Why and How We Can Learn from the West
This kind of government abuse and unreasonable contraction of freedom may have been more likely to arise in the West for the reasons mentioned above and also because certain resources, such as water, are relatively more scarce. But abusive practices and precedents that take hold in the West migrate wherever an agency bureaucracy takes them.
My first few weeks setting up PLF’s D.C. Center (our grand opening is June 9) have convinced me that a lot of effort is needed to educate opinion leaders here that the denials of liberty in the West are harbingers of things to come throughout America if we don’t take heed. PLF long ago became a nationwide, public-interest law firm (indeed, PLF won a Supreme Court victory involving Rhode Island coastal property in 2001
), and it defends many liberties besides traditional property rights (see its leading case challenging Obamacare’s individual-mandate “tax”
under the Origination Clause), but its roots in the West keep it focused on unlawful environmental and other property-rights rulings by increasingly imperious government officials.
For the most part, easterners discount the risks, or they are blissfully unaware that they exist. A recent Wall Street Journal story on the travails of New England coastal residents and what they deem unreasonable restrictions to their God-given rights to drive on beaches and let their dogs roam off leash actually understates the range of unnecessary restrictions, which are meant to protect the piping plover. Yet even the full story would probably elicit a different reaction from those who have vastly larger tracts of land declared off limits to them and for far more questionable reasons (e.g., a dusky gopher frog that has never been seen, and can’t survive, in the land that is being controlled). My PLF colleagues in Florida also are battling the illogic of those who argue that no matter how many more manatees thrive in Florida’s waters, more human restrictions are necessary if manatees keep getting injured by boat propellers. By that logic, the greater their recovery, the more boating activities must be stopped.
Nevertheless, all of these battles might prove trivial compared with the proposed ESA designation of critical habitat for the greater sage grouse, which could restrict activity in both public and private land in eleven western states covering 165 million acres. The total acreage of 14 eastern states, Puerto Rico, and D.C. together don’t cover that much land. And how many easterners know much, if anything, about the proposed sage-grouse action?
What to do? To return to my Grand Canyon holiday, a trip into the canyon itself (by foot or mule) reveals even greater “differences” and more memorable scenes than at either rim. Any reasonably able-bodied person, as I learned to my great joy, can hike one of the well-maintained trails a mile, two, or three down from the rim. It is a different world a few thousand feet below the rim looking up, and temperatures rise about five degrees for every thousand feet lower you walk. I did not allocate enough time to hike all the way down to the Colorado River and back (rangers recommend camping overnight for that), but my hike about halfway down and back was glorious. So I was perplexed when a ranger told me that only 5 percent of visitors to the park step below the rim. Nearly 4.8 million of 5 million annual visitors are not physically limited — just hurried, uninformed about the rewards of making the effort, or perhaps a little lazy.
It struck me that the human habits that cause 95 percent of Grand Canyon visitors to confine themselves to the viewpoints on one rim explain why most easterners don’t know much about life in the West. To repeat the above: We’re all busy and we don’t know if it’s worth our time to find out more.
Yet, on my return to the D.C. area, I also remembered that my family had spoken with some young couples as we stood on a rim overlook the day after our hike into the canyon, and it was not hard to convince them that it is much more rewarding to take a few hours to hike at least partway into the canyon. They readily accepted that advice and promised to follow it.
That is my inspiration as I begin my excellent adventure for PLF with like-minded people who fight for limited government and individual liberty. Our stories are powerful and our moral and legal claims are righteous. As Paul Revere and his lesser-known allies did on their midnight ride in 1775, it is possible that a few of us can spread the news that our liberties are threatened — we can rally the mass of thoughtful Americans to resolutely defend them in the political arena and the courts of law.
— Todd Gaziano is the executive director of Pacific Legal Foundation’s new D.C. Center and its senior fellow in constitutional law.