Thursday, September 19, 2013

Politics is a Double Edged Sword, Don't Let It Cut You Down - by Lauren Campbell Kong

Jin and I recently took a vacation due west, a 3 week long endeavor. We stopped and camped in as many parks as we could, marveled at the beauty that surrounded us, and took in sights that we have never before seen. I had never been to the northwest, so seeing the forest and conifers was on my bucket list. We spent a night in the Hoh Rainforest, a beautiful forest lush with moss and vegetation. It is so lush that life is layered throughout; moss is so thickly covered among the trees that they actually provide a ground network, a soil, for other land dwelling insects and small animals. Located in the Olympic National Park, it is a sight to be seen and an experience to be had.

Jin, Moe and I camped in the Hoh Rainforest one night; waking up in the fog and seeing it roll into the trees was mesmerizing. I can now fully understand why this area of the world is so precious.

Old world forests are dwindling in number, but much has been done to protect the temperate rain-forests along the northwest coast and southern Alaska. After experiencing it myself, I couldn’t imagine anyone allowing large scale detriment to happen to this pristine area.

While driving through the park and the forests, Jin and I passed numerous anti ‘land grab’ signs. At first I assumed it was an entity trying to take land from the park or other protected land. At one point we stopped for coffee at a coffee truck and I asked the women working there what the 'land grab' was all about. She replied

“local politicians are trying to expand the National Park and take our land away from us. They want to protect it so we can’t work on it. My husband’s family has owned land here for four generations and we believe we should be able to live, work, and explore on our own land.”

Her reply stunned me for a moment. I had never thought about it that way; I’m for protecting land, it is a core belief of mine, I work to protect the environment every day. However, I also agree with her statement. I don’t believe in taking things that belong to others, I’m from farmland Indiana, so owning land and using it for work is not a new concept to me nor a concept with which I disagree. Jin and I thanked her for the coffee and got back on the road. In addition to the great northwest coffee, she provided us with good conversation for the next couple of hours and gave me a new topic to research: The Wild Olympics Land Grab.

This divided issue provides extremely different points of view. Those who supported the Wild Olympics Campaign (WOC) were looking forward to the ‘historic’ legislation establishing Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River protection. They argued for protection of the forest and saw this legislation as a way to fortify the safety of the land, water, and ecosystems. They back their statements with promise of no forced selling of land to the government; the government would only purchase land as it came up for sell. Those against the campaign stated that wasn’t the case, that the land would be ‘pried out of their hands’ by the government; designating the land as Wilderness would prevent enjoyment of the land, because there wouldn’t be any trails or maintenance in the area and most people wouldn’t have the capability to hike such rugged terrain. They also argued for the freedom to sell their land to whomever they desired: a logging company, a nephew, or just pass it down to the family as it has always been; it is their land to do with what they want.

Land designated as Wilderness, according to WOC, is under the strictest protection by the government. They state that it is typically safe from mining of natural resources, typically but not always. Ultimately if that land held a valuable resource and we needed it, the government would go get it. But that is worst case scenario in the eyes of WOC.

When Jin and I read the bill, we didn’t detect any added protection to the land. Yes, these wilderness designations would be added, but ultimately natural resources could still be extracted, trees still logged, and natural gas still fracked. The only difference: instead of going to a local land owner to negotiate, these natural resource extractors would go to the government. What added protection is that? Cutting out the middle man, the land owner? Protection BY the government, but not FROM the government?

Senator Patty Murray and U.S. Congressman Norm Dicks put forth the land protection bill in June of 2012; it was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and seemingly died the same day. That was fast. I know this topic is a bit dated, but the aftermath that is lingering in the communities, through which Jin and I passed, it is alive and well.  The ‘land grab’ has done its damage, in hopes of preventing it, it actually triggered it; it divided politicians, people, and communities. I can see both sides of this ‘issue’, but to me, the real issue is the lack of value we see in keeping land clean and in its natural state, the value in letting those natural resources stay where they are and not to be taken from the bowels of our planet to be burned and turned into toxic air, water, and soil.

I guess I should be thankful that the land grab fight is over, a fight that divided so many people. I should probably have more faith in individuals as well, hoping that they will want to keep this land clean and keep unwanted extractors at bay; to not get tied up in the politics of dirty deals and encrypted bills, bills that are meant to look like a happy, protected end for the land, but in reality are just keen byways of the energy industry.

I think I am happy the bill died. Not that I don’t want land protected, but I want individuals to see that it can be done without government interference if we all just chose to not let them divide us or our land. In the end, we can't count on the government bureaucrats to do what is right. Each of us must understand the necessity of doing what is right by nature. If we can empower people to protect the land, the 'land grab' will be a moot point. So the real lesson here is that politics divide and confuse the real problems we face; spending too much energy arguing politics is like repeating the same madness that put us in our predicament in the first place. We have better ways to spend our time and energy to help protect our planet and our ways of life.   

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