News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Conflict on our commons

In the early years of our country, there was a plot of ground in Boston set aside for the “common use” of all citizens — now a lovely park called the Boston Commons. Citizens brought cows and sheep to graze; others planted crops. But in time a conflict arose as the land became oversubscribed. Who gets to use it? Who makes the rules? What are the common values and mechanisms for governing our commons?

There are two large commons in Sisters – our sky and our forests. There are competing interests for the use of each. Local businesses need to advertise to survive and thus keep lights on at night to attract customers. An overabundance of light can impede the observance of stars and planets at night – a decrement in the quality of the night sky for everyone.

There are competing interests for the use of our forests – hiking, riding, camping, and fishing. These activities are appropriately regulated by the National Forest Service to preserve and maintain nature as a commons available to all. Gun-lovers also wish to use our forest as a place for target practice (Jim Cornelius: “Shooting is a major forest recreation activity,” The Nugget, February 12).

An overabundance of gunfire — particularly rapid-fire weapons — disrupts the peaceful tranquility most citizens cherish in our forest. As USFS does not seem to accept responsibility for shooting guns on their forest lands, concerns of safety, noise pollution, and lead toxicity remain unaddressed. Washington state has a nonprofit group (Trash No Lands) that at least takes responsibility for cleaning up shooting sites. Bend and Redmond have indoor shooting ranges.

The “tragedy of the commons” has been a focus of concern in American history. Often it is stated as a conflict of private interest versus public good. The use of night lights — is it a right of businesses or an infringement on the pubic commons of the sky? Target-shooting in the forest — is it a right of gun owners or an infringement on the public commons of nature? Who decides?


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