May 2004

Nature-lovers should squelch the urge to fish and tell

By Galen Larson

Many years ago, I went fishing with a friend at a beautiful little spot in Arizona. The site was exquisitely scenic and the fishing was excellent. We put a pan over the fire and had trout broiling before the butter could melt.

“This is wonderful,” said my friend, a writer for an outdoor magazine. “I think I’ll do an article about it.”

He did, and the next time we went to the fishing hole – you guessed it. The place was overrun. Tent City. Cars everywhere, people crowded along the banks of the creek, not a shred of peace or serenity left.

I think about that every time I see someone coming out with a new “Guide to Secret Canyons” or “Guide to Little- Known Trails.” This may upset some of my friends, but we who deem ourselves environmentalists and saviors of the planet need to take a hard look at ourselves. It seems sometimes we cannot keep our newly discovered treasures a secret. The minute we find a quiet place in the woods or a scenic cliff in the slickrock country, we want to share this new and unmarked discovery with others, basking in their attention and swelling with pride. So we describe it in great detail, right down to its location, thus inviting hordes to desecrate the pristine area. Then later, when we come back, we are dismayed at the havoc that has occurred as the secret place has become a popular destination. Plastic cups, wrappers, pop cans, bottles, toilet paper and footprints will be everywhere. Once a beautiful place’s location is revealed to the masses, those who follow do not necessarily abide by the rules you set for yourself. In your attempt to glorify your discovery and garner attention (or money) for yourself, you have desecrated your find and littered it just as surely as if you had scattered the garbage yourself.

Of course, the damage wasn’t done intentionally. Chalk it up to a human failing. We all like to be the center of attention, whether it’s because of our large home with unparalleled views, a shiny new car, the latest high-tech mountain bike or our fancy sandals and sneakers. We speak of eliminating toxic substances from the earth, but we humans are the toxin that drives the pollutants, with our mythical religions urging endless propagation. Our species is like a mold slowly covering the Garden of Eden. And we environmentalists are as guilty as the rest.

Before we criticize someone who uses public lands to make a decent livelihood through cattle-grazing or oil-drilling, we should look to ourselves and our tell-all guide books to see the damage we have unconsciously caused by revealing remote places we have discovered.

We like to gambol about in flower-festooned meadows, cool ourselves in clear babbling brooks and lazily rest in the shade of towering trees. Yet with each of these seemingly innocent activities, we have changed the landscape. Multiply that by our ever-increasing population statistics and God or Nature cannot correct the destruction fast enough.

We have found evidence that Mars at one time had water and an environment possibly similar to earth. With those facts can we now assume that we might have come here from Mars after ruining that planet through pollution and overuse, extinction of all life? We seem to have set the same course here. Just kidding, or am I?

If we are to call ourselves environmentalists, we must put the environment before our personal selfish needs. We should not use our wild places for monetary gain or self-recognition. Let’s quit pretending we are the keepers of Nature until we can keep her secrets and cherish her beauty.

Galen Larson is a landowner in rural Montezuma County.