The strange nature of government standards

“It’s the different standards.” Rancher Loren Stout, who holds a federal grazing permit, was upset that the annual Rainbow Family gathering was proceeding on Forest Service land without a permit (Mail Tribune, June 23). He pays for access to federal public lands and does not understand why others don’t have to pay.

We have a similar situation here in Southern Oregon. Led by the Jacksonville Woodlands and expanded by such groups as the Siskiyou Upland Trails Association (SUTA) and the Applegate Trails Association (ATA), our area is quickly becoming known as a worldwide destination for excellent hiking, joining the wine, Shakespeare and Britt tourism industries as we head into a 21st-century economy.

Each week finds dozens of volunteers outdoors in all kinds of weather, building the trails they hike, the same trails that attract hundreds of visitors each year. They pay for environmental analysis of their trails and build them to government standards.

These volunteers are boosting our economy. Eventually SUTA’s trails from Ashland to Jacksonville will link to ATA’s trails from Jacksonville to Grants Pass, creating a local trail system to rival the Pacific Crest Trail. Our worldwide reputation for outstanding trail systems will grow.

Across the same landscape others are using the federal public land without paying a dime, using trails not built to standards, trails the government pays to maintain as they are damaged by users. These people create trails with two-wheeled machines wherever they are inclined to ride. The result is rutted trails, erosion, invasive weeds and disturbed wildlife. Government standards for dealing with these public land users is to allow them to create trails wherever they want, then use public money to repair damaged trails. The situation is obvious. “It’s the different standards.”

Certainly the machine users put in volunteer hours to work on their trails, but the trails still lack government standards. Unlike the builders of hiking trails, these machine users are recognized by the government as “partners” and the logo of their enthusiast group is right next to government signage displaying the user-created trails that attract these machine recreationists. The different standards apply when ATA puts up a sign showing their hiking trails, signs they pay for entirely on their own.

Some would say that hiking trails are only for environmentalists, but that would be an uninformed statement or, in today’s political speak, alternative facts. Builders of these trails come from all walks of life. Some are environmentalists, some more, some less. Many are just folks who enjoy being outdoors, getting some exercise while enjoying life in a natural setting. Visitors come from all over the world to see different landscapes without regard to local environmental politics.

Machine users also call themselves environmentalists, but that’s a stretch given the way they ride across the landscape at breakneck speed. Calling themselves environmentalists is like people roller skating at top speed through six museums and calling themselves art lovers. There are loggers, hunters, fishermen and others who care more for the environment.

The article on the Rainbow Gathering talked about how the folks that attend that event usually clean up after themselves. Certainly there are different standards when machine users create messes that the government cleans up with our tax money.

Hikers live by the rule of “pack it in, pack it out.” Machine-created trails are littered with everything from broken plastic motorcycle parts to beer cans. Different standards.

We live in a world feeling the impacts of climate change and scientists all over the world agree the primary cause is human fossil fuel use. With that in mind, it seems short-sighted to promote machine recreation that contributes to the problem.

The federal government has said they will crack down on the Rainbow Family folk. They have one event each year, while continual damage has been done to federal lands for 20 years, but law enforcement is totally inadequate.

Why the different standards? If we expect to move ahead in a 21st-century economy, we should certainly expect our federal agencies, who own most of the land around here, to do their part. No different standards.

— Jack Duggan lives in the Applegate.


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