What harm is this car doing? That is the first question that is raised by the absurd proposal, originating from the Sierra Club and backed by the Forest Service, to ban motorized travel from the Indian Creek valley of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland.
Actually, I have to correct that. Contrary to what I suggested earlier, a closer look at the relevant documents shows they aren't really proposing to prohibit motorized travel, in general, at all. This is the one thing about this insane idea that is the most obviously unjust. Its this. In this "wilderness" -- the cows are staying!
Ever since the National Grassland was founded, ranchers have been allowed to pasture their cattle on this government land -- in fact, giving these people this government benefit has been one of the main functions of the National Grassland system. And these ranchers, unlike you and me and your Aunt Tillie, will have the right to use motorized vehicles here, even after it is declared a "wilderness." And believe me, they will come in, not only in pickup trucks and ATVs, but backhoes and bulldozers, to clean out their stockponds when they fill up with mud, as they do periodically. Forest Service rangers, in private conversations, admit that they too will be coming in with jeeps and trucks. Do you think they are going to be walking twelve miles across rugged terrain, carrying all their own water? They are representatives of the state -- they make the rules! The answer, of course, is no. Unlike the rest of us, they will ride.
Come to think of it, now I have to correct the way I put the question at the beginning. Since the proposal is to discriminate drastically between two groups of people, the question is not what harm does any vehicle, taken at random, ever do. The question is which of the two groups does more damage. Is it the hunters, the rockhounds, the guy who likes to watch prairie dogs through binoculars? Is it the people who will no longer be able to use this area except via means of transportation that are painful, constraining, and possibly dangerous? Or is it the ranchers and their servants in the Forest Service? Is it the people who will be allowed to bring all sorts of motor vehicles into the area as part of their work, and the ones who can roam freely over it at their leisure because they have horses?
In case the answer is not obvious, let me tell you about these cows. They poop everywhere. They do it in the water you wade into in order to cool off when the temperature goes over 100. They do it on the trails that you walk on. They attract huge, biting flies that draw blood and raise big itching welts on your legs and arms. Most of all, they poop copiously under all the shade trees, just where I want to sit down or unroll my sleeping bag. Spending the night here is like camping in a really, really badly kept barnyard. If you ever do it, you will want to (and I am not kidding about this) make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.
Worst of all, their grazing diminishes the presence of native grasses and encourages invasive species. The only way you can see solid stretches of buffalo grass is to climb to areas that the cows cannot reach. You can tell just by looking at the grass species when you have succeeded in getting away from them.
If the South Dakota Sierra Club had any guts, they would go after the ranchers, who do far more damage than the rockhounds could ever do. But no, in their lamely argued report on these issues, they simply take for granted that the ranchers will continue to dominate this otherwise-wild area, with never utter a peep about the damage they and their animals do.
Anyway, what sort of "wilderness" is it that has bulldozers, backhoes, stock ponds, plus hundreds and hundreds of lumbering, stinking, drooling cows? Isn't this just an abuse of one of the most sacred words in the language?
We see here a perfect example of how the system we live in really works. It is a class system. And no, the classes are not the capitalists and the proletariat (though there are times when that division does parallel the real one). It is the state and those who are sufficiently organized to influence it, and everyone else. Farmers and the Sierra Club are like the NRA, the teachers' unions, or General Motors: they are organized and therefore they have Leviathan's ear. On the other hand, those who will have to walk into Indian Creek or stay the Hell out do not constitute this sort of powerful interest group. That is the only explanation for the success, so far, of this ridiculous proposal.