Our Utah congressional delegation is poised to unleash a disastrous public lands bill that would create 41 new Wilderness Areas devouring a massive 2.3 million acres of our most scenic public lands. What a terrible deal this will be. The Wilderness created is immutable; it will last forever. All vehicle travel is banned, slamming the door on the elderly, the weak, the ill, and all mobility impaired persons. It doesn’t matter how many roads exist, they will all be closed. For example, Mancos Mesa, a remote up-thrust located just south of Lake Powell, has over 50 miles of constructed roads dating back 50 years.
The meager concessions promised, however, can be nullified at any time. All the environmentalists have to do is discover some endangered species that may or may not live in the area and all bets are off. Right now they are working on restricting some 12 million acres in several western states for the benefit of the Sage Grouse. This typical abuse of the ESA is so egregious that Utah is having to sue the Federal government, an action that will take years and cost us many millions. As currently written and adjudicated, the ESA trumps all other uses of public and private land. Speaking of Trump, I am sure he would tell us that this deal is at least as bad as the Iran deal. Even worse is the fact that Wilderness Designation is unconstitutional and constitutes unlawful discrimination against vulnerable and protected populations. It is surprising that Sen. Mike Lee, who considers himself a defender of the Constitution above all else, has not recognized this problem in his zeal to support this abusive legislation. Environmentalism is a Religion and is thus regulated by the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, which unambiguously prohibits the implementation of any religious tenants into law. The main feature of Wilderness designation is to ensure the “protection” of the land. Protection is a quality that does not apply to inanimate objects. Rocks, deserts, or mountains are inherently incapable of “protection”.
However, if such objects are imbued with spirituality, then some transcendental quality can indeed be protected from imagined harm. All this is embodied in the religion and worship of the Earth Goddess Gaia, who dwells in and is embodied by a sentient planet Earth. The Religious and Political Environmentalists are Her high priests and law givers; Wilderness is their Totem.
It is the effort to incorporate the gospels of Gaia into law through Wilderness Designation that violates constitutional prohibitions. In addition, the highly prized “Solitude” of the Wilderness Act is arguably a religious quality that has no business being enforced on the masses through legislation. It is up to the individual to find this prized solitude, not to expect the government to create it for him at the expense of non-believers.
In a very real sense, Wilderness Designation is the sacrifice of the infidel to the Goddess Gaia. Wilderness Designation also violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because it give superior rights to elite groups of people, those who travel via muscle power, and vastly inferior rights to those who travel, either by need or choice, by vehicle. People on vehicles are also subject to the discredited theory of “collective guilt” wherein the whole group is subject to punishment for the sins of the individual. This is a very common theme in current public land management. If this weren’t enough, the Wilderness prohibition against mechanized transport harshly discriminates against vulnerable and protected classes of people who will no longer be able to access these scenic public lands once the roads and trails are closed. This will be a re-creation of the King’s Forest of old where the powerful elite were granted full access but the unwashed masses, the rabble, were banned, under pain of death. Luckily, we’re not beheading Wilderness trespassers yet but the penalties for violating the vehicle ban are so severe they can come pretty close. These “cruel and unusual” penalties are also a violation of the 8th amendment.
An argument is made that we need to compromise in order to avoid Obama’s national monument plans. This is foolish because these monuments could be overturned with the stroke of pen by the next president, whereas Wilderness is Forever. This logic is akin to committing suicide to avoid being murdered. While we are now in the worst possible climate for pursuing this legislation, we are also on the brink of a new regime that would welcome a far more favorable outcome for the people of Utah.
History has shown that compromise with the environmentalists is a fool’s errand. Much like the communists of old, they will take what is offered and then come back for the rest. They only need to win once, and the battle is over. Their recent protests are no more than a smoke screen, designed to give cover to Bishop and Chaffetz and the other Republican supporters.
If Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz are bent on advancing a “litmus” Democratic agenda item by creating new Wilderness, let them then create REAL Wilderness—where no human entry is allowed. This would side step some of the objections enumerated herein and be a big move toward the coveted goal of Fairness in public land management. If this were to happen, you could be sure that the Religious and Political Environmentalists would cry out with the wail of a thousand banshees. The triumph of the political elites would become their curse. Being forced to ride the same horse as their victims would greatly dampen their zeal for the confiscation of our most beautiful public lands. Give it a try, Rob and Jason, and see how quickly they change their tune.
Salt Lake City
Dr. Rainer Huck as been a public land access advocate for more than 30 years and was founder and past president of the Utah Shared Access Alliance. He is currently conducting research in fundamental physics.