Thread: Good or bad?
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Old 06-17-2019, 07:41 PM   #2
DSettahr's Avatar
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 5,026
Somewhere in between. It's complicated.

I can emphasize with the frustration that many feel regarding government oversight and regulation. Even as someone who is generally in favor of such regulations, I find that there are some real head scratchers out there- policies and regulations that I read and can't help but think to myself "this would only sound like a good idea to someone with an environmental policy degree who got an office job straight out of college and never had any field experience to gain insight regarding how the world actually works." I don't disagree with the idea that the amount of burdensome regulations that currently are in place is, to some extent, problematic. There absolutely is room for improvement.

However, I worry that this is the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction. "[E]limination of 7,500 regulations limiting access," as the article states, is troubling. Is anyone actually reviewing these regulations? Putting any thought whatsoever into what consequences that simply wiping the slate clean may incur? Evaluating said areas to determine just how resistant/resilient the resources are in the race of increased use?

I agree 100% that we absolutely need more and better access to public lands and their resources- especially for those who are less mobile and can't get to remote and inaccessible areas. However, the argument in favor of increased access in some areas is very much not the same thing as an argument in favor of increased access in all areas (a logical fallacy frequently touted by the pro-access movement). There is value to keeping some areas "hands off." Remoteness and wildness have not only intrinsic values unto their own right (the idea that wild areas and ecosystems are deserving of the same rights as a person), they have values to society as well: Providing historical context (what it was like to try to subsist as an early human without much in the way of society and technology), providing challenging opportunities for recreation that force us as visitors to grow and gain experience, providing opportunities for mental health that simply aren't possible without solitude, fostering local tourism economies, providing intact and continuous ecosystems covering a large area that as a buffer against invasive species and ecosystem collapse, and so on.

That last one- having places of contiguous ecosystems covering a large area as a buffer against ecosystem collapse- is huge. Over the past 2+ years I've done natural resource management work across a good chunk of the US: NY, IL, PA, MD, and FL so far. It's not an exaggeration to say that in many areas of the US, our native ecosystems are teetering on the edge of complete collapse (if not already in the process of collapsing). There's so many places in this country where it's hard (if not impossible) to find any evidence of a healthy ecosystem- and it's not just pollution, but invasive species that contribute a lot towards this ongoing collapse. Entire hillsides where the native trees are literally chocking to death because of rampant bittersweet, thousands of acres of abandoned farmland that aren't reverting to forest because honeysuckle, multi-flora rose, and Autumn olive are taking over, development up the wazoo of McMansions and big box stores that heavily fragment the little that is left. Outside of large public parks and forests, there are very few places left in this country where you can find large, contiguous blocks of healthy and intact native ecosystems. And absolutely, 100%, there is a very strong inverse correlation between the road density in an area, and how healthy the local native ecosystem is. In other words, fewer roads (or no roads) correlates to a much healthier native ecosystem.

I also find it troubling how dismissive many in the pro-access community are towards the idea of managing public lands with any sort of carrying capacity in mind. Yes, it's true that with infrastructure improvements, the carrying capacity of any area can be increased- but no level of improvements are ever going to push the carrying capacity of any park (especially those towards the "wild" end of the recreation opportunity spectrum) to infinity, much less in popular areas to what ever level of demand for said area may exist. Some sort of limit on use levels is absolutely necessary if protection of the resources that make these areas special is actually a serious goal. We can argue endlessly on what means of limiting use (permits, limited parking spaces, etc.) are most appropriate in specific situations, but I don't see any future for adequate protection of resources in heavily used areas without some reasonable restrictions on use in combination with other methods for minimizing impacts due to said use.

Furthermore, I am also disappointed by the seemingly increasing number of public land advocacy groups that don't have any apparent aspect of stewardship incorporated into their core mission in the least. And this goes for groups on all ends of the spectrum- whether they're lobbying in favor of increased access or more Wilderness or whatever, it's great that they can stack public comment meetings with tons of representatives, yet they seemingly can't facilitate even a single trash clean up day or day of volunteer trail work in a calendar year? To be blunt- when it comes to public lands, regardless of whatever core principles an organization may advocate, advocacy without stewardship is (to some extent) entitlement. And it's not just advocacy groups, either- but any group that promotes use of public lands and the resources thereon. I feel that the 46ers and ADK both put forth a really solid model of not just promoting use of the Adirondacks in general and the High Peaks specifically, but facilitating stewardship of the resources within the High Peaks through volunteerism- a model that no other organization promoting any sort of hiking challenge in the Adirondacks seems to have followed.

Anyways, back to the topic at hand: I can totally understand why this is being done, and don't disagree with the core desire among user groups for more/better access, as well as for at least simplification of onerous regulations that limit said access. But I do worry that it's being done without careful thought or consideration for whatever the long-term impacts of the increased access may be. And I worry especially that some of the increased access may be facilitated through the opening of new roads into what would otherwise remain road-less areas- and that is especially concerning to me from a resource protection stand point.
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