Owners are best stewards of land

October 1, 2011


Across the gravel road is a small plot of ground of which I am the “steward” — that is to say, the owner. The visionary sages of Douglas County who want to dictate how citizens should manage their land would probably refer to it as a “woodland,” a term that evokes frolicking nymphs, satyrs, Bacchus and Pan, foxglove bells and starry fays. In truth, it is a no-man’s land, a jungle filled with looping, wrist-thick vines that strangle the trees, which are mostly stunted trash trees anyway. I know… referring to any living thing as “trash” is insensitive, an unforgivable form of discrimination. And calling the land “mine” is no doubt a presumptuous kind of heresy.

I don’t care. As a ruthless, money-grubbing despoiler of Mother Earth, I planned to develop — rather, ravage — this sylvan grove. I envisioned high rise towers, fast-food franchises, an amusement park with giant slides and roller coasters and a NASCAR racetrack with seating for 100,000 screaming fans. Talk about noise pollution! You’d be able to hear the racket all the way to Lecompton. My neighbors could forget about seeing the stars at night. Search lights would sweep the sky, blotting out the heavens, guiding the entertainment-hungry masses to my door. I looked forward to hearing the wails of environmentalists and the sibilant tisks of armchair naturalists as I laughed all the way to the bank.

Such were my dreams. Then I read about another developer who’d just “clear-cut” his woodlands in brazen disregard of the county’s proposed new regulations limiting large scale tree removal. I had to smile at the conspicuous use of the expression “clear-cutting,” which suggests lumber barons denuding giant redwood forests. It sounded a little hyperbolic in the state of Kansas. And it set me to musing: A small, sturdy bridge over a ditch gives access to my parcel, which was once cultivated crop land. It might qualify as prime agricultural land, the kind some think should be protected from development in anticipation of the day when we run out of fossil fuels and have to return to subsistence farming. At such a time, would the country permit me to convert my “woodland” back to agricultural uses?

A photo of almost any spot in rural Douglas County taken 100 years ago would reveal few trees at all. Tallgrass prairie covered most of the land. A kind of war has been going between trees and grasses since the beginning of time. According to changing environmental conditions, sometimes grasses, sometimes trees get the upper hand. Conditions and farming practices have conspired to favor the trees these days. Which do the county sages root for – aggressive trees or underdog grasses?

The interests of wildlife were also evoked as an argument against “clear-cutting.” But my woods support virtually no wildlife in its present state. A woods can be as barren of birds and beasts as a field of fescue – or a parking lot. Left alone, thorny hedge trees can take over a pasture, rendering it inhospitable to wildlife as well as human beings. At any rate, the idea of primeval, virgin forests in Douglas County borders on silliness. Except for a few majestic cottonwoods, most of the trees in my woods are probably no more than 20 years old.

Of course, I don’t really intend to develop this patch. That was just my sophomoric idea of humor. It’s hard to get to my woods, and it’s in the flood plain. Besides, fears of overdevelopment in Lawrence and Douglas County are overblown. Anti-growth fanatics —inspired by a paradoxical mix of utopian and apocalyptic thinking — have done a magnificent job of protecting the county from the horrors of growth and prosperity. The path of decline awaits the self-righteous.

Footnote: By an uncanny coincidence, the day before news about the “clear-cutting” appeared, I had actually hired a man to clear the brush and box elders from my woods. My real scheme is to plant oaks with the hope of eventually producing acorns to feed deer, turkeys, squirrels and such. Will the day come when I must get permission from some county bureaucrat to do this sort of thing? Most of my neighbors are responsible “stewards.” Are the Olympian visionaries better qualified to manage their land?

— George Gurley, a resident of rural Baldwin City, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


cato_the_elder 6 years, 8 months ago

Excellent column. At present, the worst example of non-landowner statism in Douglas County is the Lawrence Historical Resources Commission, which consists of block commissars who've been given the legal right to prevent you from simply expanding your home to build a new family room or bedroom if you are unfortunate enough to live within the "environs" of a "historic structure." It's one thing to preserve so-called historic structures, but it's entirely another to tell people who own homes that they don't have the legal right to remodel them as homeowning American citizens have done for centuries. Those who live out in the county have every right to be concerned with such growing statist paternalism, especially given the current makeup of the Douglas County Commission.

The most digusting irony in this is the existence of hideous structures that have been designed by apparent lunatics and built in Lawrence where no "environs" are involved, one of the most hideous of which can be seen on Hillcrest Road in what was previously a long-standing traditional neighborhood.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 8 months ago

There's a big difference between the deep-rooted, tall-grass prairies that once dominated the non-riparian areas of this region, and the denuded landscape left after a clear cutting of the trees and brush that replaced them once they were tilled and/or planted with trees. While it may may make him feel all John Wayne to assert his rights over his private property, the soil erosion and loss of habitat are very real, and certainly no indication of good stewardship.

Not that George wants to be bothered by anything like facts.

jtop 6 years, 8 months ago

Because bozo says it/thinks it/writes it, "it" is fact.

Getaroom 6 years, 8 months ago

And because jtop says it, bozo is what - wrong? Gurley's article is very humorously written and many literary delights abound to be sure and it is clear George is mystified, angry, upset, dismayed, by how the county could be concerned at what did amount to clear-cutting and he makes the point that indeed much of what we now call the prairie has changed it's face over hundreds of years perhaps many times. The concern is not so much about preserving "forested" areas, but more so about land management and communication between land owners and community government.

I wonder if Gurley is a supporter of Ron Paul and his vision of the perfection of the "free market" and no taxes and no government so we all get to do what we want to do, and how, and when. Ah, the good ol' Wild West, sure was taking care of the common good wasn't it?! Well, there is no such thing as the perfection of a Free Market because that is a concept and not a reality.

I bet George is a good land steward and I enjoyed the article very much. However, as with all perspectives, whether they are expressed in print and laced with a flowery literary voice, or spoken out loud - there still remains the substance of the discussion and this was a nicely penned opinion page. Still open for discussion are the specifics of that particular land clearing and to my understanding no new information has been put out for public discussion. Since we no longer live in a totally lawless land, for better or worse, perhaps more information needs to be revealed and it appears there was poor, or zero communication, between the county planners and the land owner before it was completed and perhaps that lack of communication was quite purpose full.

I say more fox glove plantings George, so the fairies might come and play among those junky poison ivy vines. Oh, how the angles and gnomes do love to frolic and and dance around the toadstools in the drainage during the spring rains..... La la la la......... Or, just cut down the dang forest primeval and watch your soil wash down the south forty, it's yours ain't it? Hell, the're just trees anyway and in a thousand years who's gonna care whether it was trees, foxes with gloves, or dingleberries. Waite a minute here, are dingleberries naturally growing and low hanging fruit, or man made? Who cares, spray 'em, doze 'em whatever -- wipe them out too!

RoeDapple 6 years, 8 months ago

Hey George! If you think your woodlands are barren of wildlife you need to take a closer look! Herds of deer, Eagles and owls, rabbits and squirrels aren't the only wildlife you find there. All manner of insects, rodents and other creatures of nature fill the woods with life.

And frolicking nymphs are very difficult to spot, as are satyrs.

Trolls on the other hand . . .

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