Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” - John Muir
Brett Torino developed a deeper appreciation and concern for public lands when he began flying helicopters. As an accomplished pilot, he flies low and fast in the vast open spaces surrounding the Las Vegas community and beyond in the deserts and mountains of the Southwest. He is able to see more in an hour than what people on the ground can see in a day, and can discern the patterns of development and destruction. It’s like looking at a monopoly board, only instead of it being on the kitchen table, it’s laid out below him in 3-D.
Brett, who views many things in terms of a mathematical equation, explains the difference between Lovell Canyon, Mt. Charleston and Red Rock Canyon, the three public recreational areas around Las Vegas.
“Unlike the others, Lovell Canyon has two classifications – the east side of the road is designated wilderness and is governed by the U.S. Forest Service, while the west side is governed by less restrictive BLM policy. It gets sticky because the two agencies have very different regulatory guidelines.”
Brett says the prohibition of off road vehicles in Mt. Charleston, as well as Red Rock Canyon, which has an entrance fee, coupled with the growth of Pahrump, brought an increasing number of people to Lovell Canyon for off-roading and shooting.
The BLM’s no restriction policy allowed unconscious people, who are disconnected from the sacredness of the earth, to turn that part of Lovell Canyon into a garbage dump with enough graffiti to fill a small book. They painted and shot holes in the road signs, set abandoned cars on fire, and left old refrigerators, torn couches, and thousands of tons of trash in the area.
Our separation from wilderness blinds us from seeing that our many personal and global problems primarily result from our assault on and separation from the natural creation process within and around us. Our estrangement from nature leaves us wanting, and when we want there is never enough. Our insatiable wanting is called greed. It is a major source of our destructive dependencies and violence.” - Michael J. Cohen
“The off road vehicles got more powerful and the guns got bigger, which caused greater damage to the terrain and drove away the hikers, runners, cyclists, campers, and horseback riders,” says Brett. “People nailed targets to the trees, and when they got tired of shooting them, they raised the bar by putting explosives in their targets and shooting them with high-velocity rifles until the ground was covered with toxic bullet casings. And when they were done doing that, it became recreationally acceptable for them to shoot at the tortured remains of 300-year-old trees that had been a natural part of history until they fell down. This aberrant behavior caused fires in the canyon.”
In 2015, Brett had enough, and he started yelling “Stop!” loud and clear. His lone voice sounded the alarm and became the clarion cry that brought about change.
“People say you can’t fight bureaucracy, but I say you can, though it involves the frustration of dealing with a system that makes what should be easy hard,” says Brett, who quotes Javier Pascual Salcedo as saying, “Bureaucracy is the art of making the possible impossible.”
At first there was this sentiment from government officials that Brett’s only interest was protecting his ranch, but his ideas and philosophies run so much deeper than that, and people began to realize he was serious.
“At some point you have to push back because the wilderness is worth saving,” he says. “The medically fragile kids who attend the summer camps, especially the autistic ones, would be terrified when they heard the gunshots and off road vehicles with modified exhaust systems. The shooting and fires also adversely affected the air quality, making it difficult for those with respiratory disorders to breath.”
Brett doesn’t have a problem with all gun owners or all off road vehicle users, just the small contingency of defiant ones who take things to an extreme and ruin it for everyone else.
“I tried to reason with them, but they didn’t care. And so we had to put forth our best effort to try to make them care.”
First and foremost Brett credits the Metropolitan Police Department for enforcing the law, and former Senator Harry Reid, Senators Dina Titus and Catherine Cortez Masto, and other members of the Nevada congressional delegation, for their advocacy work to protect public lands.
He says the Forest Service got serious about the destruction and was instrumental in creating a temporary ban on shooting and the use of fire during warmer times of the year until a permanent solution is put forth.
“Senator Harry Reid has been a friend of Lovell Canyon, a friend of the Brett Torino Foundation, and a friend of mine for many years,” says Brett. Smiling he says that while he and Reid don’t agree on many things, the environment is something they see eye to eye on.
Mobilizing people takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, and Brett acknowledges the efforts of concerned volunteers and nonprofit organizations like the Nevada Conservation League, the Save Red Rock Foundation, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Wilderness, Get Outdoors Nevada, and others.
Brett is committed to building a broader coalition with legs that will create lasting change. His own commitment inspires and empowers people to get involved and take care of their own small patch of earth. When the government lacks the funds to maintain the roads, replace signage, or clean up the tons of trash in Lovell Canyon, Brett and his foundation mobilize and get the job done.
“You can’t use a garden hose to put out a wildfire,” he says. “This is an important issue. The ranch and the wilderness around it don’t belong to me. I’m just the caretaker until it passes into someone else’s hands. The forests and mountains are recreational areas for everyone to enjoy.”
Brett acknowledges the visionaries in 1821 that were vilified for wanting to designate 778 acres (2.5 miles by 0.5 miles wide) of valuable land in New York City as a public space called Central Park.
“It wasn’t a popular idea at the time, but thanks to them there is a magnificent green space in the middle of a concrete metropolis,” he says. “I’m not equating my efforts with those brave human beings, but we have to stand for something. People think they have to make a big impact, so many of them end up doing nothing. Like any good entrepreneur, I know it will take a lot more than just me, so I’m building an army of believers and leading the charge. We’re making progress. Hikers, cyclists, and families are returning to Lovell Canyon and the destruction is slowing down.”
Brett hopes more people will join the Save Lovell Canyon Initiative, a partnership between the Brett Torino Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and a diverse coalition of users with different interests who focus on the restoration of damaged areas, protection and preservation of wildlife and habitat, water resources, and the creation of a sustainable recreation plan.
This hidden jewel contains old growth trees, rare plant species, and supports the life of big horn sheep, elk, deer, fox, bobcats, coyotes, and many more. Volunteers enjoy the fresh, cool mountain air, while making a clean and safe sanctuary for the animals and people who come to immerse themselves in the heavenliness of this environmentally sensitive area.
“I used to think tree huggers were zealots, now I want to hug the tree huggers,” says Brett Torino. “It’s not easy to stand and defend something you passionately believe in.”
Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence. We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.” - Wallace Stegner
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