Answer is – nothing! Shucks, even this Free Press isn’t free of charge, unless you took/stole a copy without paying for it, shame on you! Over the years I have frequently heard the phrase “get some free government money.” More recently, when the Forest Service began closing historic roads for access and use, many were upset that the “free” roads were being closed. Well, I hate to bust your dream bubble, but there is no such thing as “free government money” or roads, etc., built with government money. The government does not have any money, it simply takes it from you, me and entrepreneurs and doles it back out to others to do “government projects.” Biggest (and worst) wealth-redistribution system ever conceived.
Now to get to the issue at hand, we need to understand that the many roads, trails, ponds, even many reservoirs we use for recreation were mostly constructed by private individuals, loggers, miners, ranchers and homesteaders. The larger reservoirs used the taxpayers’ earnings. These are the same roads, trails, waters, etc., that we have become accustomed to using for personal recreation such as hiking, biking, camping, four-wheeling, boating, fishing, etc., all for “free.” We tend to forget, or probably never knew, that what we use for free recreation was paid for, and still is, by someone else. I’m not saying that is bad; however, we must recognize that we do not have a “right” to something that is not actually ours.
In the formation of this country, the Constitution was specifically designed to provide for private land ownership and very limited federal ownership only for forts, magazines, arsenals, and dock-yards and only with approval by the states. There was no provision for federal “public” ownership of lands and resources, only private and states. If all the public had rights to the lands, then the public would have the decision-making role, right? That would be in a democracy where everyone had a vote, with a simple majority deciding the vote (mob rule).
But we were established as a Constitutional Republic with a representative government. Can you name even one action on public lands where there was a full consensus by the public on an action? It hasn’t happened! Shucks, how many families can come to consensus on how to divide up grampa’s estate? Usually a big fight. And we expect a national consensus on what to do with Bears Ears and Canyons of the Ancients faux monuments and how much water can be diverted from McPhee reservoir to maintain some level of noxious plants and recreation downstream? Those decisions are being made by federal bureaucrats 2,000 miles away and influenced by tax-exempt environmental corporations, not the states and local counties that are most impacted by the decisions.
Since about 1976, this generation has been told that the public lands of the states were federal lands owned by the public, and that the public has a say in their management and use. The public has believed that since they don’t know their own history and Constitution. The federal agencies now ask how you want the lands and resources to be managed. Past responses by some have been for more recreation opportunities and less or no timber, drilling and grazing management and use, the very entities that created the early opportunities for recreation. Even the recreation proponents can’t agree on what kind of recreation should be permitted and where. Others were just the opposite, so guess what, no consensus. It is all a ruse! So who pays, now that timber, mining and grazing are all but eliminated? So who makes the decision and based upon what? The federal agencies make the decisions based upon the policies and guidelines that have been formulated and expanded under the 1996 “Sustainable America, A New Consensus” from the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. This was not a “consensus” and was and is contrary to the Constitution of the United States.
Locally we have a concern over water recreation with the potential infection of invasive mussels into our waters. Boating has been restricted and essentially eliminated in some waters. It costs to inspect boats. It is not free any longer (really never was) – we just thought it was! So do we wring our hands and wait for the federal government to take care of our problem or wake up and take care of ourselves like our ancestors did and the Constitution was designed to do? For the immediate need one possibility might be to solicit the “Great Outdoors Colorado” state program to fund the cost of providing boat inspections for each potential launching site of concern on each water source in the county. This GOCO program has spent $9.2 million over the past 21 years here in Montezuma County, averaging out to $440,000 per year for little or no value to public outdoor recreation and management . This need should certainly qualify as a value to maintaining outdoor recreation opportunity for the state and county. Additionally, it could fund the establishment of a county park at the Sage Hen site on McPhee, providing a control entity for boating inspections combined with the trailhead for equestrians, hikers, bikers and ATVs. A real multifunction recreation opportunity. Control of our resources, recreation and economic future depends totally upon regaining Constitutional control and use of the lands and resources of the state and administered through the local county. It is not going to be free, nothing is, but who will pay? When the federal government pays via the federal taxes from you, there are always strings attached for them to maintain their control over how they let you use your own money. Let’s work together and stop looking for the “free federal money” to take care of us.
Dexter Gill is a retired forest manager who worked for private industry, three Western state forestry agencies, and the Navajo Nation forestry department. He writes from Lewis, Colo.