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Putting a Shine On It

by Greg Mumm
BlueRibbon Coalition Executive Director

In my early years working at the local camera shop in my hometown, I remember the owner telling me to keep the glass shelves, counters, cameras and "what nots" shined up all day long. "Boy," he would say, "if you want to sell something, you have got to put a shine on it."

I've thought of that often through the years and taught myself the habit of looking past the shine before I buy or buy in, as the case may be. While that habit may remove some of the fun of impulse shopping, it is more often true that I likely wasn't shopping to begin with. Someone was selling.

Such is the case when it comes to the "Wilderness" designation. My point is simple in that when the case for Wilderness doesn't stand on its own merits, the selling of it is the new common practice of the proponents of it. The "shine" they put on it is designed to sparkle in the eyes of specific groups of folks with the intent of making it "look" like it is good for them. Hunters, fishermen, ranchers, equestrian folks and even mountain bikers are all among the audience under courtship.

But is it a lasting shine? Well, by the time those that buy in discover that it isn't, it is too late. The designation of "Wilderness" is irreversible, permanent, and sadly, forever is a long time. Fortunately, we have 40+ years of history with the Wilderness designation to see how it really plays out.

Ranchers with permits are told that grazing is allowed and that nothing changes for them. Beyond the shine, the full truth is grazing is allowed as long as it is sustainable. How that has played out in reality over the last 40 years is that lack of management ultimately leads to lower grass yields. Lower grass yields lead to less and less sustainable grazing until there is none left. History shows that generations of families dependent on grazing allotments are forced out in the long run.

Hunters are lured with the concept of gloriously quiet hunts and abundant wildlife in Wilderness. Beyond that "shining" is the history of Wilderness that is the same as the rancher; the abundant wildlife goes elsewhere for lack of grazing. That is to say nothing of the exclusivity of it all, and the burden it places on aging hunters who no longer can hike the whole distance, let alone retrieve their kill. Whatever happened to hunting with Grandpa? History shows there will be quiet hunts, all right, although not for the glory of the abundant wildlife but for the lack thereof.

Time and again, the courtship proves nothing but salesmanship when it comes to the Wilderness designation. Like my Montana logger friend, Bruce Vincent, is fond of saying, "It ain't what you don't know that is the problem, it's what you know ain't so that is the problem." In the case for Wilderness, what they are "shining" up to sell you just "ain't so." And when the pitch comes, we cannot let the "shine" of salesmanship continue to drive a wedge between those of us who know, love and use public lands for sustainable multiple uses. Instead, in the battle over Wilderness designations, the sooner groups quit taking shifts in the trenches alone and start sharing shifts together, the sooner the nonsense will be over and common sense will prevail.

--Greg Mumm is the Executive Director for the BlueRibbon Coalition. For questions or comments, he may be contacted at: BlueRibbon Coalition, 4555 Burley Drive, Suite A, Pocatello, ID 83202. Phone: 208-237-1008 x 101, Fax: 208-237-9424. Email <brgreg@sharetrails.org>.

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