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Dec 16th
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Home Travel OnTravel in the West / Paul Lasley Don’t Let The West Slip Through Your Fingers

Don’t Let The West Slip Through Your Fingers

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With 2008 (thankfully) in the record books, and a new year ahead of us, I'm sorry to say there remain news reports of government initiatives designed to make it easier to open wild lands and wilderness areas to mineral exploration and other uses. This news got me to thinking about the environment that makes up the West.

Before you think I'm going to extol the virtues of wilderness above all else, let me state that I believe in-and support-the multi-generational ranches that have contributed so much to the health of our range land. Family ranchers understand the need to protect the open range in ways that few others can grasp.

Furthermore, I admire and respect sportsmen and sportswomen who work tirelessly to protect open land to ensure future generations of wildlife. It seems to me that society has come to understand the need for wetlands, large watersheds and great expanses of wilderness in maintaining healthy habitats for all creatures, including game species.

Yet, with the number of unspoiled acres continually under threat, it seems the forces of destruction are always a menacing shadow on the land. Suburbs swallow up ranches, huge trophy houses rise to obscure scenic vistas, and everywhere there is the slow drip of development.

I can see the need for mineral and resource exploration, using some recreational areas for expanding populations, and land for agriculture, but these needs must be balanced.

While many might think that opposition to saving farms and ranches and preserving wild lands and rivers is a recent development, a thoughtful reading of history doesn't bear this out.

There was widespread controversy about the creation of the National Park System, yet early visionaries were proved right. Today, natural wonders such as Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Zion, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, draw millions of visitors from around the world to see wonders that only hard-fought preservation efforts guaranteed to this and future generations.

Some lessons have been learned. The vast Mississippi Delta and its wetland ecosystem, we now realize, is the buffer that must be restored so that it once again not only protects New Orleans from storms, but also ensures fisheries to feed future generations.

Imagine what lessons we might have learned about grasslands if only past generations had not plowed over the vast American prairie, leaving only a few thousand acres to be studied by experts. After all, the prairies survived the onslaught of the huge grazing herds of buffalo and antelope for millennia.

Let me give you an example of what's worth preserving, a place in time that you can go see, touch and smell.

In West Branch, Iowa, a quiet little Midwestern town, you will find the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, a part of the National Park System that gets relatively few visitors.
The site preserves the small, two-room cottage where the future American President was born in 1874. I encourage you to go visit this National Historic Site, not just because of its American history connection, but because of the tallgrass prairie you will find there.

Hoover's grandparents moved to this part of Iowa in the mid 1800s, and what they found was land that was mostly covered b y tallgrass prairie, with grasses that grew to over 6 feet in height and brilliant wildflowers that added color through much of the growing season.

"My grandparents and my parents came here in a covered wagon," Herbert Hoover said. "In this community, they toiled and worshipped God. They lie buried on your hillside. The most formative years of my boyhood were spent here. My roots are in this soil."

At the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site you will find an 81-acre sea of tall grasses and beautiful, wonderful native flowers. You will learn about the pioneers who traveled West through the Iowa countryside, and the mothers who feared they might lose their small children if they wandered off into the 6- to 12-foot-tall forests of grasses.

This summer, if you can, please go see the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site; see the West as it used to be. Let's learn from the past, before we destroy or alter our remaining open spaces, let's move slowly. Let's assess the risks and weigh the benefits and above all, factor in the irreplaceable loss of the wilderness.

Surely the value of our Western lands lie not only in their mineral wealth but in their vastness, their beauty and their ability to sustain a way of life. Before we so easily squander that, let's give serious thought to what we might be losing that's of larger value. Oil and minerals are needed, but they will be exhausted at some point. Let's think carefully about what we might lose in the long term, in the quest for short-term gain.

The land and its natural resources might better be preserved for future generations. And that is what we must do today.