food & forest | Broadsides

On ATVs: What Would Aldo Leopold Do?

SteamMillFallThe Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) and a department within it, Fish & Wildlife, have recently proposed to allow riders of all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) access to trails that are on the state’s wildlife management areas, lands that have strict development restrictions and are supposed to be managed with wildness as the guide. The Agency has turned down similar requests in the past. But the ATV lobby keeps coming back, and it’s widely believed that they’re going to get the access they want this time.

In the great spirit of Senor Quixote, I rose to the occasion when ANR invited the public to provide commentary on its proposed rule. Today, I submitted the following comment to them:

I hike daily in a Walden section of the Steam Mill Brook Wildlife Management Area. It is a stunning testament to the possibilities in honoring and protecting our coveted wilderness. On a recent hike, I stopped to read your agency’s literature at the trailhead atop Rock Road. It was inspiring to read about the important work being done within these WMAs, and I was thrilled to see the “No ATVs” signs you have prominently posted.

I was also very pleased to see your tribute to Aldo Leopold and his land ethic, particularly your rightful declaration that his writings have “inspired the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.” You write and post this at the trailhead: “A land ethic expands the way we view the land by including aesthetics and ethical considerations in land use decisions.”

Yes! I would only add this from Thoreau: “The most alive is the wildest.”

Now stop and consider what you’re asking the public to comment on: A proposed rule to allow ATVs to drive onto and over these sacred places. Frankly, given your proclaimed adherence to Leopold’s land ethic, it’s a bit shocking that you’re even asking the question. Where, exactly, does a loud, exhaust-spewing, fast, and planet-threatening parade of ATVs fit into such a land ethic? It doesn’t, especially when “aesthetics and ethical considerations” are included.

Again, back to your trailhead welcome note, where you state a clear goal with your wildlife management areas: “They are managed for the purposes of conserving and improving habitat for Vermont’s native plants and animals and providing opportunities for the public to ‘renew contacts with wild things’ through regulated and ethical hunting, fishing, trapping, birdwatching, hiking, and other wildlife based activities.”

Again: Yes!

Once again, however, my elation with your sentiment becomes perplexed by the reality of your proposed rule. Allowing ATVs on any land is not a question about whether or not the land will be damaged. It will be. The debate is about how much damage the ATVs will do and then trying to manage that damage, from erosion, compaction, noise, road kills, etc. This is in direct contradiction to your management goal of “conserving and improving” this land because ATVs provide neither in their inherently destructive tendencies.

Similarly, the use of ATVs can do little by way of your stated goal of renewing contacts with wild things, unless, of course, you’re referring to the contact being made between the wild things and the grills and wheels of the ATVs. These vehicles, with their speed and noise, terrorize wildlife and those of us trying to partake naturally – on foot! – within these protected places.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture and in a time when taming, conquering and even obliterating our wild places is the norm. It is seen as progress in a most myopic sense, one that is at near-complete odds with forest ecology and a Leopoldian land ethic.

Instead of allowing ATVs to rip and ride on our protected wildlands, I’d like to see your agency advocate for a speed limit that is respectful of — and in rhythm with — nature’s pace. That would mean walking, not riding; and hiking, not throttling; running, not racing. We should advocate being in the wild with an ethic rooted in reverence and lightness, all within nature’s speed limits. We should be good guests of the wild places, by observing, listening, and adjusting ourselves to its speed rather than using it as a speed bump.

Your agency and its leaders have given great lip service to being concerned about global warming. But talk is cheap. What the public needs – especially from natural resource agencies – is meaningful action. Advocating for and/or enabling recreational burning of fossil fuels for pure entertainment is exactly what the ANR should NOT be doing.

If you believe as you say — a belief I share — that global warming is real and, therefore, real action is needed to combat it, that our natural resources need strong advocates, and that a land ethic should be fostered and promoted based on the beauty, joy and mysteries of our most natural places, then you should know just how antithetical combustion-engine recreation is to those objectives.

Let me remind you: You are the Agency of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish & Wildlife. Your constituents are the wild things and the wild places. You are their most powerful advocates in the state. Please take it seriously by making our natural resources and our fish and wildlife your utmost priority. You are not the Agency of Fossil Fuel Consumption or the Department of Motorized Recreation. Please act accordingly.

There is talk among proponents of this new rule that they are only asking for “short connector trails.” But size doesn’t matter, the precedent does. And those of us who want to see our wildlands remain wild fear that this will only be the first step toward asking for more and more ATV access in the future. ANR’s current – and clear – ban on ATVs within WMAs remains the best and most easily enforceable rule.

While these proposed connector trails may, indeed, be short, the future ramifications will be far and wide. The sound from the ATVs will be heard for great distances, a sound made louder by the recent trend in the recreational ATV world to modify the engines to increase power and noise. And it will give a nod of acceptance for an activity that should be discouraged in a time of climate change and an urgent need for a real reconnection with the wilderness.

This should be a no-brainer. Just ask yourselves this: What would Aldo Leopold do? And then do the obvious with a deep and satisfying nod to his true land ethic: Continue to ban ATVs from Vermont’s wildlands.

On Schwan’s & the Irradiation of Filth.

Okay, the weirdness of food safety activism is coming back to me. As in, realizing the kind of dreadful food that is being irradiated and then actually calling on people to avoid it because it’s being treated with radiation. Um, people, you shouldn’t be eating this dreck in the first place.

It reminds me of when we learned many years ago that the Hormel Corporation was thinking about irradiating SPAM. So what? was my first thought. How much worse can a little radiation make its dreadful contents? But a campaign is a campaign and, more importantly, more carcinogens in SPAM are still more carcinogens in SPAM. We won’t bother with the nutritional arguments here.

Well, it’s déjà vu all over again here. Because my new irradiation research has revealed that one of the biggest supporters of meat irradiation in the U.S. is Schwan’s, the home-delivery company whose yellow trucks should be familiar to anyone who’s spent time in the suburbs.

Let’s be clear: Schwan’s food equals dreck. Period. End of story.

So, in that case, it’s not surprising that Schwan’s would see a need for a little radiation-cover-up. Imagine, for example, where their beef comes from? Hint: The largest and most industrial (read: cheap and filthy) sources. And then imagine the factories where tens of thousands of pounds of this fecal matter-riddled beef gets processed into the pre-formed patties and other products that should very loosely be considered “meat” in the first place.

It’s a recipe for disaster (pun intended).

But for corporations like Schwan’s, the solution to their dirty food problems isn’t to clean it up. Hardly. Instead, they reach for one toxic-quick-fix after another that only makes the underlying problem (dirty food) worse.

They try more antibiotics. They try chemical rinses. And now, they’re trying irradiation. Worse, they’re employing all these gimmicks on the same hamburger patties. Hmm, I wonder what irradiated antibiotics and chemical rinses taste like? More importantly, I wonder what they do to your health? No one knows, because the Food & Drug Administration has never bothered to ask or study or, apparently, care.

But let’s get back to the “radiation-cover-up” theme. It’s the marketing Achilles heel of the technology. Corporations employing irradiation are doing so because they know they’ve got a filthy product. In the case of meat, the filth is fecal matter. But they are counting on their consumers to be so uninterested in the contents of what they eat that they won’t care that irradiated fecal matter is still…well…fecal matter. Yum.

While avoiding Schwan’s foods should be one of the easiest things to do, avoiding the precedent of Schwan’s use of irradiation is a different matter. By contracting with irradiation corporations, Schwan’s is keeping the technology alive, endorsing the further industrialization of the food supply, and stymieing critical efforts to move the food supply in a safer and saner direction.

Stay tuned.

The State of Things

Different around here, huh? New look and all. And content! Well, I guess I shouldn’t push it.

Here’s the deal: I’m working on another site right now. I’ll give you the url when it’s ready. But it involves a semi-revival of my previous life: Food & Water. Yeah, the organization.

My return was inspired – if going backwards in your life can be an “inspiring” move – by some serendipity.

Last April marked the 15-year-anniversary of the death of my mentor, Dr. Wally Burnstein. His death rocked my world. For nearly ten years, Wally and I created and ran a kick-ass activist organization – Food & Water – that nearly-single-handedly stopped food irradiation and put the fear of boycotts in the hearts and minds of many corporate food honchos. Better yet, we had a blast doing it.

But cancer claimed Wally in 1996. And with him – for me and many others – went the joy of activism. And activism without joy cannot succeed. It can only be avoided.

Oh sure, I’ve had my fun (thanks, Boots), but it’s been far from organized and consistent. Worse, it hasn’t paid. And there is nothing wrong with a good activist job as long as the activist with the job knows that the top priority is to succeed to the extent that your job is no longer necessary. Hint: You are not an institution. And if thoughts of your 501(k) or a dinner-party invitation trump your desire to stick your metaphorical finger in your opponent’s eye…well….get another job. Or cause.

Wally and I thought we had organized ourselves out of existence shortly before his death. We had successfully defeated fruit and vegetable irradiation, chicken irradiation and meat irradiation, leaving many corporate food giants like Perdue, Hormel and Kentucky Fried Chicken humbled by their encounters with us.

Done, we thought. Let’s move on.

I did what Wally always wanted to: I moved to the great woods of the Northeast and pursued the joys of homesteading. A successful activist life, Wally counseled, must also be rooted in the hopes and possibilities beyond what you are fighting against.

If unhealthy food is what you’re against, demonstrate a path to healthy food. And live it. And be it. And, for crying out loud, find joy in it. Otherwise, shut up about it.

I apparently found too much joy in it of late – the homesteading part, that is. Because it dwarfed my activism. Which leads me to: now.

A week or so ago I got an inquiry from a European journalist working on an article about food irradiation. The article was obviously precipitated by the E.coli crisis that has gripped the region. It happens fairly frequently: E.coli outbreak = calls for irradiation = calls for a comment about why I would oppose a technology that could save death, pain, and destruction.

But this time it was different. Because this time it was the “worst” case of E.coli contamination ever. And it is, indeed, terrible. Thousands of people have become seriously ill from the novel germ with the not-so-novel prefix: E.coli.

And then another call came. And then a few emails. And then a letter in the mail (imagine that?), all wondering the same thing: Where’s Food & Water on this?

The answer: We’re here. And we’re ready.

But, be warned, I have a keen sense for joy. I’m not getting in the ring with you nuclear and industrial food fools without a very true commitment to laugh my ass off while I kick yours.

It’s not personal. It’s just what I believe in.

Game: On.

Join me, friends.

Fragments, Part (whatever)…

1.

And I thought about you as I sat to gather my thoughts.

Come here, little thoughts, we’ve got people coming to check on you from time to time.

But you’ve been a bad little collection of thoughts, so easily distracted and willing to venture down paths that lead to: Nowhere.

Again.

2.

I’m on the side of the little man in the late-night talk show wars. Yeah, the one getting $42 million to walk away. Fight the man!

3.

Yesterday we traded homeschooling for truckschooling, and off we went. To farms, mostly, to gather the material needed to continue the notion that we like farms.

At the dairy and beef farm, we gathered beef from a nice French Canadian man who’s family jumped the border a generation ago and they continue the dream in smaller parcels today (“if a kid wanted a farm, my dad and granddad gave ‘em the land they needed to farm”). And farm tidily, I might add. We got the whole tour – from the automated back-scratcher (for the cows, not us), to the milking parlor, and to the giant freezers marked “meat.”

And so, with a box of meat in tow, off we went to the horse farm.

The lady limped out of her house to greet us.

“Rule number one,” I explained to my daughter (because, as we’ve discussed before, every moment is a homeschool moment), “do not ask about riding lessons from someone in a cast.”

“Duh,” replied Bel, our sarcastically-astute daughter. It was, as I realized later, a chilling and mostly accurate retort I heard for much of the day (But, honey, you’re not officially a teen until August! Good luck with that.).

We were in pursuit of a children’s saddle that would fit Bel’s increasingly-chunky Quarter Horse. Mission accomplished. Because the lady in a cast was apparently learning her lesson about being around horses and willing to part with any and all of her horse equipment – and cheaply.

She reached for the saddle we were most interested in – a classic, circa 1970’s, full of real leather, Simco saddle – with flower pleats! But her hand was chewed up, an indent that was masquerading as a future scar quickly made itself known as she reached for the saddle.

“Ouch,” I said. “Horse bite?”

“Yes,” she returned. “And an infection and an abscess and weeks of antibiotics.”

Cool. Gotta love horses.

I made her an offer for the Simco. Not surprisingly, she accepted – cast, scar and all.

“Wear a helmet,” she said to Bel as we loaded the saddle into the truck.

“Ya think?” I thought, as I limped back to the truck.

P.S. We would like to thank the cow for its extensive contributions to our farm visits yesterday.

4.

Fucking Democrats.

And that’s all I care to say about that right now.

5.

Well, other than this: Why do the Democrats think a response from a series of election failures based on their wimpiness and ineffectiveness should be remedied by more wimpiness and ineffectiveness?

Just wondering.

6.

I do believe they call that bright thing in the sky, “The Sun.” It has just poked me on my shoulder, apparently knowing that I need it.

7.

Fetch me my horse. And you, yours.

8.

Hello woods.

Testifying with a Chainsaw

Well, someone had to do it. And, of course, we did. We being: Boots, Bel and I.

I’m speaking about the public hearing held on Monday night about the Douglas Administration’s out-of-nowhere plan to allow all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) access to public lands. And while Douglas’ cronies at the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) tried to make the whole thing look legitimate, the whole process stinks more than an ATV exhaust pipe.

First, ANR officials admit almost proudly that they talked exclusively with one and only one group during its planning process for this new regulation to allow these machines to “rip it up” on our state lands: VASA, the ATV association in Vermont. And then they sprung the new rule on the citizens of the state just a couple of weeks ago, planned a hastily-prepared “public hearing,” and gave the public all of ten days to comment on it.

Can you say: Political games? I knew you could. And Governor Jim Douglas plays them like nobody else plays them. In case you don’t have an imagination, let me spell it out for you: Douglas got his political ass kicked during the last legislative session, having two of his vetoes overridden (gay marriage and the budget) and he’s looking like little more than political road-kill of late. So what’s a right-winger to do in such a circumstance? Well, throw a political bone to the ATV crowd, of course.

And so he did, and the VASA crowd lunged for it like a Michael Vick dog. Grrr….give us our rights to do what we want, when we want, where we want, however we want, and to whomever we want. Whatever.

Logic, of course, was an endangered species at Monday’s public hearings. The hundreds of well-organized VASA members who showed up were clearly looking for a fight. But little did they know that Vermont’s mainstream environmental community is about as lame as lame can be when it comes to taking a firm stand – especially when faced with a throng of hydrocarbon-breathing machines-equal-a-sport crowd.

Take, for example, the opening words of the “communications director” of the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC), Jake Brown: “I’ve owned an ATV for eight years and I love to ride it as much as I can on weekends.” Huh? Remember, VNRC is the group that has been pegged by the fawning (read: lazy) Vermont media as “the opposition” to the proposed new ATV riding rule.

And so it went, the ATVers were all ready to rumble but their opponents were mostly looking like deer caught in the headlights and far too meek to mutter even the most benign opposition. Take, for example, the VNRC folks (Brown and his colleague, Jamey Fidel) who droned on about “process,” “fairness,” and Brown’s out-of-the-closet proclamations that he was “one of them.” Good luck with that.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to tip my hat to those who showed up and didn’t melt from the heat of being surrounded by two hundred angry men: Mollie Matteson of the Center for Biological Diversity, Anthony Iarrapino of the Conservation Law Foundation, Les Blomberg of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse and a few private individuals that, unfortunately, I failed to hear their names or affiliations.

This hearing was absurd. And, frankly, we knew it was going to be absurd given the quickened pace of the process and the all-too-predictable meekness of the eco-crowd. That’s why we planned something equally as absurd for our testimony.

Yep, as the headline would suggest: We brought a chainsaw. Partly because we represent Horse Loggers for Peace (and the executive committee – oops, I mean: the entire group – okay, okay, I mean: both of us – decided to add “and Quiet” to our name for the evening) and partly because we knew how the pro-ATV crowd would be testifying. As in: “It’s public land, we pay taxes, and we want to play with our machines on the public’s land.”

Fine. Let’s play.

The plan was simple enough: Boots was going to testify about the health affects of ATVs – ever seen a room full of ATVers? – and when he got to his concluding statement about noise and air pollution I was going to fire up my chainsaw for a little demonstration. But we’d be in tune with the ATVers’ argument: Being on public land and playing with our own toys and all. We wanted to be as absurd as the proposal at hand.

But, frankly, when I surveyed the room and began hearing the other testimony I thought it would be best to use my time speaking out rather than using my time to fire up a chainsaw and simply getting arrested. But then my daughter, Bel, put this note on top of the papers I was carting around: “I really think that you should do the chainsaw.”

Geez, nothing like pressure from an eleven-year old to not wimp out.

And when they called our names to get in line to ready ourselves for our testimony, my mind was all but made up to use the chainsaw when Bel accompanied us to the podium (the plan was for her to stay in the back and have previously assigned friends be ready to take her home if I was arrested). But there she was, at our side, and giving me the look that said: Don’t be a wimp.

And so it went: Boots got to his final line in his testimony about noise and smell and I yanked the chainsaw out of my bag – without the chain for obvious safety reasons – and fired it up.

I watched the cop across the room, waiting for him to get up and come my way. He didn’t move. I watched the ANR official running the meeting, thinking he’d jump to his feet and demand an end to the noise and smell. He didn’t budge. And I watched the crowd, waiting for them to stop me, but they didn’t move. And so I did what these folks wanted: I made noise. I made smells. And we had a blast.

“What?” I declared after turning it off. “We’re on public land. I own the chainsaw. And I pay my taxes. What’s the problem?”

It was, as I explained, an absurd demonstration at an absurd hearing about an absurd new rule to allow people who own smelly and loud toys to “play” on public land.

Mission accomplished.

Thanks, Bel and Boots.

(Stay tuned for more)

Wild Matters: Ban ATVs on State Land

Big day. Well, if you care about all things wild in Vermont. Because the Agency of Natural Resources will be holding a public hearing tonight in Montpelier (Pavilion Auditorium, 7 p.m.-9 p.m.) to take testimony regarding its plans to allow all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) access to state-owned land.

Proponents of the letting these gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting and otherwise just noisy and obnoxious machines onto Vermont’s public lands are trying to soft-pedal these new rules, claiming that the newly proposed ATV trails will just be “short connectors” to already existing off-road-vehicle trails on private lands.

Yeah right. If you’ve bothered to follow snowmobile or ATV issues in Vermont, you know that when you give these renegades an inch they take a mile – literally.

Make no mistake, the ANR’s proposed rule to allow ATV access to public lands – no matter how short the original connector trails are – is a huge change in public policy that will almost certainly lead to more and more ATV access to state lands, including our publicly-owned forests. The organized ATV groups – like VASA – don’t hide the fact that they want to ride practically anywhere they can put it in four-wheel drive and rip it up.

The irony in the ANR’s proposed new rule is that ATV proponents are admitting that these new trails are necessary partly due to the current illegal riding by ATVers. Just read these words by VASA’s Danny Hale, as told to John Dillon of Vermont Public Radio:

Unfortunately there’s a fair amount of illegal use already taking place on state land. And what we’re trying to accomplish with a managed trail system is give people a chance to recreate where it’s legal, so that’s going to take a large number of the illegal riders right out of the picture.

Got that? In case you don’t, let me explain: The ATV riders are riding illegally on the public’s land now so, instead of enforcing the laws banning it, the state should change the laws to make it legal.

I’m guessing you’ve got to be around a lot of burned hydrocarbons to come up with that argument.

Unfortunately (and predictably), mainstream environmental groups like the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) aren’t showing a lot of teeth when it comes to fighting back against this proposed ATV land grab. The Vermont Press Bureau, for example, writes in this morning’s papers that, according to the VNRC’s Jamey Fidel, the group “isn’t necessarily opposed” to the first new connector trail being proposed in Island Pond.

Why – oh why – is it so hard from groups like VNRC to take a firm stand? But that’s another story for another time I suppose.

To the group’s credit, VNRC does document the very real and acknowledged problems with ATV riding: pollution, noise, flora and fauna damage, water run-off issues, interference with non-motorized forms of recreation and even rider safety. But with a laundry lists of problems like this, VNRC ought to be flying the “ban ATVs flag” as high as they can.

But, have no fear, the Horse Loggers for Peace (and quiet) will there – at tonight’s hearing that is. And you won’t have any trouble figuring out where we stand on this issue. It should be fun. Join us if you can.

Below are some great links to resources from groups who aren’t afraid to speak up and act out:

Leave it Wild
Bluewater Network
New Rules Project

Living & Working

And around and around we go. Two-acres worth this morning. The horses and I, that is. Me, Buddy & Jerry, to be precise – the Belgians from Cedar Circle Farm. After a longer break than I had wanted in their conditioning program (hint: rain), I pushed them this morning to harrow two solid acres in about an hour. We probably could have done it in under an hour but the boss-man, Will Allen, interrupted our toil with a double-shot of espresso over a frighteningly-dark base of French roast and a hint of steamed milk. Ah, the perks of a fine place to work. Gitty-up boys.

Speaking of horses, I took the family to the Green Mountain Draft Horse Association’s annual auction last Saturday. It’s not a safe place to be if you like drafts, the tack needed to work them, and being around all the equipment you could dream of using with them. Not safe, as in: Not safe for your checkbook. Here’s my secret: Arrive with next-to-nothing in your checkbook and then “go wild” by making your only purchase be a $50 purchase. Mission accomplished: New water trough acquired.

The crowd was quite a bit bigger than in previous years. My guess is that it’s another sign of the growing interest in all-things-local. The push to simplify and local-fy our lives during a time of one global “catastrophe” after another (read: markets, banks, weather, flu, etc.) – real or imagined – is heartening.

The quality of life in the “slow” lane is priceless. It affords you a greater opportunity to see what it is you’re doing, passing and experiencing. Whether it’s slowing down to read a book or to harrow a field with a couple of horses, it’s what we seem to need most in times like this. In contrast, the mass-mediated lives are hot-wired for absorbing the next trauma or drama and dutifully passing it on: Did you hear? Did you see?

It reminds me of a man I knew in the Northeast Kingdom. He was known as one of the finest craftspeople in the field in which he endeavored. There was no shortage in the near-frantic demands for his time and attention. But each year he would decide exactly what he’d need to survive the coming year economically – minimally. And then he’d set out to work for nearly-exactly that amount before calling it quits and getting on with what he really wanted to do: tend to his garden, raise and work his animals and sit in the woods to contemplate it all.

He existed simply. He worked minimally. But he lived large.

I thought about him today as the intense focus of working the horses pushed me into the zone of being there, and now. The horses walked on, leaning into the weight on their collars and pulling me and the heavy harrows down near-perfect rows. Splendid, I thought: I’m living and working.

No complaints here, my friends.

It’s Sugaring Time…

Now for something that really matters…sugaring, family, friends and the great outdoors (and not necessarily in that order).

Below are some photos of our sugaring adventures with my fellow “de minimis” activist, Boots. The first one is of me and my daughter at separate trees searching for the sugaring hole. The second one is of the entire motley crew hanging buckets (my wife’s on the left). And the third one features Bart the horse in all his sap-sled-pulling glory (along with Boots and Leslie).

It’s days like these that make everything worthwhile.

Oh, and by the way (and especially to avoid tonight’s wrathful phone call), all the photos were taken by Chris Esten, Boots’ partner for oh-so-many years. Poor woman.