Stewardship under pressure |

Stewardship under pressure

Alan Braunholtz

A car radio dispenses interesting snippets of diverse information.

Recent interviews with men and women working for organizations trying to protect endangered animals in Asia made for sad listening.

I have to admire the dedication of these people on the ground. They’re either incredible optimists or have a strong belief that a failure to try is the worst failure of all.

I certainly heard no head-in-the-sand idealism. All seemed fully aware of the global pressures pushing these animals to extinction and expressed more empathy than anger at the local people who make money and in part survive off trading in animal parts.

The real problem is China’s growing economy. China now has the third-largest economy in the world.

An unfortunate side effect is an increased demand for rare animal parts for use as traditional medicines, expensive delicacies or flagrant statements of wealth. As the price goes up, the number of animals goes down in a vicious circle of supply and demand.

Without an effective restriction on this trade, there is little hope. It’s a shame, but I’m guessing that many of these “beasts of the jungle’ will be extinct in the wild in my lifetime. The countries where these animals live have many problems. Protecting a few exotic species is not at the top of their priority list.

Here in North America, we don’t have the excuses of poverty and ignorance.

The United States and Canada have the wealth, education, public concern and thanks to an accident of history, the wild exotic beasts and the lands they need to survive.

There’s no starvation, population pressure or other survival needs forcing us to destroy what wild resources we have left. It’s an incredibly fortunate situation to be in, and one worth keeping.

If anyone doubts the public’s concerns, look at all the open space laws, lottery and other funds dedicated to conservation causes.

Unfortunately, many elected officials think they know better. Just recently the Denver Post reported yet another misuse of conservation funds being used for Christmas parades, cell phone purchases, etc.

This disregard for the public’s desire to conserve their wild heritage occurs at all levels and probably won’t change until the public gets as involved and vocal as the special interests that are extremely motivated (by profit) to influence political policy.

Political appointees from agriculture and industry backgrounds dominate Colorado’s boards that oversee conservation issues.

The current presidential administration is engaged in the most aggressive rollbacks of environmental protection in history. Though in deference to public opinion, they’re doing it as stealthily and misleadingly as possible. A favorite tactic is to cut off funding.

Managing our public lands is now so underfunded that a Republican congressman proposed a bill to charge an $85 fee for yearly access to the public lands. Strangely, there was little outcry about all that “shutting off the forest to the people,” “only open to an elite few,” etc., that you hear whenever a new wilderness area is proposed. I guess shutting out the poor is OK.

This $85 is supposed to cover the costs of recreational impact. Will we be charged according to the damage done? If a lone hiker pays $85, then one with a dog should pay double and what about ATVs? ATV organizations often claim that they need more trails, as their daily usage is so much more than a hiker. Fine, multiply the extra trail damage to the increased mileage, and does one hundred times the fee of a hiker sound OK?

The argument against access fees is one of elitism for the rich and double taxation. Our taxes should cover these lands. A couple less B-1 bombers should cover it. We’re not a poor country. We should be able to look after our public lands as the irreplaceable asset they are. Adequate resources to manage and police them would allow responsible use by everyone.

I think some people see the communal ownership of public lands and their use as a form of socialism to be religiously eradicated and turned over to the private sector. If you can’t make money off it, what’s the point? They obviously overlook all the subsidies the agriculture, timber, mining and energy interests get when they use the public lands.

If we can give $24 billion in tax breaks to the highly profitable energy industries in the new energy bill, we can afford to manage our public lands for the benefit of future generations, as well as ourselves.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.

Support Local Journalism