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?
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.