What are my rights?

To some, the world we live in never changes. This is still the Wild West to many people. I recently had a woman describe Southern Nevada land use, saying, “[It’s] like cowboys and Indians down here.” (I am not sure what that means—maybe she had just come from a new Henderson strip mall that sells cowboy boots and curry.)

To some, the land and its resources are still to be plundered. Damn decades of peer-reviewed science and public opinion about the need to protect our water supplies, our wildlife and our unspoiled landscapes for our children. Damn it all. Our rights assure us that we can do what we want. Our rights are ours to interpret, to enforce. By my rights, I am talking about mine, not yours. You can make your own rights, so long as they do not interfere with mine.

As a wilderness activist, my favorite right is my right to drive wherever I want. If I can get my vehicle over it, through it or around it, it must be right. Now I am not talking about downtown Reno or the Strip in Vegas. There are laws. You might kill a person, or damage a curb—or maybe even run over a potted plant. No, I am talking about my right to drive over every sagebrush in the state, across every last stream and up every mountain.

Today, much of our public land is open to vehicle travel—meaning that you are free to drive off the route you are on and make your own. It’s some sort of grotesque Jackson Pollock throwback, where we cross the canvas that is our landscape with a network of vehicle tracks and scars.

As wilderness activists, we are often looked at incredulously when folks hear that we think there should be places out in the wild where no vehicles should be allowed. These folks will look at us as if we were sitting in a bar in Lisbon in the 15th century, and I just told them that the world is round. They can’t envision such a thing:

“What do you mean, NO vehicles should be allowed?”

Wilderness areas, designated by Congress and increasingly hard to find, are the last places were we can go to walk, sit, horseback, hunt, fish and contemplate a world that is not the same.

What are my rights? When were we told that the modern world is so important that preservation for the sake of preservation and our cultural sanity is wrong? When will we realize that the power that we have as the human race to conquer and forever alter our planet can only be eclipsed by our power to respect, protect and value?

Today, the greatest threat to our planet, to our remaining wilderness lands, is the failure of human courage. Our rights should be the right to protect that which we know little about. Though we have the power to destroy, we must choose to protect wilderness—for it has value that tomorrow we will cherish.