by Jim Stiles
As the Bears Ears debate heated up last summer, monument proponents revealed sentiments that went far beyond support for a presidential proclamation. Again and again, the argument included a near unanimous loathing for the Rural West, especially the many small Utah communities that were founded by Mormon settlers almost 150 years ago.
The loathing went so deep as to suggest that most of these rural towns had no reason to exist–and that they should “disappear”.
One Facebook commenter wrote:
"Every small town in the United States has been in decline since 1991. Since towns like Esclente [sic] are extremely small and arguably should not have even existed in the first place, of course they are going to be the first to disappear.
The national monument may have been the catalyst, but it cannot be entirely to blame. Yes it is sad to watch your town die, but there is a reason for its death. You are living in a place that is not sustainable and you want to keep it alive for selfish reasons.
Sometimes people need to make difficult sacrifices in order to help the greater population. Even if you do have to pack up your family and move, at least no one is driving your family out into the desert to die like the last group of people who occupied the area.”
Another comment, posted by a Moabite deeply involved in the mountain biking/recreation industry, had little sympathy for ‘Old Westerners...
“Certainly there are many socio-economic problems (in Moab) but many of them are self induced…Starting wages for a line cook in this town is fifteen a hour… tips are a un-recordable income in Moab, waiters and waitress, guides all make a very good living here, and get to live the lifestyle they chose with big blocks of time off. There is however a part of our population that is unwilling to work at service jobs by there (sic) own choosing. Holding out for those high paying extraction jobs which come and go.”
Or to put it more succinctly, it’s time for the rural west to go… The ‘Old West,’ and even the ‘Original West’ — the Native Americans that came first — in fact, anyone who clings to traditional lifestyles and customs and occupations – has no place, no future, in an amenities/recreation/tourism-driven New West economy Resistance, they believe, is futile.
No one embraces that belief more adamantly or unswervingly than Mark Bailey. Mr. Bailey is “a retired partner from Wasatch Advisors, Inc., an investment management firm headquartered in Salt Lake City.” He is the founder of Torrey House Press in Torrey, Utah
Bailey is a board of directors member and treasurer of Wild Utah Project, a non-profit environmental organization, which says that it “serves all who value our relationships with wildlife. We achieve our mission by holding agencies accountable... through attitude-changing outreach to decision makers; through citizen participation in fieldwork and advocacy; and through our wildlife and science programs.”
Bailey also posts a blog; recently I read of his plans for Torrey, Utah’s future. In a section called “Build a Blue Oasis in a Red, Red State,” he makes these proposals for transforming the demographics of his community. Here are some excerpts:
“I spend all the time I can deep behind enemy lines. Deep, red, anti-conservation, Tea Party Republican lines.
“Torrey is tiny but it has a growing population of university professors, artists, musicians, writers, sustainable micro-farmers, conservationists, astronomers and publishers. Because as property owners we are not granted greenbelt exemptions we make up about ten percent of the population and pay half the collected property tax... We have economic clout, and intellectual clout, but not political clout.
“I have a vision of Torrey becoming a example of rural renewal and progress, where the flora and fauna are left unmolested by domestic livestock, water runs free in the streams, the rocks are not mined and crushed for road base and the forests and not clear cut but the community thrives all the same.
“The airport could be appropriately expanded — successful rural communities need reasonable access. The town could use a well run bookstore serving primarily tourists and spreading the conservation word. There exists the infrastructure to support gatherings and targeted conventions for think tanks, conservationists, literary and arts gatherings.
“Sustainable green business could be attracted along with pursuits based on knowledge workers producing intellectual capital and creating jobs beyond relatively low paying tourist work. Forethought and planning would need to be used to prevent another Moab, but such things are possible.”
Last month, The Zephyr posted an article from its 2004 archives by Bianca Dumas, titled “When Neighbors become Strangers.”
In her essay, Dumas wrote:
“Folks who move to rural towns too often think that the very life of the rural place – the lives of the farmers, ranchers, loggers, and coal miners – is backward, even wrong.
“Writer Wendell Berry experienced this prejudice when he left a teaching position at New York University to return home to Kentucky. ‘There was the assumption,’ he writes, ‘that the life of the metropolis is the experience, the modern experience, and that the life of the rural places… is not only irrelevant to our time, but archaic as well because it is unknown or unconsidered by the people who really matter – that is, the urban intellectuals.’”
But Bailey took issue with Dumas (and Wendell Berry for that matter). Dumas’ essay was posted on The Zephyr Facebook page and Bailey objected to the article.
Here is part of the Facebook thread and discussion that transpired between Mr. Bailey and this writer:
Mark Bailey: Being neighborly sounds good if you say it fast. My “local” neighbors in Wayne County want to put a gravel pit in my front yard, right there at the gateway to a National Park, and are appalled that we “move-ins” fight it.
The locals’ extraction based, highly subsidized “way of life” is not sustainable. They are fighting their own best interests when they clench their fists, close their minds and fight for some 19th Century ideal that is long gone, if ever there.
Zephyr: So what do you suggest for those people whose families have lived there for a century or more? What’s YOUR solution for them?
MB: That is easy, thanks for asking. Education, then knowledge work to build intellectual capital. Start sustainable businesses. In Utah Agriculture, Natural Resources and Mining combined make up only 3.8 percent of our GDP. That means 96.2 percent of us have figured out something else do do. Behind every rancher is a wife with a job. If it is uneconomic and requires taxpayer subsidy, give it up. Realize our public lands, like those around Capitol Reef National Park are most valuable in their natural state.
Z: So to get educated and to “build intellectual capital,” clearly they would have to leave the area where their families have resided for decades.
You’re talking about being “re-trained,” right? In fields of employment that until recently were foreign to almost all of us. How long would that take? Wouldn’t they have to sell their homes and relocate just to receive and pay for the education?
Having watched Moab transform itself in the past 25 years, very few of those types of Moabites you refer to had the experience or skills, or more critically, the capital investment, to participate in the kind of New West economy you are promoting.
In the end, you’re suggesting a sort of tourist/recreation economy for much of the rural west, and consequently, a complete transformation of its demographics.
MB: Well, if going away to college is too much to ask, I guess they are stuck...Take a grazing lease buyout and stay home to start a non-extractive biz. Raising capital for viable projects is imminently doable with education and savvy.
And complete transformation of demographics? I suppose there could be people of color involved, maybe immigrants, maybe even gays or lesbians. Not likely many though, so fear not. The white community will get over it.
Z: What kind of “non-extractive biz” for somebody who’s ranched all his/her life with no experience or training in a completely different kind of work? How do they “stay home” and obtain “education and savvy?”
MB: You are talking to a guy who left asset management industry and started a book publishing corporation. It takes guts and imagination. Are such attributes lacking? I think you see my point. I will leave you to it.
Z: No… I don’t If you want to discuss job opportunity, race and ethnicity in the rural west, what I see in many “New West” communities is an influx of affluent, upper middle-class white people over 50, who moved there for the scenery and who have virtually no interest in the community itself. The shocking lack of interest by Moab’s “New Progressive” population in the recent controversy at Moab City Hall is a good example.
But I see these New Westerners coming to rural communities, building $300-500,000 homes, and driving the cost of housing beyond the reach of just about anybody but people just like themselves.
Then they sing the praises of a tourist/recreation economy that creates vast numbers of minimum wage jobs, many of them filled by poor Native Americans and Hispanics, none of which pay enough for the workers to even live in their own communities.
A “New West” town may create some well-paying jobs for college graduates, but those jobs are few and far between. Mostly, these towns are service economies, which only survive if 90 percent of workers are making minimum wage.
So, no, Mark Bailey, I don’t think I see your point.
MB: This is a good debate. Let’s look for a chance to sit down and see where it goes.
Z: I’m not looking for “debate” or scoring points. I don’t do this for entertainment purposes. I’m looking for some honesty. I look forward to your response to the issues I’ve raised. And if you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m talking about more than just numbers and graphs. I’m talking about people’s lives and histories. If you’d like some more Zephyr articles to ponder, I can post some relevant links...JS
MB: Suit yourself. After this, um, conversation, my answer is yes. You are stuck.
In effect, Mark Bailey and many like him are waging war on the local people who have lived and worked there for over a century – the ultimate goal of war is the permanent removal of the enemy from a contested landscape.
Bailey’s remarks and blog statements leave little doubt that the “fight to save wilderness” is more than a legislative effort to set aside parcels of land for resources protection.
For Bailey and so many others like him, including major environmental organizations and many white, urban, affluent “progressives” in the rural West, this is about regime change on a local level. Bailey has been more unabashedly candid than others, but clearly the goal is to defeat the enemy and to be “in command of the field” at the end of the day.
With the inauguration of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress, proponents of the new monument are using all means at their disposal to stop any new presidential decision that might reverse Obama’s proclamation, or marginalize its significance. Rumors that the new administration might significantly shrink the size of the monument, or withhold funding to manage it continue.
“We are calling on Herbert, Utah’s congressional delegation and other state leaders to drop their efforts to take down Bear Ears National Monument, to gut the Antiquities Act, to transfer our public lands to the states and to gut funding for these monuments, parks and public lands. If they don’t, the Outdoor Retailer shows must leave Utah.”
Yvon Chounard, the founder of the outdoor equipment company Patagonia and revered as the man who forged today’s strong alliance between the recreation industry and mainstream environmentalism, also weighed in, making the same threat as Mr. Metcalf. He wrote:
“I say enough is enough. If Gov. Herbert doesn’t need us, we can find a more welcoming home. Gov. Herbert should direct his Attorney General to halt their plans to sue and support the historic Bears Ears National Monument.
"He should stop his efforts to transfer public lands to the state, which would spell disaster for Utah’s economy. He should show the outdoor industry he wants our business – and that he supports thousands of his constituents of all political persuasions who work in jobs supported by recreation on public lands.
“We love Utah, but Patagonia’s choice to return for future shows will depend on the Governor’s actions. I’m sure other states will happily compete for the show by promoting public lands conservation.”
And yet, recently, Chounard surprised his allies with some doomsday predictions about the recreation culture he helped invent.
In a stunning article for September 19 issue of The New Yorker, writer Nick Paumgarten’s profile with Chouinard includes this remarkable concession. Paumgarten writes:
“When I ventured to mention how the catalogue sometimes irked me, he was quiet for a while, and then said, “When you see the guides on the Bighorn, they’re all out of central casting. Beard, bill cap, Buff around the neck, dog in the bow. Oh, my God, it’s so predictable. That’s what magazines like Outside are promoting. Everyone doing this ‘outdoor life style’ thing. It’s the death of the outdoors.”‘
In 1968, Edward Abbey offered this warning about the future of recreation and the amenities economy:
“Industrial Tourism is a big business. It means money. It includes the motel and restaurant owners, the gasoline retailers, the oil corporations, the road-building contractors, the heavy equipment manufacturers, the state and federal engineering agencies and the sovereign, all-powerful automotive industry.
“These various interests are well organized, command more wealth than most modern nations, and are represented in Congress with a strength far greater than is justified in any constitutional or democratic sense.”
Very few environmentalists will acknowledge or even remember his warning. In fact, one would have to go back almost 20 years to find mainstream greens expressing a sentiment even remotely similar to Abbey’s admonition.
Abbey’s old friend Ken Sleight shared Abbey’s view in a 2010 interview with the Zephyr. When Sleight was running tourists down Glen Canyon in the 1950s, he never dreamed the recreation industry would become what it is today. And, he wondered, if it’s this bad now, what will it be like in another 20 years?
“They keep trying to bring more people here.” he complained. “That spells doom for wilderness. More people. More people. More parking lots. More of everything. We keep building and building. Down at Zion they’re about to build a bigger tunnel for the east entrance road. ‘Improving’ it! Adapting to handle ever increased numbers, all for the comfort of the people. Now everybody associates that with preservation. We’ve got to ‘improve’ it so we can get more people in.”
But it goes beyond numbers, and Sleight said it best, even about his own beloved Pack Creek Ranch. “Pack Creek Ranch and Moab will be plastic,” Ken says sadly. “Nothing but plastic, and Pack Creek with it. Civilization is already headed that way. It IS that way. Plastic is a good word. Plastic individuals. Not really individuals anymore. People will go where they’ve been trained and taught.”
There is an irony in all this “New Westerners” rail against the “redneck” mentality that used to govern the rural west before we came along to save it. But at the same time, many also long for the West the way it was 50 years ago, when the ‘rednecks’ were running the show.
New Westerners come to live here as permanent tourists. They’ve come to be closer to the beauty they have admired for so long and rail against those who extract natural resources from it.
But at the same time, they have no problem consuming those resources. They oppose oil/gas production but heat their new homes and power hybrid SUVs and urge more of their stripe to join them.
They condemn timber extraction but build new 4,000 square foot McMansions in the arid deserts and forests of the West. They oppose new dams and water pipelines but xeriscape their lawns and think that makes them good conservationists.
And then they condemn the old timers for not being progressive enough.
As the West becomes less of what it was, what really made the difference?
Us, en masse. Millions of us. We came here to save The West and subsequently ruined it with our sheer numbers and our desire to bring our urban habits with us. I doubt you could get a double-decaf, skinny cappuccino 40 years ago, but who’d be willing to trade it for some real peace and quiet? In today’s rush to be part of The New West, I’m not sure anybody cares.
Jim Stiles is publisher of The Canyon Country Zephyr.