Art, Wilderness and Wealth Extraction

With over 109 million acres of public land designated wilderness in the US, there is a right of every American citizen and corporation to use these lands for their personal benefit. Whether it be coal, oil, wind energy, fish, elk, timber or tourism, it seems everyone feels it is their entitlement to better their way of life by utilizing the land for some gain. Such is the American Way. But it is the sheer magnitude of the combined human footprint that puts the wild in wilderness at risk. Even so hunters, paddlers, bikers hikers, oil and gas drillers, ore extractors, cattle ranchers all have extracted some value from the wild lands to further their way of life. And I have done the same.

The nation is now organized around special interest groups that lobby for their particular membership to keep and even expand their benefits from the wild lands. Whether it is the Cattleman Association, Sierra Club, American Petroleum Institute, Sportsman Access or Patagonia, everyone is pushing to protect their economic engine. That all makes sense to me.

But how do we judge which group gets what access or how much? Is hunting more important that oil drilling? Do we stop the national monument movement to enable more wilderness access for 4 wheelers? I think we all know this comes down to pure politics and economics. With Zemke and Trump in office, I think we see the potential expansion of wealth extraction in all wilderness areas in the US.

And how do state and federal government agencies help optimize wealth extraction? Quite efficiently. Look at hunting and fishing in the West. Elk herds in Wyoming are maximized by feeding the animals in multiple feed lots around the state. In Idaho on the famous Henrys Fork, the native cutthroat trout were killed by poison so that rainbow and brown trout could be introduced - more fun for anglers, more money in fishing licenses, lodges, outfitters and real estate value. Nowhere is there a better example of maximizing the wealth extraction that the Henrys Fork repopulation with non-native trout.

And in my travels to South America, New Zealand and Australia, a similar dynamic exists. Wealth extraction especially at scale is a base for a solid national economy. Look at the Iron Ore exports in Western Australia which where over $71B in 2016 and provided the Western Australia $3.5B in revenue. Without that wealth extraction, the state would be a ghost town.

I find great beauty in the photos of the human effort to extract wealth. The massive machines, ships, hunting rifles, carbon fiber fly rods, 4x4 vehicles, mountain bikes, powder skis - all those tools that we humans use to exploit that which at one time was true wilderness. But I remain in quandary of whether a fisherman or biker is just a smaller version of a drill rig or ore carrier. We all exact the wealth and take it with us. Some take more than others but at scale 100,000 hunters can take as much value from the land as one coal mine. It is just a question of scale to me.

Finally, I am still exploring this wealth extraction idea. Maybe my opinion will change in the coming years. But for now this is where I stand.

JTM 12/12/2017

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Pacific Long Line Hook Set
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Sea of Cortez, Sonora, Mexico
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Cape Lambert Ore Loading Facility near Karratha
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Elk Hunting
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