What are they thinking?
The Fringe Editor Climbs Inside the Heads (“Hey, it’s surprisingly clean in here”) of Some of the Mental Envronists and Muirish Folk in our little corner of the Sierra.
Standing with a group of local stalwarts the other day I realized that High Sierra Rural Alliance, and the tiny handful of people involved with it, has taken on a terrifying, even repulsive power. HSRA is seen as a foreign object in the body of the community, and in many ways that is true, but it is important not to vilify people, or to give them power they don’t have in the real world, and it’s important to realize we are all cousins in this county.
The acid test for that is this: if you saw one of these cousins choking on a hotdog would you give them a heimlich
, or let them die?
Obviously, if you would let them choke to death (a horrible way to die) you are the monster here, not them.
Conversely, if you were choking, would you refuse a heimlich from them?
As importantly, if you were choking, do you believe they would let you die?
The break point is life and death. Particularly, if you believe any of these people would let you choke to death, that belief will decrease the likelihood of your saving them.
Demonizing. Posters like this created an image of the enemy
as demonic and strange. Which is H.S. and which is R.A.?
In other words, that boundary of trust, and the behaviors it engenders in us, can drive us into a “war of clans” that will suck our efforts, increasing the likelihood of lawsuit and worse between the various factions in this current struggle over property rights and growth.
To be up front, the group of local stalwarts also had a “dog in the fight” as Director of Framing the Situation Tim Beals is fond of saying. They all either own land or in some way benefited from land transactions. Which isn't to say they’re bad; I’d hurl myself at any one of them if I were choking. But it is to say it gives them a “perspective.”
During the discussion, one of the LS (local stalwarts) said “I don’t know what they’re thinking.”
That’s a good question, and one that caused the Fringe to bring out the Hermeneutic Paradigm Analyzer (HPA) to see what “they” might be thinking.
It starts with a deep appreciation of what has been lost. We can say without exaggeration that the Europeans destroyed the ecology of the Americas, a destruction that began in the early 1500s and has not stopped. By any measure, we have infiltrated the natural environment of this continent literally from the level of microscopic life in the soil to the microscopic life in the miles of air above us. There simply is no way to comprehend the effects of our spreading petroleum products and invasive species and pesticides and heavy metals and sulfur compounds and on and on. We create molecules that never existed before, and harvest and concentrate natural compounds in a way nature never did.
Individually, we are filthy. Our food is filled with long lasting chemicals which we ingest and excrete (if we’re lucky) into the environment. Our manner of eating is degrading, requiring the spreading of tons and tons of artificial fertilizers, plant and insect toxins, re-arranged DNA, antibiotics, hormones, all requiring oceans of oil to refine and distribute. Never mind that we’re killing ourselves with cheap fat and carbs, often derived from corn, the effect on the environment is devastating.
And it isn’t hard to see. Every new road, every new house contributes. The road breaks up natural animal highways, leading to rotting carcasses on the hot pavement. The petroleum from the road and falling from the cars that travel them are gathered by the rain and carried off to the watershed. The watershed itself is distorted by roads and houses, rerouted for the convenience of our reliance on automobiles. Every new house represents about 1500 lbs of concentrated chemicals, hormones, heavy metals and salts a year in the form of human crap. The house is heated, which increases the local temperature; it changes the reflectivity of the land with driveways and cleared areas. Around many houses, a portion of land is selected to be drenched with artificial fertilizers and pesticides, the excess of which run off into the local streams. Even our pets and livestock are destructive, with cats clearing the woods of small birds and rodents, and dogs harassing deer and ground nesting birds, and cattle and sheep stripping vegetation from stream sides and stomping their shit into the exposed banks. Imported animals and the feed they eat spread invasive weeds and grasses through the natural meadows. All domestic animals pose a contagion risk for wild animals, though in our minds the threat is only one way the other way.
When the house is far out, and the owner is wealthy, all of these effects are magnified: the house is bigger, there are more outbuildings, more animals, more chemicals; in short, more of every negative impact.
And the impacts live well beyond our lifetimes. California is dotted with camps and towns and ranches that have passed, leaving in their footprint mercury and DDT and lead paint and rusting fuel tanks. Even ranchers and timber operators have left natural meadows dry sage plains cut by deeply eroded streams, so that the very water the meadows lack runs past filled with silt. Our degradation of natural watersheds began long before the cable dozer, and even Sierra County shows the marks of what cheap immigrant labor can accomplish. Now, though, we have machines that literally scour the landscape for logs, or gouge out mountain tops. Every landowner needs equipment, to manage timber, to raise crops, to plow snow, and they all use fuel, and they all have tremendous potential for harming the land, particularly steep land, or wetlands.
They might be thinking that.
They might be thinking like this: there was a day when the west was won by iron men and smoking steel, but that day is gone. The west is won, it has been won to death, we don’t need any more carving out of the wilderness, the wilderness is dwindling, shrinking before our eyes. Every hardy wild-wester who takes a dozer into a watershed to carve out a homestead breaks up the wild lands a little more. Like tendrils of mold reaching out to colonize a piece of bread, the homesteaders, and worse, the large estate landowners, push civilization farther back into the fractured wilderness. More growth follows along their roads, more dirt drives, more silt in the water, more oil on the roads and on and on.
Indeed, they might be thinking, the only way to prevent that, to properly protect the watersheds, is to usher everyone into a localized area. Such areas are easier to control, it’s easier to mitigate their impact. People have to be kept out of the watersheds, away from the streams. They should be discouraged from driving, from building power-lines and roads which will support new neighbors.
The way to do that is through the law, with strong emphasis on restriction, making use of what laws and documents there are.
They might be thinking about that.
It is easy for them to disregard the science of the Registered Professional Forester, and it should be, since these “scientists” are trained in the art of forest exploitation, not forest recovery. Besides, there is as much contention within the discipline as with the discipline. It is easy to ignore the pleas of local landowners: It isn’t up to society to pay the price for their John Wayne fantasies. It will be better for them and their children in the long run. Forcing people into clusters protects the wildness we all treasure.
To be fair, they are also thinking other things. Some are simply angry, vindictive people. Some can afford to live here only by punking their neighbors, or perhaps doing good. Some take great pride in their goodness and are energized by their efforts to do good, particularly against adversity. Their egos are fed on the satisfaction that they know more than their brutish and greedy adversaries. There is something almost Higher-Power-ish about it, a “Great Spirit” or “Gaia” kind of thing.
They could go somewhere else and do it, but they’ll take care of their little corner of earth, and besides, there is competition elsewhere, and Sierra County is a little pond.
According to the HPA, they could be thinking that.
The Jurgen Habermass Hermeneutic Paradigm Analyzer
What to make of that?
Many local stalwarts would agree to the bare facts of that paradigm, the history and science of the narrative. But they wouldn’t necessarily come to the same conclusion with the data.
The wilds are long since not virgin. The damage comes from much farther away than our mountains, and the problem, yes, is people. The real danger to the land isn’t rural people, it isn’t rural development, and it certainly isn’t homesteaders and large estates at this point.
However, later, yes, homesteaders will get old, timberland owners will come on hard times, and they will try to sell a few “ranchettes” or “forest estates”.
That is regrettable; very few stalwarts over 50 don’t have a favorite place that was over-run with development. Orange fields, old ranches, sometimes whole valleys have been paved over.
But, wait! These weren’t isolated inholdings or homesteads, they all grew from an urban center, according to a General Plan.
And, that’s the stinky fly in the pristine vision of a saved environment: the problem is people! People go where people are! If you want to save the environment, go to the city.
Better yet, work to help local government and development, instead of trying to impose a pristine ideal on it. If rural economies are strong, there is not a motive to sell timber or farm land.
Further, it isn’t always so that homesteaders are bad for the environment. Our wild lands are not natural. They are logged over, road cut, fish planted, and heavily touristed. The forests are badly over grown, and nature will right the woods in a century, if we disappear, but unless the warlike in the cities blast earth with nuclear bombs, or the medical institutions in the city generate some super plague, it isn’t likely that all people will disappear.
Which means we need motivated, informed landowners supported by local communities and agencies to correct the excesses of the past. The roads mentioned previously are often efficient fire breaks, and they help crews move about during a fire. Informed land owners with help from the government or other agencies can do hazard fuel and timber stand improvement work that will reduce the loading of understory.
In short, homesteaders, timberland owners and ranchers are not the problem, and discouraging them isn’t much of a solution.
The stalwarts and the monster HSRA should find common ground. Currently, the feeling against HSRA is so strong representatives often don’t show up at public meetings. The editorial position of the Prospect has perhaps encouraged such resentment, but it certainly would not have been possible, or necessary, if HSRA didn’t pursue such abstracted goals with other people’s real property.
To be clear, it isn’t just HSRA and the General Plan/TPZ/High water line controversy. We’re seeing the same kind of struggle of paradigms with TNC at Independence Lake. At what point are people saving the environment from people, and at what point are people simply using money to create an idea of Pristine for people like themselves?
In the final analysis, if, standing face to face, we realize we would save our cousins from choking, that means we should have a commitment to working together. What will help is at least understanding the view of the other side.
But, that means working together in good faith, if possible.
If not, then maybe people who aren’t happy with the community the way it is, with the values the people here have, should move. After all, if the problem is people, go where they are.
There are plenty of people who are neither local stalwart nor environ-mental. That middle view is the one that should be reflected in our community planning. Demonizing or down-contexting the boogeyman on the other side isn’t going to accomplish what we need: a balanced community general plan.
There is a very thoughtful discussion on the subject HERE