The Right Coast

February 11, 2005
Line in the sand
By Tom Smith

Interesting article in the UT about the controversy around designating more land in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park as wilderness. I should probably admit I am incapable of rationality on this issue. I live in the semi-desert of East San Diego County, at the foot of McGinty Mountain, the big mountain you look up at, if you'd ever played the Steele Canyon golf course (as I haven't--I hate golf--and it hates me even more). For ten years, I have watched off roaders gradually degrade the mountain, blazing new trails up its flanks, widening old ones, and leaving behind beer cans, litter, spent ammo, used condoms, cigarette butts, unidentifiable vehicle parts and exhaust. I have made feeble efforts to resist them. It's quite illegal to ride on the mountain itself, at least off the established road. The Nature Conservancy owns a good part of the land. Their stewardship could be classified as non-existent. The little signs they put up, with the slash through the little motorcycle, were torn down years ago. Yes, I could call the San Diego sheriff, and I have on particularly egregious occassions (oh boy! a drunken keg party featuring pickups spinning cookies! And on my street!), but they have better things to do than chase down ex-urbanites' beefs against off-roaders.

I've hiked in the Coyote Canyon in Anza-Borrego which seems to be the biggest chunk of land the state wants to limit off-road traffic in. It stands out as an exquisite piece of desert in country full of it. I am just at a loss as to why it is necessary to ride on your butt through it, messing it up, when there is other desert out there that has already been destroyed.

From a social policy point of view, it strikes me as a no-brainer. All you have to do is keep your eyes open for ten years to judge the compatibility of keeping land available for the next 50 years, let alone 150, and opening it to off-road traffic. All you have to do is walk around Anza-Borrego to see the effects of the traffic. You've got incompatible uses, and it's just hard to believe the most utility is to be gotten out using it all up in the next 20 or 30 years.

Yes, I know, this wouldn't be a problem in libertarian heaven. Users would have to internalize their costs, and they would get their membership in the Syndicate of Off Road Parks revoked if they mowed down a stand of rare botanicals (as they do on my mountain) instead of high-fives. In a world wide auction of the San Diego country desert, held by the TANSTAAFL council, I would be willing to take my chances and pay my share. But we don't live in that world. Instead, the land is owned by the state, and you have maybe 300,000 people in a region of 10 million who want to use it up and be done with it. That's not liberty; it's theft.