Wilderness and the Value of Doing Nothing

Dana blog

by Dana Johnson

 

Along the high-elevation, wind-swept ridges of the West, a long-lived, gnarly-branched pine is in trouble.  A species of stone pine known for its high stress tolerance and adaptability, whitebark pine is slow-growing and can live between 500 – 1,000 years.  Lacking wings for wind-dispersal, its calorie-dense seeds are spread primarily by Clark’s Nutcracker, a member of the crow family with a specialized bill for extracting large seeds from pinecones and a pouch under its tongue for stashing and carrying seeds long distance.  Those seeds are a prized food source for a range of species, including the imperiled grizzly bear. 

As tough as the species is, whitebark pine is facing mounting pressures from climate change, decades of fire suppression, blister rust, mountain pine beetles, and competing conifers migrating to higher elevations in response to warming temperatures.  Already found at high elevations, many worry that whitebark pine will have nowhere to run. 

This cocktail of stressors has landed whitebark pine on the short-list for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.  Unfortunately, the proposed listing rule allows logging and other “forest management” activities in whitebark pine habitat, and is, per usual, loudly silent on actions that might address the underlying causes of global warming.  Instead, it focuses heavily on intervention and manipulation strategies—like selectively breeding and planting blister rust resistant trees, pruning and thinning stands, fighting back other migrating conifers with logging, applying insecticides and pheromones, and even wrapping pinecones in wire mesh to keep red squirrels and Clark’s nutcrackers from getting at the seeds.

This is a familiar story.  Humans are exceedingly bad at exercising restraint and simply not doing things.  Rather than drastically reducing consumption, travel, recreation, and development—things that take real personal and political sacrifice but create space for other species to exist—we put an enormous amount of effort into developing technologies that enable us to continue with business as usual or at least provide a veil of plausible deniability regarding our impact on the world.  Slap enough windmills on the hilltops, and we’ll never have to slow down.  Gather enough data on wildlife, and we can invade their space with abandon.  Or, worst case, fire up the helicopters, pluck the critters from their homes, slap tracking collars on their necks, and drop them elsewhere.  There is a deep tendency to treat everything as if it is merely an engineering challenge that is solvable with enough data and ingenuity (and money). 

This is not to say we shouldn’t pursue things less harmful than our current things—we’ve dug quite an overwhelming hole with climate change, and we need to be creative in how we deal with it.  But too often our efforts are tunnel-visioned on maintaining the status quo, and the tougher conversations about how we exist on this planet are altogether muted. 

Take for instance grizzly bears.  A widely cited research paper states that “[h]umans are the primary agent of death” for grizzlies.  We know this.  When humans and bears mix, bears end up dead.  So, areas with less human access and activity (e.g. recreation, logging, fast-moving cars and trains, etc.) are areas with fewer dead bears.  And in areas with greater human activity, we sorely need greater tolerance (and compassion) for bears.  As with so many other species reacting to rapidly changing conditions, we need to provide grizzlies with the space to move and adapt, and we need to keep open minds about what that might look like.  Yet, in the whitebark pine listing rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service downplays the importance of whitebark pine as a food for grizzlies calling them “opportunistic feeders.”  But whitebark pine is often found in remote, high elevation sites away from humans.  When whitebark pine seeds are scarce, bears search out other food, which often brings them into lower elevations and in closer contact with humans.  We don’t much care for the idea of sharing our favorite creek-side trail with a berry-munching grizzly or dealing with potholes in our golf courses from a bear digging up earthworms, so when an “opportunistic” bear ends up in our space, we trap the bear and move him back to his allotted “recovery zone.”  And if the bear crosses our line in the sand again—looking for food, or a mate, or a new home—we kill him, and we go to great pains gathering more data and rationalizing all the reasons why this is the way of things, why we don’t need to change our own behavior or ask, “What gives us the right?”

These tendencies toward control and entitlement make our collective agreement on Wilderness pretty remarkable.  Wilderness is a conscious reflection of human restraint—a place where we decided there is value in Nature’s own wild order, in the autonomy and freedom of the wild, and in allowing the land to play whatever hand it is dealt without our intentional interference.  It is a recognition that we don’t and can’t know everything and that we might learn something if we step back and observe what happens when we don’t impose our will.  Because of this, unsurprisingly, Wilderness is some of the best habitat left for species trying to eke out an existence alongside humans.  

The idea of Wilderness as a self-willed landscape has been a difficult one for land management agencies.  They have an ingrained history of modifying public lands to achieve “desired conditions,” an idea laden with value bias even in the best of times.  Throw climate change and all of its uncertainties into the mix, and the increasing urge to actively maintain static conditions becomes all the more problematic. 

Even though the agencies often resist it on the ground, their policy guidance reflects the value in Wilderness.  Agency guidance states, “Wilderness areas are living ecosystems in a constant state of evolution[,]” and “[i]t is not the intent of wilderness stewardship to arrest this evolution in an attempt to preserve character existing” at some prior time.  And, “A key descriptor of wilderness in the Wilderness Act, untrammeled refers to the freedom of a landscape from the human intent to permanently intervene, alter, control, or manipulate natural conditions or processes.”  And, “Maintaining wilderness character requires an attitude of humility and restraint. We preserve wilderness character by … imposing limits on ourselves.”  In Wilderness, we “[p]rovide an environment where the forces of natural selection and survival rather than human actions determine which and what numbers of wildlife species will exist.” 

Agency policy is taking a notable turn.  One agency stated its “policy prior to climate change was to take a ‘hands-off’ approach where overt human influences were not the primary reasons for population fluctuations.”  It now believes its role is shifting to  adaptive management to maintain “natural conditions,” and this conversation is growing across the agencies.  This—at its core—is a conversation about whether we will allow Wilderness to persist into the future. 

This shift is reflected in the proposed whitebark pine rule.  It lists Wilderness under “Challenges to Restoration,” setting the stage for conflict between an imperiled species and an imperiled landscape.  But this is likely a false conflict.  Roughly 29 percent of whitebark pine habitat is in Wilderness.  Given the variables and unintended consequences inherent in manipulations, that 29 percent should be set aside as an important baseline for comparison to our tinkerings elsewhere.  The listing rule acknowledges “a high degree of uncertainty inherent in any predictions of species responses to a variety of climate change scenarios. This is particularly true for whitebark pine given it is very long lived, has a widespread distribution, has complex interactions with other competitor tree species, relies on Clark’s nutcracker for both distribution and regeneration, and has significant threats present from disease, predation, and fire.”

It also acknowledges “[t]here is no known way to control, reduce, or eliminate either mountain pine beetle or white pine blister rust…particularly at the landscape scale needed to effectively conserve this species.”  In fact, “the vast scale at which planting rust-resistant trees would need to occur, long timeframes in which restoration efficacy could be assessed, and limited funding and resources, will make it challenging to restore whitebark pine throughout its range. One estimate indicates that if planting continues at its current pace, it would take over 5000 years to cover just 5 percent of the range of whitebark pine[.]”

This does not appear to be a scenario where we have to grapple with fine lines.  There is no discrete, human-caused disruption in Wilderness that can be corrected with a discrete, short-lived intervention.  This is not an errant patch of spotted knapweed along a stock trail that can be pulled.  But it is illustrative of the moral and ethical questions coming our way.  Climate change will continue to cause vast changes in the world as we know it, and we will see more attempts to mitigate the effects through ongoing, counterbalancing manipulations.  The question will be whether we lose Wilderness in the process. 

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Dana Johnson is the staff attorney for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula, MT, www.wildernessswatch.org.

 

Big Whitebark Keith Hammer


Photo: Keith Hammer

Recent Comments
Guest — james peek
I don’t have any problem with most of Rob’s comments and agree the IR wolf inbreeding was primarily responsible for their decline.... Read More
Monday, 10 May 2021 13:44
Guest — Gertrud Firmage
You've spoken from my mind and heart. Thank you so very much for your so valuable visions.
Saturday, 08 May 2021 07:52
Guest — lonna richmond
thank you dana, for a beautiful and heartfelt article.
Thursday, 06 May 2021 11:02
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Wilderness Experienced—Floating the Grand Canyon

Howie Wolke

by Howie Wolke

 

In late October, Marilyn and I headed south for a 226 mile 21-day float trip down the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. There were four of us, in two rafts. For most of the 20,000 or so folks who annually float the Colorado, the scenery and numerous challenging rapids are big attractions. But for Marilyn and me, the big draw was the vast desert wilderness that the river punctuates. Although I hadn’t rowed challenging whitewater in nearly two decades, we all made it through the rapids upright, though I had a few close calls.

Wilderness. The Big Outside (Foreman and Wolke, Revised Edition 1992) inventoried the Grand Canyon wildland complex at 2,700,000 acres of roadless country in one unbroken block, the fourth largest such area in the lower 48 states. The 2.7 million acre wildland includes over a million roadless acres within Grand Canyon National Park, but also a number of contiguous national forest and BLM roadless areas and designated wildernesses. There are also big contiguous roadless areas on three Indian reservations and in the “Lake” Meade National Recreation area. Nowhere else in the U.S. south of Alaska can one float over 200 winding river miles without crossing a road or encountering civilization. So, at least here, big wilderness is unblemished….or so it would seem.

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Guest — Thomas H Small
I believe the Grand Canyon Dam should be protected for all current and future generations of people who live near the beautiful ar... Read More
Friday, 23 April 2021 06:35
Guest — Richard Baker
I took a class in my Geology of National Parks course on the long float trip over 40 years ago. It was the most memorable trip of ... Read More
Wednesday, 21 April 2021 10:38
Guest — Constance Stepanek
What a better person I am for having read your essay. Truly your protection of the wilderness will already be remembered. No dou... Read More
Tuesday, 20 April 2021 13:47
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Wilderness: Is it all about us?

george nickas 200x150

by George Nickas

 

A while back I received an email from the founders of a recently established organization that was created out of a concern for the “wilderness visitor.” They wrote to challenge Wilderness Watch’s long-time insistence that the fundamental mandate in the Wilderness Act requires managers to—first and foremost—protect each area’s wilderness character. They claim WW’s position misinterprets the law, has incorrectly shaped the views of much of the conservation community and, to the degree we influence the federal agencies, caused them to protect Wilderness from the people.

 

The gist of their argument is that Wilderness was established to provide recreation opportunities, and that the emphasis many put on protection is diminishing the recreational opportunities that Wilderness affords. To bolster their view they point to language in the law, repeated three or four times, that says wilderness areas “shall be administered for the use and enjoyment” of the American people. The law’s protection requirements, according to their point of view, are operative to the degree they don’t unduly interfere with the overarching purpose of providing recreational opportunities.


I’ve heard variations of this argument before. A long-time wilderness advocate once tried to convince me that recreation was the chief purpose of the Wilderness Act, and as proof offered that the Act uses the words “use and enjoyment” or “recreation” a combined seven times, while “protect” or its derivatives are used only five. I replied that since the Wilderness Act uses the word “mining” 11 times, maybe it was mining, not recreation or protection that the Act sought to achieve! It ended that discussion, but obviously hasn’t ended the debate.

 

The purpose of the Wilderness Act was never lost on the Act’s architect and supporters. Testifying to Congress in 1962, the law’s chief author and lobbyist Howard Zahniser, explained, “The purpose of the Wilderness Act is to preserve the wilderness character of the areas to be included in the wilderness system, not to establish any particular use.” This directive was codified in the statute with the clear mandate that “[e]ach agency administering any area designated as wilderness shall be responsible for preserving the wilderness character of the area and shall so administer such area for such other purposes for which it may have been established as also to preserve its wilderness character.”

 

The benefits of “use and enjoyment” of Wilderness were also high on Zahniser’s list, but the concept wasn’t merely synonymous with recreation. He understood the phrase in a much more expansive and meaningful way. Responding to a critic who claimed it was rather selfish to set aside large areas for the limited few who would use them, Zahniser insisted that those who sought out wilderness deserved the opportunity to experience it, but he also explained that the use and enjoyment extended to

 

“many people who never even hope to explore it…they find relief and inspiration in the wilderness vicariously, and a consciousness of its existence is essential to them. This may be hard to explain, but the people I know who want the wilderness saved for these reasons greatly outnumber those I know who want the wilderness saved for their own excursions.”*


None of this suggests recreation isn’t an important public purpose of Wilderness. To many of us our time spent in Wilderness is essential to our being. But Wilderness is valuable for many reasons, including for its own sake; it doesn’t derive its value from us. Wilderness can exist and thrive without recreation, and indeed some areas do, but for us to have an authentic wilderness experience there has to be a real Wilderness to enjoy.

 

*Quoted from “The Wilderness Writings of Howard Zahniser,” by Mark Harvey. A must read for wilderness advocates who want to understand more about the person, the ideas and the language underpinning the Wilderness Act.
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George Nickas is the executive director of Wilderness Watch.

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Guest — Johanna Schwarzer
There is nothing better than being in the great outdoors, listening to the birds, observing the wild animals, observing bushes and... Read More
Tuesday, 06 April 2021 11:31
Guest — Janet Muir
I read with appreciation George Nickas’ comments in “Wilderness: Is it all about us? Over the years, I have enjoyed several week... Read More
Wednesday, 31 March 2021 13:31
Guest — Maggie Frazier
I absolutely agree! As someone who very likely will never be able to physically "engage" in any Wilderness Area, the knowledge th... Read More
Wednesday, 31 March 2021 08:53
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An Art of Conducting Oneself

By Paul Willis

Paul WillisThere is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up.  —René Daumal, Mount Analogue

 

Sitting here, high on the shoulder of a peak in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, I am looking down at a grassy swale where I startled a herd of eleven mule deer. From this height they are now too small to be seen, but they kept their ground as I detoured around them on scree and talus, not wanting to disturb their pasture. And looking down in the other direction, a blood-red canyon drops away to the round expanse of an alkali lake, from this vantage point its two or three islands an obvious continuation of a series of craters to the south. And, looking up, the summit of the mountain I'm on rises gently, inviting me to visit before thunderheads build and explode, just as they did yesterday on my way down another summit. Such a relief to be lost in sky, no other purpose beyond placing the next boot, the next hoof.     

 

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Guest — Dave Potter
Truly a wonderful word painting. Then I see the author is an English prof; good for you.
Sunday, 28 March 2021 15:56
Guest — Mark D. Blitzer
Very touching story. I was particularly interested in that the author had a "small part" in gaining wilderness protection for the... Read More
Wednesday, 24 March 2021 17:16
Guest — Paul Willis
Mark, I was chair of the wilderness committee for the Spokane Group of the Sierra Club in the early 80s. We tried to get the Kett... Read More
Wednesday, 24 March 2021 18:57
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Wilderness Experienced: Arctic Dreams

By Ned Vasquez

 

Ned VFor many years, dating back even to my childhood, I have dreamed of spending time in the Alaskan wilderness. In August, 2019 this dream became a reality when my middle daughter and I spent 9 days rafting the Kongakut River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Our trip was organized through a guiding company based in Fairbanks. Our group consisted of 6 clients and 2 guides and we were fortunate to have a highly compatible group. The guiding company did an excellent job of orienting us to the nature of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ensured that we were as minimally impactful as possible.

 

Recent Comments
Guest — Deb Merchant
Thank you, Ned, for highlighting the critical nature of protecting the Arctic from drilling. I'm speaking to my choir when I say t... Read More
Saturday, 20 March 2021 21:49
Guest — Julie Stinchcomb
Sounds very nice. Very descriptive. Definitely want to visit. Thank you. Warm Regards Julie Stinchcomb
Thursday, 18 March 2021 17:40
Guest — Cathy
What a adventure, Ned! I've only been to AK once (Denali, Katmai - bears, etc.) and I am definitely going back! On my bucket lis... Read More
Friday, 05 March 2021 15:36
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Arctic Time

By Frank Keim

Cathy

Old days drift slowly into new days

and the white eye of the Arctic sun rolls

bright across the night,

as we trek

south

up the Hulahula River,

named more than a century ago

by Hawaiian whalers stranded

on an ocean cold and frozen

before its time.

Recent Comments
Guest — Reba Reiser
Great poem, thank you for continuing to care the way you seen to have always done.
Friday, 12 February 2021 14:29
Guest — John Lyle
Frank, thank you for sharing this poem. As I sit here reading it, looking out the window at Mauna Loa covered with new snow, I can... Read More
Thursday, 11 February 2021 10:37
Guest — Catherine Johnson
How beautiful!
Monday, 08 February 2021 15:28
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Thirty by Thirty and Half Earth: Promises and Pitfalls

Dana blog


by Howie Wolke

 

INTRODUCTION

In 2016, legendary ecologist Edward O. Wilson published Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. In this remarkable book, Wilson documents the ongoing anthropogenic planet-wide biological meltdown, the greatest extinction event since a meteor crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, about 60 million years ago. As a remedy, Wilson argues for protecting half of the Earth’s terrestrial acreage as inviolate nature reserves.

Flash back to the early 1980s. The original wilderness-focused Earth First! suggested that a fair balance for wilderness and civilization might be 50% for each. It was called “crazy”, “radical”, “unrealistic” and other terms of endearment not fit for print. And in my 1991 book Wilderness on the Rocks, I suggested that 30% of the U.S. be designated wilderness as a short term goal. That was also ridiculed as “unrealistic”.

Today, the “Nature Needs Half” coalition is promoting Wilson’s vision, and the “Thirty by Thirty” movement is gaining traction in the mainstream political discourse. Its goal is to protect 30% of the Earth’s landscape in nature reserves by the year 2030. The 30/30 goal is now considered by many to be attainable. And it is gratifying to see land protection efforts of this magnitude inch their way into the public discourse. The 30/30 goal does not mean that 30% of the land would be designated wilderness in the United States. Wilderness is our highest level of protection and it will be an important part of the equation. But other protective strategies, which also protect natural habitats for wildlife, biodiversity and other ecosystem values, will also be essential, especially for lands that lack wilderness characteristics. The purpose of this essay is to advance the discussion on how to effectively protect nearly a third of the U.S. landscape, including but not limited to designated wilderness.

DISCUSSION

30/30 would be a great start toward Wilson’s more thorough vision of Half Earth. But in my view, it is just that: a great start. Increasing numbers of scientists have concluded that 30/30 is the minimum starting point for conserving native biodiversity. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has endorsed 30/30, along with a growing list of American and international conservation groups.

President Joe Biden has endorsed 30/30, as has California Governor Gavin Newsom. There is also plenty of public support for protecting wildlands. According to a poll by the Center for American Progress, about 86% of Americans support the 30/30 concept, including 76% of polled Republicans. Clearly, when it comes to land protection, there is a huge disconnect between Republican politicians and the rank and file.

The extinction crisis is driven by habitat destruction and fragmentation, pollution, poaching, the proliferation of exotic weed species plus climate change. The meltdown is fueled by a growing human population that continues to expand unabated like a spreading cancer into remaining natural habitats around the globe, displacing native life and ecosystems. Some ecologists estimate that half of the estimated 10 million species that we share the planet with could be extinct or plummeting toward the eternal abyss by late this century. Thus, the need to protect land and water becomes more acute. Conservation biologists assert that we need to protect big interconnected landscapes as nature reserves.

Of course, protecting wild nature isn’t just about countering the biological meltdown. Wilderness is the primary repository of 3.5 billion years of organic evolution on this blue green spinning ball of life that we call Earth. Wilderness is the fundamental environment that shaped all known life, including humans, though many deny this primal connection. That’s why new wilderness designations and good wilderness stewardship should top the 30/30 agenda, while recognizing that other kinds of land protections will also be essential.

I also believe that wild nature has intrinsic value, something that’s worthwhile for its own sake, independent of the multitude of benefits it provides humans. That’s my primary motive as a conservationist. Many of us simply love all that is wild—and we know deep in our primate bones that Aldo Leopold said it best: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

“Untrammeled”, “primeval”, “natural”, and “where the imprint of man’s (sic) work is substantially unnoticeable” are phrases used in the 1964 Wilderness Act to define designated wilderness (I believe the authors of the Wilderness Act used the term “natural” to describe a landscape dominated by native plants and animals. Thus I do not consider croplands, livestock pastures and monocultures of exotic weeds to be “natural”). Today's National Wilderness Preservation System encompasses about 111 million acres, or about 4% of the U.S. landscape. Yet about half of that acreage is in Arctic and Subarctic Alaska, whereas only about 2.7% of the lower 48 states is designated Wilderness.

Because of this geographic disparity, for the 30/30 campaign, let’s view these two geographies through distinct lenses, so that at least 30% of the lower 48 is protected. And, let’s set the 2030 goal for Alaska at 50%. In that vast realm that’s still mostly wild, achieving Wilson’s goal would be easy, at least from a landscape viewpoint. For starters in Alaska, the Naval Petroleum Reserve (keep that oil in the ground, where it won’t harm the atmosphere!), the entire Alaska Range east of Denali, and most of the Chugach and Tongass national forests should all be protected as designated wilderness.

Where do we find 30%—or 50%—of our landscape to protect? Start with the existing National Wilderness Preservation System (2.7% of the lower 48 states). Then, add protections for all roadless areas, wilderness study areas, and backcountry areas administered by our four federal land management agencies. Based upon research I did back in the 1980s, I estimate that roughly 12-15% of the land area of the lower 48 states is in a wilderness or near-wilderness condition. This includes over a hundred million additional acres—according to agency inventories—of wilderness or semi-wilderness quality lands in the lower 48 states, in national forest and BLM-administered roadless areas and Wilderness Study Areas alone! We can also designate many new national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges.

States can also add to the protected acreage by adding parks and wildlife preserves. A few states already maintain significant protected wildland acreages: New York’s Adirondack Forest Preserve, for example. In the private domain, large holdings with conservation easements and protected holdings of land trusts and conservancies might also qualify as “protected” lands under 30/30. We can also use additional tax incentives for conservation easements plus the Land and Water Conservation fund to acquire additional conservation lands.

In addition, we can restore the wilds! There is vast potential for wildland restoration (“re-wilding”) across tens of millions of acres of the public domain. We can even restore wilderness. The Wilderness Act’s authors never intended for the definition of wilderness to preclude lands that were less than pristine. Note that according to the Wilderness Act, the imprint of humanity’s work must simply be “substantially unnoticeable”. In fact, Congress can and has designated wilderness for lands that had been previously roaded, clearcut and otherwise developed. Once designated, under the Wilderness Act, agencies must manage such lands as wilderness, letting nature re-wild the landscape. In fact, most wilderness areas in the eastern U.S. have been re-wilding themselves, for the most part just by being left alone.

Yet agency bureaucrats routinely violate the Wilderness Act by allowing illegal developments in designated wilderness. And Congress too often enacts wilderness bills with special provisions (for example allowing for off-road vehicular use in wilderness for ranchers) which weaken wilderness protections. Nonetheless, in this imperfect world, designated wilderness remains our highest level of land protection in the U.S., and should be a big component of the 30/30 movement. Thus, as we move toward 30/30, keeping designated wilderness areas truly wild (the primary mission of Wilderness Watch) will assume even more importance!

I mentioned entrenched bureaucrats. Here’s an example: According to Custer-Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson, “I view all public lands as being protected.” It is hard to believe, I know, but yes, I heard her say that. Thus, in her worldview, giant eroding weed-infested clearcuts, roads gouged across 45-degree slopes (including a 400,000+ mile road network on national forest lands alone!), open- pit mines, oil fields, ORV sacrifice areas, heavily fenced livestock pastures with devastated riparian zones, exotic weed monocultures, dams, pipelines, power corridors, ski areas, summer homes and more constitute the fabric of “protected” public lands. We must guard against bureaucrats who would water down the meaning of “protected” land. Otherwise, 30/30 will be used to simply rubber stamp existing agency mismanagement.

SPECIFICS

Which brings us to the central question of both the Nature Needs Half and the 30/30 movements: “What constitutes ‘protected’ land?” We need definitive standards in addition to those in the Wilderness Act, which will assure that all of the 30% is really protected. 

For example, the U.S. Geological Survey defines 4 levels of land protection called “Gap Status”. Status level 1 represents the strictest level of protection and Status 4 the least. Without detailing each of these levels, I would argue that even Gap Status 1 is weak, and that Status levels 2 through 4 represent little more than business as usual for public lands under typical agency multiple (ab)use management. For the record, Gap Status 1 is defined as

     An area having permanent protection from conversion of natural land cover and a mandated management plan in operation to maintain a natural state within which disturbance events ( of a natural type, frequency, intensity and legacy) are allowed to proceed without interference or are mimicked through management.

Here's another, slightly better definition of protected land utilized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP):

     A protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

I propose that we combine the best aspects of the above two definitions, and then further strengthen the definition with a few caveats. My proposed definition of protected land:

     A clearly defined geographical area having permanent protection through legal or legislated or other effective means, to achieve long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values. Natural conditions are maintained and the conversion of natural native land cover is precluded. Natural disturbance events and processes such as wildfire, flood and predation, are allowed and encouraged.

I believe this to be a workable definition, with the following caveats:

  • Mechanized Travel must be restricted to designated roads within reserves.
  • New road construction is prohibited.
  • Resource extraction such as mining, oil drilling and commercial logging are prohibited.
  • Lands that have been impacted in the past, including logged over lands and lands with limited or primitive road networks, can be included if a management plan is in place to restore and maintain wild and natural conditions (re-wilding).
  • In some regions of the world, existing subsistence hunting/gathering/fishing rights—preferably via traditional primitive means—might continue, depending upon the circumstance. However, this question probably merits more of a discussion than is practical in this brief overview.

Here are some examples of lands that could constitute our protected 30%:

  • The National Wilderness Preservation System
  • National forest and BLM Roadless areas and Wilderness Study Areas
  • Protected state wildlands such as those in New York’s Adirondack Forest Preserve
  • National Parks
  • National Monuments
  • National Wildlife Refuges
  • Forest Service and BLM-administered multiple use lands in which a plan is in place to restore wild and natural conditions (re-wilding).
  • Private conservation lands in which natural conditions are maintained via conservation easement or other legal protection(s)
  • About 24 million acres of lands included in the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, which designates new wilderness areas, biological corridors, and wildland recovery areas in the U.S. Northern Rockies.
  • Protected public and private lands in Montana’s growing American Prairie Reserve
  • Existing and potential biological corridors

Here are a few examples of lands that should NOT be included in the “protection” category:

  • Lands that are intensively grazed and managed primarily for livestock production
  • Croplands or manicured urban parks not characterized by native vegetation, even if they are maintained as “open space” by conservation easements
  • Typical Forest Service- and BLM-administered “multiple use lands” that are managed for timber production, livestock, minerals, and mechanized transportation. As noted above, such lands can be moved into “protected” status if a re-wilding plan replaces “multiple abuse”.


And finally, the first step to 30/30 should be a National Wildlands Inventory conducted by an independent panel of scientists to identify both public and privately-owned wildlands that could qualify for some level of protected status under a 30/30 plan. Part of the inventory—and ultimately part of the 30/30 plan—should specifically identify the country’s major eco-regions, to assure that each ecoregion  has at least one protected area that is large enough (and/or functionally interconnected with other nearby wild areas) to support most of the native keystone species—large carnivores, for example —for that ecosystem.

SUMMARY

Wildland conservation has an opportunity to move forward with a bold plan to protect wilderness and other wild habitats on nearly one third of our landscape. Conservation groups can support the 30/30 movement as a minimum starting point, looking ahead to E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth vision as the long term goal.

Achieving 30/30 will not be easy. It faces a hostile gauntlet of the usual bad actors: entrenched bureaucrats, myopic and corrupt elected officials plus the industry lobbies that work to thwart most conservation initiatives. Not to mention the rapidly expanding army of mechanized recreationists, including mountain bike organizations. Yet the history of conservation proves that commitment and determination can overcome enormous political obstacles. Today’s global ecological crisis demands that we dramatically increase land and water protections. This includes pushing for maximum protected acreage for wilderness quality lands and other areas that remain relatively natural and wild.

Like cockroaches, humans can adapt to and even thrive in nearly every artificial environment imaginable. Like Mumbai, for example. Or Houston. Or the expansive monocultural wastelands of Kansas. But is cockroach habitat and vast impoverished human-scapes the world that we wish to pass on? The least we can do for future generations of both human and non-human life is to approach wildland conservation as though the survival of life as we know it on Earth depends upon it—which in fact, it does. Enacting a strong 30/30 plan would be a great start.

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Howie Wolke is a long-time wilderness proponent. He has been a board member for Wilderness Watch on and off for over two decades, including two terms as President. He is a retired wilderness backpacking and canoeing guide/outfitter who now enjoys wilderness adventure without having to be responsible for others. He and his wife, Marilyn Olsen, and their dog Rio live in the foothills of the Gallatin Range, just north of Yellowstone National Park in southern Montana.

Author’s note: Thanks go to Marilyn Olsen and Wilderness Watch board member René Voss for their suggested edits, many of which have been incorporated into the final version. However, any errors and anything the reader might deem to be offensive are entirely my responsibility.

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Guest — gregory battaglia
I think it's absurdly naive to expect any meaningful wilderness (yes "wilderness") protection to happen as long as humanity acts i... Read More
Saturday, 08 May 2021 14:32
Guest — Wilderness Watch
Gregory, thanks for your comment. Please see our blog post: https://wildernesswatch.org/keeping-wilderness-wild-blog-post/wilderne... Read More
Monday, 10 May 2021 12:09
Guest — Barrett Walker
Thank you for your thoughtful approach to achieving the 30/30 conservation goal.
Wednesday, 27 January 2021 14:25
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NOT Alone in the Wilderness...

By Cathy Brandt

Cathy

Due to life-long arthritis and now a bit of the "A" word (age), I can't hike very deep into wilderness areas. However, when I do I'm looking to experience solitude—to get away from masses of people and their litter, cell phones, dogs barking, and aircraft noise. It's very sad that some people have never been away from these distractions and never know what they're missing.

We all deserve wild solitude and I feel human beings actually need it. In the wild all of our senses experience fresh cues, and our lungs take in more clean air and oxygen. For some of us, it can also be a very emotional experience. A few tears may be shed at the sight of a wondrous peak, or a gurgling moss-lined creek. Wild places are my church, and many would agree with me on that!

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Guest — Cathy Brandt
Thanks Dick Johnson for the info. Thanks everyone for reading my story and I hope many of you will get more involved to make a di... Read More
Monday, 09 November 2020 20:46
Guest — ernie
thanks for the story...in Canada we are not burdened by these noise infractions as much, I hope we won't be in the future.
Sunday, 01 November 2020 14:52
Guest — Elizabeth Mooney
It is totally outrageous that a portion of this world doesn't care about mother natures land and the marine and wildlife animals. ... Read More
Sunday, 01 November 2020 14:46
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Toads in the sand: How the Juniper Dunes Wilderness protects wildlife from motorized wreckreation

By Scott Crain

Scott

The Juniper Dunes Wilderness area is a 7000-acre part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, located in southeastern Washington State. It lies just a few miles north of what used to be a quiet part of the state, now exploding with population and development. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation lies a few miles to the southwest, one of the most polluted nuclear waste sites in the country. Just outside the barbed wire fence that surrounds Juniper Dunes lies an off-road vehicle area promoted by the Bureau of Land Management for ORVs and other motorized activities. 

 

I was born and raised a few miles south in Pasco. When I was a kid, the Dunes, as we called them, were a place to go target shooting, driving four wheelers, and doing all sorts of other things that our parents didn't want to know about. I've moved on, but those activities continue unabated right up to the wilderness boundary.

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Guest — cynthia lewis
Thanks you for trying to protect this special ecosystem. It is people like you who put in the time/effort who will make our planet... Read More
Sunday, 25 October 2020 17:51
Guest — C Logs
Great article Scott, shows both perspectives which is good. No child should be deigned the out door experience. It's important ... Read More
Wednesday, 21 October 2020 14:36
Guest — Bonnie
Thank you Scott for calling our attention to and helping us reconnect to the Natural World! I advocate for programs that take chil... Read More
Sunday, 18 October 2020 10:10
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The Boundary Waters and an Over-Reliance on Technology

By Kevin Proescholdt

Kevin

In August, my family and I enjoyed our second canoe trip of the summer in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) of northeastern Minnesota.  The 1.1 million-acre BWCAW is a lakeland wilderness with over 1,000 lakes connected by rivers, streams and portage trails. It is part of Superior National Forest and is one of the most visited (if not the most visited) Wilderness in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

 

We enjoyed five days of paddling, portaging, camping, swimming, fishing, and laughing.  But we did have to contend with strong winds almost the entire trip, including becoming windbound overnight at a point of land where the strong west winds howled unimpeded along many miles of open lake.

Recent Comments
Guest — Chris
Been on numerous trips decades ago. I do hope while on your trip you pondered the fact BWCAW was one of the first and still one ... Read More
Wednesday, 07 October 2020 09:14
Guest — Mike Shepley
My grandfather built a retirement house on Fall Lake near Ely (but the reality of winter soon had them renting for 6 months a year... Read More
Monday, 05 October 2020 09:04
Guest — Valere Friedman
It would be appropriate that people be able to get some education on an area before they go, or at the very least, at the entrance... Read More
Saturday, 03 October 2020 22:26
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Wilderness Experienced: Cumberland Island

By Jessica Howell-Edwards

JessicaCumberland Island Wilderness is part of the Cumberland Island National Seashore in southern Georgia, administered by the National Park Service (NPS). It was previously sanctioned as a UN Biosphere Reserve, and is located just miles from Kings Bay Naval Base and also nuclear warhead storage.

 

I firmly believe that all Wilderness experiences have the potential to be transformative in our lives, but Cumberland Island Wilderness offers a complex variation of ecosystems that only a southeastern barrier island can: towering sand dunes, freshwater lakes, maritime forest, salt marshes, and deserted beaches.

Recent Comments
Guest — Janet Duran
I have always wanted to visit this beautiful Island. We must protect it. Thank you all for your wonderful comments.
Wednesday, 28 October 2020 15:45
Guest — Jessica
Yes! Please join us at http://change.org/norocketsoverwilderness!... Read More
Wednesday, 28 October 2020 16:38
Guest — Kevin Kriescher
Wilderness for wilderness sake! From it we come and to it we return; there is still nothing more beautiful. We might be better at ... Read More
Monday, 28 September 2020 11:00
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The Wild Emigrant: Cows, Dams, and Damn Mosquitoes

By René Voss

RenéSo now I know why people came up with the idea of aerial spraying DDT to kill pesky bugs ... like the thousands of mosquitoes that attacked me over the summer solstice in the Emigrant Wilderness.  Relentless beasts!

 

As I was walking out of the Wilderness I struck an interesting conversation with a fellow hiker who was local and had been visiting the Emigrant Wilderness for over 50 years.  He said he had seen many changes since he first started hiking there as a kid.  His name was Larry.  I know this because he was wearing a "Larry" belt buckle ... local for sure.

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Guest — Dave Potter
As I briefly mentioned in my first comment, I implore all of us that talk about saving nature and protecting its critters: use... Read More
Tuesday, 08 September 2020 11:58
Guest — James Morrison
Glad to see that some parts of the Wilderness is doing well. Just keep man and development out of the Nature Preserves.
Sunday, 06 September 2020 14:51
Guest — Dave Potter
Cattle in wilderness areas = cow pies in the meadows where you need to pitch your tent. Flies all around and trampled, broken dow... Read More
Saturday, 05 September 2020 16:53
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Wolf Sightings, Bear-Baiting, and Landing Strips: A Week in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness

By Brett Haverstick

BrettI just returned from a recent backpacking trip into one of our nation’s first Wilderness areas, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness of north central Idaho and western Montana. It was a typical June trip in the Northern Rockies with thunder, lightning, rain, hail, clouds, and sun. The forests were greening up, the rivers and creeks flowing at a strong clip, and the birds were both active in flight and song. My personal trip diary reflected that I observed bald eagles, osprey, red-tailed hawks, ravens, pileated woodpeckers, hummingbirds, western tanagers, Canada geese, common mergansers, and more.

Recent Comments
Guest — Brett Haverstick
Hi Dave this is Brett - thanks for reading the trip report and offering some of your experiences and insight. I've backpacked the ... Read More
Tuesday, 08 September 2020 11:58
Guest — Dave Potter
Thu, Aug 13 at 8:17 PM I saw this dumping of surplus food years ago in the wilderness beaches of the Olympic National Park. We s... Read More
Saturday, 05 September 2020 16:45
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A Legal Win for the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and a Call to Protect Wolves and Wilderness in Idaho

Dana blog

by Dana Johnson

 

You might recall that in January 2016, the U.S. Forest Service authorized Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) to make 120 helicopter landings in the River of No Return Wilderness to place radio telemetry collars on 60 elk, despite the Wilderness Act’s clear prohibition on motorized intrusions and its directive to preserve an untrammeled Wilderness. To our knowledge, this was the most extensive helicopter intrusion in Wilderness that has ever been authorized. IDFG said the project was necessary to study an elk-population decline that has occurred since the return of gray wolves to the Wilderness and to inform IDFG’s future decisions concerning hunting, trapping, and “predator control” actions in the Wilderness.

 

Represented by Earthjustice, Wilderness Watch, Friends of the Clearwater, and Western Watersheds Project filed suit in Federal District Court—hours after receiving a copy of the signed special use permit authorizing project implementation. Within the next three days—over the weekend—while the suit was pending and before we could get before the judge, IDFG inundated the River of No Return Wilderness with repeated helicopter flights and landings. And, even though it was abundantly clear IDFG was not authorized to harass and collar wolves, IDFG nonetheless captured and collared four wolves. IDFG released those 60 elk and four wolves with collars transmitting precise location points to IDFG – an agency with an unapologetic history of wolf extermination efforts and a current plan to “aggressively manage elk and predator populations,” including exterminating 60 percent of wolves within the Middle Fork Zone of the River of No Return Wilderness.

 

The judge assigned to the case was no stranger to this issue. Back in 2010, after the reintroduction of wolves in Idaho, the same judge sat on our case where IDFG requested permission from the Forest Service to use helicopters to dart and collar at least one wolf in every pack in the same area. The judge reluctantly allowed the activity because the case represented the “most rare of circumstances” where “[i]t was man who wiped out the wolf from this area[, and] now man is attempting to restore the wilderness character of the area by returning the wolf.” But, the judge noted “the next helicopter proposal in the [Wilderness] will face a daunting review,” and “[t]he Forest Service must proceed very cautiously here because the law is not on their side if they intend to proceed with further helicopter projects in the [Wilderness].” The judge also put the Forest Service on notice that it “would be expected to render a final decision [on any future helicopter projects in the Wilderness] enough in advance of the project so that any lawsuit seeking to enjoin the project could be fully litigated.” 

 

Not surprisingly, the judge was concerned that “[t]he agency ignore[d] that directive in the present case,” and then the agencies argued that the Court didn’t have jurisdiction to review the case because IDFG had already completed the action. The Court rejected that argument, found the Forest Service in violation of the Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and enjoined IDFG and the Forest Service from utilizing the fruits of their illegal activity. Specifically, the judge’s order 1) forbade the Forest Service from considering the data from the illegally placed collars and from approving any future wildlife-related helicopter projects without delaying implementation for at least 90 days to allow time for litigation, 2) forbade IDFG from using any of the illegally obtained collaring data to justify future collaring proposals in Wilderness, and 3) ordered IDFG to destroy data received from the collars.

 

Both the Forest Service and IDFG appealed that ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But, the appeal was narrow. The agencies did not contest their violations of the Wilderness Act and NEPA. Instead, they argued, once again, that the Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case in the first place because the action was already done and that, even if it did have jurisdiction, it went too far in its injunction against IDFG and the Forest Service. 

 

In March 2020, after four years of litigation, we received an opinion from the Ninth Circuit largely upholding the lower Court’s order but narrowing the injunction. The Circuit reduced the 90-day implementation delay to 30 days, and it held IDFG does not need to destroy the data it obtained, but the Forest Service cannot consider that data as a basis for any future projects in the Wilderness. Importantly, the Circuit flatly rejected the argument that the case could evade judicial review by virtue of the agencies rushing to complete the project before the judge could rule, noting:

 

[The Forest Service] was aware that Wilderness Watch had lodged objections to the proposed operation and planned to challenge the permit in court at the first opportunity. On Wednesday, January 6, 2016, Wilderness Watch received notice of final agency action and requested a copy of the permit. On Thursday, January 7, Wilderness Watch received a copy of the permit, effective immediately, and filed its complaint. Wilderness Watch requested that the agency halt implementation of the operation to allow for a legal challenge. [The Forest Service] did not respond to this request until close of business on Friday, January 8. The agency denied the request. Wilderness Watch prepared a motion for emergency injunctive relief on Saturday, expecting to file it first thing on Monday, only to receive notification on Sunday that the operation had been completed earlier that morning. This sequence of events transpired in spite of the district court’s admonishment to [the Forest Service], in a 2010 proceeding regarding a similar helicopter operation, that the agency would be expected to issue future permits with enough time to allow for potential legal challenges. The record shows that in the weeks leading up to the issuance of the subject permit, Wilderness Watch reminded [the Forest Service] of the 2010 order. The record also makes clear that IDFG plans future helicopter operations, and that [the Forest Service] approval was motivated, at least in part, by the IDFG’s threat to proceed irrespective of [the Forest Service’s] approval and the [the Forest Service’s] desire to avoid litigation with the [IDFG] Director.

 

While this ruling will make it more difficult for the agencies to avoid judicial review of similar projects in the future, we know we have not seen the last of IDFG’s relentless focus on killing wolves, and we know they’ve got their eyes set on the River of No Return Wilderness. And, as the Ninth Circuit observed, the Forest Service has taken pains to avoid a show-down with IDFG—we have no indication this will change either. In fact, shortly after we received news of the Ninth Circuit opinion, IDFG announced that it killed 17 wolves in the Lolo area in Idaho—a remote, roadless area in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest north of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Wolves in the Lolo area have been brutally targeted by IDFG for years in an effort to inflate elk numbers to meet IDFG’s objectives. We know from Freedom of Information Act documents and other reports that IDFG regularly utilizes GPS collaring data to track and kill wolves, oftentimes through aerial gunning. Even more appalling, the documents and reports also show that IDFG and cooperating agencies utilize “Judas wolves”—a collared wolf that is tracked to its pack via GPS data. The pack is killed, but the collared “Judas wolf” is spared and then tracked until it establishes with another pack. Then that pack is gunned down, once again sparing the collared wolf who is doomed to repeat this horrible cycle over and over again. 

 

IDFG’s narrative about the Lolo area sounds remarkably similar to the story it is telling about the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. It has a plan to kill 60 percent of the wolves in the heart of the Wilderness to return elk numbers to levels observed in the 1990s – before the return of wolves to the Wilderness and before the restoration of natural predator / prey dynamics. We assume IDFG will pull no punches in pursuing that goal. We’ve already seen, and challenged, IDFG’s use of a professional trapper to kill two resident wolf packs—the Golden Creek and Monumental Creek packs—deep in the Wilderness. The Forest Service authorized IDFG’s use of a Forest Service cabin to serve as the trapper’s base camp, and it waived special use permit requirements, which allowed IDFG to proceed without public notice or federal oversight. As noted above, we challenged two IDFG helicopter-assisted collaring projects in the Wilderness, both geared toward advancing IDFG’s Elk Management Plan and its “aggressive” predator control measures. These projects were carried out under authorization from the Forest Service, including the rushed implementation of the second project in blatant disregard of a federal court order. And, in the last year, IDFG has significantly relaxed hunting limits on wolves and pushed to open airstrips within and adjacent to the Wilderness to increase hunter access. 

 

All of this is going on with Forest Service acquiescence and to the detriment of Wilderness, the values it safeguards, and the wild places and animals that find increasingly rare refuge within its borders. The Forest Service—the agency entrusted to protect this Wilderness pursuant to the tenets of the Wilderness Act—has demonstrated that it finds IDFG the squeakiest wheel. We will keep the pressure on in the courts, but we need to be louder than IDFG. We need to raise our collective voice in defense of this incredible place, in defense of the animals who call it home, and in defense of the idea of Wilderness. Intensive manipulation of wildlife populations is fundamentally antithetical to preserving “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man” and “primeval character and influence” are retained. The use of helicopters to pursue, capture, and place telemetry tracking collars on wild animals deep within the Wilderness—to transmit their every movement to a computer, manned by a “game” agency that places high value on control and manipulation—is fundamentally antithetical to everything Wilderness is about. It’s well beyond time for the Forest Service to take a stand for Wilderness.

 

And, even though its track-record is not encouraging, IDFG can also take this as an opportunity to pivot. IDFG will face growing public opposition to its wolf eradication and Wilderness manipulation efforts, and the latest court case has made it much more difficult for IDFG’s activities to slide under the radar of judicial review. It is time for IDFG to adopt an approach to wildlife management that respects natural processes and Wilderness. It is incumbent upon the Forest Service to ensure this happens.

 

You can help defend wolves and Wilderness in Idaho by writing to the responsible U.S. Forest Service officials and demand they stop sanctioning Idaho’s aggressive predator killing programs.

 

You can also make a special donation to Wilderness Watch to help us continue the fight to defend wolves and Wilderness in Idaho.

------------------

Dana Johnson is the staff attorney for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula, MT, www.wildernessswatch.org.

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Guest — Stephen
I'm here to do my part to protect our wilderness...! Keep me up to speed here...!
Monday, 16 November 2020 15:09
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What’s All the Buzz in the Boundary Waters?

What’s All the Buzz in the Boundary Waters?Dana blog

by Dana Johnson

 

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is located within the Superior National Forest in Minnesota and stretches over 115 miles along the Minnesota-Ontario border. The Wilderness, along with Canada’s adjoining Quetico Provincial Park, protects a complex ecosystem of nearly 3,000 glacial lakes connected by a vast, meandering network of streams and portages. This watery landscape is home to a diverse mix of wildlife, and it holds one of the largest remnants of uncut forest east of the Rockies. Humans have relied upon its natural abundance for centuries, including the Ojibwe who navigated its waterways in birch bark canoes. More recently, the area offers an increasingly rare connection to a world that existed before an expanding population, with all of its fast-paced and heavily consumptive interests, took hold.

Efforts to protect this area from the fallouts of Westward Expansion, industrialization, and motorization span back over a century culminating in the designation of the BWCAW. Sigurd Olson, one of the eloquent leaders in the push to protect the Boundary Waters, recognized a tie between the silence of the canoe and something we were losing through the story of progress—the knowledge of what it is to be of and with the land and waters. 

"The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind. Silence is part of it, and the sounds of lapping water, bird songs, and wind in the trees. It is part of the medium through which it floats, the sky, the water, the shores.... There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness, and of a freedom almost forgotten. It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfactions." -Sigurd Olson, The Singing Wilderness, 1956

Sigurd would be troubled to learn that roughly one-fifth of the Wilderness’s waterways are still subjected to the persistent back and forth buzzing of motorboats including, on some routes, commercial towboats carting paying clients and their canoes to campsites and remote drop-off locations within the Wilderness, turning many entry-points and travel routes into busy motorways. The popular entry point of Moose Lake, where commercial towboat use is particularly excessive, is known for its motorized bottlenecks and the whine of engines. During one trip to survey the Moose Lake entry-point, Wilderness Watch staff were told by an outfitter that Wilderness visitors who would not otherwise consider a motorized tow regularly take a tow because paddling through motorized use areas is so unpleasant. The motorized mess in the Boundary Waters is a good example of why when Wilderness areas are designated it is so important to make sure it’s via a clean wilderness bill, without special provisions. 

The Wilderness Act was passed as a counterweight to “an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization,” and to safeguard a few wild areas “in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape.”[1] It expressly prohibits motorized and mechanized uses within Wilderness recognizing that these things represented the opposite of the restraint and humility needed to guard against our compulsion to stand as masters and controllers of the world around us.

It was in this context that the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was designated as one of the original Wildernesses in the 1964 Wilderness Act. Unfortunately, due to the familiar story of political pressure, the Wilderness Act included a confusing special provision allowing motorized use already existing in the BWCAW, as long as such use would not undermine the “primitive character of the area.”[2] Motorized use always undermines the primitive character of a wilderness area—that’s why the Wilderness Act prohibits it! This provision was short-lived. In response to “the confusion and litigation generated by the proviso, as well as in reaction to threatened deterioration of the wilderness from excessive use,”[3] Congress repealed the special provision and enacted the BWCAW Act of 1978.[4]


Unfortunately, once again due to political pressure, Congress was not able to eliminate motorboat use outright. Instead, this time around, Congress prohibited all motorboat use within the Wilderness except on a few specifically named lakes, instituted phase-outs of motorized use on other lakes, and imposed motor size restrictions.[5] On lakes where motorboat use was allowed, Congress set a statutory cap at “the average actual annual motorboat use of the calendar years 1976, 1977, and 1978 for each lake,”[6] and the Forest Service calculated and allocated that cap through a series of entry point quotas for each lake. What followed was decades of confused and inconsistent statutory application, an indecipherable hodgepodge of management policies and practices, multiple rounds of litigation, and an increase in particular types of motorized use to the detriment of the Wilderness. Commercial towboat use is a prime example. 

Congress did not expressly contemplate the continued use of commercial towboats when it passed the BWCAW Act in ’78, and the Forest Service has never been clear on how it monitors commercial towboat use in relation to the overall statutory cap on motorboat use. That notwithstanding, towboat use continued, and the Forest Service adopted measures to regulate it in the 1993 BWCAW Management Plan. The Plan required towboat operators to obtain special use permits, and it limited towboat use to “1992 levels for numbers of boats, trips, current operators, and specific lakes.” However, Wilderness Watch learned from a series of Freedom of Information Act requests that the Forest Service has not consistently monitored actual commercial towboat use since the inception of the BWCAW Act or since the 1993 Plan, it does not appear to know what the level of towboat trips from 1992 was, it has allowed some commercial towboat operators to run towboat services without a special use permit, and it appears that actual commercial towboat use has been steadily increasing.

Making matters worse, the Wilderness Act prohibits commercial enterprise in Wilderness with the exception of certain “necessary” commercial services.[7] The exception requires a specific finding of necessity—something typically done through a “commercial needs assessment” with requisite public involvement and formal National Environmental Policy Act review. The Forest Service had not done this either, and it wasn’t about to. So, we sued. That lawsuit resulted in a settlement where the Forest Service agreed to prepare a commercial needs assessment to get a handle on the current amount of actual towboat use in the Wilderness, make a determination on whether towboat services are necessary at all—particularly given their impact on wilderness character, and if the Forest Service deems them necessary, to what extent. The Forest Service agreed to complete this process by November 2019.

The Forest Service produced a document that attempts to assess the amount of current towboat use, but it doesn’t assess that use in the context of the overall regulatory scheme (the limitations imposed by the Act and the Plan) and explain how current use is within those limits, it does not analyze necessity in the context of impacts to wilderness character and opportunities for motorized recreation outside of Wilderness, and a host of other issues. You can read our concerns about the Forest Service’s Draft Needs Assessment here: https://wildernesswatch.org/images/wild-issues/2019/10-09-2019-WW-Comments-BWCAW-CNA.pdf.  Likely in response to the concerns we raised in the Draft Needs Assessment, the Final Needs Assessment included a reference to an “extent necessary worksheet” that might address some of our concerns (and comply with the settlement agreement). However, in a nod to Orwell, when we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for this worksheet, the Forest Service refused to give it to us saying the information was privileged and exempt from disclosure. 

The Forest Service has indicated it will likely, at an undisclosed point in the future, engage in National Environmental Policy Act review of commercial towboat use in the BWCAW. We’ll keep everyone posted about that process and encourage public involvement when the time comes. In the meantime, the towboats keep buzzing under the cloak of regulatory ambiguity and agency confusion, and we’re assessing our options for additional legal challenges. The moral of the story: Clean, simple wilderness bills without special provisions best protect Wilderness, and we must keep demanding them from Congress. In an era where much of the environmental movement has become apologetic in its approach to land protection, it isn’t surprising that wilderness bills littered with compromise are considered the norm. And we know we can’t expect the agencies to do the right thing without constant vigilance and pressure.

The very idea of Wilderness is on the line, and we must keep the courage to hold that line.

 

[1] 16 U.S.C. § 1131(a), (c).

[2] 16 U.S.C § 1133(d)(5) (1976), repealed by Pub. L. No. 95-495, 92 Stat. 1649, 1650 (1978).

[3] Minnesota v. Block, 660 F.2d 1240, 1246 (8th Cir. 1981).

[4] Pub. L. No. 95-495, 92 Stat. 1649 (1978). 

[5] Pub. L. No. 95-495, T92 Stat. 1649 (1978), 92 Stat. at 1650, 4.

[6] Pub. L. No. 95-495, T92 Stat. 1649 (1978), 92 Stat. at 1651, 4(f).

[7] 16 U.S.C. § 1133(d)(5).


------------------

Dana Johnson is the staff attorney for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula, MT, www.wildernessswatch.org.

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Guest — Ida Everest
The Boundary Waters should be protected to keep the wildlife safe from terrorizing loud mechanic noises, poisoning emissions in t... Read More
Thursday, 26 March 2020 12:04
Guest — Bernard Sroka
Ah, the Boundary Waters! This was going to be the trip of our lives when me and my Buds graduated from high school. We never got t... Read More
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Let's Protect our Nation's Largest Wilderness Study Area

kevinproescholdt 02 18 13 201by Kevin Proescholdt

 

At the end of October, Wilderness Watch filed a formal objection to the new Final Land Management Plan for the Chugach National Forest in response to the Forest Service’s seemingly intentional disregard for protecting the 2 million-acre Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area (WSA) that is part of the Chugach. In January, Wilderness Watch participated in an objection resolution meeting with the Forest Service, though the agency has not yet ruled on any of the objections we raised.

The Congressionally-designated Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA in Alaska’s western Prince William Sound is an ecological and scenic treasure of roughly 2 million acres of ancient rainforest, stunning mountains, sprawling glaciers, and meandering fiords laced with hundreds of remote islands. The Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA is also the nation’s largest Wilderness Study Area.

Not a single acre of Wilderness has been designated on the 5.4 million-acre Chugach National Forest, further elevating the importance of protecting the Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA. Unfortunately, the agency’s Final Land Management Plan for the Chugach fails abysmally to protect the wilderness character of the Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA.


Wilderness Watch filed the formal objection with Alaska Wilderness League, Eyak Preservation Council, WildEarth Guardians, and the Wilderness Society, highlighting the following concerns:

  • The Final Plan downgrades protection for the WSA.  The past two Chugach management plans have directed the Forest Service to protect “presently existing wilderness character” of the WSA, but the new plan downgrades that management to the undefined and meaningless standard of “presently existing character,” which would allow never-ending degradation over time. 
     
  • The Final Plan eliminates use of the Minimum Requirements Analysis (MRA), a tool for protecting wilderness. The 1964 Wilderness Act generally prohibits the use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment, structures and installations, allowing their use only if it is “necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area” to preserve its wilderness character. Congress included this clause in the Wilderness Act to minimize the use of nonconforming activities that agencies often want to do when stewarding Wilderness.  Though terribly weak and are often abused by the agencies, the MRA process is still better than nothing. The Forest Service completely eliminated the use of MRA in the Final Chugach Plan, suggesting the agency has little or no intention to analyze the impacts of its management activities on the WSA’s wilderness character.
     
  • The Final Plan eliminates WSA protection for 100,000 acres of wilderness-quality lands.  The federal government acquired lands from other ownerships within the boundaries of the Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA as part of the settlement following the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (EVOS) in 1989. Past Chugach National Forest plans haven’t differentiated between WSA lands and EVOS-acquired lands within the WSA, but the new Final Plan does, and creates a new management area classification for the EVOS lands that could well lead to degradation and development over time. The Forest Service should instead equally protect the EVOS-acquired lands by managing them as WSA lands, and the agency should also recommend the EVOS-acquired lands within the WSA for wilderness designation.
     
  • The Final Plan needs a larger Wilderness recommendation.  As part of any Forest Plan, the Forest Service recommends to Congress areas that the agency believes should be formally designated as Wilderness. The agency recommended only 1.4 million acres of the 2 million-acre WSA for Wilderness designation. But this is Alaska, after all, home to some of the wildest, largest, and most magnificent wilderness lands in the nation, including the Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA.  The agency should instead recommend all of the qualifying lands in and adjacent to the WSA for Wilderness designation.
     
  • The Final Plan fails to protect Chugach National Forest roadless areas. The Final Plan fails to incorporate Roadless Rule protection for all Inventoried Roadless Areas on the Chugach. The Inventoried Roadless Areas are National Forest lands on the Chugach outside of the WSA that retain wild and roadless characteristics. Particularly with the Forest Service proposing in a separate action (the Alaska Specific Roadless Rule) that the protection for any Alaska roadless area could be eliminated after a 45-day comment period, the need to protect the Inventoried Roadless Areas on the Chugach is greater than ever. The Final Plan should incorporate Roadless Rule protections for these roadless areas on the Chugach so they retain some protection even if the Alaska Specific Roadless Rule is adopted.

The formal administrative objection process continues, as Wilderness Watch and our allies urge the Forest Service to protect the wilderness lands on the Chugach and in the Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA. We will continue to fight to protect the wild character of the magnificent Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area so that future generations may also know the awe-inspiring beauty and magnificent wilderness qualities of these nationally important lands.

 

Read our Objection
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kevin proescholdt

Kevin Proescholdt is the conservation director for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula and focused on the protection of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

 

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Degrading the Wave

BLM Plan Would Degrade the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness

By Gary Macfarlane


Gary

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently released a draft environmental assessment for public input on its proposal to increase visitor use in fragile areas of the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness in Arizona, most specifically the Wave and Coyote Buttes North. These areas are almost exclusively day use, being only a few miles hike roundtrip.

What is astounding about this proposal is that BLM tacitly admits the reason for increasing visitor use has nothing to do with protecting Wilderness. BLM states, “There has been a shift over the last 10-20 years in the type of user to the wilderness. Many visitors lack knowledge of basic backcountry ethics and skills, as well as an understanding of land navigation principles. They are focusing more on a singular attraction such as the Wave, and less on wilderness qualities such as solitude, and an undeveloped natural experience.” In other words, the goal of BLM’s proposal is to inappropriately accommodate excessive visitor use rather than protect the Wilderness it’s entrusted with.

It doesn’t stop there. In addition to the proposed 250 to 500 percent daily visitor increase in the Wilderness, BLM is considering drilling into rock to place trail markers, despite the Wilderness Act’s prohibition on installations. BLM is also vague about possibly installing a phone either at the trailhead or inside the Wilderness itself. The plan is a far cry from the mandate of the Wilderness Act for an enduring resource of wilderness.

The proposal also fails to take concrete steps to address other problems in the Wilderness that stem from day use via the Wire Pass Trailhead, which accesses the Wave. Specifically, there are too many impacts from horse use in the canyon bottom leading into Buckskin Gulch, which is the first part of the hike to the Wave. (Ironically, Buckskin Gulch and other canyons of the Paria River system are closed to overnight horse use, but not day use by horses.) Additionally, BLM is proposing to increase parking at other trailheads, which could lead to overuse in other fragile areas of the Wilderness that do not currently have the name recognition of the Wave, and which still offer a relatively primitive experience. Work at trailheads, such as to reduce resource damage, must not lead to increased use in the Wilderness. The plan could turn Wilderness into something like a city park, overrun with crowds, rather than a Wilderness that offers solitude and a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.

The Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness was first established as the Paria Canyon Primitive Area in 1969, and was one of the first areas BLM recognized for its wilderness values. (The Federal Lands Policy Management Act, the law that made BLM-administered lands subject to the Wilderness Act, would not be passed until 1976.) If BLM can degrade the long-recognized Paria Canyon area—a region of spectacular slot canyons, geological wonders, and rare species like desert bighorn sheep—what chance do other BLM-administered Wildernesses have to remain wild?

Read Wilderness Watch's comments on the plan

 

Gary is the Secretary of the Board of Directors of Wilderness Watch and Ecosystem Defense Director for Friends of the Clearwater, where he is responsible for tracking public land issues in the Clearwater Basin of Idaho. Gary has over 30 years of activist experience and has been recognized as one of the most effective activists in the northern Rockies.
 
 
 
 
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Hell No to Helicopters in Hellsgate

Cyndiby Cyndi Tuell

 

They say the idea of Wilderness needs no defense, but that Wilderness just needs defenders. For the past five years Wilderness Watch has worked to defend Wilderness areas in the Tonto National Forest from two agencies that should be protecting rather than degrading these wild places. Both the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) and the U.S. Forest Service have been fighting—under the guise of “management”—to unlawfully land intrusive, noisy, and dangerous helicopters in Wilderness areas to track, trap, and relocate iconic bighorn sheep.

What both agencies really want to do to these wild, far-roaming animals is treat them like livestock, ranching them to ensure a “huntable” population. The proposed plan is to repeatedly land helicopters in Wilderness, catch sheep, take their blood, put collars on them, and monitor sheep movements constantly. This is antithetical to the very idea of Wilderness. Wilderness is where motorized use is prohibited. It is supposed to remain free from human manipulation. These actions will harm the sheep and other wildlife.

In 2014, more than half of the 31 sheep the AZGFD captured in Yuma and moved to mountains near Tucson using helicopters died as a result of relocation efforts. Some died during capture, some died during the flight, and some died in their new and unfamiliar surroundings. This same year, the AZGFD pushed the Tonto National Forest to allow helicopters to land hundreds of times a year to harass and move more bighorn sheep. Wilderness Watch and our allies pushed back hard on this unlawful plan because wild sheep in Wilderness areas should be protected from the intrusions of machines and man’s hubris.

And we won.

The Forest Service agreed that AZGFD’s plan was excessive and would likely violate environmental laws—including the Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

In 2019, the AZGFD was back at it. Wilderness Watch again had to defend Wilderness when the Arizona Game and Fish Department proposed up to 150 helicopter landings in the Four Peaks, Hellsgate, Mazatzal, Salt River Canyon, and Superstition Wildernesses to capture and collar bighorn sheep. The wildlife “managers” want to capture and monitor these wild sheep, day and night, landing their helicopters in our forests, under the guise of managing disease outbreaks. These same wildlife managers refuse to remove the main source of disease to wild sheep—domestic sheep. They refuse to protect wildlife corridors connecting Arizona’s mountains so bighorn sheep can move as they need to, ensuring healthy populations and biological diversity in wild populations.

We objected to this new plan last October because the project fails to advance the purposes of the Wilderness Act or Wilderness designations. We advocated for the agencies to consider managing only those bighorn herds that are outside of Wilderness, but the Forest Service approved the project anyway.

These intrusions into Wilderness areas are unnecessary, doing more harm than either agency will admit. Wild sheep should be allowed to move about the landscape on their own, finding habitat that suits them best. These agencies should do more to protect wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors. The best way to prevent the spread of disease to wild sheep is to limit the places domestic sheep can graze. The solutions are simple, but the agencies refuse to keep the wild in wildlife.

Learn more about this issue: bit.ly/35Fb7nK


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Cyndi Tuell is a member of Wilderness Watch's board of directors. She has worked as an attorney, consultant, and activist since 2007, focusing on public lands management issues related to roads and motorized recreation in national forests in New Mexico and Arizona. Recently, Cyndi focused her public lands work on protecting natural resources in the borderlands. A native of Tucson, Arizona, Cyndi is an avid hiker, backpacker, and defender of wild places. She received the Nancy Zierenberg Sky Island Alliance Advocate award in 2013 and was named the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter’s 2015 Conservationist of the Year.
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Wilderness Ethics as an Antidote to Climate Change Hubris

Andrew Hurshby Andrew Hursh

 

Would a modern Bob Marshall drive a Tesla to the trailhead?[i] Motors of any propulsion certainly drove him and other early leaders of the Wilderness movement out of the woods and into public advocacy.[ii] In 1901, when Marshall was born, only some 14,000 automobiles were registered in the United States. By his untimely death in 1939, there were over 31 million.[iii] The Wilderness Society founder’s life and core mission reflect a conservationist’s reaction to a great environmental challenge of his era, the zeal with which we roaded up so much of our undeveloped, wild country in so short a time.

Today, the hallmark of environmentalists is less notably their backcountry boosting and more commonly which vehicle they buy.[iv] A cynic might bemoan that this twist in attitudes betrays a loss, with the shift into the twenty-first century, of the Wilderness values so remarkably celebrated in the clutch of the twentieth. Perhaps, however, it’s a change that instead reflects a reaction to one great environmental challenge of our era, climate change. Consider these dates: Howard Zahniser, primary author of the Wilderness Act of 1964, died that same year, mere months before he could have witnessed President Johnson sign the bill into law.[v] Next, in 1965, Johnson had his science advisory committee evaluate other ecological issues with a report on “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment.”[vi] In the early pages of that report sits perhaps the earliest recognition in the US government of the greenhouse effect and the atmospheric impact of fossil fuels.[vii]

The coming sea change in the way we grapple with our effects on the natural world thus occurred lamentably late for us to gain the perspective of the architects of the Wilderness Act on the ramifications of climate change. As a result, today’s wilderness advocates are divided. Faced with the reality of how far-reaching our impacts on the natural world are, renewed debate has livened questions about what Wilderness means and when and how wilderness character should be compromised in the name of climate change mitigation and adaptation. From assisted migration to thinning, burning and replanting to other biological controls, the impulse to manipulate ecosystems in our National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) grows stronger along with our understanding of ways we may have inadvertently affected them. At the same time, generational shifts in thinking may exhibit erosion of the wilderness ethics that championed the original creation of the NWPS. Politically hyper-focused on climate change and broad-scale ecological concerns, some people may see wilderness areas more as venues for adventure sports than as temples to humility in the face of nature. Many otherwise conservation-conscious advocates simply misunderstand or have never learned what, and why, the NWPS is.

From intervention-minded managers to globally-minded millennials, what do these shifts in thinking mean for resolving the principled vision described by Howard Zahniser and those that shaped our original wilderness movement? There’s a reason that Zahniser favored a phrase like “Guardians not Gardeners”; although his writing predated certain complex dialogues about climate change, the foundations of wilderness ethics contain guidance for why we should exercise restraint and how to rescue wilderness—the ideal and the real, untrammeled landscape—in the modern era. Perhaps climate change presents the perfect test of our humility and an opportunity to reinvigorate the original reasoning for leaving the wild alone. Perhaps, as our developing knowledge leads us to lament the reach of human damage, we may reeducate ourselves about the cultural, scientific, ecological, and ethical reasons for leaving wilderness areas unmanipulated any further. “In wilderness,” Zahniser noted, “we should observe change and try not to create it!”[viii]

The key definitional phrase in the Wilderness Act calls for areas in the NWPS to be those “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.”[ix] That word choice is monumental and has caused much consternation among those who have tied some thread of their lives to this venerable resource. The problem arises when the Act “further defines” wilderness, using the phrase “primeval character” and calling for management “to preserve its natural conditions.”[x] In recent years, certain voices in Wilderness conservation have erected a perceived “paradox” or conflict in the Act’s mandate to preserve wilderness character, contending that “natural conditions” and “untrammeled” are management goals that can be at odds with one another.[xi] Some have expressed a belief that natural conditions should be defined by certain desired ecological baselines (some “primeval” analogue, or often even recent data points). When these have changed as a result of human influence, pursuit of their reconstruction then threatens our call to safeguard “untrammeled” wilderness character. Consider the following real-life example: as an unintended consequence of decades of fire suppression, there is some evidence that certain now-dense forests have lost their historical resilience to high-intensity wildfires. Should we step in and intensively restore these woods to a thinner density, through prescribed burning or silvicultural treatment? People with a perspective favoring action often see “trammeling” in such cases as an acceptable means of recreating a certain vision of “natural.” Consequently, numerous such proposals have come forward, among the most recent including the 19,000-acre Trinity Alps Wilderness Prescribed Fire project that was submitted for public comment in late July 2019.[xii]

A recent study evaluated the fire mitigation situation described above, noting that “restoration of altered fire regimes is a frequently cited justification for intervention in protected areas, including wilderness.”[xiii] The authors assessed a number of assumptions that must be made by managers inclined toward intervention, ranging from how variable historic fire regimes truly were, to the factors at play in the present forest conditions, to the likely response of the ecosystem to treatment. For each of these, the researchers found that “the scientific evidence at hand is not consistent with the assumptions that might be used to justify wilderness intervention.”[xiv] Additionally, note that USFS directives create a framework for evaluating manipulations. Among the criteria are that “there is a reasonable assurance that the project will accomplish the desired objectives” and that a “pilot study should take place in a comparable area outside of wilderness if possible.”[xv]


Faced with these criteria and a lack of definitive science on cause and effect with regard to forest conditions and fire, how could one possibly justify human intervention in such a case, compromising the untrammeled nature of the wilderness? As the authors of the above study concluded when recommending more restrained deliberation, “intervention proposals often lack the detail required to evaluate either the magnitude of the ecological threat or the likelihood that intervention will be successful.”[xvi] Nonetheless, all four of the agencies that manage lands in the NWPS have shown an openness toward ecological manipulations. Researchers at the Aldo Leopold Institute recently conducted a survey of wilderness interventions among BLM, USFS, NPS, and FWS managers, coming to the following conclusion: “landscape-scale actions in wilderness are happening across all agencies, for diverse reasons, across all geographic regions within the United States, and in both large and small wildernesses. Given changing climate patterns and documented ecological changes, more proposals to intervene are likely inevitable.”[xvii] Indeed, a Forest Service briefing paper recently noted that “climate change will force a reassessment of wilderness stewardship goals and objectives.”[xviii] While acknowledging the need to take special care to better define desired intervention outcomes and scientific reasons for limiting the practice, the document also stated that responding to climate change “will require compromise between such competing values as biodiversity conservation and the desire to leave nature alone” and that “the boundaries between wilderness and surrounding lands must be made more porous if ecosystems are to respond appropriately to climate change.”[xix] On the ground, the temptation towards active mitigation, a phenomenon researchers have coined “action bias,”[xx] often wins over. In a 2011 USDA report on adaptation to climate change in national forests, to “reconsider definitions of wilderness” is floated as a strategic option.[xxi]


Such reconsideration would of course be troubling to those who cherish wilderness. Leaders at Wilderness Watch in particular have argued that protecting “wildness” has always meant unifying the concepts of “natural” and “untrammeled,” each meant to support the preservation of areas that develop and change as nature sees fit in the absence of direct human influence and human intent.[xxii] This would best further our hard-fought wilderness vision and Zahniser’s deliberate advocacy for wilderness that “should be managed to be left unmanaged.”[xxiii] Opposing thinkers have argued that climate change renders moot the avoidance of human influence and that human intent to mitigate that influence justifies interventionist action.[xxiv] Perhaps, however, climate change instead presents a rich opportunity to revitalize the early wilderness movement’s principled, harmonious approach to noninterventionist Wilderness ethics.


Why did Zahniser, Marshall, and other early proponents invoke high-minded principles of human humility and the force of wilderness on our character and spirit? Through today’s lens of transactional conservation policy, it might seem like these advocates simply didn’t have robust technical tools such as ecosystem services concepts or tourism market studies to wield in the fight to protect their favorite remote habitat like the Selway or Alaska’s North Slope. But that view would cast careful ethical arguments as a cynical device for achieving designation; perhaps, rather, the “philosophy of land” that grew out of the wilderness movement was indeed as Aldo Leopold described it, “the end result of a life journey.”[xxv]

Today’s environmentalists often cast their climate activism less as a land ethic derived from life experience and more as a hubristic appeal to “save humanity.” Such apocalyptic rhetoric about the fate of the earth may be tenuously borne out by certain datasets, but it is also famous for leaving concerned citizens and scientists in a state of despondence and fatigue.[xxvi] Even when the goals appear to be similar, as in wilderness preservation, consider the consequences of the different scales at which each era has viewed the concept. Advocates in the early Wilderness movement sought mainly to protect certain special areas from the encroachment of mechanized, commercial and industrial development. We’ve been making way for those things everywhere else, they argued, but not here, not in the last of our wilderness. By contrast, the framing of the climate change generation seeks to protect the planet from the ill consequences of that same development. In the name of protecting everywhere, they seem to argue, we’re open to technical interventions that maintain certain ecologies anywhere, even at the expense of untrammeled wilderness.


Of course, that framing is not monolithic among the populace concerned about climate change. Proposals about the efficacy of geoengineering the climate, for example, have sparked lively debate about the precautionary principle and the likelihood of unintended consequences of our actions.[xxvii] And if a precautionary default should govern decision-making anywhere, it ought to be in wilderness. Nonetheless, there remains an action-minded strain of climate change advocacy pursuing species preservation, carbon sequestration and other goals that butt heads with the ideals of the NWPS. Unfortunately, these advocates may be under-exposed to wilderness principles, misunderstand the concept, or otherwise be concerned with different environmental challenges best suited for other lands.


For example, one recent survey probed the resonance of various wilderness values with survey respondents of different generations.[xxviii] The researchers analyzed the language favored by respondents—through statements regarding subjects like clean water, recreation, endangered species, science, or simply knowing wilderness is there—and they derived certain categories of values placed in wilderness. The researchers dubbed several traditional values “use amenities,” “non-use amenities,” and “ecological services.”[xxix] They noted that these three values “may not resonate as much with the youngest cohorts.” Older generations, of course, are neither known to venerate the “services” and “amenities” of wilderness in so many words, but the academic distinction derives from their greater appreciation for the label as something more than another type of technical habitat management. Younger respondents, by contrast, have mostly retained a value for what the researchers termed “ecological protection”—characterized by a more granular interest in natural conditions for certain species—in a manner hypothesized to stem from their “technological embeddedness.”[xxx]


What role, then, should the humble wilderness ethic play in contemporary times? Arguably, as it did during the mid-twentieth century, it could again provide a much-needed font from which to draw a “philosophy of land” that can inform and inspire environmentalists. A forward-looking, positive approach that esteems the inherent intelligence of nature would provide a potent antidote to the dual ills of modern climate change advocacy: technocracy and dejection. The power of an appeal to wilderness conservation as an act of humility for nature’s sake can avoid the pitfalls of nitpicking, technical critiques of our climate response measures—in wilderness, our desired conditions matter less than those that nature chooses on its own. And the same reverence for nature provides a richness of meaning and a recognition of our humble place on the earth that can outdo the gloomiest of human prognoses—we can rest easy knowing the wilderness we cherish will last if we let it.


If climate change activists and wilderness enthusiasts were unified by a “philosophy of land” rooted in the same reverence for nature that Zahniser, Marshall, and others carried into legislation, how would they attempt to distinguish climate change impacts from unconscionable trammeling? Roger Kaye recently dove into Zahniser’s use of the word “untrammeled” and settled on a helpful explanation of wildness as “freedom from human intent, as opposed to human effect.”[xxxi] This could be a useful place to start. The effects of climate change on wilderness do not stem from our actions within the protected area itself but instead seep in from outside. The responses of various species and systems to climate change are thus different from responses to actions we took in their immediate geographic vicinity, such as the introduction of non-native, invasive species. Some of our management actions have also created deliberate, if not desirable, impacts on wilderness ecosystems. Examples of these include the effects of livestock grazing, stocking of popular sport fish, and erosion and other impacts of heavy use. The obvious remedy to these is to stop doing them and remove the direct threat. The often unpredictable effects of climate change, by contrast, are unintentional. Perhaps the most insidious of intervention justifications could be considered those larger biological aims to broadly manipulate the landscape and indirectly mitigate the unintended consequences of climate change. These would surely be an unwelcome intrusion of human intent on the wild. Indeed, Representative Saylor from Pennsylvania, who introduced the first drafts of the Wilderness Act in the House, spoke to this same issue in 1962; he noted that wilderness was defined by areas “showing no significant ecological disturbance from onsite human activity” and that on-site activities are “distinct from activity outside the tract which may have indirect effects on the wilderness.”[xxxii]


 Wilderness advocates face a formidable challenge and opportunity to use this moment to strengthen wilderness values and protect the wilderness character in our NWPS for future generations. Presently, the lack of a principled, coherent approach to wilderness and climate change allows the whims of individual managers and the feel-good action of certain types of interventionist restoration to win the day, compromised principles or unintended consequences be damned. One recent law review article assessed ways in which the Act could be construed to allow management responses to climate change in wilderness. “The agency must jump through a variety of procedural and substantive hoops to justify active management for climate change adaptation,” the authors concluded.[xxxiii] “To be sure, these procedural and substantive hurdles place a thumb on the scale in favor of restraint and passive management.”[xxxiv] A smart approach to the watchdog role played by Wilderness Watch and others motivated to advocate for wild places should add weight to those scales by reinvigorating the humility underpinning the “untrammeled” requirement of wilderness (non)management. As another recent law review article noted, “the call for deliberate nonintervention is . . . precisely the stance that Congress adopted in the Wilderness Act and it is one that is becoming all the more imperative under the forces of climate change.”[xxxv]


When advocating for coherent and principled construction of the Wilderness Act, we can recall two particular frames through which its proponents and writers viewed the definition of wilderness. These arguments, even though they pre-date the climate change debate, elucidate the principles through which the crafters of our NWPS would likely have approached the issue. First, advocates for our initial designated wilderness areas recognized that an inability to totally remove human effect from the landscape should not preclude setting an area aside as wilderness. For example, prior to 1964, we were aware of issues such as fire suppression, grazing, and logging that had re-shaped many proposed wilderness lands. Fire suppression tactics had changed the structure and density of forests in a number of our original Wilderness areas. Historical grazing practices received certain accommodations by advocates for the Wilderness Act—they hoped to phase out the practice, but the presence of the ecological effects of grazing was not considered a barrier to designation. And early wilderness advocates recognized that some areas in the East, even though logged extensively in the past, had re-gained a wildness that, through “untrammeled” non-management going forward, could be protected through inclusion in the NWPS. Importantly, boosters of the Wilderness Act did not argue that we first had to actively restore such areas before they could be considered wilderness. It was the act of leaving them untrammeled, prospectively, that would allow them to adapt and recover through natural, unguided processes. Representative Saylor, testifying on the bill before the house, noted that in wilderness, “the time required for restoration is considerable; the process cannot be forced.”[xxxvi]


Second, a key characteristic of wilderness areas is their contrast with other lands. Representative Saylor again stressed that “most of the value of wilderness tracts depends on the existence of sharp contrast between wilderness tracts and the rest of the country. Within this framework, therefore, the aim of minimum interference is not only appropriate but essential.”[xxxvii] In fact, “scientific, educational . . . or historical values” are ancillary characteristics of wilderness areas that the Act explicitly seeks to protect.[xxxviii] Scientists who hope to better understand climate change and how various ecosystems adapt are particularly interested in retaining unmolested natural areas from which to draw comparisons and collect baseline data. “When we exploit paleoenvironmental archives derived from these study sites,” one researcher writes, “we define the background variability of the processes that shape ecosystems. Understanding the nature of this variability, both in terms of its causes and its consequences, is increasingly recognized as a key to sound ecosystem management.”[xxxix] Testifying prior to the passage of the Wilderness Act, Representative Mike Mansfield put it similarly: “a further value of wilderness . . . is the importance of having undisturbed plant and animal communities available for scientific studies. It is felt that only with such controls can the effects of man’s many modifications be properly judged, and unwise practices avoided.”[xl]


Modern critics might quibble with the naivete of early takes like Mansfield’s on what constitutes “undisturbed” nature or the reference to “primeval” landscapes. Today’s science and anthropology have better informed us about how ubiquitously we’ve managed to affect our earth. What early twentieth-century writers viewed as “primeval,” for example, was more a vestige of the hollowing out of once-thriving and populous indigenous civilizations across much of the continent.[xli] Recent science has also informed us that land use change likely affected our atmosphere over a much longer period than just since the industrial revolution—the early development of agriculture itself may have contributed to the climate stabilization we so enjoyed until contemporary times.[xlii] Similarly, evolution in our knowledge about disturbances in dynamic ecosystems has deflated old myths about “climax communities” and “steady states.”[xliii] But retrospectively ignorant-looking notions should not be used to undercut the forward-looking stances taken by early wilderness writers; this would be to woefully misunderstand their position. Zahniser, for one, well-recognized that setting aside wilderness was itself a novel, and noble, human project. He wrote: “The idea of wilderness as an area without man’s influence is man’s own concept. Its values are human values. Its preservation is a purpose that arises out of man’s own sense of his fundamental needs.”[xliv] Chief among those needs is the need to reserve and learn from vast resources we did not mold. During an early wilderness conference, Zahniser admonished the perspective of one scientist who framed wilderness as a scientific resource that presented an opportunity for “the intelligent use of our technical skills.”[xlv] Much like many managers do today, that scientist used the extant presence of what Zahniser called “wilderness-administration delinquencies”—fire suppression, dams, insect spraying, vegetation clearing—to justify a position that “we should do more” to intelligently correct them.[xlvi] Zahniser countered that such practices would be antithetical to wilderness and would “make of these areas gardens rather than preserves. Technology to create (or re-create) the wilderness to suit our fancy,” he wrote, would be one sure way to lose our wilderness.[xlvii]


Throughout that exchange, Zahniser commended the “intelligence” of the professor advocating for hands-on wilderness restoration, while clarifying that he misunderstood the resource. Recognizing our failings and better estimating our impacts are indeed laudable developments. Today, so much of our research into historical natural variability has led to broad observations that anthropogenic climate change has pushed many systems well out of the bounds of “normal.” This provides what some have called a “no-analogue” situation, whereby there is no historical precedent for the natural state of an ecosystem absent any human effect.[xlviii] In fact, there’s a growing movement to dub the era since the Industrial Revolution the “Anthropocene” in the annals of academic geologists.[xlix] And again, in response to our evolving knowledge, some who would compromise wilderness offer a shrug of futility: if we’ve tainted everything beyond pure “naturalness,” why not actively cultivate environmental conditions to mitigate future change? But a stronger response would be to point out that natural conditions, if defined by the wild processes of nature and the absence of our human intent, have not changed. In fact, our reverence for untrammeled nature and our need to escape the “mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment”[l] have been consistent forces through many eras of change.


In 1957, Howard Zahniser gave a speech to the New York State Conservation Council on “where wilderness preservation began.” Representative O’Brien of New York entered his remarks into the congressional record the following year in support of an early draft of the Wilderness Act.[li] In the speech, Zahniser discussed a lineage of wilderness values dating to writers in the nineteenth century. Zahniser was interested in why Mr. William H.H. “Adirondack” Murray, back in 1869, had complained about “how harshly the steel-shod hoofs smite against the flinty pavement” in the clamor of big-city Boston.[lii] Zahniser experienced wilderness as a reprieve from development in the age of airplanes and automobiles, so he imagined nineteenth-century Boston would seem a “quaint and serene” place to retreat.[liii] The value of wilderness as an escape from human noise, he noted, is certainly relative but has long been a cultural and spiritual need.


So today we’ve seen another relative shift in the trappings of civilization from which wilderness advocates seek to create enclaves of protection. Aldo Leopold once called for wilderness areas large enough for a “two-week pack trip” over which the mules wouldn’t cross their own tracks.[liv] Such travel, of course, is decreasingly the norm among backcountry enthusiasts, who more commonly explore their treasured landscapes by packraft, mountain bike, and belay device. Climate change, our great environmental challenge, is battled with windmills and electric cars and international treaties. But nonetheless, the need for a refuge of wilderness persists, and the need for a strong wilderness ethic could not be greater. Faced with the realities of climate change and evidence of the unpredictability of human over-action, we need places that stand on their own, where we do our utmost to let nature proceed as unhindered, as untrammeled, and in which we visit as unassumingly as we can.


Somewhere in the wilderness today wanders the modern Bob Marshall. When she’s motivated out of the woods, ready to combat contemporary environmental threats, it may be by decrying federal inaction on the push for renewable energy. She might pen op-eds about the fate of the earth, or read about cutting-edge proposals from tech billionaires who want to geoengineer us out of climate catastrophe.[lv] She’ll roll her eyes. Marshall’s objection notwithstanding, she might plug into an electric vehicle charger at the trailhead. In 1964, atmospheric carbon dioxide was around 320 parts per million. Today, it’s well over 400.[lvi] And through the great environmental challenge of her era, all the global development, the hubris, and the complexity, she’ll turn to our wilderness heritage as an ethical guide. Through this, where nature in all its entropy inspires and educates, she’ll lead our fellow citizens, our public servants, and our courts to use these guiding principles, in the same way we once mobilized to put them into law, as a means of achieving the environmental humility we so crave in the face of climate change.

 

[i] Ask yourself what Marshall might have thought of the author of this piece: Brendan Leonard, “Can a Tesla Become the Ultimate Adventure Vehicle?”, Outside Magazine (Sep. 6, 2017). https://www.outsideonline.com/2235846/charging-cross-country

[ii] See Paul S. Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement (2002).

[iii] U.S. Federal Highway Administration. “State Motor Vehicle Registrations, By Years, 1900 – 1995.” https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/summary95/mv200.pdf.

[iv] See, e.g., Camilla Barbarossa, Patrick De Pelsmacker & I. Moons, Personal Values, Green Self-identity and Electric Car Adoption, 140 Ecological Economics 190 (2017).

[v] Howard Zahniser, wilderness.net. https://wilderness.net/learn-about-wilderness/howard-zahniser.php

[vi] The White House. Restoring the Quality of Our Environment: Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel, President’s Science Advisory Committee (Nov. 1965).

[vii] See id. at 9 (“Carbon dioxide is being added to the earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at the rate of 6 billion tons a year. By the year 2000 there will be about 25% more CO2 in our atmosphere than at present. This will modify the heat balance of the atmosphere to such an extent that marked changes in climate, not controllable through local or even national efforts, could occur.”).

[viii] Howard Zahniser, Review of the Eight Biennial Wilderness Conference, 84 The Living Wilderness 34, 39 (1963).

[ix] 16 U.S.C. § 1131(c).

[x] Id.

[xi] See, e.g., The Wilderness Society v. FWS, 316 F.3d 913 (2003) (in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals discusses “natural” as a quality that can be at odds with “untrammeled”).

[xii] See U.S. Forest Service, Trinity Alps Wilderness Prescribed Fire Project, Project overview: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=30965&exp=overview; Project detail: https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/64705_FSPLT2_029433.pdf.

[xiii] Cameron E. Naficy, Eric G. Keeling, Peter Landres, Paul F. Hessburg, Thomas T. Veblen, & Anna Sala, Wilderness in the 21st Century: A Framework for Testing Assumptions about Ecological Intervention in Wilderness Using a Case Study of Fire Ecology in the Rocky Mountains, 114(3) Journal of Forestry 384, 391 (2016).

[xiv] Id.

[xv] U.S. Forest Service. FSM 2300 – Recreation, Wilderness, and Related Resource Management, Chapter 2320: Wilderness Management 33 (2007).

[xvi] Nacify, supra note 9 at 392.

[xvii] Lucy Lieberman, Beth Hahn & Peter Landres, Manipulating the Wild: a survey of restoration and management interventions in U.S. Wilderness, 26(5) Restoration Ecology 900 (2018).

[xviii] U.S. Forest Service. Climate Change and Wilderness Briefing Paper. https://winapps.umt.edu/winapps/media2/wilderness/toolboxes/documents/climate/FS%20-%20Chiefs-Brief-climate.pdf

[xix] Id.

[xx] M.S. Iftekhar & D.J. Pannell, Biases’ in adaptive natural resource management. 8 Conservation Letters 388 (2015).

[xxi] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Responding to Climate Change in National Forests: A Guidebook for Developing Adaptation Options 41 (2011).

[xxii] George Nickas & Kevin Proesholdt, Minimizing Non-Conforming Uses in the National Wilderness Preservation System A Tool for Protecting Wilderness in Future Wilderness Designations, Wilderness Watch Policy Paper (2005).

[xxiii] Zahniser, supra note 8 at 40.

[xxiv] See, e.g., Alejandro Camacho, Assisted Migration: Redefining Nature and Natural Resource Law under Climate Change, 27 Yale J. on Reg. 171 (2010).

[xxv] Aldo Leopold, Draft foreward to A Sand County Almanac, Companion to A Sand County Almanac (ed. J. Baird Callicott) (1987).

[xxvi] See, e.g., On the Media, The Psychological Toll of Working as a Climate Scientist, (Jul. 12, 2019). https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/psychological-toll-working-climate-scientist.

[xxvii] See, e.g., Lili Fuhr, Guest Post on Governance for a Ban on Geoengineering, Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative. https://www.c2g2.net/governance-for-a-ban-on-geoengineering/; Kevin Elliott, Geoengineering and the Precautionary Principle, 24 International Journal of Applied Philosophy 237 (2010); Elizabeth Tedsen and Gesa Homann, Implementing the Precautionary Principle for Climate Engineering, 7 Carbon & Climate L. Rev. 90 (2013).

[xxviii] Rebecca Rasch, An exploration of intergenerational differences in wilderness values, 40 Population & Environment 72 (2018).

[xxix] Id.

[xxx] Id.

[xxxi] Roger Kaye, The Untrammeled Wild and Wilderness Character in the Anthropocene, 24 Int’l J. of Wilderness 1 (2018). https://ijw.org/the-untrammeled-wild-and-wilderness-character-in-the-anthropocene/.

[xxxii] Congressional Record – Appendix, May 2, 1962, A3255 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[xxxiii] Elisabeth Long & Eric Biber, The Wilderness Act and Climate Change Adaptation, 44 Envtl. L. 623, 623 (2014).

[xxxiv] Id.

[xxxv] Sandra Zellmer, Wilderness, Water, and Climate Change, 42 Envtl. L. 313, 315 (2012).

[xxxvi] Congressional Record – Appendix, May 31, 1962, A3995 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[xxxvii] Congressional Record – Appendix, June 6, 1962, A4064 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[xxxviii] 16 U.S.C. § 1131(c).

[xxxix] Lisa J. Graumlich, Global Change in Wilderness Areas: Disentangling Natural and Anthropogenic Changes, USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-3. (2000).

[xl] Congressional Record – Appendix, Aug. 24, 1959, A7298 (Hon. Mike Mansfield extension of remarks).

[xli] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227, 255 (2017) (discussing Bill McKibben’s book End of Nature).

[xlii] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227, 255 (2017) (discussing Bill McKibben’s book End of Nature).

[xliii] See, e.g., Anil Gupta, Origin of agriculture and domestication of plants and animals linked to early Holocene climate amelioration, 87 Indian Academy of Sciences 58 (2004).

[xliv] Congressional Record – Appendix, June 1, 1955. (Hubert Humphrey extension of remarks: Howard Zahniser, “The Need for Wilderness Areas”).

[xlv] Zahniser, supra note 8 at 37-39.

[xlvi] Id.

[xlvii] Id.

[xlviii] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227 (2017).

[xlix] Meera Subramanian, “Anthropocene now: influential panel votes to recognize Earth’s new epoch.” Nature News (May 21, 2019). https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01641-5.

[l] Howard Zahniser, “The Need for Wilderness Areas,” 59 The Living Wilderness, 58 (1956).

[li] Congressional Record – Appendix, April 22, 1958, A3612 (Hon. Leo W. O’Brien extension of remarks).

[lii] Id.

[liii] Id.

[liv] Origins and Ideals of Wilderness Areas (1940). Meine, Curt. The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries (Richard L. Knight ed., University of Wisconsin Press, 1999).

[lv] See, e.g., Dave Levitan, “The Billionaires' Guide To Hacking The Planet,” Pacific Standard (May 2, 2019).

[lvi] C02.earth, “NOAA Monthly CO2 Data.” https://www.co2.earth/monthly-co2.

 

[1] Ask yourself what Marshall might have thought of the author of this piece: Brendan Leonard, “Can a Tesla Become the Ultimate Adventure Vehicle?”, Outside Magazine (Sep. 6, 2017). https://www.outsideonline.com/2235846/charging-cross-country

[1] See Paul S. Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement (2002).

[1] U.S. Federal Highway Administration. “State Motor Vehicle Registrations, By Years, 1900 – 1995.” https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/summary95/mv200.pdf.

[1] See, e.g., Camilla Barbarossa, Patrick De Pelsmacker & I. Moons, Personal Values, Green Self-identity and Electric Car Adoption, 140 Ecological Economics 190 (2017).

[1] Howard Zahniser, wilderness.net. https://wilderness.net/learn-about-wilderness/howard-zahniser.php

[1] The White House. Restoring the Quality of Our Environment: Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel, President’s Science Advisory Committee (Nov. 1965).

[1] See id. at 9 (“Carbon dioxide is being added to the earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at the rate of 6 billion tons a year. By the year 2000 there will be about 25% more CO2 in our atmosphere than at present. This will modify the heat balance of the atmosphere to such an extent that marked changes in climate, not controllable through local or even national efforts, could occur.”).

[1] Howard Zahniser, Review of the Eight Biennial Wilderness Conference, 84 The Living Wilderness 34, 39 (1963).

[1] 16 U.S.C. § 1131(c).

[1] Id.

[1] See, e.g., The Wilderness Society v. FWS, 316 F.3d 913 (2003) (in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals discusses “natural” as a quality that can be at odds with “untrammeled”).

[1] See U.S. Forest Service, Trinity Alps Wilderness Prescribed Fire Project, Project overview: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=30965&exp=overview; Project detail: https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/64705_FSPLT2_029433.pdf.

[1] Cameron E. Naficy, Eric G. Keeling, Peter Landres, Paul F. Hessburg, Thomas T. Veblen, & Anna Sala, Wilderness in the 21st Century: A Framework for Testing Assumptions about Ecological Intervention in Wilderness Using a Case Study of Fire Ecology in the Rocky Mountains, 114(3) Journal of Forestry 384, 391 (2016).

[1] Id.

[1] U.S. Forest Service. FSM 2300 – Recreation, Wilderness, and Related Resource Management, Chapter 2320: Wilderness Management 33 (2007).

[1] Nacify, supra note 9 at 392.

[1] Lucy Lieberman, Beth Hahn & Peter Landres, Manipulating the Wild: a survey of restoration and management interventions in U.S. Wilderness, 26(5) Restoration Ecology 900 (2018).

[1] U.S. Forest Service. Climate Change and Wilderness Briefing Paper. https://winapps.umt.edu/winapps/media2/wilderness/toolboxes/documents/climate/FS%20-%20Chiefs-Brief-climate.pdf

[1] Id.

[1] M.S. Iftekhar & D.J. Pannell, Biases’ in adaptive natural resource management. 8 Conservation Letters 388 (2015).

[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Responding to Climate Change in National Forests: A Guidebook for Developing Adaptation Options 41 (2011).

[1] George Nickas & Kevin Proesholdt, Minimizing Non-Conforming Uses in the National Wilderness Preservation System A Tool for Protecting Wilderness in Future Wilderness Designations, Wilderness Watch Policy Paper (2005).

[1] Zahniser, supra note 8 at 40.

[1] See, e.g., Alejandro Camacho, Assisted Migration: Redefining Nature and Natural Resource Law under Climate Change, 27 Yale J. on Reg. 171 (2010).

[1] Aldo Leopold, Draft foreward to A Sand County Almanac, Companion to A Sand County Almanac (ed. J. Baird Callicott) (1987).

[1] See, e.g., On the Media, The Psychological Toll of Working as a Climate Scientist, (Jul. 12, 2019). https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/psychological-toll-working-climate-scientist.

[1] See, e.g., Lili Fuhr, Guest Post on Governance for a Ban on Geoengineering, Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative. https://www.c2g2.net/governance-for-a-ban-on-geoengineering/; Kevin Elliott, Geoengineering and the Precautionary Principle, 24 International Journal of Applied Philosophy 237 (2010); Elizabeth Tedsen and Gesa Homann, Implementing the Precautionary Principle for Climate Engineering, 7 Carbon & Climate L. Rev. 90 (2013).

[1] Rebecca Rasch, An exploration of intergenerational differences in wilderness values, 40 Population & Environment 72 (2018).

[1] Id.

[1] Id.

[1] Roger Kaye, The Untrammeled Wild and Wilderness Character in the Anthropocene, 24 Int’l J. of Wilderness 1 (2018). https://ijw.org/the-untrammeled-wild-and-wilderness-character-in-the-anthropocene/.

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, May 2, 1962, A3255 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[1] Elisabeth Long & Eric Biber, The Wilderness Act and Climate Change Adaptation, 44 Envtl. L. 623, 623 (2014).

[1] Id.

[1] Sandra Zellmer, Wilderness, Water, and Climate Change, 42 Envtl. L. 313, 315 (2012).

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, May 31, 1962, A3995 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, June 6, 1962, A4064 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[1] 16 U.S.C. § 1131(c).

[1] Lisa J. Graumlich, Global Change in Wilderness Areas: Disentangling Natural and Anthropogenic Changes, USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-3. (2000).

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, Aug. 24, 1959, A7298 (Hon. Mike Mansfield extension of remarks).

[1] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227, 255 (2017) (discussing Bill McKibben’s book End of Nature).

[1] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227, 255 (2017) (discussing Bill McKibben’s book End of Nature).

[1] See, e.g., Anil Gupta, Origin of agriculture and domestication of plants and animals linked to early Holocene climate amelioration, 87 Indian Academy of Sciences 58 (2004).

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, June 1, 1955. (Hubert Humphrey extension of remarks: Howard Zahniser, “The Need for Wilderness Areas”).

[1] Zahniser, supra note 8 at 37-39.

[1] Id.

[1] Id.

[1] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227 (2017).

[1] Meera Subramanian, “Anthropocene now: influential panel votes to recognize Earth’s new epoch.” Nature News (May 21, 2019). https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01641-5.

[1] Howard Zahniser, “The Need for Wilderness Areas,” 59 The Living Wilderness, 58 (1956).

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, April 22, 1958, A3612 (Hon. Leo W. O’Brien extension of remarks).

[1] Id.

[1] Id.

[1] Origins and Ideals of Wilderness Areas (1940). Meine, Curt. The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries (Richard L. Knight ed., University of Wisconsin Press, 1999).

[1] See, e.g., Dave Levitan, “The Billionaires' Guide To Hacking The Planet,” Pacific Standard (May 2, 2019).

[1] C02.earth, “NOAA Monthly CO2 Data.” https://www.co2.earth/monthly-co2.


------------------

Andrew Hursh studies at Vermont Law School, focusing on environmental law, public lands, and international climate change agreements. He grew up in the Midwest but moved to Missoula, Montana in 2010 for college and graduate school. Wilderness has been central to all his motivations since, from the Wilderness Institute's minor program, to guiding backcountry and river trips, to trail work, to his ecology and policy research. His pathway toward a public interest legal career developed out of a desire to connect his science background and graduate climate change research with policy decisions that utilize our knowledge (or fail to) on the ground. Outside of his academic work, Andrew tries to stay outside—he’s always had the backcountry bug, and for the past few years, the travel bug has gotten to him, too, with opportunities to explore some wild landscapes abroad. Andrew is thrilled to contribute to Wilderness Watch's work this summer and to better get to know the folks who protect our public lands so that his legal career can soon join the effort.

 

Recent Comments
Guest — Royal
Excellent. Thank you. I struggle with the issue so well discussed of should I attempt to recover some personal vision of wildern... Read More
Friday, 03 January 2020 13:52
Guest — L.D. Bullock
. . . excellent article.
Thursday, 19 December 2019 12:59
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North Cascades Grizzly Recovery: Looking for an Alternative that is Good for Grizzlies and Good for Wilderness

kevinproescholdt 02 18 13 201by Kevin Proescholdt

 

Wilderness Watch recently asked the National Park Service (NPS) to develop a new alternative in the planning for grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades of Washington State. Our suggested proposal would both benefit grizzlies and protect designated Wilderness, something that none of the existing alternatives in the NPS’s current plan do. Wilderness Watch has requested that a natural recovery alternative be thoroughly developed and studied for grizzly restoration.

 

A natural recovery alternative doesn’t mean do nothing as some of its critics contend, but instead would call for real action in British Columbia and the U.S. to facilitate natural recovery. That could mean many things, such as changes in black bear hunting regulations in both countries, facilitating passage across highways, reducing road densities, guidelines for human behavior in the areas most likely used as connecting corridors for grizzly expansion, building social tolerance, and the like. In other words, it would be a cooperative plan between the U.S. and Canada for grizzly recovery. If this kind of cooperation can’t be obtained, then grizzly recovery in the U.S. portion of the North Cascades is likely to fail, regardless of the number of bears that are translocated there. And without linkages across the border with British Columbia, the long-term genetic viability of a relatively small grizzly population on the U.S. side of the border would also be at risk.

 

We recognize at least some of the current challenges to facilitating grizzly movement across the border from Canada, but we also believe it is imperative for the NPS to rigorously study, analyze, and disclose such an alternative. Sometimes grizzlies can confound even the experts. Twenty years ago, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a plan (which died after the election of George W. Bush) to reintroduce 25 grizzlies into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness but as an “experimental, nonessential” population that would receive lesser protections under the Endangered Species Act. Most experts said there was absolutely no way that grizzlies could get into the Selway-Bitterroot on their own. But now, 20 years later, grizzlies are indeed moving in there on their own. The North Cascades ecosystem has differences with the Selway-Bitterroot regarding potential grizzly movement, of course, but the NPS has not seriously looked at the possibilities and pitfalls of a natural recovery option for grizzlies in the North Cascades.

 

The current plan by the NPS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to translocate grizzly bears into the North Cascades in Washington raises many concerns about the harms posed to individual bears, who will be snared or culvert-trapped or pursued by helicopters and shot with tranquilizers, removed from their familiar home territories, poked, prodded, and collared with electronic surveillance devices. The environmental analysis indicates bears would be taken “from source populations in northwestern Montana and/or south-central British Columbia” where, at least in Montana, grizzly bear populations are still struggling and suffering record high mortality rates. The heavy-handed capture and translocation methods proposed—as well as continued monitoring and handling methods—could result in death or injury of the bears, which are protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. And if that weren’t enough, the DEIS ignores the literature describing the negative effects—including severe stress responses and avoidance of important habitat—of all this helicopter traffic on wildlife, including grizzlies

 

And, as we’ve unfortunately seen again and again in Idaho and Washington, politically controversial predators with electronic tracking devices around their necks are regularly targeted for “removal actions.” Freedom of Information Act documents in Idaho showed that Idaho Fish and Game (and possibly the federal management agencies involved before delisting) regularly supplied Wildlife Services with GPS data from wildlife collars to locate and kill wolves, oftentimes through aerial gunning. Washington also has a long, sordid history of killing wolves at the behest of cattle ranchers. The environmental analysis here indicates “all released grizzly bears would be GPS-collared and monitored. If a bear frequents an allotment area, the FWS and WDFW would work with the USFS and livestock owners to determine the best course of action to minimize bear-livestock interactions.” We are sympathetic to the desire to move quickly if there are only a few bears left in the North Cascades, but what of the bears that are dropped there against their will? What of the struggling source populations? And, are we simply creating another island population that cannot survive without ongoing, heavy-handed intervention? Is this really good for the bears? For Wilderness? We think these are questions that deserve serious analysis and public disclosure.

 

The current plan is misguided in the many ways that it would violate the 1964 Wilderness Act. None of the current action alternatives in the Draft Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) are compatible with Wilderness. The proposed recovery area of 6.1 million acres includes North Cascades National Park and 2.6 million acres of Wilderness in the Pasayten, Mt. Baker, and Stephen Mather Wildernesses. All, or almost all, of the proposed helicopter landings would apparently be in Wilderness, either in North Cascades National Park or in surrounding national forests, despite the fact that 60 percent of the project area is outside of Wilderness. The plan proposes anywhere from 50 to 400 helicopter landings and twice that many flights (though the DEIS is somewhat inconsistent on the exact numbers) to move up to 160 bears, again all or mostly all within Wilderness despite more of the project area being outside of Wilderness. The extensive use of helicopters would continue indefinitely for monitoring bear movement and numbers.

 

The essential irony is that agencies recognize the best place to release bears is in the exceedingly rare wildness of the North Cascades. The best grizzly habitat is synonymous with Wilderness: space to roam, isolation, denning sites, safety from human-caused mortality, and distance from human conflicts and garbage. But the agency’s proposed methods of re-establishing grizzlies diminish all these advantages.

 

Wilderness Watch supports the recovery of grizzly bears and other native species where suitable habitat exists. The rugged North Cascades are historic grizzly bear habitat, and there are likely a few currently living on the U.S. side of border now, with a grizzly bear photographed there in 2010.

 

But recovery efforts must also meet the letter and spirit of the Wilderness Act. This means restoring the area’s grizzly population without the use of motor vehicles and equipment, without endless landings of helicopters in Wilderness, without trammeling or manipulating the landscape or its wildlife. However suitable the habitat in the North Cascades is, we take issue with the methods proposed—the reintroduction plan is extremely intrusive, relies on activities prohibited by the Wilderness Act, and would come at a significant cost to Wilderness. What is good for Wilderness is good for bears, and those conditions are worth protecting.

 

It is precisely this type of heavy-handed manipulation of Wilderness that Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser warned against, even when done for seemingly good reasons. In 1963, for example, the secretary of interior’s wildlife advisory board of ecologists led by Zahniser’s friend A. Starker Leopold recommended extensive manipulation of the National Parks and their wildlife (and the wilderness in the Parks). The Leopold Report called for manipulating parks and wildlife to re-create a representation of “the condition that prevailed when the area was first visited by the white man.” The report also stated, “Management may at times call for the use of the tractor, chainsaw, rifle, or flame-thrower but the signs and sounds of such activity should be hidden from visitors insofar as possible.”

 

Zahniser penned his classic rebuttal to this proposal. While some projects may have merit, he wrote, “it is certainly in contrast with the wilderness philosophy of protecting areas at their boundaries and trying to let natural forces operate within the wilderness untrammeled by man.” He continued, “Those who have advocated the preservation of wilderness by protecting at the boundaries the areas within which the natural community would be untrammeled by man have often been confronted with practical difficulties—the smallness of even the most extensive areas, for example. The ‘realism’ of their advocacy has been questioned.” But nonetheless, Zahniser urged us, when it came to Wilderness, to be “Guardians, Not Gardeners.” In the case of the North Cascades grizzly project, Zahniser would urge us to guard the Wildernesses of the North Cascades from manipulation, and to not manipulate (or “garden”) them for our own purposes, even for something as worthwhile as grizzly recovery.

 

If the Park Service adopts a translocation plan, it must be in line with the letter and spirit of the Wilderness Act. Monitoring should take place in a way that’s respectful to Wilderness and bears, including using hair snags, camera traps, scat collection, and on-the-ground sightings to know whether the bears are thriving. It’s wrong to rely on intrusive helicopter use, radio-collaring and ongoing handling and tranquilizing of the bears.

 

The DEIS entirely lacks a natural recovery option. The best way to meet the goal of a viable grizzly population in the North Cascades would be to allow for and boldly promote the natural recovery of grizzlies. This is a very different approach than the “no action” option in the DEIS, which is to “do nothing.” A natural recovery alternative would require working with British Columbia to protect grizzlies over a larger land base and would provide for connectivity between populations in the U.S. and Canada using protected habitat corridors. It would also include other measures to ensure that grizzlies are not killed by humans, regardless of what side of the border they are on and whether they are in national parks, Wilderness, or other public or private lands. It will take longer and require more patience than the instant gratification of capturing and releasing dozens of bears, but it would ultimately create a more durable population sharing the landscape with a human population that is more likely to respect the bears that make it back to the North Cascades on their own.

 

Let’s have the NPS look at this alternative that is both good for grizzlies and good for Wilderness.


------------------

kevin proescholdt

Kevin Proescholdt is the conservation director for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula and focused on the protection of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

 

Recent Comments
Guest — Helen McGinnis
In one of WW's recent fund appeal letters, you stated the purpose of the organization is to preserve and ENHANCE wilderness areas.... Read More
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 07:35
Guest — Kevin Proescholdt
Wilderness Watch certainly does not oppose the reintroductions of extirpated wildlife, but the reintroductions must be done in way... Read More
Tuesday, 19 November 2019 12:44
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