The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
This Land Is Your Land
Where I live in Colorado, there is an immense treasure which is so pervasive that it is easy to take it for granted, and so complex that it is difficult to comprehend. All around this state -- from high mountain peaks, to desert canyons, to high-plains grasslands -- many of our most distinctive and valuable landscapes are owned by the government.
The blessing of public lands is not unique to Colorado, but those treasures are an essential component of our collective identity in the Rocky Mountain West.
That hit home for me a few days ago, when I went to a small town in the foothills north of Denver for lunch with a colleague. On the way to that meeting, I passed near several city parks and two state parks. The scenery along the highways has been saved from relentless urban sprawl by numerous blocks of open space, purchased and maintained by counties. After lunch, I detoured a few miles into the mountains onto National Forest land where I could sit by a tumbling mountain stream for an hour of meditation and reflection. Just a little farther up that road, my friend went back to a conference that was being held next to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Within just a few miles, I experienced a great diversity of lands that are owned, not by individuals or corporations, but by some collective expression of "we, the people." Cities, counties, the state, and several branches of the federal government hold those lands in trust, to serve the common good.
My jaunt toward the mountains took me past lands of grandeur and great variety, which is part of my delight at living in Colorado. No matter where you live, though, "public lands" are probably an important part of your local landscape, ecology, culture and economy. On a national level, we all share in the responsibility of caring for these lands, whether we experience them every day, or whether we never visit distant sites.
At its best, the collective ownership of these lands is an enlightened expression of stewardship which seeks the long-term health of the entire natural community, including humans. There is a constant danger, though, that short-sighted perspectives, inadequate funding, "special interest politics," or simple overuse will degrade these lands.
Public lands are at the center of many of the most important and contentious issues around us. A few recent examples can help us see that common theme.
While many of us have taken on some particular issue related to public lands -- oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge, the preservation of local open space -- the broader questions about stewardship of these lands usually have not been a significant part of our ethical consideration. Our ability to address specific issues will be enhanced when we explore the general themes that cut across the detailed policy questions.
Two programming options this fall provide opportunities for churches to increase their awareness, concern and action about public lands.
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One other thought to ponder. US President George W. Bush calls Texas "home." Texas has far less land in public ownership (only 3%) than any other state. Could his Texas-nurtured lack of appreciation and support for public lands, his upbringing in a culture that celebrates privatization and property rights, be a factor in his administration's policies?
The care and attention that we give to public lands is important in protecting valuable resources. But our intentional stewardship of the commons also shapes our personalities and our ethics. For the sake of God's creation, and for our own sake, let's celebrate and care for these lands.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * Home Page: www.eco-justice.org
Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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