Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How Predictable

How could I have predicted, as I did in my previous blog post, that the U.S. Forest Service would waste no time in closing the Rampart Range Road shooting area, in response to an accident that occurred there Saturday? It didn't take a crystal ball.

I predicted correctly because it was completely predictable.

These days, every tragedy that makes the papers generates a disproportional regulatory response from the safety uber alles crowd. Politicians and regulators are constantly scanning the headlines, looking for tragedies or "crises" they can turn into legislative or regulatory "fixes." If a family in Aspen dies of carbon monoxide poisoning, we'll within a week have a law moving through the statehouse, mandating that every new home in Colorado be built with carbon monoxide detectors. If some nut tries to set-off a shoe bomb in an airplane, we'll all henceforth have to put our shoes through a scanner at the airport (thank goodness he didn't use an underwear bomb). If a mismanaged pit bull mauls a child, pit bulls must be banned, or registered as lethal weapons.

Any excuse will spur the safety uber alles crowd into an irrational overreaction. All it took in this case was a complaint from the shooting victim's grieving father, who would rather blame the Forest Service for the death than his son's companion. And the papers generate a steady stream of similar excuses to act. This is how the freedoms of responsible people get whittled away, one "crisis," one tragedy, at the time.

Also easily predicted was the Forest Service's haste in closing the range -- though I've never, in my decades of watching federal bureaucracies in inaction, seen one move so fast on anything before. That's because the agency increasingly seems to view the public as a threat to the public lands -- as a hassle to be tolerated, controlled and told "no" -- rather than the rightful owners of these areas.

More people out enjoying the public lands means more work, more hassles, more potential headaches for forest service bureaucrats, so they are increasingly using "protection" as an excuse to close trails, close ranges, close areas and limit public access to public lands. Almost any excuse will do. And the justification for closing the shooting range came Saturday.

The agency also is succumbing to an attitude I describe as recreational correctness; it's the idea, somewhat analogous to political correctness, that only certain forms of "light on the land" recreation are to be allowed on public lands. Hiking is tolerated, because it's just about the only form of recreation that doesn't have environmental extremists (who today really give federal land agencies their marching orders) up in arms or bringing lawsuits. But all forms of motorized enjoyment of these lands, from snowmobiles to personal watercraft to off-road vehicles of various stripes, increasing are finding the welcome mat rolled up on them by federal land managers.

The continuing battle over snowmobile use at Yellowstone National Park -- see latest developments -- is one example of recreational correctness at work. Here's another recent example of recreational correctness in action.

Hunters are tolerated in national forests, at least for now, but they'll see restrictions and bans eventually, once the less powerful groups have been evicted. And how do shooters rate in this era of creeping recreational correctness? They occupy just about the bottom rung, from this perspective -- they're viewed as irresponsible redneck yahoos who are scaring away the birds and deer with their loud booms and are bound to get themselves or someone else killed, sooner or later.

And sure enough, a deadly mishap occurred at the Front Range Road shooting area Saturday, giving the agency an engraved invitation to do what it's been itching to do for some time. The irrational overreaction was completely predictable, given the factors I cite above, even if it's completely unfair, and bespeaks a double standard, since the Forest Service doesn't string barbed wire around a lake or river every time a boating accident occurs. And that's how I predicted it.

No crystal ball required.

No comments: