This land not really ours

“This land is your land, this land is my land” goes the freedom anthem of the last century written by Woody Guthrie.

It’s an idea worth embracing again, because somewhere along the line, the federal bureaucracies entrusted with public lands have morphed into entities that treat folks like a problem, not a constituency.

Consider the U.S. Forest Service’s new rules for shooting pictures in a wilderness area. They illustrate how contemptuously wrong-headed government can become.

If a reporter wants to do a story in a wilderness area, the reporter must first get a permit from the U.S. Forest Service. That can cost up to $1,500. If a reporter is caught without a permit, he or she faces fines up to $1,000.

This is a stunningly stupid rule. Last month, the U.S. Forest Service sought to clarify and defend the rule, saying despite how the rules are written, the news media and documentary filmmakers, as well as most hikers shooting pictures in a wilderness area, would probably not be subject to the rule.

Probably? How reassuring.

The Oregonian newspaper was one of the first to decry the situation, pointing out that, “Under rules being finalized in November, a reporter who met a biologist, wildlife advocate or whistleblower alleging neglect in 36 million acres of wilderness would first need special approval to shoot photos or videos even on an iPhone.”

Almost any person trekking through a wilderness area who dares to shoot videos with an iPhone and then blogs it or tweets it or posts it to Facebook could be fined by the federal government $1,000 for each violation.

The Forest Service says that is not the “intent” of the rules, which were based on the Wilderness Act of 1964, which protects wilderness areas from being exposed for commercial gain.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. But, of course, there are no roads in wilderness areas, so we can only go by what the U.S. Forest does, not what it says.

As the Oregonian points out, in 2010, the Forest Service “refused to allow an Idaho Public Television crew into a wilderness area to film student conservation workers.” It was not until the governor of the state intervened that the crew was allowed in.

So, while the Forest Service talks like it’s drafting the Magna Carta, what it actually does resembles more the Sheriff of Nottingham. And the Forest Service is not the only one.

Whatever you might think of Cliven Bundy and his feud with the Bureau of Land Management, the display of the BLM’s ugly tactics against this Nevada rancher should alarm good people.

Who knew the BLM had become so militarized? And after the standoff in Mesquite ended, the BLM stonewalled reporters and to this day has not been called into public account for its misjudgments, which almost ended in bloodshed over a few illegally grazing cows.

Unwise, armed-to-the-teeth militarization aside, the BLM’s unconstitutional attempt to put protesters in a “First Amendment” pen also created the standoff. Does anyone at the BLM have the slightest idea why this was so awful? Did a bell go off anywhere inside the BLM after the riots in Ferguson, Mo.? Who knows?

The reason the BLM gets a pass on this episode is because Bundy turned out to be such an unsympathetic character. It’s too bad, because the critical issue here is the BLM.

Law enforcement in both Nevada and Utah were highly critical of the BLM during the Bundy standoff. Something appears dreadfully wrong. No one is publicly working to fix it.

These federal bureaucracies have guzzled their own bathwater. People are just intruders to be managed, restricted, fined and rounded up, and put into “First Amendment” pens.

One of Woody Guthrie’s verses goes:

“As I went walking I saw a sign there / And on the sign it said ‘No Trespassing.’ / But on the other side it didn’t say nothing, / That side was made for you and me.”

Today, I am sorry to say, this land belongs to the unaccountable bureaucracies who write crazy rules on both sides of every sign — for you and me.

Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at

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