Subject: Re: public lands and their use
Date: Nov 4 14:08:12 1994
From: Dennis Paulson - dpaulson at

OK, I *am* back from class, had a good lunch and raring to go. It's Friday
afternoon, with reduced anxiety about what I have to accomplish this week,
and an almost-weekend attitude of "time to enjoy life."

Peter's comments underscored my suggestion that parts of national forests
be closed to hunters so others can enjoy them with little fear (except for
bears and mosquitos and poison ivy). He also made the point of how many
other "recreationists" there are out there whose presence really does
disturb if not destroy the natural environment that is being "preserved."
For years I have been arguing that there should be playgrounds for
snowmobilers and 3/4-wheelers, some percentage of public land where they
can go play but not bother the rest of us. That seems a fairer and
certainly more likely solution than to say "out of the woods" to them. It's
a solution that accepts cultural pluralism, the same way our laws and
customs are supposed to accept if not promote other pluralisms such as
racial, sexual, religious, and national. I feel as if I have little in
common with a pack of yahoos roaring through the woods on their
snowmobiles, but who am I to say they don't have the right to practice
their particular brand of recreation? Obviously they can't do it in my
backyard, but isn't "public land" for the public? And, to avoid as much as
I can being a hypocrite, I'll have to say that even though I may never go
out in a snowmobile, I'll bet it's a lot of fun.

One of the arguments that I've heard about snowmobilers, off-road
vehiclers, etc., is that our prejudice against them is deserved because
they're spoiling the place for everyone else, while we nature-lovers don't
do that. Well, spoiling the place for everyone else is just what Homo
sapiens is best at. You might just as well say that by building Seattle,
people have spoiled the place for everyone else. Building all those
highways spoiled the countryside, yet the millions of people who drive on
them are clearly the ones who call the shots. Dog-lovers spoil Magnuson
Park for "the rest of us," yet there are far more dog-lovers than birders.
Even birders "spoil the place for the rest of us" when one of them scares a
bird away that we wanted to get a better look at. We just have to figure
out ways to accommodate the different kinds of people with whom we share a
park, or state, or world, while trying to do our best to have our
particular influence felt as strongly as possible, as Hal wrote.

We may just have to divide up public land in different ways than we have.
Of course the scary part would be if someone determined that--based on a
thorough survey--the national forests would actually belong to the
snowmobilers except for a token 3% for nature-lovers. We really do need to
understand how many of us there are, as several have written, and how we
can work together to make our influence felt. Then we can either accept
what the numbers tell us or start working even more diligently than we have
to tilt the balance in our favor.

Believe me, I'm trying to argue for a balanced approach, as well as playing
devil's advocate to some degree. If you want my gut feeling, I've always
been inclined to string piano wire across trails down which snowmobilers
and 3-wheelers come rocketing. I recommended heat-seeking missiles to the
Department of Wildlife when they were trying to keep ORVs off the Ocean
Shores game range. And, like Gary Larson, I'd like to give the deer and elk
rifles with which to fight back!

Dennis Paulson phone: (206) 756-3798
Slater Museum of Natural History fax: (206) 756-3352
University of Puget Sound email: dpaulson at
Tacoma, WA 98416