According to a recent story in the Las Vegas newspaper, “Much of the work will take place within a federal wilderness area, so workers won’t be allowed to use mechanized equipment such as trucks, chainsaws or heavy construction machinery to access the trails or remove debris.”

A spokesman for Spring Mountains National Recreation Area was quoted as saying the two six-person crews from the Great Basin Institute and the Nevada Conservation Corps will be sent in on horseback to do the work and will not even be allowed to use explosives to clear fallen trees, even though the largest ponderosa needing to be cleared is 12 feet in diameter and there are hundreds of trees blocking the trail.

“Explosives are allowed in wilderness areas, but we’re planning to do the work with the minimum tool,” the spokesman said.

The Forest Service had to submit its plans for clearing the trails to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is in charge of protecting the endangered Mount Charleston blue butterfly.

These federal land managers appear to be worshipping the god Gaia — basically Mother Earth — and have no qualms about spending our involuntary tithes on thousands of man-hours of backbreaking manual labor if it means not disturbing their vaunted deity with sacrilegious machines and explosions. Wouldn’t a couple of days of disturbances be less intrusive than months of intrusions. Besides, these are trails for public access!

There is no projected opening date for the trails.

Doubtless the cost would be considerably less and the man-hours considerably fewer if the workers could use bobcats, backhoes, bulldozers, chainsaws and explosives, but those are forbidden in their pristine wilderness area, they think.

Yes, the Wilderness Act of 1964 says, “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human

habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions … with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable …”

No vehicles, no roads, no outhouses, no park benches, no trash cans, no power tools, no bicycles, no cutting firewood. It is accessible to only the most able-bodied.

But according to the Congressional Research Service, there are exceptions. The Wilderness Act and many subsequent wilderness statutes allow motorized access for management and emergencies, as well as for maintenance of infrastructure.

But the Forest Service has a habit of ignoring the letter of the law and is willing to even create hardships in the name of blocking efficient but “unnatural” backhoes, bobcats and bulldozers from its pristine lands.

A couple of years ago the Forest Service demanded that the residents of Tombstone, Ariz. — who get their drinking water and fire protection water supply from a spring in a wilderness area — to fix the fire damaged pipeline with nothing but hand tools, not so much as a wheelbarrow was allowed. It defied common sense and common decency.

A group calling themselves the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade — after the Nevada crew that opened a road in the Jarbidge Mountains years ago in defiance of federal orders to leave the road closed — were toiling away on repairing the pipeline, but even that was temporarily halted when someone spotted a rare spotted owl.

Wouldn’t want to disturb a bird’s nap in order to provide a whole town with drinking water and fire protection.

Do you ever get the feeling that federal land managers view people as an infestation instead of as an integral part of the environment?

A version of this column appears this week many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Time for the states to fight back against ‘sue and settle’ environmentalists with their own litigation

Perhaps it is time for Western states to take a page from the tactics of environmentalists — namely, sue and settle.

Over and over, federal land agencies are eagerly caving in to radical environmental groups seeking to block just about any human endeavor that in anyway comes anywhere near any animal, bird, reptile, bug or minnow whose population is even marginally in decline.

A Mono Basin bi-state sage grouse

This past fall, the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated as threatened — under the terms of the Endangered Species Act — the bi-state greater sage grouse found along the northern California-Nevada border, supposedly a distinct population segment of about 5,000 remaining birds, even though the birds are legally hunted in both states.

That decision followed an October 2010 lawsuit filed by the Western Watersheds Project challenging grazing permits granted by the Bureau of Land Management.

Lesser prairie chicken

This past week the FWS designated as threatened the lesser prairie chicken, which are found in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico and Kansas.

Wild Earth Guardians sued the FWS in 2010 demanding rapid action on the listing status of 251 species. FWS agreed to determine whether to list the lesser prairie chicken by March 31. That is now a done deed.

Under the settlement, FWS must decide whether to list the greater sage grouse, which are found in 11 Western states, by September 2015. What do you think the odds are?

Kansas and Oklahoma plan to sue the FWS over the listing of the lesser prairie chicken.

Greater sage gouse

Though the lesser prairie chicken population dropped about 50 percent from 2012 to 2013, Jim Pitman, small game coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, says the drop was largely attributed to drought.

“The important thing is the grassland is still there,” Pitman said. Once the grasslands regenerate from wet weather, the bird population will also increase, he said.

Among the topics of litigation the states should pursue are: Are the species really endangered? How scientific are the surveys? Have the federal agencies followed the law in deciding the listing or have they rushed to judgment? Has human activity in any way contributed to population decline or is nature merely taking its course?

Many of the causes of Western species decline have nothing to due with farming, ranching, oil and gas exploration or recreation, but with incompetent land management by the federal agencies, which have ignored fuel management practices and allowed vast wildfires to ravage the ranges. Additionally, there a lack of predator control, one of the biggest problems for most of the species in question, but a factor ignored by the feds.

Would you trust these people to save a species?

Then there are the multimillion-dollar efforts by federal bureaucrats to save species that nature would have let expire long ago, such as the Devil’s Hole pupfish. These minnows have been so managed, so manipulated that they can no longer truly be said to exist “in the wild.” The federal government even built a $4.5 million aquarium for them that matches the Devil’s Hole environs. Why not just put a couple in a fish tank and let nature take its course with the rest?

The 40-year-old Endangered Species Act is less about saving species than it is about building a huge bureaucracy of overseers. Less than 2 percent of listed species have been delisted. Once on the list they are on the list forever.

Of course the feds are not really serious about restoring species to their natural habitat. They may reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone but they’d not think to reintroducing them to Central Park in New York City.

What about herds of bison roaming eastern Colorado?

Jurassic Park anyone?

There is no balance, no logic, no rationale to the way feds are handling this law. There needs to be cost-benefit-ratio analysis used to determine when the harm to farmers, ranchers, oil and gas exploration and recreation outweigh the fleeting and futile salvation of a few birds, reptiles, rodents, bugs, weeds and minnows.

In fact, there appears to be a violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause. The established federal religion is now the worship of Gaia.