Limerick’s 12 Zones of Kinship Between the Economies of Extraction and Recreation


We mentioned the group Great Old Broads for Wilderness earlier this week. I belong, instead, to Humble Dames Supporting Thoughtful Dialogue. If there were such a group, and there were a founder, it would definitely be Dr. Patty Limerick, a historian at the University of Colorado, who has had a variety of experience with natural resource conflicts. In one piece, she discusses the similarities between the extractive and recreation economies. When I reread this recently, I also thought of some of the divisions within the recreation economy, including OHVs and now mountain bikes, and even the Upton Sinclair quote “It is hard to get someone to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.“ But of course it’s not just the salary, people prefer recreating on/without motors, people prefer having a full woodpile and/or propane tank when winter weather sets in. When you are telling them they shouldn’t do what they prefer, you are substituting your judgment for their own. And one can reasonably ask “by what authority?”.

We are putting these assertions out for public contemplation partly because, by rattling conventional wisdom, they carry intrinsic interest, and mostly because we believe that this approach can deliver genuine benefits. Westerners have, after all, invested decades in an experiment of conceiving of extraction and recreation as activities usually pitted against each other. The results of this experiment have not been uniformly positive. A different experiment, raising the possibility that these two “opposites” are actually more connected than they seem, might deliver better results and might even hold out the promise of reconfiguring a relationship of rivalry into a something closer to collaboration.

We aim this report at a worthy, ambitious, and decidedly eccentric goal: persuading leaders and participants in Western extractive economies and in Western recreational economies to move toward a level of self-awareness that will position them to put less effort into stereotyping and simplifying each other, and to invest more effort in acknowledging their kinship and in considering alliances and common ground.

For justifiable reasons, enthusiasts for outdoor recreation have seen extractive industry primarily as a force for disturbance of their treasured landscapes. For less justifiable reasons, they have also been tempted to see outdoor recreation as an innocent enterprise, with earnest affection for nature serving as a buffer protecting landscapes and wildlife from any undesirable impact. On the other side, practitioners in extractive industries, when going defensive, have a way of advancing a hard-headed utilitiarianism, trivializing the cultural, emotional, and spiritual power of recreation. We would like this report to open the door to a more forthright and evidence-based discussion, scouring out the self-righteousness and assumptions of superiority that clog the channels of conversation between groups who have more in common than they might think. We hope that opening up these channels will reveal options and alternatives that current habits of thought have foreclosed.

Limerick’s Twelve Zones of Kinship between the Economies of Extraction and Recreation

1) Both economies have demonstrated the capacity to create substantial and consequential environmental disturbances.

2) Both economies are firmly embedded in capitalism and shaped by the drive for profit.

3) Both economies supply essential employment for the region, and both economies have multiplier effects in stimulating other economic activities and also in enhancing tax revenues.

4) Jobs in both economies can be dangerous and unevenly rewarded, and the workers are often invisible to the beneficiaries of their work.

5) People participating in and benefiting from both economies can be oblivious to their impacts, and thereby prey to the temptation to leave the dilemmas, to which they have contributed, for someone else to clean up in the future.

6) Since people in both economies see themselves as innocents, they are correspondingly puzzled and defensive when criticized. They can be equally inclined to grumpiness, defensiveness, and resentment of regulation. Both treasure an ideal of freedom, constrained only by their own will and choice.

7) Both economies are strikingly successful in finding uses, which early generations missed, for remote, difficult Western terrain.

8) Both economies are very dependent on a transportation infrastructure for which they rarely pay, with both relying heavily on fossil-fuel-driven vehicles.

9) Both economies involve “externalities” that are often omitted from calculations of their costs and benefits.

10) Both economies play a big role in the allocation of water and in the honest reckoning with, or the denial, of Western water scarcity.

11) Both economies are historically intertwined. Profits made from extractive economies can position leading figures in industry to be people of leisure who enthusiastically take part in
outdoor recreation and who support the preservation of natural landscapes.

12) Many of the stories, literature, oral history, and folklore of the West demonstrate that hundreds of Westerners have been well aware of the intertwined and interconnected trajectories of extraction and recreation. While seeming to rattle and unsettle established thinking about the region, this report actually reaffirms and ratifies what many Westerners, in the past and the present, figured out for themselves.

Perhaps these are uniquely Coloradan perspective? How doe these ideas sound to other Westerners?

14 thoughts on “Limerick’s 12 Zones of Kinship Between the Economies of Extraction and Recreation”

  1. These things are valid to a point, but they are heavily slanted negative and clearly written with the assumption that both extractive industries and recreation (especially motorized recreation) are evils to be combated rather than goods to be embraced. I would say Ms. Limerick’s biases are pretty on the nose with this list.

    It’s also false on some points, like saying motorized recreationists don’t pay for the transportation infrastructure they enjoy. These days the opposite is true. One of the biggest trends in motorized advocacy in Colorado is calling for National Forest Roads to be re-designated as Trails Open to All Vehicles.

    This requires all users including drivers of street-legal plated vehicles to have to buy OHV stickers to drive them, paying into the Colorado Parks and Wildlife OHV fund. That in turn makes the trails eligible for OHV Fund grants that off-road clubs apply for and use to perform maintenance work on the trails so that the Forest Service doesn’t have to pay for or do maintenance work itself. That takes away the argument that the trails are a financial drain on the Forest Service and makes them less likely to be closed.

    She’s also way off base with this point: “Since people in both economies see themselves as innocents, they are correspondingly puzzled and defensive when criticized. They can be equally inclined to grumpiness, defensiveness, and resentment of regulation. Both treasure an ideal of freedom, constrained only by their own will and choice.”

    At least in terms of motorized recreationists (which is who most of these points are named at, not hikers) I would say grumpiness and defensiveness come from the fact that we are a persecuted minority who is tired of constantly having our trails stolen by people like her intent on regulating us out of existence. We gave up any dreams of unconstrained freedom long ago and have learned to be content under the regime of heavy regulation that exists now. What we’re not content with is the fact that that regulation is never enough for the other side. There always has to be more regulation, more restrictions, and more closures. Looking at the range of alternatives in the ongoing PSI Travel Management, we will call it a victory if the National Forest only closes 4% of motorized routes instead of 50%. A net gain of motorized routes in a travel planning is unimaginable. All we can do is attempt to minimize the net loss.

    I will say this though. I do feel a kinship with extractive industries like oil drilling and support them to some extent. Because at least if an area of federal lands is covered with oil wells, they can’t close all the roads in it and turn it into yet another Wilderness Area.

    • Patrick, deepest apologies for my lack of clarity. But I think she was talking about hikers also, in fact, probably the outdoor recreation industry.. everything from skateboards to OHVs, RV’s to fishing equipment, and so on. The last I heard, Colorado uses big numbers talking about studies of “the recreation economy” and those numbers are pretty generally inclusive.

      I was the one who wondered whether her words “scouring out the self-righteousness and assumptions of superiority that clog the channels of conversation between groups who have more in common than they might think.” might equally apply to different recreation user groups as we have talked about in various discussions here.

      I agree with you and disagree with her statement that extractive folks and hikers and OHV folks “treasure an ideal of freedom.” All of us realize that there is a need for regulation as well as voluntary efforts (right action) by the industry, hikers, etc. What we differ about is exactly where different activities should occur, the practices people should be required to put in place, and of course the reasoning for each.

      If you would be willing, I’d be interested in a guest post on the Trails Open to All Vehicles initiative. I’ve always been curious about the reasoning behind closing roads and recreation sites because agencies can’t afford it. Just when use seems to be totally ramping up.

      • Perhaps you’re right that she was referring to all forms of recreation, though she did imply a particular animus toward motorized recreation. One of her negative points was the fact that all forms of recreation depend on fossil fuel vehicles to get there, which of course would apply double to people whose principle form of recreation is driving fossil fuel vehicles on public lands. And I doubt her opinion of motorized recreation will improve once Jeeps, UTVs, ATVs, and motorcycles transition to electric drives, given the ongoing effort to demonize eBikes.

        I would be interested in doing a post on trails open to all vehicles, but I would have to do more research on that subject myself first. The Colorado OHV Coalition (COHVCO) has a whole weekend seminar they put on a couple times a year called “Good Trails” where they go through all the reasoning behind that and the manual they have published for best practices for motorized trail management. I’ve been wanting to attend that course for a while but it hasn’t worked with my schedule so far.

  2. I feel this is the most thought provoking post I’ve read on any forum in a long time. It’s overwhelming me right now, in a good way. I think I’ll wait and see what others say, while I form my own impressions.

      • This article is a prime example of thinking outside of the box. Positive, constructive, thinking. We need to somehow get beyond the polarizing, paralyzing rhetoric and this example does create a paradigm shift in many ways by pointing out the similarities between all forms of recreation and extraction, and creating an atmosphere where dialog could occur. But until these zones of kinship are acknowledged and applied by public land managers in order to promote new constructive dialog, the concept is destined to be an academic exercise.

        Right now the class system of outdoor recreation versus extraction industries is dominant. Conservation organizations have drawn the baseline, placing hiking at the top, generally failing to note any impacts at all from the activity. All other forms of recreation fall into place behind hiking, with e-biking seemingly slotted in below motorized recreation somewhat near open pit mining. As the conservation organizations are well funded, thriving on the support of poorly written articles such as the “biking and bears don’t mix” example, always falling back on the mantra “we’re doing it for those that have no voice” (wildlife), and legally supported by the Wilderness Act, there isn’t an incentive to get along with others. All forms of recreation and extraction must fall into place behind the hikers. Without incentive, the conservation organizations won’t relinquish the power, the moral high ground they enjoy. History has shown many times over that some small amounts of progress can be made, but established class systems persist.

        I’m sad when realizing this dynamic. It thrives on ignorant media, reactionary responses of human nature, punishment, shaming, and closures. Big changes in management, law and regulation will be necessary, to bring us to a point where we can actually use Limericks 12 zones of kinship or any other future thoughtful tools that surface. Current Forest Planning and Travel Planning still rely heavily on the class system I’ve mentioned. Each and every time planning becomes a rancorous process. I don’t see how to break free of the combative status quo.

        • “Current Forest Planning and Travel Planning still rely heavily on the class system”

          I read your comments to describe a “system” (hierarchy?) based on relative environmental impacts, and that is essentially the kind of thinking that the NEPA process requires of planning processes. As an example, it specifically requires that an agency determine its “environmentally preferred” alternative. But as to a “class” system, it is up to the agency to determine the benefit side of the equation and balance that against the environmental impacts for each decision.

          I have questioned, though, whether land management agencies do a good enough job of looking at the impacts of dispersed pedestrian recreation use. Travel planning became a requirement in part because of failure to consider the effects of motorizes uses, which was partly because there were no decisions made to “allow” such uses – they just happened. That situation still tends to exist for pedestrian use, because there is no obvious decision to “open” national forest lands for such use. That decision was probably actually made in the regulations that identify uses that may occur without a permit. In practice, a forest plan effectively makes that decision by not making a decision to regulate a use, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an analysis of its effects (examples out there?). So hikers do get special treatment in this regard.

  3. Definitely a thoughtful post. Some of the challenges of recreation is, if you ignore resorts, is the dispersed, non point source, low intensity impact. The impact of any individual is fairly minimal. It is only when the impacts are combined that they are measurable. Hopefully we can find ways to managed and minimize impact, but one key is not stigmatizing other recreational users as the problem. I couldn’t help but think of the earlier post this week about the litigation over the Wyoming WSAs, where Mountain Pursuit doesn’t seem to consider local hunters as recreation. The problem is either the “industrial recreation” of mountain bikers or out of state hunters and outfitters. Similarly I was reading an article in Mountain Journal since it included a out of context quote from me. What I found interesting in that article that bikes had three times the impact on elk beyond the necessary degree of stress. The necessary degree of stress being that of hikers. I could argue that actually the impact was only twice, and that of horses is 1.5 based on the distance where 20% of elk will flee. But I digress, the interesting point was that impacts from hiking were necessary but bikes were not. That seems to be shifting the goal posts to exempt hikers from being responsible for their impacts. It also raises the question of what degree of disparate impact requires different management schemes. Since I happen to agree that bikes probably do have more impact that hikers, does twice the impact on one species require wholesale trail closures or are more targeted strategies more sensible. Eventually if we want to have sustainable recreation we need to accept that all human use has an impact and we all need to work together to mitigate the impact and not single out other recreational users as the sole responsible party.

    • Lance, I think that this points out that some environmentalists’ response to impacts (don’t do it!) works well for unpopular activities like cutting trees or oil and gas or grazing. It doesn’t work so well for recreation. So how to think about how much and what kind of recreation where? If we use the elk disturbance criterion, how does that fit with places with no elk? Why pick elk for the criterion, and not, say, jumping spiders? Wouldn’t hunting elk be very disturbing to the elk, more so than a mountain bike? So on that basis, wouldn’t hunting be the first to go if disturbing elk were the criterion?

      It would be interesting to see what logic different forests use to make travel management decisions.

      Also I think that there is a difference between new trails and kicking current users out.
      What if the idea were that “recreation has impacts, how can each user group work to reduce its impacts and jointly, such that each user group shares the pain of closures in proportion to the number of current users” or some other criterion.

      • When I look for possibilities of management I look at how we managed hunting and fishing. It is somewhat interesting that that management is done by the state, but the activities are almost all on Federal Land. Every year the rules change on whether an area will require a permit beyond a license, on how many permits there will be, whether it will either sex, etc. Every year there is also a battle over the rules and restrictions on popualr rivers since both fish and water and a limited commodity and every year the outfitters battle the local fishermen over access. No one is ever completely happy, but they know they need to share.

        I think we need to accept the public land is also a limited resource and Forest Planning makes rules once a decade if we are lucky simply is not flexible enough for active dynamic management.

        • Since you brought up forest plans, they are appropriate for describing the desired user experience for an area. This shouldn’t need to be changed often. There could/should certainly be another process for determining how to achieve that desired outcome. There’s annual operating plans for permitted uses (including outfitters), and states require permits for hunting and fishing. It would be easier to manage dispersed recreation if it required a permit; are you suggesting that?

  4. From today’s NYT, an article about mtn bike and other forms of recreation disturbing and displacing griz. I haven’t read the linked “meta‐analysis of recreation effects on vertebrate species richness and abundance” but I intend to. I don’t recognise the names of the writers but maybe I’ll remember after this read.

    I will say that besides recreation, or extraction, another reason for wild places is for nature to exist. We don’t need a reason for grizzlies to live in a place, or jumping spiders.


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