Several weeks ago there was a thoughtful piece in the New York Times. The author is originally from eastern Oregon and returned to seek an understanding of rural concerns post-Bundy takeover of the US Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife refuge at Malheur in 2015.
More than anything about that article, we were struck at the polarized ways of seeing nature. We were trained as foresters and in that training, we can look at forests and determine stands, board feet, valuation, carbon offsets....or, we can see wildlife habitat, watershed protection, beauty. More than anything, we see beauty. It is rare that a forester, these days, looks at a forest and only sees dollar value or value to humans.
What struck us about the article was a quote toward the end. A mother and daughter from eastern Oregon, proponents of a hard line belief that all federal land really belongs to the archers, loggers, miners who value the land for its resource, visited Yellowstone. The crown jewel of our National Parks and federally owned public lands. In addition to complaining that the trees needed to be logged, the mother said this: "I was looking at the buffalo and just seeing steak."
And so this is the divide between us. Those of us who believe that the natural world is valuable of itself, not for extracting and selling. Then there are those who look at every tree, animal, rock, and rangeland as useless unless it is being cut, shot, mined, and grazed. Apparently they also believe that the federal government has no right to own or manage lands that it does own.
We have watched some variation of these attitudes for a long time. Sage Brush Rebellion, property rights movement, Blue Line Movement. It comes down to seeing nature differently than the majority of people. These so-called "movements" try to pitch their beliefs as rural versus urban, or liberal versus "family values." But it really is about seeing nature differently. They may think they have a utilitarian sensibility, but after you have shot all the bison, logged all the trees, destroyed watersheds, endangered fish, mined or drilled every inch of land, there is no utility left but open space. A true family value is looking at nature as a family member. Something to nurture, love, appreciate, value, sustain.
When we go to Yellowstone we see bison.