Saturday, April 23, 2016

Mountain Bikers Vs. The U.S. Forest Service In The Black Hills. What Would Cruz Do? And What About Trump?

     A loss of bureaucratic patience a few weeks ago by a district forest ranger in the central Black Hills led to a take-no-prisoners threat to local mountain bikers who've been creating
 Turn It Over To The States
And Then What?  No Thanks
unauthorized trails in the hills.  
District Ranger Ruth Esperance sent area mountain bikers a letter warning them that continued development and maintenance of unauthorized trails could result in penalties of $10 thousand and six months in the slammer. The bikers' response? They conducted their weekly ride on one of the unauthorized trails as if they--imagine this--owned the place.  Just who do those bikers think they are?  

    Esperance's gratuitous threat was met with the indifference it deserved.  As a long-time lover of hiking in the Black Hills, I've encountered numerous bicycle trails and have yet to find one that has scarred the landscape or diminished the pristine beauty of the forest that it's in.  Meantime, logging has disrupted the essential nature of so many sections of the hills that to be annoyed by the virtually invisible, glorified tracks that make up a bike trail seems like a wildly disproportionate reaction to a bit of alteration that is neither catastrophic, lasting nor aesthetically devastating as logging and mining ventures have been over the centuries.  Ms. Esperance should lighten up.  There's a better way to resolve this thing than to go public with threats of big fines and jail terms.
     Meanwhile, as ever, there's a bigger picture to consider.  As it happens, the matter of who owns and who operates these federal lands is part of the Republican presidential primary conversation.  Considering how much federal land, either National Forest or National Grassland, we have in South Dakota, most of it here on the west end of the state, the U.S. Forest Service is a major partner in its management.  Note that I used the word "partner," not "landlord."  Having business near the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands on the east end of Pennington County, I was around when the ferret-reintroduction program was begun back in the '90s and remember all too well the emotional issues that surfaced when the USFS closed off prairie dog hunting and poisoning on land that local
Not So Fast
What Will The States Do With It?
(photo from
ranchers used as rangeland for many years, generations actually.  The resurgent population of prairie dogs, a prime source of food for ferrets, also essentially ruined the land for grazing.  

     So where does Ted Cruz stand on this?  He's been unequivocal:  last month he told an Idaho crowd that "we need to transfer that (federally owned) land back to the states or even better, back to the people."  I'm kinda sorta with him on this because management of local land by D.C.-initiated fiat can be a pain, as we've seen.  On the other hand, who knows what would happen to that land once state politicos get their hands on it?  On balance, I don't think that risk is worth taking. Donald Trump has already said he doesn't "like the idea" because "you don't know what the state is going to do."  Of course, he's also said "it's not a subject I know anything about,"  so who knows how his thinking will evolve? Still, contrasting what we know now about the two attitudes, you can see why ideologically-committed conservatives embrace Cruz and shun Trump. Where do I stand?  Unless a Cruz-style transfer involves operations and management only, not ownership, I have to go with Trump on this one,   


  1. I will vigorously disagree with the notion that prairie dogs essentially ruin grasslands for grazing and I will also point out if we want to make comparisons to damage of public lands, we aught look no further than the immense ORV/ATV damage and trail system disaster; particularly between the Sugar Shack and Nemo, the larger area around the Sugar Shack and the area to the west and north to Rochford and Galena.
    I will also point out that greater damage to public lands is due to overgrazing by cattle. That is a politically unpopular statement but South Dakota has it's equal share of the Cliven Bundy's and they've been around as long as that welfare candidate. The science on ungulate grazing and prairie dogs is solid and it has shown for decades that poorly managed grazing and rangeland monitoring invite as well as stimulate prairie dog expansion. No where else is there a better example of that than in our National Parks and even CSP where ungulate grazing has been more precisely managed and prairie dog populations have remained relatively stable. There is a great deal more to understanding the troubles of public land management than evaluating whether one candidate or the other thinks relicting our public lands to the states is the prudent thing to do. If we actually understood the value of that land to our society and particularly to wildlife and it's habitat, we'd be doing a lot more than evaluating political posturing by POTUS candidates. We'd be demanding the repeal of the Taylor Grazing Act, The Bankhead Jones Act, The 1868 Mining Act as well as providing better oversight and funding for agencies like the FS.

  2. I particularly agree with John on the fact that logging does way more damage to the forest floor than all off road activity combined. That said, logging is very necessary to the forest health, just comparing the amount of damage done by both. That Ms. Esperance should lighten up is an understatement.