[Marxism] This Land Was Your Land
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 25 11:25:03 MDT 2019
NY Times Op-Ed, July 13, 2019
This Land Was Your Land
By Christopher Ketcham
A drilling rig operating for Ultra Petroleum Resources near Pinedale,
Wyo.CreditCreditWilliam Campbell/Corbis, via Getty Images
For the past 10 years I’ve been documenting the fate of the least
protected and most at-risk portion of the national commons: the roughly
450 million acres across 12 Western states overseen on our behalf by the
United States Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest
It’s an astonishingly diverse landscape of grasslands, steppe,
mountains, deserts, forests, rivers and watersheds — places of beauty
and wildness that Woody Guthrie once sang about, where no one person, or
institution or corporation, is supposed to be privileged above the other.
Both the B.L.M. and the Forest Service operate with a congressional
mandate for what’s called “multiple use” management. On paper, multiple
use means exploiting the land for its resources in a way that maintains
In practice, it long amounted to what William O. Douglas, a backpacker,
outdoorsman and the longest-serving Supreme Court justice, described in
1961 as “semantics for making cattlemen, sheepmen, lumbermen, miners the
Regulation has improved somewhat since that time, thanks to sweeping
environmental laws passed in the 1960s and ’70s. The Federal Land Policy
and Management Act of 1976 stipulated that “scientific, scenic,
historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water
resource and archaeological values” and “the long-term needs of future
generations” must be taken in account in managing those expanses. But
the land still suffers, as those laws too often are ignored or soft-pedaled.
Journey across the B.L.M. and Forest Service domain today and you’ll
find no shortage of uses that look more like abuses. Oil and gas fields
blight the deserts and steppe. Coal, copper, silver and gold mines stab
into cliffs and mountains. Forests are felled for timber interests,
grasslands are overgrazed for the benefit of cattlemen. The result is
ecological impoverishment, biotic simplification and a widespread
collapse of biodiversity.
If you’re lucky in your travels, you might end up talking with Mary
O’Brien, a botanist in southern Utah with the nonprofit Grand Canyon
Trust. Dr. O’Brien argues that the B.L.M. has permitted so many cattle
to graze on the fragile desert landscape that native plants have been
eaten away and the sensitive cryptobiotic soil — which takes a century
to mature — has been eroded to dust.
“This is what’s happened to the promise we made the American people,”
Dr. O’Brien told me. “You’ve heard about the banality of evil. This is
the banality of normalized degradation.”
“The only acid test is,” she said, “‘Is it good for cattle?’”
You might also end up talking with Leslie Hagenstein, a nurse
practitioner who grew up in Pinedale, Wyo., in the Upper Green River
Valley, and who practiced there for close to 40 years. I sat in her
living room in the house she was raised in on a September evening,
looking out the window at a fracking well a half-mile away that was
drilled in the final months of the Obama administration.
The drill bit thumped and pounded for close to a year. Her house shook.
The noise, the tremors and glaring klieg lights left her sleepless. She
complained. She says the company and the B.L.M. ignored her.
The well sits on an area called the Mesa Breaks, public land. When she
was a young woman in Pinedale, the B.L.M. designated the Mesa Breaks a
critical wildlife corridor for wintering mule deer and pronghorn, and
barred all energy exploration there.
“It’s rape and pillage now,” she told me.
Now? Liberals pathologically allegiant to the Democratic Party want to
blame Donald Trump for it all, as if history began in 2017. Don’t be
fooled. Gas drilling in the Upper Green River Valley began under Bill
Clinton, accelerated under George W. Bush, continued under Barack Obama
and has accelerated again under President Trump.
The Upper Green River Valley once had some of the cleanest air in the
country. The energy industry brought its armadas of diesel trucks,
drilled with abandon, laid its pipelines and dumped the fracked
wastewater in toxic evaporation pits where once there had been sagebrush
that was habitat for endangered sage grouse.
The air filled with volatile organic compounds, the contaminants
associated with fracking and with nitrogen oxides from diesel engines.
Now the ozone pollution cooked out of that brew by the Wyoming sun forms
a veil of smog.
It’s your land put to productive use, made hideous with drill pads,
warehouses, parking lots, cranes, bulldozers, storage tanks, emission
stacks and roads that lead always to more artifacts of industry.
The public land is behind fences, behind barbed wire. The signs say
welcome to the “Pinedale Complex, Authorized Persons Only.”
Among the lyrics that never made it to radio when Woody Guthrie released
“This Land Is Your Land” in 1951 were the ones nakedly socialist in
message. “There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me,”
Guthrie sang in his original version that went unheard. “The sign was
painted, said ‘Private Property’ / But on the backside, it didn’t say
nothing / This land was made for you and me.”
The high walls today consist of management protocols set by complicit
federal regulators, who are overseeing public land for its tacit
privatization — land that we might as well declare public in name only.
But the federal regulators answer to Congress, and Congress answers to
us, the owners of the land. We need to rise up and speak for the commons
as a people, collectively. The rabble-rousing Guthrie would have us do
Christopher Ketcham is a freelance journalist and author of the
forthcoming book “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption Are
Ruining the American West,” from which this essay is adapted.
More information about the Marxism