In Arizona Republic, 11/6/07
November 11, 2007
Too Much Publicity, Poor Planning and Creepy People threaten Fossil Springs—–How publicity, sleeping politicians and poor planning is destroying a Wilderness
The Law of Unintended Consequences invoked
As Arizona Congressional delegation sleeps
By James Bishop Jr.
If we have no hope there is no hope.
Pausing by the blue-green waters of Fossil Creek in the Fossil Springs Wilderness to examine a trashed campground Heather Provencio, Sedona District Ranger exclaimed, It hurts my heart to see this wilderness gem being so hammered. It makes me so very sad to see what people do, but there is hope.
Despite this newspapers powerful editorial and reportage coverage of A Jewel Befouled (10/11/07), its become abundantly clear to this observer that more than hope will be required if total anarchy is to be prevented, and that will only transpire when a hard-hitting management and enforcement regime is established; and that will only materialize in the form of a Wild and Scenic designation, the river protection law due to celebrate its 40th birthday in 2008; that will provide funding and enforcement power, resources that are lacking in the US Forest Service budgets.
But don’t bet on that happening soon.
Camp Verde Mayor Tony Gioia recently took some soundings in both the House, Senate and US Department of Agriculture about a series of concerns regarding various river and stream issues including the threatened Verde River and the equally endangered Fossil Springs Wilderness. Everywhere he went he was advised not to bet the ranch on action. First he was told that Rep. Renzi, sponsor of a bill to create special resignation for Fossil Springs was radioactive and his bill is as dead as desire in the dead.
Next he ran smack into a catch-22 situation: High officials in the US Department of Agriculture informed him that a designation for Wild and Scenic for the upper Verde River was not achievable until the Fossil Creek designation was completed the outlook for which is dim.
Before he returned home, he crossed party lines and visited Senator McCain’s staff and also the staff of the Subcommittee of Energy and Natural Resource staff for Senator Bingaman. He found them helpful but also overloaded with other issues, a hearing is likely but chances for the Senate to move first are uncertain at best.
So much for Arizona’s congressional delegation – either asleep at the wheel or running for higher office, either ignorant of or oblivious to the fact that wilderness was the basic ingredient of American culture.
An antidote for despair, Cactus Ed Abbey wrote years ago, is wilderness: We can have wilderness without freedom; we can have wilderness without human life at all; but we cannot have freedom without wilderness. Ah wilderness. America is blessed with 702 wilderness areas totaling more than 100 million acres that are defined by the language in the 1964 Act as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man From wilderness insisted Henry Thoreau come the barks and tonics which brace mankind.
Few wilderness areas are more stunning, magical or legendary than the Fossil Springs Wilderness in the Coconino and Tonto National Forests located southeast of Sedona. Sacred to the Apache, the blue-green 14-mile-long stream seems to appear out of nowhere, gushing 20,000 gallons a minute out of a series springs out of the bottom of a 1,600 foot deep canyon in probably the most varied riparian area in all of Arizona. Over thirty species of trees and shrubs and at least one hundred species of birds have been observed in this mysterious, wondrous vicinity where people lived for many years before the European incursion in the 16th century.
What began as a dream in the late 1990s, that APS would cease hydroelectric power operations so that historic natural flows would be restored and scientists would be given the research opportunity of a lifetime, has miscarried. Sometimes you think you are doing something good, observes John Parson, longtime Verde Valley conservationist. But then the chickens come home to roost and you realize that youve invoked the law of intended consequences. APS kept the place in order, they were the de facto sheriff in town. Today its rampant lawlessness and the most crass behavior is the norm. Its going to get worse- one hell of lot worse, and may never get better or even return to a remote resemblance of what it once was. All we’re getting is lip service now.
Rangers tell me that piles of human waste and trash are awful but Meth and Marijuana are more dangerous, dangerous enough, one ranger told me, but they are not usually accompanied by bad guys who want to kill you.
It is said that people never see the handwriting on the wall until their backs are up against it. For years warnings filled the air that unless a management and enforcement plan were created before Fossil Creek was allowed to run free, roads should be closed to prevent human invasion. Friends of the Forest volunteer Justine Kusner remembers the reply by telephone to one of her letters of concern and warning, Right On. And that was the last she heard.
Bishop was Newsweeks Environmental Correspondent from 1968-77, then a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy under Secretary James Schlesinger