I don't often find myself in disagreement with Deseret News environmental specialist Joe Bauman's insightful commentary. But his Dec. 21 column, "Consensus falters in fight for principle," left me with a number of concerns.
His point is the debate over BLM wilderness ought not to employ efforts at compromise or consensus. He argues the fight is one of principle paramount to ending racial bigotry.He argues that building a consensus on the BLM wilderness issue may erode the "moral landscape" and urges diversity in political thought.
Bauman states, "The battle over wilderness is shaping up as the same kind of commitment to principle as was the civil rights debate. That was a fight for decency; this is a fight for nature." I must disagree.
Bauman seems to imply that if one doesn't draw the proverbial line in the sand and "fight for nature," then one is not an environmentalist seeking some high principle. That's too arrogant for me.
What is the fight for nature?
There is no absolute standard. Should our rivers be filled with only native trout, reproducing naturally and thus restricting fishing to a catch and release strategy? What size of an instream flow should we have on every river?
Is there one strategy to save the ozone layer? Acid precipitation deposition? Atmospheric warming? Endangered species? Is there a standard or definition for naturalness? And are people in or out of that definition or standard? Do animals have the same rights humans possess? And who determines such entitlements?
Those who discount these and dozens of other questions as frivolous, practice misology - a dislike, even hatred of argument or reasoning.
Indeed, there are principles and standards in this "fight for nature." Preservation of species, for example. And that requires preservation of habitats and habitat corridors and restoration of damaged ecosystems.
The standards there depend upon our knowledge of entire biological systems, which is scanty at best. At what level do we consider a species recovered - when its population is large enough to produce a surplus to allow hunting? We farm/produce deer in Utah to hunt. Without 180,000 hunters afield, we don't "need" as many deer as we have now merely to produce a surplus to assure a hunt can occur next year for those 180,000 hunters.
Thus, the search for consensus doesn't become the "gulag" Bauman describes, nor is it an inferior moral landscape. "Truth" isn't smothered. The process doesn't curtail diversity of thought. Rather it searches in a pluralistic society for solutions to questions that may be impossible to answer with the "truth."
It requires, on the other hand, tolerance of diversity, both in biological and political systems. Positioning around "all or nothing" is not a sign of success.
I'm not sure Bauman's approach is based on "principle" anyway. It's too passive. It simply advocates "hold your ground," coerce rather than understand and let Congress decide for us using whatever politically convenient process occurs.
Many of us are very skeptical that Congress harbors the leadership needed to solve much of anything right now. Citizens must become far more aggressive and tell Congress what it must do with respect to wilderness, for example.
What we should be trying to achieve is a fundamental change in our collective view of land and its inhabitants from that of resources to biological systems. It should be obvious by now that coercing one another does not work. None of this diminishes the need for spirited debate, nor does it blur the vision or purpose of issues under debate.
What is the principled acreage of wilderness designation in Utah? Is it 3.8 million acres, the proposal advocated by the Utah Wilderness Association? Is 3.6 unprincipled? Some have said it was 5.1 millon acres, a proposal contained on Rep. Wayne Owens' HR 1500. But the Utah Wilderness Coalition just announced a change in the previously principled 5.1 million to that of 5.7 million acres. Some now obviously would argue that is the principled acreage. Is 5.1 million unprincipled?
I personally look to big wilderness areas with the final proposal acreage of less concern.
More than a few opponents of wilderness will take these words and attempt to use them against other environmentalists. They are the same opponents who stake out a similar position but then automatically place a ceiling on the acres to be discussed.
That is unprincipled because it tries to slice the plurality of the wilderness supporters out of the process: "You can support wilderness, but only this much." The State Legislative Wilderness Task Force did just this not long ago when it adopted a 1.4 million acre proposal without knowing what was in or out of the proposal. That is unprincipled.
I don't know all of the answers, but I'm convinced the "business as usual" will produce the usual. I hope for something different and am convinced that through consensus building it will occur. If the principled fight for nature is to be defined as Bauman has attempted, by comparing the search for consensus, collaboration, compromise and diversity in values to that of being a bigot, count me out.