Friday, September 19, 2014

Tragedy of the Commons: Revisited

In March 2011, I wrote a post on this blog titled, "Tragedy of the Commons." In that post, I spoke about what the Tragedy of the Commons is and how it relates to both hiking (in the Northeast) and Ultra Running. I wanted to take a moment to revisit these thoughts, and provide an update on where we're at some 3.5 years after the original post.

"The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen. " [1]

So here we are, almost 4 years after the original post and the growth in ultra running is only getting bigger. For those of you who are new to the sport, welcome to the party. You should know that a LOT has changed since I started running ultras in 2005. Some of those changes are good, some bad, some are simple "meh." However, I'm here to tell you that what I wrote in 2011, is happening now...

In 2011, I wrote: "Ultra/Trail Runners need to be careful and as a community, we need to begin to consider ways in which we can avoid the Tragedy of the Commons. The trends are out there, it's going to happen, and in a community where our races take place through delicate lands and often include delicate land owners.. the time is now for us to consider how we plan to give back."

What am I talking about? Let me provide some examples of what we've gone through and will continue to go through and how it will continue to change the very fabric of trail and ultra races.

It wasn't long ago when the Mountain Bike Community was receiving a ton of flack for their use of public lands, and the subsequent damage cause by their bikes. They faced the very real danger of being shut out of the many places they loved to ride. They needed to take action. So IMBA was formed, and Mountain Bikers took an active role in maintaining/caring, repairing, and creating more of the places they loved to ride. Mountain Biking is now one of the more respectable users of our resources and they are greatly celebrated for it.

There has been exponential growth in Ultra and Trail running of the last 5 years. With that growth comes a demand for more races. It is easy for us trail runners to forget that we're not the only group who uses the resources. For instance.. it's not just a world of Ultra races. There are 5K's, 10K's, Marathons, Half Marathons. Then there are races for the mountain bikers. Races for the road bikers. Races and Rides for the Horse folks. Then there are commercial guiding companies, christian and youth camps, Orienteering groups, ATVs/Dirt Bikes.. etc etc. We sometimes fail to consider the various other parties who are fighting for permits, user days, and to otherwise gum up the trails of a park for the weekend.

So where does this leave us? Here in Colorado, the USFS has started implementing a moratorium on permits. A few counties have as well. What does this mean? It means you can't get a permit because they are no longer entertaining new proposals for events. Why? Because they are understaffed, under funded, and the resource can no longer accommodate all of the groups who are looking to use public lands.

Simply put.. just over 3 years after originally posting about it.. it's happening. The Tragedy of the Commons in Ultra and Trail Running is now a reality. We need to do more as a culture to give back. Many runners complain profusely when a race requires they do volunteer trail work as part of entry. As runners, we should be jumping at the opportunity to do trail work so we can help preserve the sport we love and resource we use. It can't always be take take take. It;s time for us to give give give.

Do it now.. before it's too late!