For the past ten years we have hosted a group of politics, literature, and environmental science students from Whitman College. This isn’t any ordinary class, they are traversing the West on a semester long camping odyssey.
Hiking down to the river to look at a healthy riparian area, we were confronted with some tough questions. It was obvious that the complexity of land use was beginning to morph from black and white into shades of gray. To one young fellow I tried to explain that ranchers who have lived in a place for generations have a sense of ownership that may extend beyond their fence. That it isn't much different than an older neighborhood in the city that is trying to save an historic community center from demolition. There is a sense of ownership and identity that sparks the effort to preserve part of the past and culture of that group of homeowners. The community center doesn’t legally belong to them, but because they were the people who used it, kept the building going and in good shape they have a vested interest.
Perched on an ancient stone sentinel overlooking Jakes Creek drainage we found a great place to exchange viewpoints. One reoccurring topic was ranchers being subsidized on the federal lands. Challenging the thinking we suggested that perhaps ranchers were subsidizing the publics use of the land by managing it. Supplying water for wildlife, creating more green meadows than would naturally exist that support wildlife, creating fishing and wetland habitat that supports waterfowl and sport fishing, maintaining roads for hunters and photographers, snowmobilers and four wheelers.
At days end, we had a big group hug and were all better for the time spent together. I guess it is all about relationships and suspending judgment, being open to new ideas and someone else’s thoughts and opinions and realizing that the West is a dynamic and complex place to live and that is exciting.
If you would like to hear the radio program created by Taki Telonidas go to www.NPR.org. Find "Day to Day" for November 6, 2006, click on "College Class on Environment Redefines the Field Trip."