Hiking is Not A Crime, Let Forest Be Thy Medicine

Ranger: Howdy, sir. Sorry, the forest is closed.
Hiker: Why?
Ranger: Well, there’s been some slides and wash outs and rockfalls and trees fallen over and we heard tell of a big rut. 
Hiker: Oh. So you mean it’s a forest. You’ve closed the forest because it’s a forest. 

Over 1,000 scientific studies. That’s a lot the Forest Service is arguing against when they tell us the forest is a threat to our health and safety.

The Forest Service put forth the standard of public health and used it to take from the people their right to walk the public lands.

The forest closures and the criminalization of walking seem to be getting stricter and happening with increasing frequency.

As Danny Mac over at Noozhawk has informed us youngsters of more recent vintage:

“I’ve been tramping around back there since 1971, and my experience is that USFS tends to close it down more often and in a more ‘total’ fashion over the decades. 

Well, now we are going to hold the Forest Service to their own stated standard and use it to take back our right to walk our public lands. Because they are wrong.

The Forest Service made the unbelievable claim that the forest is a threat to our health.

How will they make the wilderness areas safe again so that we are permitted to enter?

The question is rhetorical and as asinine as the closure.

Of course, designated wilderness and national forest areas, to a lesser extent, are to be left largely untouched and “untrammeled” and allowed to remain as rugged as the earth can muster, as per the law.

The premise of the forest closure conflicts with the fundamental underpinnings of the wilderness and national forest reserve system itself, as defined by law.

This is an extraordinary confusion in policy that undermines the legitimacy of the Forest Service and erodes trust.

They cannot close the forest because it’s a forest and expect thinking, self-respecting folks to listen.

The naturally rugged character of the land is not a sensible basis on which to exclude people. For the love of Gaia it’s the bloody reason people go there! Good grief.

The land is supposed to be raw, sharp and loose and we hope there’s lots of water. 

The Forest Service tells us public health is their concern. But we see in practice that public health is a misused, meaningless phrase. It no longer carries any weight.

The shepherd has cried wolf too often and we no longer believe him.

Public health was the same phrase officials used to outlaw opening an umbrella on the beach during the pandemic.

The Forest Service closed down campgrounds during the pandemic, too, under the guise of protecting public health. The closure was issued despite the fact that campsites are well-spaced, outside in open air, campers can maintain social distancing protocols better than in the city and wear masks as easily.

In other words, camping fit in rather neatly with the health protocols being issued by the domain experts in the health sciences.

Yet, the Forest Service citing public health ignored it all and closed the entire place down anyway.

The elasticity of the phrase “public health” is only limited by the imagination of the officials in power, who can stretch it at will on any given day to cover any whim they wish without need of reason.

And they act without reason. They close beaches and campgrounds and the entire forest based on demonstrable nonsense and contrary to their own stated standards.

And here we bear witness once more to this outrageous behavior.

On the basis of the vague, abstract generality of public health, without citing any actual special threat whatsoever because none truly exists, the Forest Service issued a knee-jerk, reactionary blanket closure of all 2700 square miles of Condor National Forest.

The closure is an astounding abuse of power.

To your health, they said, and gave us a policy harmful to public health.

No wonder trust in government remains near historic lows.

Spending time in the forest makes people healthier and happier. That statement is a fact deeply rooted in reems worth of scientific data. The evidence is voluminous and compelling. 

Telling people the forest is a threat to their health and safety is utter nonsense.

But it’s even worse.

Pushing the false narrative is especially egregious in its tone-deaf insensitivity in these tender times following the pandemic and lock-downs and shut-ins. When now Americans are reporting record lows in mental health

Forest Service employees are supposed to be the experts in their respective field, but they appear insensitive and oblivious to all scholarly studies directly related to their domain.

The people are paying attention. The people are paying the price.

Would that the Forest Service heed the mountain of scientific evidence and not ban the people from their own land which serves their critical needs.

For sake of public health. 

Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health

A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate.

“Now it’s approaching and about to pass 1,000 studies, and they point in one direction: Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive functioning.”

—Richard Louv author of Last Child In the Woods

Yale School Of the Environment

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17 Responses to Hiking is Not A Crime, Let Forest Be Thy Medicine

  1. edsafaris says:

    Well said, Jack.

    Jim Brady

  2. Bill says:

    Its partially not the Forest Service fault. People would be camping everywhere. Leaving trash would be a problem. Who is going to police all that? Look at Red Rock. Until they passed it to the concessionaire, beer bottles and trash everywhere.

  3. Hear, hear! They tried to ban us from our hills and forests but I took no notice – like you said, it was the perfect social distancing (of which I was, and still am, a big fan!). I bumped into the ranger in his van in the middle of the forest one day on my return from the hills above – I ignored him and he ignored me. I guess I was lucky!

  4. Dan McCaslin says:

    You hit the nail squarely on the head, Jack. The whole thing is a cluster-cluck. Dan ‘Danny Mac’ McCaslin, a hiker of an older vintage as you remarked, but still scurrying around back there. I hiked up Rattlesnake Cyn. Trail to the Connector to Tunnel Tr. to Upper Mission Falls yesterday [Feb 3] and literally just one minor bad place which even an old coot like me could scuttle across. I enjoy your posts.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Thanks, Dan. Great to hear from you here. Much respect. Have learned a lot from you. And, thanks for that honorable mention regarding the forest name change a few months back.

  5. Rodney Nielsen says:

    Here here!

    Fire danger….close the forest.
    Rain, snow….close the forest.
    Build bridges….close the forest.
    Roads wash out….don’t replace or repair, but close access to the forest.

  6. Paul says:

    I went to the Santa Ynez river today and it as you could imagine was pristine. The silt and mud that covered it for years after the Rey fire was flushed out revealing a once again slow flowing cobble stone covered clear river. Then I was yelled out that I was not allowed to be here. I asked why is the forest closed and was told, “because the forest is destroyed.” And that I would be subject to a fine and or jail time if I stayed any longer. The forest comes with risk any time of the year no matter the conditions. More people need to stand up against this.

  7. John says:

    Just a note Jack,
    When you get injured from one of the fore mentioned injury possibilities to will be rescued by the same Forest Service personnel that gave you fair warning. Go easy my friend and look at the big picture.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      You’re offering a bogus argument in defense of the indefensible forest closure.

      That injury possibility is always present in the forest and does not represent a reasonable basis on which to issue a blanket closure.

      All that is required, if they should feel the need out of personal concern, is to offer the warning. That’s it.

      The reasonable thing to do is not close the entire forest because somebody might break a leg.

      • Anonymous says:

        Well, I guess you need to win. Every weekend someone requires an airlift or emergency evacuation from the Forest. Preparedness is key, and many visitors are not. This is another subject you can pursue.
        Be well.

      • Jack Elliott says:

        Every weekend someone requires emergency transport from roads across the country. We don’t close highways because people are maimed and killed daily.

      • Anonymous says:

        Weeeellll, I guess you win.
        I’m a forty year career firefighter retired.
        Including time with the Forest Service, Montecito and 34 years with the City of Santa Barbara Fire Department. I have some knowledge of goings on locally. I’m also a native gone 3 years because of the Vietnam issue.
        Having said that I will continue monitoring your posts.

      • Jack Elliott says:

        But it’s not about personal career history. That’s irrelevant. It’s about having a reasonable argument to justify a blanket closure. Keep on point.

    • Kitty Benzar says:

      The Forest Service does not provide Search & Rescue services anyway. Those are under the County Sheriff in every jurisdiction of which I am aware. Does the local SAR organization think this closure is necessary? Doubt it. Sounds like a power grab to me. When people complied with all the “public health” mandates during covid, they were asking for this. BTW Californians: covid is over in the rest of the country. I hear it’s still a thing there?

  8. Reaseaorg says:

    Reducing stress and improving cognitive function certainly are 2 great benefits with nature 🙂

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