David Eddleston, organizer of the group Friends of the Badlands, sent us a report from the battlefront last week. According to him, he and other "Fobbitts" patrolled the area on Jan. 8 and found signs of "recent incursions from both quad ATVs and powered dirt bikes at various points."
Signs marking the area as closed to motor vehicles had been blasted with gunfire. "Oddly, a locker had been dragged approx 200 meters into the Badlands and securely installed on a rimrock ridge. And that had also been used as a target," Eddleston added.
Elsewhere, a road leading into the Badlands showed "very recent tracks of what seemed to be a front-end loader heading south. As we were running out of time, we did not follow it to check whether material had been dumped to the south."
We've never been able to understand the mentality (using the term loosely) of people who can't have a good time without destroying stuff, preferably through the use of big, loud vehicles and/or big, loud guns. But they're never going to go away, which makes the news that the Badlands finally is going to win federal wilderness status especially welcome - and makes the claims of those who argued such status wasn't necessary all the more ridiculous.
Last week the Badlands bill passed the Senate on a 73-21 vote, clearing the way for what should be easy passage by the House and the signature of President Obama. The Badlands bill and other legislation to expand wilderness areas had been stalled in the Senate for years, largely through the efforts of Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican whose steadfast opposition to any and all spending measures earned him the nickname of "Dr. No." Democratic advances in the last election provided the votes to hurdle the measure over the procedural barriers Dr. No threw in its path.
It's true that the kind of depredations described by Eddleston can still happen despite the federal wilderness designation. But the important thing is that the wilderness designation is, for all intents and purposes, permanent - it would take an act of Congress, not just an executive order, to undo it.
That means the Badlands is now permanently protected from efforts to reopen the area to motorized uses - and where such uses are allowed, abuses are inevitable. The yahoos may be a minority among off-roaders, but it only takes one of them to wreck a fragile natural environment that's been there for thousands of years.
So here's a tip of the hat to all those who battled for so many years, in and out of Congress, to win wilderness status for the Badlands - and the toe of THE BOOT to the idiots who like to trash it.