Freeman

ARTICLE

Decorating the Wilderness

SEPTEMBER 01, 1991 by JOHN T. WENDERS

When not hunting, John T. Wenders is Professor of Economics at the University of ldaho.

Afew years ago, on the last weekend of elk season, Ashley Lyman and I were trailering our horses up a snow-covered Forest Service road out of Elk City, Idaho. As we climbed across a steep clear-cut, the truck spun to a halt on a sheet of ice. Then slowly the whole rig began to jackknife backward toward a precipice. Ashley raced all four wheels. I jumped out of the truck, opened the rear of the trailer, and began unloading frightened horses. By the time the trailer emptied I had been kicked once, stepped on twice, knocked down, and squeezed against the side of the trailer as Brutus turned and bolted out. But getting the horses out of the trailer kept us from sliding over the edge.

On other occasions I have fallen in icy streams in below-zero weather, had nightfall overtake me far from camp in a snowstorm, been left stranded far from camp when my horse escaped, and been dumped by a grizzly-frightened horse.

I do not plan these little adventures, still they do occur, and will probably occur again. But these are some of the risks I accept when hunting. Compared to these, the risk of getting shot is the least of my worries.

Now come various game and fish departments, hunter education associations, and legislators. They say that I should not be allowed to accept some hunting risks. To protect me from myself, I must be required to sally forth in glowing orange, probably with a neon propeller on my hat, so that irresponsible hunters won’t shoot me.

I can see it now: road checks to make sure I don’t pull my horse trailer up any snowy roads; all water posted in several languages and fenced in the winter so I won’t fall in; a required siren at camp that goes off at sundown to guide me back; government-regulated strength standards for all lead ropes, halters, and knots. And all grizzlies belled. Think of how safe the wilderness will be!

No thank you. I know what’s best for me. One of the reasons I hunt is to get away from the trappings of civilization, and I will accept all the risks. Further, I’ll do others the favor of presuming that they know what’s best for them: as much as I hate to see the wilderness decorated, I will support their right to wear macho hunter orange. I only ask in return that they support my right to accept the risks of not doing so.

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September 1991

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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