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How do Romney and Santorum Feel About Our Country's Public Lands? Not Much. Read on...

This piece, "The Trees are All Right", by Timothy Egan (New York Times, March 8, 2012), exposes the candidates' sad views about our public lands. Reprinted in full.

This piece, "The Trees are All Right", byTimothy Egan (New York Times, March 8, 2012), exposes the candidates' sad views about our public lands. Reprinted in full.

In most of the American West, the trees are not the right height, which may frighten Mitt Romney, and some of them are so old as to challenge the Biblical view of creation that Rick Santorum wants taught in schools.

The tallest trees in the world, the coast redwoods of northern California, grow to 378 feet — more than half the size of Seattle’s Space Needle.  The oldest trees in the world, bristlecone pines that cling to hard ground in Nevada’s Great Basin, can live for up to 5,000 years.

The saguaro cactus, with its droopy, anthropomorphic limbs, is the signature tree of the Southwest, though some say it is not technically a tree.  And the western red cedar, armored in bark that Indians made into waterproof clothing, is a symbol of the Northwest.

This arbor tutorial is prompted by the slack-jawed ignorance of the last Republicans standing in the bad-idea-fest that is their party primary.  Every week, it seems, the conveyor belt of craziness serves up another archaic idea from the people who want to represent a party that claims at least 40 percent of the electorate.

Romney, of course, famously said he liked the trees of Michigan because they were “just the right height” — a bizarre and harmless pander. But last month, in a campaign swing that was overlooked by the national press, Romney told a gathering in Nevada that he wasn’t much of a fan of the trees on public land — at least that was the impression he left.

He said, “I don’t know what the purpose is” of the great American public land legacy — a domain that includes 190 million acres of national forests, 52 million acres of national parks, and more than 500 million acres of open range, wildlife refuges and other turf under management of the Interior Department.

Romney has never been much of an outdoor guy, and strikes me as the kind of person who would wear wingtips on a hike. Once, asked to give a sense of his outdoor cred, Romney said,  “I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter — small varmints, if you will.”

Had he ever taken something other than a BB gun beyond the bunny range, Romney would know that American hunters consider themselves privileged to have so much unfenced country that is theirs as a birthright of citizenship. A clueless rich man, Romney can afford the private ranches of Texas, where  one-percenters chase exotic animals without breaking a sweat.

The rest of us need our public land. The West is defined by new, fast-growing cities surrounded by the mountains, mesas, forests, sandstone spires and various shared settings. There is no other place in the world where urban and wild coexist over such a huge area.  If you are poor,  you can feel rich just minutes from the city, in your estate that is a national forest. If you ski in the high Sierra, or raft a runaway river in Utah, you are most likely doing it on land whose only deed of title is held by all citizens.

“Unless there’s a valid, legitimate and compelling public purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land,” said Romney.

Using Romney’s calculation — in which these lands can only be viewed as a commodity — the public domain more than pays for itself. Federal lands in Nevada, for example,  provide about  $1 billion in economic impact and support 13,311 jobs — and that doesn’t include the Forest Service. A poll by Colorado College found that 93 percent of the state’s voters agree that national parks, forests and wildlife areas “are an essential part of Colorado’s economy.”

Not to be outdone, Rick Santorum has channeled his inner robber baron while in the West. Speaking in Boise last month, he promised to sell our land to the private sector. The last time somebody seriously proposed that — James Watt, the secretary of the interior under President Reagan — he got a bipartisan round of boos from all corners of the West.

“The federal government doesn’t care about this land,” Santorum said.  “They don’t live here, they don’t care about it. We don’t care about it in Washington. It’s flyover country for most of the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”

It’s clearly flyover country to Santorum. But try telling the many federal forest and park rangers, the smokejumpers and fish biologists, the backcountry avalanche experts and the game wardens, all of whom live in  Western towns — and keep the economy in those places humming — that they “don’t live here.”

Santorum makes national forests sound like crack houses.  Some of them, after long neglect, do look a bit ratty. But the best are American cathedrals. Santorum probably doesn’t know that a former governor of his home state, Gifford Pinchot, was the founder of the modern Forest Service. Pinchot was a rich man who spent his life advocating for places where “the little man,” in his parlance, would be king.

We can thank a hunter, a lover of nature and a man who was always thinking about the kind of country his great-grandchildren would inherit — the fire-breathing Republican Teddy Roosevelt — for most of the nation’s public land.  But today, no Republican would dare stand with T.R.

So it goes in this retrograde campaign. Is there any long-held, much-cherished American principle that Republicans and their media outlets will not renounce? Is there any bad idea from the 19th century — or earlier — they will not resurrect?

Romney has shown that he knows the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.”  Too bad he doesn’t know anything about the land itself — a gift of better minds than his, one that ensures that some things are equal in this democracy.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

rick grgetic March 10, 2012 at 06:14 PM
did you plagiarize this from Tim Egan in Mar 8 NY TImes?
Manifold Witness March 10, 2012 at 08:16 PM
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/08/the-trees-are-all-right/
Rhody O'Dhody March 10, 2012 at 09:09 PM
On the home page full credit is given, but for some reason that introduction does not appear when the posting is open.
Cyndee Fuller March 10, 2012 at 11:50 PM
No, I recopied it. I credited him in full. I wish I could write so eloquently!

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