30 Jan 2010, 12:35am
Politics and politicians
by admin

Land Swapping Bill Proposed by Wyden and Merkley

Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have proposed a new “wilderness” bill for Eastern Oregon that is not quite what it appears to be. The same old enviro propaganda team is tooting their horns, but there is more to the story than meets the eye.

The deal is really a land swap more than anything else, not in the government’s favor, either. But that’s okay. The land to be designated wilderness does not qualify, and that’s a little more problematical. The proposed “protection” is not protection, and it will generate environmental destruction, but given Ron Wyden’s track record in that regard, it is less onerous than his terrible proposed OEFROGPJA bill [here, here].

The story as reported in the MSM:

Wyden, Merkley propose 16,000 acres of eastern Oregon wilderness

By Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian, January 28, 2010, [here]

Oregon’s two senators today proposed adding about 16,000 acres to the system of federally protected wilderness areas.

A land swap between private landholders and the federal Bureau of Land Management would create two new wilderness areas near the John Day River, Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said.

One of the landowners involved in the potential swap is the Christian youth organization Young Life, whose Washington Family Ranch camp near the town of Antelope occupies the former home of the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

Click [here] to see a map of the proposed wilderness area.

“Oregonians have a deep connection to their land,” Wyden said. “This legislation will strengthen that relationship by creating two wilderness areas that will preserve these natural treasures for generations to come and will serve as a hopeful postscript to the saga of the Rajneeshee colony.”

The map is incomplete. It does not show the Big Muddy Ranch where the loony Rajneeshees lived for a couple of years some 25 years ago in temporary bliss, sucking on nitrous oxide and planning their salad bar poisoning forays into The Dalles. I don’t know that the Rajneeshees need or deserve a postscript. Wyden sounds a little tipsy on that point.

The Big Muddy Ranch is now the site of the Washington Family Ranch, near the confluence of Currant Creek and Muddy Creek. Nor does the map show Antelope, which is just off the map to the west on Hwy 218. But that’s okay.

The map does show the checkerboard BLM ownership that will be traded. It is a good thing to privatize those isolated parcels and block up the Fed ownership.

More from the Oregonian article:

Under the proposal, which is subject to an appraisal, the BLM would receive approximately 8,821 acres in exchange for 12,323 acres going to Young Life and two other land owners to create the Horse Heaven and Cathedral Rock wilderness areas. The deal would also put a five-mile stretch of the river into public ownership.

“It is tremendous,” said John Crafton of the Redmond chapter of Oregon Hunters Association. “This proposal expands a few thousand acres of usable public lands into over 16,000 acres, and that is a huge benefit for wildlife because it creates wintering grounds for game animals where they are left alone to winter naturally.”

Mr. Crafton’s glee hides the fact that there will be a net reduction in public lands of 3,502 acres. And it does not change “wintering grounds.” The deer and antelope are not cognizant of who owns the land. They will not be moving anywhere. They have not been wintering unnaturally, nor summering unnaturally, either. I don’t know where that kind of gibberish comes from. Probably not from from whiffing nitrous oxide, but who knows?

That landscape is subjected to frequent wildfire, which can impact winter range, but that is nothing new. The sparse sagebrush and grass range will survive.

Last summer the Muddy Creek Fire [here] burned 16,600 acres northwest of the Big Muddy Ranch, mostly on private land but also on some of the BLM parcels to be traded. The Big Muddy Fire was monitored, not suppressed, but it is almost impossible to fight a wind-driven range fire, especially in that rimrock and canyon terrain.

One should not expect the Oregonian to include little facts like that. They’ve never seen the place, nor do they have a clue what goes on there. The Oregonian is an urban dead tree press. Their connection with the real world outside the city limits is tenuous at best.

What is truly tragic and ignorant about Wyden’s and Merkley’s bill is that the land is not wilderness and has not been wilderness for thousands of years. The John Day River uplands were the summer territory of the Sahaptin speakers of the Mid-Columbia who resided in an area from Celilo Falls near The Dalles to roughly Lewiston, Idaho, and from the headwaters of the Yakima River in the north to the headwaters of the John Day River in the south.

Sahaptin speakers today still live in the area, and many reside on the Yakama and Warm Springs Reservations. They were and are still incredible basketmakers. Their language and traditions are still alive and even in renewal. A remarkable book about them is Nch’i-Wana, The Big River: Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land by Eugene S. Hunn and James Selam and Family, 1990, University of Washington Press [here].

Sahaptins are thought of primarily as salmon people, because they occupied one of the best salmon fisheries in the world along the Mid-Columbia, but they also utilized a plethora of resources, animal and vegetable, in the uplands away from the rivers. The proposed wildernesses are smack in the middle of the Sahaptin southern territory, where traditional hunting, gathering, and land stewardship has been practiced for millennia.

I can guarantee that Senators Wyden and Merkley did not consider for one minute returning the traditional homelands to the rightful owners, nor renewing traditional land uses and stewardship. That is not what wilderness designation is all about. From Tending the Wild by M. Kat Anderson [here]:

According to the Wilderness Act of 1964 (Public Law 88-577), wilderness is “an area where the earth and [its] community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain, An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which … generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.”

The land in question does not qualify. It is not untrammeled — in fact it has been trammeled all over for at least 11,000 years, inhabited and tended by human beings continuously during all that time.

The Wilderness Act perpetuates an ugly myth, and a destructive one. It destroys history and the human connection to the land. It separates people from their homelands. It favors ignorant invaders over the traditional residents. It is pernicious gibberish. It hurts people’s feelings, degrades their sense of identity, and tramples on their heritage.

And for what? For lines on a map. For imperialistic control. For motives of power and conquest. For revisionist history. For political grandstanding. For symbolism over substance.

Is it too much to expect that nerds like Wyden and Merkley would get that, that they would have an inkling of understanding, or if they did, that it would change their stances and policies?

Probably it is too much to expect. They live in rarefied air, and breathe the nitrous oxide of political power. They do not connect with the land or the people. They are empty suits, actors in a shadow theater. They do not live among us. They are not of us, not our kind, not our kith and kin. They are aliens, strangers in a strange land.

But so it goes. Our society is alien, disconnected, ignorant of history, saddled by pernicious myths, ersatz, remote from our origins, remote from tradition. It’s a brave new world, and the past is prologue to nothing.

In the long run, the winners will be those who hang on. The Sahaptins have watched patiently as the crazy white eyes have first invaded and usurped and then abandoned their homelands. They have watched the Rajneeshees and the gibberish speaking politicians come and go. They watch, and they wait.

This too shall pass. The wilderness freaks will bloviate and obviate and run around like headless chickens, and then they too shall disappear. The land will remain, and the people will remain, and the traditions will return, someday.



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