The Wild West is a lot tamer than it used to be. Sure, there are more and more people running around these days, (actually they’re ATVing around) but there’s more to it than that. The amount of land in this country that is truly wild is disappearing faster than a hometown preacher in a whorehouse raid. I believe three major factors have come together in the last few decades to kill off the legendary essence of the Wild West.
First and foremost are the Gas & Oil companies. They come in like the wolf dressed as Grandma, all flattery and white teeth. They frack up the earth while the politicians drink the thick black kool-aid and pat themselves on the back for bringing labor-to-middle management jobs to town. And by the time we realize that our air and water are too contaminated for the birds, fish and wildlife (not to mention our children) all that’s left is an empty nightgown beside the bed.
Second to blame (and first to profit Gas & Oil) is the national marketing of The Great Outdoors. If I had a dollar for every Subaru ad with an attractive couple watching the sunset in the middle of nowhere… well, we’d all have brand new Subarus. When I was a kid it was still kind of a novelty to pack up the station wagon and head into the hills with a sleeping bag and a six-pack. Sure, your off-beat brother-in-law did it every chance he got, but civilized people stayed home and tried not to spill their third martini on the wall-to-wall carpeting. Then, sometime in the late 80s to early 90s hard wood flooring made a comeback, and more and more of us started going out to explore nature from the climate controlled safety of our gas-guzzling SUVs.
And lastly, in the trifecta of death for the Wild West, we have our local billionaires who want to realize their childhood dreams of being a cowboy. Whenever I hear the words ‘land management’ I throw up a little in my mouth. Why would raw land need human beings to manage it? Is it just me or is our hubris at an all-time high? Do we seriously think we can do a better job of maintaining natural habitat than the system that is already in place? (That’s our planet’s eco-system, for all you monotheists.) And when did rich people turn 180 degrees from the Roosevelt/Rockefeller school of thought? Upper class benevolence has gone the way of the dodo, which is why it’s more important than ever to democratically collaborate on public land policy rather than entrust the land to a few rich guys.
I mean, we are talking about men who would sue their own brother in a court of law. It’s not that I can’t imagine two brothers getting into a heated argument. I come from a family that spans the spectrums; from politics to party going tips, we rarely agree on anything. But to take it to the courts? That’s a level of self-importance that makes my family look like the tv show The Waltons. And trust me, we’re not. For one thing, we’re a ranching family, totally different than farming.
My grandparents ranched here for over sixty years; raising cows, horses and children, as my grandmother likes to say. As a child I did not fully appreciate spending time on the ranch; my memories are a hazy mixture of hard work and hot cereal. But now I would give everything I own to go back in time and spend a day there. For me, driving on a lonely two lane road with an old barbed wire fence running along the side is like watching a John Hughes movie during the holidays; it makes me feel as though all is as it should be in the world.
Why don’t we appreciate the intrinsic value of uncultivated land? While a lack of human management is unarguably beneficial to the soil, plants and animals, there is human gain as well. A healthy planet benefits all of us and speaking as someone from a Waltons-sized family, trust me, privacy is imperative to health. Now and then, even Mother Nature needs to hang a Do Not Disturb sign and lounge around in her underwear. And every time we let an individual buy or swap public land, no matter how good the intentions, a little bit more of the Wild in the West disappears.