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Shifting ground, changing values

carlson CHRIS


Pop Quiz: which is the most urbanized state, New York or Nevada? Between Alaska and Montana? Between Utah and Ohio?

Among these three states – Idaho, Iowa and New Hampshire – which has the highest rural proportion in its population?

If you answered Nevada (94%) is more urban than New York (88%); Alaska (66%) more than Montana (56%) and Utah (91%) more than Ohio (78%), give yourself an A. If you also know New Hampshire (40%) is more rural than Idaho (30%) and Iowa (36%) is more rural than Idaho, give yourself an A++.

Behind these figures lies an incontestable fact: our nation is steadily, inexorably becoming more urbanized. As children and grandchildren steadily leave rural areas to find jobs in urban areas, those of us left in the rural areas are more and more retirees and the elderly.

We sense that a way of life – connected families living close to the land and most often trying to make a living off of some form of resource conversion – is being lost.

The future looks uncertain. The “can-do, tomorrow will be a better day” attitude starts to erode. Fear creeps into the pysche. For some it is fear that medical challenges will force one to move into an urban area to be closer to the needed medical services. For others, it is fear that a heavily urbanized population in which a 9-1-1 call will be responded to within five minutes will lead to more restrictions on firearms.

What is more disturbing though is the few folks left in rural areas do not see the connection between an America becoming ever more urbanized and the proliferation of federal regulations regarding activities on adjacent public lands.

Too many country folks think their use of the national forests or the public range should get priority. We don’t grasp that our neighbor down the street, the Forest Service’s district ranger, has to manage for the urbanite in New York City’s equal interest in the public lands.

Surprise! The urban dweller sees the national forests as a place where he or she can camp, hike, raft, ride horses, bird-watch and a dozen other multiple often competing uses. The urbanite does not see timber cutting as a compatible use.

So, some rural county commissioners turn to schemes and dreams that the Federal government can be forced to sell federal lands because those living next to and off of the public resource can do a much better job of managing the resource. Dream on , my friend. It will never happen.

If anything, get ready for more regulations from the federal agencies, not fewer. Despite Idaho having established a good system of adjudicating water rights, as shortages begin to occur in the urban areas more restrictions on its use will be promulgated.

Charges for grazing rights will begin to rise towards true market value. The feds will spend more on fire suppression than ever before and will start more pre-emptive fires. Wild horses, sage grouse and their habitat will see more restrictive regulations placed on other uses. All because most urbanites see the public lands as a public playground.

These were the thoughts coalescing in one’s mind as I read about another example of the “Cliven Bundy” syndrome. You may recall how this Nevada BLM lease-holder consistently used and abused his grazing permit. His illegal activties reached the point where a warrant for his arrest was issued, but when the local sheriff and the BLM officers arrived at this scofflaw’s ranch they were met by heavily armed supporters spoiling for a fight.

Something similar is going on in Josephine County, Oregon, where two prospectors have been ordered to file a mine plan of operation on a claim they call Sugar Pine Mine. The Oathkeepers, a self-righteous group of supposed former law enforcement officers, have a volunteer possee surrounding the site to “protect” it.

Travesty, pure and simple. It reads like a Louis L’Amour western melodrama – you know, rich mine owners, hired guns supposedly to protect but really to provoke. It flies in the face of the law despite these folks wrapping themselves in the Constitution.

Oregon, incidentally, is 81% urban; more urban than Georgia, or Minnesota or New Mexico or Michigan or Pennsylvania. The earth is shifting.

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