“Real Conservatives Protect Land”: Opinion in ABQ Journal

Real Conservatives Protect Land

Opinion by Garrett Veneklasen in the Albuquerque Journal, 3/14/2011: http://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/guest_columns/142157345052opinionguestcolumns03-14-11.htm#ixzz1GcFtVvmJ

Rep. Steve Pearce recently headlined a rally in Silver City to protest the Forest Service’s attempt to protect natural resources from irresponsible off-road vehicle use in the Gila National Forest. This rally was held just two days before the end of a two-month long public comment period for Travel Management Planning and appeared to invigorate people who haven’t paid any attention to this planning process for the past four years.

A handout at the rally was filled with misinformation, mirroring recent press releases from Pearce’s office on this topic.

I take issue with Pearce’s disinformation campaign and the vitriol that was used at the rally.
It is important to note that I am an ORV enthusiast and have been so for the last 17 years. I ride my machines on public lands all over the state. It is also important to note that I am a conservative Republican.

There seems to be a popular misguided perception lately among a certain conservative faction of our community that believes conservation is some sort of new-age, left-wing, and elitist conspiracy designed to permanently shut everyday folks out of our public lands. The simple truth is that all the original “old school” conservationists – folks like George Bird Grinnell, Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold and Theodore Roosevelt – were die-hard conservative Republicans.

Teddy Roosevelt said it best, “The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.” Leopold, too, had a few choice words on the subject: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. …”

Sound land management centers on preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of the public biotic community. Misuse of ORVs — even to a minor degree — can have a scientifically undeniable negative impact on wildlife, wildlife habitat and the watersheds that supply our drinking water. This not only has long-term ecological consequences, it also has a long-term negative impact on the local southwestern New Mexico economy.

Non-motorized users who come to the Gila in search of an atavistic outdoor experience spend a ton of money each year in Gila country — about $24 million annually. Alienating these folks in favor of one particular minority user group makes no economic sense whatsoever.

The fatal flaw of Pearce’s message at the rally is the self-centered notion that our generation of ORV users are somehow entitled to run roughshod over every inch of our public lands without any consideration to the other forest visitors, future generations or the land’s ability to keep us all alive and healthy. This position completely disregards responsible conservative conservationist stewardship principles. This is neither the attitude nor the behavior of a responsible trustee.

Proximity does not bestow privilege: the public lands in the Gila National Forest belong equally to all New Mexicans and all Americans — not just a minority of folks living south of I-40 who show up at a rally at the 11th hour, having failed to voice their concerns for the past four years.

This irreplaceable land resource would not be here at all had it not been for the forward-thinking philosophical and legal protective conservative conservation processes that preceded us.

As trustees of the land and wildlife, we also have a moral obligation to treat our natural resources as assets, which must be turned over to future generations, “increased and not impaired, in value…” The only way to do this is through responsible, carefully considered, honest, forward-thinking, and science-based management practices. Pearce has an obligation to protect our natural resources and our natural heritage, not engage in a campaign to destroy it.

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