Saturday, February 20, 2010

Preserving Open Space the Right Way

I'm all for more preserved wilderness and open space; I'm also all for resepecting private property. These two priorities do not conflict. In fact, preserved open space increases property values and makes cities and states more enjoyable places to live. It's invariably suburban property developers who try to imply that there's some kind of political conflict between private property owners and preserving open space. Of course, it's in their interest to free up as much land as possible and sub-divide it as finely as possible. But is it in your interest? To put a fine point on it, are you a property developer? I'm not.

That's exactly why it's unfortunate when this growing but still-fragile public understanding of the relationship between private property and open space is damaged when government bungles an open space expansion, as they seem to be doing now in several places in the intermontane West. (One of these places is the San Rafael Swell. Q. How awesome would it be if this opened up to the public? A: very awesome. Think of the trails back there.) Unfortunately Utah residents are still feeling blindsided by the way that Grand Staircase National Monument was created, and anecdotally, I know that southwest Coloradans are none too thrilled with the way that Hovenweep National Monument was brought into being. They don't seem to mind that literally hundreds of Puebloan ruins are now open to public exploration - it was the ham-handed way the Monument was created that was the problem.

This is no screed against eminent domain. It's a reminder that there is a whole spectrum of private-property-respecting open space solutions, and they all begin with involving the stake-holders non-adversarially. In Ireland you can hike across farms and ranches as long as you're sure to close gates behind you (I've taken advantage of this system to explore the megaliths that are part of Ireland's prehistoric heritage and which would be off-limits behind ranch boundaries if they were in the U.S. In the Bay Area's East Bay Park System, in my wholly unbiased opinion the best urban park system in the United States, ranchers share space with the parks. These solutions work if they're handled well, and I think for the most part, ranchers and farmers selling their land would rather, all things being equal, see it preserved as is for future generations. In this case, as Utah Representative Rob Bishop says, "If [various agencies] do things in an open and transparent way and involve everyone, then there's no need for yelling and screaming...Do it the right way, and we can work it out."

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