Thursday, March 4, 2010

Little Miss “Grabby Guts”

Grabby Guts was a popular expression back in the misty distant prehistoric times when I was a mere whelp. My mom (a divorcee—oh the shame!) and I lived in a small college town in prewar (WWII) Iowa as she sought her degree. As a second grader at the campus school, I didn’t know exactly how low we were on the totem pole of life. I had good friends, a nearby creek and a bike so I thought we were close to the top. I mindlessly ignored the late thirties depression which had devastated the country. Thanks, FDR!

I became fascinated with a fiery redhead in my class and was convinced that we were to become “the new great thing.” Early on, her family invited me to dinner, and with my mother’s permission, Iaccepted. Mom was socially conscious and scrubbed me, put on my best, and schooled me in social skills for the encounter. After all, Dr. R__ was head of the English Department and a minor god in the panoply of campus deities. Her concerns and mine were both allayed when early on at dinner he inquired if I wished more bread. Upon my positive reply he raised the plate, inserted his thumb between the top two slices and with a deft move, ala Frisbee, tossed the top slice my way. I was impressed.

Later we retired to a designated play area and I enjoyed the fascination of a different toy box. Catherine had some great things but mostly “girl” stuff. The notable exception was a foot-long version of a wonderfully made truck. Back then, it was made of steel and the chrome wheels were just that—chrome! It had real rubber tires, actual glass in the windows and the dump mechanism worked beautifully. I was smitten with it and claimed it as my own for the visit.

My fixation on the truck apparently irritated her and in the ensuing melee, she seized it and whacked me over the head with it. Being a sturdy article, it suffered no damage but produced a bloody wound on my noggin. I was stunned but in later life, realized what a comprehensive learning experience it had been. Ever after I became more attentive to others and less distracted by “shiny” things. My mother was not pleased to see me return form the occasion covered in blood.

So what brought this to mind? Somehow, I saw a relationship to a wonderful map on the net this morning. It depicted the holdings of the federal government in the fifty states of land dedicated for one reason or another to that central authority and not the states in which they are located.

This rough representation indicates the relationship of the federal holdings as a percentage of the total acreage. Throughout my life, I have been four wheeling, camping and exploring large portions of these areas. By far the greatest share of federal land is located in the youngest states in the west but no state is exempt. Even tiny Rhode Island has federal reserves. So, you may ask: “what’s the beef?”

There are several problems here. The first has to do with stewardship and the devotion which Americans have toward private ownership and respect for property. Acquiring any portion of this land for private transfer is extremely difficult. Grazing leases and other dedications are possible but difficult to manage. Extraction of natural resources is next to impossible. Famously, Clinton turned a huge chunk of south central Utah into the Grande Staircase Nat’l Mon. to avert oil exploration in that petroleum rich area--all with the stroke of a pen. Do not for a minute believe that all of our dedicated National Seashore areas are a result of the public’s love for the junction between the sand and the sea. Many exist for the same reason as the Grande Staircase.

The state highest in federal holdings is Alaska with 68%. In second place is Nevada at 64.5%. In both states there is infrastructure which needs to be maintained with no hope for a tax base to support it. Without the profitable result of private enterprise to enhance the taxable revenue stream, they trade pretty for penury. In Colorado (36.6%) the mountains are dotted with evidence of mineral exploration which predates statehood. In the mountainous western half of the state, we find the preponderance of the public holdings.

A device frequently used by the feds is to checkerboard large areas in 640 acre (1 square mile) chunks thus hampering large scale development of contiguous grazing lands for cattle. How do you graze four or five hundred head on a square mile of land which will only support 20 critters without access to adjacent equivalent plots? This device not only hampers best use but also increases the actual affect of federal control.

Current conversation in state houses across the west is turning toward the possibility of the use of eminent domain to reclaim these areas to better serve their people. As it currently stands, the operative attitude of the federal government is that of the dog in the manger who doesn’t want the oats but doesn’t want the horse to eat either. Somehow, it is all reminiscent of “Miss Grabby Guts” who didn’t want to play with the truck but didn’t want anyone else to enjoy it.

If you’re bored in a tavern in Chugwater, Wyoming, Ely, Nevada, or Vaughan, New Mexico bring up federal land use and procedures in the conversation. Do stand back though and be careful of the abusive language and flying beer bottles.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon

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