Conservatives should live up to their name

CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: HILL

Conservatives should live up to their name

Nothing makes people take stock of their surroundings more than a natural disaster.

When I woke up Friday morning to find the world buried under a pristine blanket of rock hard ice, I saw the yard, fields and lake around my house in a way I had not expected to.

Mississippi winters are notoriously dreary, wet, rainy and gray. Few have impressed me with the majesty that can sometimes come out of the cold.

I stood at my back door Friday, shivering at the very thought of walking out into that shining wonderland and cussing myself for never thinking to buy some long underwear or double thick insulated gloves for moments such as this. Something about this hard, white evidence of winter shook me out of the stupor of my mid-winter blahs and made me take stock of the landscape in a way I hadn’t in a long time. It reminded me of some of the trips my family had taken to the mountains of New Mexico, Colorado and elsewhere when I was a kid.

My Grandpa Ferguson was a great bowler, domino player and pool shark. But most of all he was an avid sportsman. He loved to hunt, but he excelled at fishing and he would take a huge crowd of his extensive family to mountain parks almost every year to keep him company while he fished the best trout streams or just enjoyed the scenery.

Some of my earliest memories are of catching sight of purple mountains on the horizon, huge and overpowering and growing more so the closer we came. I remember leaving summer behind at the foot of those mountains and bundling up as we entered the rarer air, the snow and the lovely dark green trees of the upper slopes. And I remember deliberately setting the marshmallows at the end of my crooked stick aflame in the middle of a campfire just to hack off my older sister who was trying to teach me how to “roast right,” as she put it.

Then my mid-winter blahs came back with a vengeance. Lately the Journal newsroom has been deluged with mail from groups both pro and con on the issue of whether to support congressional proposals to sell off public park lands.

The pro argument is that it is too expensive for our nation to maintain these lands and that the natural resources on them and under them would help the local economies of the areas in which the lands are located if industry were allowed to take advantage of them. Also the federal government could turn a profit by selling off or leasing these lands and use that money to help balance the federal budget.

The argument against is that these lands are our national heritage that were intended to be held in trust for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. Many of the public lands held by the federal government contain natural habitats and species that are fast disappearing and that need protection. They also argue that the one-time profits to be had by selling off these lands would be a small return in comparison to the natural beauties that would be lost.

While it has become politically unfashionable to don the title “environmentalist,” it is ironic that the politician who first took it upon himself to build a natural trust for future generations of Americans was President Teddy Roosevelt, another avid sportsman, a Republican and a conservative.

During his administration, Roosevelt added more than 125 million acres of land to the national forests, telling Congress that “the forest and water problems are perhaps the most vital internal problems of the United States.”

To me the question has a cruelly simple, almost Old Testament flavor to it. Once we sell our national birthright how are we ever to regain it? This is a natural disaster we can and should avert.

Jane Hill is a Daily Journal staff writer.

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