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Wharton: Utah politicians could learn from The Lorax

Published March 19, 2012 4:32 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I keep copies of A Sand County Almanac, Desert Solitaire, Blue Highways and The Lorax close to my work areas, often turning to them for inspiration because they remind me of my passions for conservation, rural places and the environment.

With "The Lorax" movie in theaters, the Utah Legislature in session and the silliness of the 2012 political campaign under way, I needed to grab a copy of Dr. Seuss' 1971 classic off the bookshelf to read again.

This is a simple story. The Once-ler comes to an idyllic place, discovers he can get rich quick by cutting down Truffula trees and making Thneeds. He then proceeds to cut every last tree down, fouling the air, land and water and driving all the wild creatures, including the Lorax, away from their homes.

The story is also subtle, for the Once-ler isn't such a bad creature. He's simply a capitalist who hires workers, builds a huge factory and produces a product people want.

But the Once-ler makes one fatal mistake. He forgets that the Truffula trees, like many natural resources, are finite. He pays the price when the last tree falls and the land is ruined so it can longer support any creature, save for the miserable Once-ler.

Sadly, many Utah politicians remind me of the Once-ler.

Our governor and many of our legislators demand control of Utah's wild and open public lands, presumably so they can make it easier to "drill, baby, drill" without those pesky federal environmental laws. They ignore Utah's own history, where in the early 1900s, some rural Utah communities begged the federal government to designate watersheds as national forests because overgrazing and too much timber harvest caused floods in the valleys below.

These politicians should read The Lorax, a cautionary tale about what happens when short-sighted greed trumps the long-term health of the land.

What about Utah's congressional delegation? Our representatives spend much of their careers crying about how the oppressive federal government prevents the state from developing its resources as quickly as possible by putting controlling mandates on local government. Then most of the delegation sponsors a bill that goes against the wishes of the elected governments of Salt Lake City and County to force the U.S. Forest Service to give up 30 acres of public land for an ill-advised ski lift to connect the Canyons and Solitude ski resorts. How do you spell hypocrisy?

These guys are going to "take back Utah," all right. They are going to take it from the people and give it to a Canadian developer. And, like the land of The Lorax, our canyons and watersheds will be the worse for their actions — actions that benefit a few rich Once-lers.

Finally, what can you say when a presidential candidate such as Rick Santorum tells us that environmentalists have their own theology, a theology that is different from the Bible? No, sir, we don't all worship the earth. We do enjoy its bounties, which hopefully can be conserved and utilized with as much planning and as minimum disturbance as possible. We just don't want to use it all up now, because as the moral of The Lorax tells us, once a place is ruined, it's very hard to bring it back.

We live in a state filled with Once-lers. That saddens me and often makes me think of leaving a place I love, if only I could find a Western state not filled with similar Once-lers.

Of course, in the book, the Once-ler gives one last precious Truffula seed to a young boy with the hope he can bring the trees back.

Let's hope we don't have to go that far before Utah's own Once-lers ruin our great state.

Tom Wharton is an outdoors and travel columnist. Reach him at wharton@sltrib.com or 257-8909.