By Janice Reid
DIFFICULTIES IN ACCESSING OUR PUBLIC LANDS ARE ON the rise. Public land management agencies invite the public to comment on their management actions, but in many cases, especially in the landscape of checkerboard ownership patterns on the O&C lands, access to these lands takes quite a bit of effort and time.
Gate construction has increased substantially over the last ten years, and whole drainages are now off-limits to motorized traffic. People want to be out in nature. However, only those interested in destructive activities seem to be able to gain access. Some inconsiderate off-road vehicle users can gain access and damage the resource without impunity. Prospective purchasers of timber sales are allowed to check out keys to the gates, but those who want to comment on a project are prevented from driving to the site. If you are a friend or retiree of a timber company, you will probably have no problem getting a gate key. Wealth, influence, and connections are now necessary to access our public lands.
In the Archie Creek Fire area, we have so far been able to access areas and evaluate the activities and projects on public lands. We increasingly began to see more gates in new places, frequently erected on public land. The reason for the gates is not to protect the public from “hazard” trees. Lands behind the gate are already harvested, and then the gate is installed, preventing us from evaluating post-harvest projects. Admittedly, trash dumped from forest roads has become a great problem. Still, those areas are usually close to towns and rural communities.
In some neighboring states, hunters face the same access issues to public land. As wealthier individuals purchase surrounding lands, community connections and cooperation are getting lost. Court cases and lawsuits have arisen from hunters and recreationists utilizing extreme measures, such as “corner crossing,” to gain access. These wealthy plaintiffs claim to own the airspace above their land and thus can claim trespass if even an arm passes over the private landowner’s property. Can this affect airline traffic, small plane operation, drone flights, and more? How absurd. You can read more about it here.
Now, I don’t mind walking. My team and I have walked many miles on public land. It is the time involved that is at issue. Driving time plus walking time to some of these sites leaves little time to evaluate the project at the stand level. I worked for over 30 years for the federal government. Yet, I have no wealth, influence, or connections to acquire access to the lands I spent 30 years walking, driving, and studying. Gates are making it nearly impossible for our team to continue to monitor public land projects effectively, and for us to have “standing” in any legal challenges, but maybe that is the point. Our organization is not out there to extract the resource, damage the landscape, or dump the trash, yet we are the ones denied access.
Perhaps there should be a way to establish access to public land as volunteers or utilize a memorandum of understanding. After all, we have been invited to participate in the planning and implementation of projects on our public land.