N.M. Federal Lands News

by Frank DuBois

The Federal Land Council News

At a recent Congressional hearing concerning the government shutdown and federal lands, a Congressman asked a stupid question. Do these lands belong to the government or to the people? John Jarvis, Director and 40 year veteran of the National Park Service replied “They are the people’s land.”

What a bunch of outhouse soup.

If the sixteen-day partial shutdown demonstrated anything, it’s that these are nationalized lands under the control of federal politicians and the federal establishment.

Here’s a rundown on some of the events that occurred.

• The Park Service erected barriers to prevent WWII veterans from visiting their memorial. This created national media coverage, as the veterans, some in wheelchairs, stormed the barricades. The Washington Times quoted an angry Park Service ranger as saying “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.” Similar removal of barricades by veterans took place at the Iwo Jima & Vietnam memorials. Keep in mind these are open air memorials with no gates or walls. Later the veterans protested at the White House where they were met by U.S. Park police and ten mounted officers.  While all this was going on, Camp David and the President’s favorite golf course were kept open.

• During the aforementioned Congressional hearing, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) hammered Director Jarvis and wanted to know why the Park Service was writing tickets and putting up barricades against veterans when the Park Service failed to issue a single citation when Occupiers camped out at D.C.’s McPherson Square for 100 days.

• A tour group, including many elderly, was in Yellowstone National Park when the shutdown went into effect. Their bus stopped on a road and the senior citizens filed out to take pictures of a nearby herd of bison. A Park Service ranger said this was “recreating” and ordered the folks back on the bus. The tour guide argued he had just paid a $300 fee to bring the group into the park, but to no avail. The bus then returned to the Old Faithful Inn, located adjacent to the famous geyser. That was as close as they would get. Barricades were up at the geyser and the seniors were locked in the hotel with armed Park Service personnel guarding the door. They left on their two and a half hour trip out of the park the next morning. The tour guide had made arrangements for a restroom stop at an in-park dude ranch. Nope. The dude ranch had been warned that its license to operate would be revoked if it allowed the bus to stop.

• The Alabama Yellowhammer Pioneer Endurance Ride is a popular event for horse enthusiasts that takes place each year on the Talladega National Forest.  Though the government shutdown started days before the endurance ride, riders were told they could bring their horses and compete anyway. After completing a 50 mile ride on a Friday, nearly 100 riders had set up camp in the Talladega National Forest, expecting to leave Saturday morning after their horses had rested and rehydrated. One of the riders said, “Around about 8 o’clock on Friday evening, we were told there were law enforcement people on their way and we needed to pack up and leave”. “We were threatened that our vehicles would be impounded and our horses would be confiscated if we didn’t pack up and leave right now,” she said.

• State officials in South Dakota didn’t expect the shutdown to block people’s view of Mount Rushmore, but it did. Park Service personnel placed cones on roads so that tourists couldn’t pull over and enjoy the view. The Governor’s office was told this was for “safety” reasons. The Governor’s office said, “reasonable people can disagree about that.” I say it’s another bucket of outhouse soup. Senator John Barraso (R-Wyo) said, “No money has been saved by doing this.” “Maybe the Park Service could study how to drop a large curtain in front of the mountains to block the view from the road,” he said. The cones were eventually removed, but only because a blizzard hit and plows needed access to the road.

• During the first week of the shutdown the Forest Service said that privately managed recreation areas on the forests could continue to operate. The Forest Service then issued an “unprecedented” order closing these areas. According to a wire story private concession operators run hundreds of recreation areas within the National Forests, including the majority of the largest and most popular sites. These privately-run concessions typically are funded solely via the user fees paid at the gate, which go to paying for the employees, utilities, trash collection, maintenance, and even insurance on the site. These privately-operated areas do not require any federal funding, and in fact these concessions pay millions of dollars into the Treasury each year in the form of concession fees. “We were certainly taken by surprise by this closure order,” said Warren Meyer, CEO of Recreation Resource Management. “In all past government shutdowns, such as those in the mid-1990s, concession recreation operations have always remained open. This only makes sense, since our operations don’t use any government funds or employees. While we do partner with the US Forest Service on certain activities, none of these are critical to day-to-day operations. We are convinced this closure is an unjustified and unnecessarily punitive action that hurts the recreating public while doing nothing to reduce government spending.”

I can’t help but wonder what the Forest Service would do if the next shutdown happens while the Rainbow Family is having their annual get together.

• Other private businesses were closed, this time by the Park Service. One example would be the Claude Moore Colonial Farm which sits on federal land but for which the Park Service provides no resources for its operation or maintenance. The farm’s manager said the Park Service sent law enforcement agents to the park to remove staff and volunteers from the property.  The manager, Ann Eberly said, “You do have to wonder about the wisdom of an organization that would use staff they don’t have the money to pay to evict visitors from a park site that operates without costing them any money.”

• Then there’s the cases where private individuals own homes on federal land. An example would be what happened at Lake Mead. Joyce Spencer is 77 years old and her husband Ralph is 80. The Spencers never expected to be forced out of their Lake Mead home, which they’ve owned since the 70s, but a Park Service ranger said they had 24 hours to get out.

• In probably the most spiteful action during the shutdown, the Park Service “removed handles from water spigots along the Chesapeake and Ohio canal where bikers and joggers exercise as well as along the Great Allegheny Passage, just to ensure people don’t get any water . . .”

There’s much more but I’ve run out of space.

So now tell me, do you really think these are “the people’s lands”?

Till next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.

Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner (www.thewesterner.blogspot.com) and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship (www.nmsu.edu/~duboisrodeo).