I have always respected A MERICAN H ERITAGE ’S accuracy and historical information. But the June/July 82 issue has an article with so many inaccuracies and so much blatant political bias that it makes me wonder about the credibility of past issues. I am referring to “Does the West Have a Death Wish?” by Dyan Zaslowsky. She rehashes some articles of the 1940s by Bernard De Voto which were answered and rebutted by other authors at the time. She makes statements about the ecology of the West that can be easily proved inaccurate. She is misinformed about much of the history of this area. And she rails against the American way of life—private ownership of land and property. She seems to think that public ownership of the “public lands states” of the West is historic and best for the preservation of this land.
Robert J. Smith, an environmentalist, has been quoted in the Denver Post as saying, “It is only when we have a system of private property rights that the resource owners not only reap the full gain and benefit from their resources, but also bear the full costs of their misuse.” In other words, when the wicked rancher overgrazes his land, his own cattle will suffer from poor nutrition and his land will not yield the forage for the following season’s herd of livestock. A true rancher is never thinking of the short-term moneymaking gain. To the contrary, the rancher never gets full use of public land that is trammeled and abused by the recreation-oriented public, who produce nothing but litter.
The author replies: While you state at the outset that my article has many inaccuracies, not once do you give an example, so I regret that I can’t address this complaint. As for “blatant political bias,” I think your charge is unfounded since !quote heavily from both sides of the 1940s land squabble. Your own “political bias” seems much more apparent in your letter when you refer to the public land that has been “trammeled and abused by the recreation-oriented public, who produce nothing but litter.” I agree that the pleasure-seeking public has often harmed the land, but the real outdoor recreationist, like the true rancher you mention, knows how to love the land without hurting it.
I think your complaints are based not on my inaccuracies but on your own interpretations. There are many problems with federal ownership and management of land. But I reject outright Robert J. Smith’s contention that private property owners bear the full cost of their misuse. The rancher, logger, or miner need not consider damage beyond his boundaries—damage to larger watersheds, to downstream users of silt-packed rivers. Let me offer a recent quote from Colorado governor Richard Lamm: “When decisions of rate, pace and location of development are ceded to the private sector, public resource goals such as conservation, multiple use and environmental protection are similarly left to the marketplace. It should be obvious that the marketplace cannot advance individual investments and at the same time balance the public interest.”