In the closing months of 2008, the U.S. economy took its biggest hit in over a quarter-century. According to the sages at CNN, the 3.8% drop in fourth quarter GDP was the largest decline since 1982. The sky is falling and it would seem that the prospects for future prosperity are a long way off.
To paraphrase the old song, I "don't know much about the economy, don't know much about foreclosee." I do know, however, that in economic hard times it is the environment that suffers. When a man has mouths to feed, he won't think too hard about cutting some trees to sell for firewood, even if those trees are inside park boundaries. Salal is harvested on public property all the time, often without a permit. The reaping will continue, and why not. It's a quick way to make a few bucks and, with the money for parks wasting away in the budgetary drought, it's highly unlikely that you'll run into any law enforcement types on your way out of the forest. Poached deer tastes the best, right?
The roads into the backcountry that are damaged will probably stay that way. Whatever limited funds are available for highway maintenance will be spent in the cities, where the people are, by God. Where they belong. Leave the wilderness to the critters. As access becomes more complicated - and gasoline is seen as a luxury - there is a chance that overall recreational use of wild areas will decline. Maybe the people who still make the trip will be even more channeled to the places that are easiest to get to, resulting in the scars of overuse and the de facto civilization of once-wild spaces. (See Yosemite National Park). Maybe people will not go at all, will choose instead to stay at home, with their Pabst Blue Ribbon and internet chat rooms, cheez whiz and video games.
The new administration is talking about a stimulus program that will revitalize the economy a la FDR and the New Deal. Back in the 1930's, members of the CCC built trails and backcountry shelters, fire lookouts and visitor's centers, many of which are still in use today. It is possible that we'll see the next incarnation of these programs in the very near future, and that the short-term economic cold spell will bring with it opportunities that will ultimately benefit those of us with a passion for wild places. A new, New Deal.
I hope so.