Friday, September 17, 2004

The GOP and the myth of toughness


Guest opinion by MIKE BEAGLE

Mike Beagle is a Republican and a former U.S. Army field artillery officer with the 9th Infantry Division. He is the chairman of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (www.backcountryhunters.org) and lives in the Rogue River basin in SW Oregon.


?Looks like snow,? my 61-year-old father said to me ominously as I set up my tent. Snow in the high Cascades during the third week of October is nothing new, nor is listening to meteorological forecasts that predict balmy weather into the next few days.

But backpacking into Oregon?s gorgeous and rugged, 58,000-acre Mount Thielsen Wilderness, requires more than high?tech predictions, space age toys and speculation. The physical and mental stamina required to make this backpack to 7,100 feet, just below the craggy 9,178 foot pinnacle of Mount Thielsen, is both rewarding and unforgiving. It is an age-old, mentally and physically challenging part of the natural history of the American West that indigenous people sought and enjoyed, as did such great historical figures as Lewis and Clark, James Clyman, Jim Bridger, Theodore Roosevelt and Oregon?s own Republican hunter-conservationist, Judge John B. Waldo. Sharing the experience with my father was beyond precious. It was the epitome of America?s outdoor experience.

Now it seems as if the ?strenuous life,? as President Roosevelt once put it, is under attack by the very party to which he belonged. Yes folks, the Grand Old Party?Republicans?is inadvertently supporting the soft breakdown of our society. This is the party built on ?rugged individualism? and toughness. Or so it was. This attack is not overt in the way that we see things in our daily lives, but it is happening much like the slow and steady demise of the Northwest?s legendary wild salmon heritage.

Because of the proliferation of fast food extra ?value? meals, an over-reliance upon technological advancements and motorized equipment and a presidential administration that cozies up to extractive industries in the American West, our nation?s health continues to deteriorate. With the exception of the U.S. Armed Forces and people who hunt, fish and hike in America?s backcountry, the strenuous life that President Roosevelt highlighted is being replaced by an obese, diabetes-ravaged and technologically dependent group of people who have no appreciation for the peace and solitude of the natural world. They want things the easy way, rather than earning them with their own sweat equity.

The list of public lands abuses by the Bush administration is long and ranges from trying to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (designated by GOP President Dwight D. Eisenhower), to clear-cutting the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, to opening of public lands along the Rocky Mountain front to oil and gas development, to stopping the reintroduction of the grizzly bear in central Idaho and to the dismantling of the USFS Roadless Rule. Hunters and anglers are taking note of a party leadership and president who have absolutely no idea what wild, public land means to the American sportsman.

Take for example the U. S. Forest Service Roadless Rule. After countless town hall meetings and accepting a record 2.5 million public comments over a three-year period, 90 percent of which wanted roadless protection, the current presidential administration has in effect, gutted this popular and fiscally conservative administrative rule. Promoting the ?strenuous life? in the tradition of TR? Absolutely not. Ignoring direct democracy? No question.

Under the mantra of allowing ?input? from the states, the current administration has given the management responsibilities of more than 58 million acres of our publicly-owned and roadless heritage to the states for their retention. All Americans own these lands, not just the residents in which these lands are located.

The current $10 billion backlog of maintenance on U.S. Forest Service roads is fiscally irresponsible and an environmental nightmare. It is not conservative. In the current situation, building more roads at taxpayer expense is beyond clueless.

More roads equals more taxpayer dollars flushed down the drain and less acceptable habitat for America?s wonderful public asset, fish and wildlife. As a result, we have less terrain to hunt and fish without hearing the buzzing of off-road vehicles and, quite literally, stealthy contributions to our already pathetically soft society, which can?t get past seeing the natural world from beyond a computer monitor, television screen or the soft padded seat of a motorized vehicle.

I don?t know where all hunters and anglers are when it comes to weighing in on these direct frontal assaults on our natural heritage. It is quite obvious that the GOP doesn?t know or care. The only thing I can say is that the cherished moment that I shared with my father three years ago in the alpine forest beneath the looming spire of Mount Thielsen, will not be forgotten come November.




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