October 20, 2001
Statewide Trails Office PO Box 942896 Sacramento, CA 94296-0001
Re: Draft California Recreational Trails Plan
Your support for wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors is commendable -- if accompanying trails don't scare the wildlife away! Somehow you have managed to completely miss the point of trails. You seem to think that they are an alternate transportation system for people who don't like sharing the real transportation system with motor vehicles. Motor vehicles are indeed a problem, but sacrificing wildlife -- once again! -- is not the solution.
First, you have to understand what a park is. It is wildlife habitat. Period. The "purposes" laid out in human laws are a conceit created by visitors who arrived after wildlife had already made it their home for 4 billion years. Calling it a "park", and pretending that we "own" it, won't change that. Not only are parks wildlife's home, but that is exactly why we like them! The presence of living organisms is what makes a park a park. Without them, you would have something like a quarry. Have you ever visited a quarry? Did you have fun?
It follows that your primary job is not, as your plan seems to favor, to fill the parks to capacity with humans (e.g. "promoting the use of underutilized trails"; if a trail is "underutilized", why not close it?!), but, on the contrary, to make sure that human impacts are minimized. This means: not promoting the development of more trails, not widening trails more than the minimum necessary for two hikers to pass each other, not trying to get more people into the parks, and not doing anything to make the backcountry accessible to people with disabilities. (This is not because the disabled don't have equal rights, but because they do. And also because the only way that wildlife can be preserved is if they are given priority, in their habitat, over humans. Wilderness Watch of Missoula, Montana, has published numerous articles by people with disabilities asking that wilderness not be made "accessible": they all agree that wilderness that is modified to make it more "accessible" is, by definition, no longer wilderness!)
Your "Plan" contains a lot of language about the "needs" of various user groups. That is a misnomer. Those are not needs. All trail users are humans, and all humans have the same basic needs. Simple trails through natural areas have satisfied those recreational needs for all five million years of human evolution. Bicycles, skates, and other machinery are harmful to natural areas, endanger wildlife and other trail users, and destroy the experience of nature that parks are designed to provide. In other words, if we wanted to be around machinery, we would have stayed in the city! I wonder how humans that managed to enjoy nature for five million years on foot suddenly developed a "need" to bring along a large piece of machinery? … You claim to be interested in improving "the quality of life". Well, my quality of life has been significantly degraded by having all of the parks I used to enjoy invaded by hoards of mountain bikes and off-leash dogs!
Similarly, the presence of dogs, horses, and other exotic or domesticated species should be minimized in order to protect the persons and experiences of wildlife and other trail users.
You claim that trails provide "environmental benefits". Come on, let's be honest! Trails not only represent wildlife habitat that has been destroyed, but by facilitating easier human access, they cause wildlife to be driven away from the area, effectively destroying more habitat (since it becomes unusable) than just the trail surface. Trails also hurt wildlife indirectly by teaching people (non-verbally) that the presence of people is not harmful to wildlife, which, of course, is not true. This applies even when the trails are used for transportation. Preventing motor vehicle use benefits the environment. But that does not require destroying more wildlife habitat, in order to provide a separate transportation network for bikers. We are going to run out of oil very soon, whereupon the existing road network will be more than adequate for all bicycle transportation. If we were smart, we would immediately outlaw all nonessential use of fossil fuels.
You say that "Plans for optimal use of trail resources must be in concert with the objective of natural and cultural resource protection." I agree, but when the two are in conflict, natural resources must take priority. You recommend developing "multi-jurisdictional plans for wildlife corridors". Bravo! This is the kind of planning that we need.
The California Riding and Hiking Trail is more than a big waste of resources, it is a proportionately large threat to wildlife. Humans don't need special encouragement to invade wildlife habitat, nor new trails. We simply need to learn to appreciate nature wherever we happen to encounter it. If we can't appreciate and enjoy the habitat that is close at hand, we certainly won't be able to appreciate, and treat with proper respect, ecosystems with which we haven't been intimate.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
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