It Takes Minutes to Trash the Desert, but Centuries to Repair | KCET
It Takes Minutes to Trash the Desert, but Centuries to Repair
And there are some who look at this square mile of land and see only a blank spot where they can do things they shouldn't. As it turns out, you don't need a bunch of venture capital investment to trash the desert. All you need is some wheels and a stunted set of ethics.
This land has clearly been used for illegal dumping for decades. Walk along the main illegal roads and you walk between rows of large piles of debris, ten yards on either side. Some of the piles are large enough to be seen in Google Maps' satellite view, and were obviously brought in by dumptruck.
There are good people who care about this land, but you would be forgiven, if you wandered along these roads, for concluding otherwise. There's just so much trash and vileness, accumulated over so many years, that the place looks abandoned. And so, predictably, the illegal offroaders have moved in.
Off-road vehicle enthusiasts and environmental activists have a decades-long history of conflict, but the majority of off-roaders might well find this place as appallingly ill-treated as I do. Many off-roaders stick to established trails, conduct trash cleanup campaigns, and try not to recreate on private land without permission. Here, on land where the owner is a bank hundreds of miles away and unlikely to grant permission to off-roaders, tire tracks leave the roads and head through broken vegetation to dirt tracks they've carved into the landscape.
Three miles from a National Park, and this land holds enough trash to fill a fleet of dumpsters, with the tracks of knobbly tires threaded through the piles. It is a depressing prospect. Were one of those representatives of Washington, D.C.-based wilderness groups to visit the site, he or she might well decide that this would be a perfect place to bulldoze for a few more megawatts of solar power, because clearly, the place is lost.
But it's not lost.
People are lazy. Given a choice between hauling trash a hundred yards from the road by hand or just dumping it at the roadside, no one would choose the former option --especially people whose laziness extends as far as their conscience. Given a choice between blazing a quarter-mile of new illegal trail through open desert or staying within sight of the beer, most illegal offroaders will choose the brews.
Though this is indeed a "bleeding piece of earth," the injury is mainly limited to the roadsides. Head a hundred yards away from those tire-torn gashes in the landscape and the desert is still there. Mated pairs of jackrabbits still bound away from you through the cacti. Desert washes devoid of all but wind-blown trash still braid their way through the landscape. Creosote bushes of unbelievable age dot the landscape where they've lived for centuries -- where some of them have lived for millennia.
The creosotes can easily wait that long, if we let them.
Chris Clarke is an environmental writer of two decades standing. Director of Desert Biodiversity, he writes from Joshua Tree regularly at his acclaimed blog Coyote Crossing and comments on desert issues on KCET weekly. Read his recent posts here.
For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.
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