This is a really complex topic. The simplest way to preserve open space is for the government, or an entity comparable thereto such as Ted Turner or Paul Allen, to buy or reserve a huge expanse of land. Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park, the Escalante BigAss Staircase in Utah, or National Forests and Wilderness Areas.
Various wildlife habitat requirements drive a number of advocacy groups to strive to preserve other expanses of land as open space. Most environmental groups, lacking the money to buy or preserve land, try to use government regulations to preserve land and habitat. This engenders a great deal of bitterness in many cases.
As an alternative, the The Nature Conservancy emerged as an honest broker, in parallel with but not necessarily beholden to advocacy-oriented groups, to subtly encapsulate private lands with conservation easements or outright acquisitions. Real estate agents hate them and some enviros suspect them, but Nature Conservancy has accomplished what I think passes for miracles, over and over.
Thirty-five years ago, when I returned to Wyoming as a fresh-faced enthusiastic environmental advocate with a newly minted degree in botany, planning to protect the plains from coal mines and power plants, I was suspicious of ranchers who shot coyotes in the morning and professed conservation in the afternoon as their cows grazed the ‘hood into moonscape. There have been alliances between environmentalists and agriculture, but there is a lot of tension in the relationship. All ranchers profess conservation but not all practice it.
While I and the environmental groups were asleep at the wheel with a whole bunch of other people, an onslaught of entrepreneurs inhaled huge expanses of Wyoming landscape only to turn them into 35 acre ranchettes. The legislative loophole in land use planning allowed sprawling unplanned 35 acre ranchettes everywhere, thereby burdening local governments with law enforcement, fire fighting and emergency medical burdens.
This process led nearly everyone who is sentient and not a Palin-drone to agree that ranchers are the last hope, regardless of their political views, of preserving open space: open space which offers solitude, beauty, habitat, sometimes stark landscapes, lark buntings singing and pronghorns feinting, larkspurs blooming and sagebrush assaulting us with massive pollen clouds. Nature: ugly and beautiful, and real.
In this world of relativity, the view of a person looking to find a lovely remote private spot in the country and the view of the person who already has a lovely remote private spot in the country are 180 degrees apart. Pose this question: is a road easement a necessity or a blight? (There’s a topic for a column or two.)
Anyway, we all favor open space now, right? But, what is open space?
Ranch families in Campbell County praise the coal bed gas industry for providing water and money and, well, more money, to water the cows and sustain the family farm for the next generation. And many of the ranch kids work at the local coal mines for more money than we pay Gov. Dave. These sources of funding are preserving open space by maintaining family ranches.
Footnote: The aforesaid Gov. Dave, bored in his dotage, discovers that the state owns two square miles of neglected land inside Grand Teton National Park, which he thinks should be auctioned. (For cabin sites?) Does he first offer a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy? NO. Does he call The Sage Grouse for advice? NO. Of course he is just gigging the feds again; he wants to make the Park Service cough up millions to buy this land.
At least he is not auctioning moose permits on said lands to millionaires. Yet. Meanwhile, into this vacuum of (in)decisiveness, who should waltz into the picture but PETA. Persons Entering An Alternative Universe. Hey, PETA, the reality is: people and animals suffer and die
Back to open space. Some ranchers sell easements for wind towers. The surface is largely undisturbed, but there are these giant noisy white things whirring along, whacking the occasional sparrow or hawk. Is this open space?
Ultra-tourism promoters link working ranches to urban and European wannabe cowboys and girls. (There is a long history of cowboys at dude ranches getting married to visiting Eastern girls; read Bucky King’s “The Dude Connection”, 1983, Jelm Mtn. Press).
Subsidizing a working cattle-grazing operation with oil money or tourism money may perpetuate overgrazing, but it concurrently perpetuates open space.
It’s easy for people who write magazine columns and law review articles to champion “open space”. Getting one’s hind end out of academia and buying some open space and trying to preserve it is not that easy.