Spending more than an hour with Hal Pearce at the Meeker field office of the U.S. Forest Service on Thursday brought about an interesting discussion of the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service over the years.
Having started in the newspaper business while a sophomore at Boulder High School, I have tried to remain aware of land and water issues since 1968. After a stint at Mesa College I ventured out into the real world and immediately had to deal with land-related issues.
My first “real” job started at the Aspen Today in 1972. After that, I went through a wild Western road trip that included Rogers, Eureka Springs, Berryville and Green Forest, Ark., then Riverton, Worland and Casper, Wyo., then Sierra Vista, Ariz., then Yreka, Calif., then back to Worland and Rawlins, Wyo., then Kingman, Ariz., and then on to Meeker, where I have been now for almost three years.
It all started in Aspen in the early 1970s, when many of the long-held ranches in the Roaring Fork Valley were being divided and made into smaller subdivisions for newcomers moving to town.
The issue was the amount of land the ranches could be divided into and the natives of the area didn’t want any limits while the new (to the area) county commissioners wanted to limit subdivisions to a minimum of 10 acres in an effort to control growth.
It was one of the first zoning battles of its kind in the United States, and the new-to-town commissioners won on a 2-1 vote after a fierce and nasty battle in the newspapers and in the courts to limit the subdividing to 10-acre lots, even if the land was divided among family members. It was the end of being able to divide a family homestead or ranch as the owner saw fit; and it too fell under the whim of the local commissioners.
Similar battles have continued throughout my career with issues in my immediate area including logging in Northern California square in the middle of spotted owl country, recreation issues versus oil and gas exploration near to and inside of Yellowstone National Park and other parts of Wyoming, the introduction of wolves into Yellowstone and other parts of Northwest Wyoming, water quality issues and river-flow amounts in Southeast Arizona, the ups and downs of uranium mining in Central Wyoming, to build a new dam or not on the Snake River near Jackson, Wyo., an oil spill from a tanker train wreck in the Shasta River south of Mount Shasta, Calif., and almost everywhere in the West, the battle of logging, clear cuts, sawmills, etc.
The early ’70s saw the Forest Service coming under fire in the Northwest regarding logging and the spotted owl. Hundreds of thousands of loggers, haulers and mill workers in California, Oregon and Washington were put out of business.
The same has happened on a smaller scale all over the West, probably as close as Carbon County, Wyo., where the lumber mills at Encampment and Saratoga were shut down for a while at least because of no more wood to cut. I do not know the status of the mills to this day.
Water issues will continue until long after we are all dead.
The most recent one I have been involved in covering was along the Colorado River in Arizona only a few years ago.
Not to be blamed on the Forest Service, the BLM or the Corps of Engineers (which deals with “navigable waters,” supposedly), it is a reality that the Ute and the Hualapai Indian nations could all of a sudden just shut off the Colorado River in the Four Corners area (Utes) or in Northwest Arizona (the Hualapai).
Those sovereign nations have the supreme water rights to the Colorado River at that point and could shut down the river. Think about that!
It is also notable here that the Native Americans have never lost a legal battle over water rights in United States courts. And if you don’t think the tribes in Arizona have considered such a maneuver, then you are sadly fooling yourself.
Anyway, all this makes for an interesting scenario that might just be taking shape around the West.
What everyone wants is multiple-use lands, be it on Forest Service or BLM land.
That means recreation, thriving wildlife, clean water, clean air, logging, oil and gas exploration, coal mining, farming, ranching, hunting, pristine wilderness, fishing, mining for other minerals, off-road vehicles, hiking, camping, archaeology digs, etc. And there are several activities to be subdivided under each of those above topics.
In the early ’70s, it seems the intellect was to sell off all the timberland that was available as fast as it could be made available.
Slowly, the environmentalists got stoked and decided we were shredding our forests too quickly.
Next, as an offshoot of logging, came water quality concerns.
Then it was air quality in Grand Canyon, then other concerns.
Too many golf courses in arid Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Discoveries that aquifers were being drawn down due to alleged overuse and/or drought.
Coal mines were saving us as far as energy was concerned and natural gas was supplementing the coal fields.
Then gas emerged as more efficient and less costly, but it was less in quantity, expensive to get out of the ground and into our homes. Then the oil situation got tense during the Jimmy Carter years, when gasoline rose from about a quarter a gallon to well over $2 per gallon. Now look at it, yet everyone agrees the current supplies and access are abundant.
All major issues seem to depend on the energy of the day and its costs to develop and distribute.
All of the past issues seem to be part of the equation. Water, gas, oil, coal, recreation, conservation and industry all seem to be intertwined.
Is that the way it should be?
Is that the way it is going to continue?
Have we found the balance for the future or is it forever to be a battle between the difference forces?
Who knows. Not me. I don’t pretend to.
I can speculate that it is going to continue.
Fracking issues will remain, what lands should remain pristine will be a continued topic, the issue of how much coal mining is too much is going on now, will there once again be a series of nuclear plants built; do we need more dams, particularly in the West, will long be on meeting agendas, etc.
For now, there seems to be enough fish and wildlife habitat, and the quality of such is seeing everyday improvements. Recreation seems safe for years ahead.
But what about energy?
Coal plants are blamed for polluting too much. Wind farms kill too many birds. Nuclear plants can kill and contaminate us all. That leaves solar plants/farms, which could not possibly fuel an entire nation. The environmentalists want to remove Lake Powell and its hydroelectric power. We can’t keep cutting down trees to build and heat our homes.
Just what is it that everyone wants?
Hal Pearce and I failed to solve the entire national energy vs. recreation vs. business issue although we tried. And we didn’t agree on everything between us.
But there was one thing that Hal and I did fully agree on.
The battles will continue and it is likely that whatever is agreed on today will change tomorrow.
The National Football League playoffs continue to amaze.
Cincinnati should have beaten the Steelers except for a really stupid series of events and personal fouls committed by the Bengals, which kept the Bengals from winning. So a tough/lucky Steelers will be making the trip to the Mile High City to play the Broncos on Sunday. The Steelers defeated the Broncos 34-27 just a few weeks ago on Dec. 20 after Denver blew an early lead. It will most likely be a tough game, particularly if Ben Roethlisberger is healthy, which was questionable as of Monday.
The Vikings should be going to the playoffs, but a short, 22-yard field goal was missed in the last 30 seconds, so the Seahawks advance—once again.
The Kansas City Chiefs played an inspired game against the Houston Texans and they advanced easily to the game against the Patriots, who have shown they aren’t invincible.
And the Packers slumbered through the first half but took a page from the Broncos playbook and awakened in the second half to handily defeat the Redskins, so it will be Green Bay that advances.
Go Broncos! Please play an entire four quarters; catch the ball, receivers; and hopefully it is the Steelers who make the mistakes this time!