Friday, February 12, 2016

Can we make sense of the Malheur mess?

A very thoughtful essay. I've photographed in and around Burns for five or six years now, and much of this Bundy/anti-BLM/"occupation" stuff hits uncomfortably close to home. These are known places to me, at least as much so as the Huntington Desert Garden, or Whitney Mesa, or the road cut on the #14 just south of Palmdale, CA.

"Buyers, in a world packed and competitive beyond the imaginations of those who set aside these unclaimed and abandoned lands as forest reserves and public grazing lands in the early 1900s, are now everywhere, planet-wide. As Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory, when he was president of the American Lands Council, famously said of privatizing federal lands, 'It’s like having your hands on the lever of a modern-day Louisiana Purchase.'

When that lever is pulled, and it will be, unless a majority of Americans know enough about what is at stake to oppose it, we will live through the transformation of our country. Federal water rights that underpin entire agricultural economies, and that are critical to some of the last family farms and ranches in America, will be in play. Few Americans, even those in the cities of the east who know nothing about these lands, will be untouched in some way by the transformation. Once the precedent for divesting federal lands is well-set, the eastern public lands, most of them far more valuable than those in the West, will go on the international auction block. The unique American experiment in balancing the public freedom and good with private interests will be forever shattered, while a new kind of inequality soars, not just inequality of economics and economic opportunity, but of life experience, the chance to experience liberty itself. The understanding that we all share something valuable in common – the vast American landscape, yawning to all horizons and breathtakingly beautiful – will be further broken."

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