Isle Royale Wolves: I Vote for Nature's Way

Franz 200x150

Isle Royale Wolves: I Vote for Nature's Way 

By Franz Camenzind

 

Isle Royale is both a National Park (1940) and a designated Wilderness Area (1976). Each authority brings significant protection to the land, but with differing mandates. As a National Park, its clear purpose is to preserve and protect its wilderness character, cultural and natural resources, and ecological processes; where humanity's protectionist's footprint may be very apparent.


As a Wilderness, its clear purpose is to protect the area so as to preserve its natural conditions in a manner that generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature; where humanity's preservationist's footprint leaves at most, only a faint impression.


These mandates contain contradictions that may seem subtle to most, but they can confound management decisions. Isle Royale, known for its wolf population, is facing a critical decision point-to physically import wolves from the mainland to "rescue" the current isolated population which is likely to "blink out" in the next year due to the consequences of severe inbreeding or, to leave nature alone and allow the island's wolf population to disappear. Wolves first arrived on the island in the late 1940s via an ice bridge from the mainland, but their stay appears to be a short one. The question is whether to allow a natural event (likely extirpation) to play out, as was the case when wolves first arrived on the island, or to intervene and extend the wolves tenure by translocating wolves from mainland.


We now face a situation where some argue that the Park's mandate allows for the heavy footprint of an artificial reintroduction of wolves to keep a functioning wolf population on the island. Others argue that the wilderness designation means managers should leave nature to take its course and preserve the area's wild and untrammeled condition even if that means the end of the wolf population on the island. It is nature's way.


Adding to the decision's challenge is the argument that Isle Royale without wolves will result in a moose population explosion (the wolf's major food source and the moose's only significant predator), which will lead to severe over-browsing and long-term habitat damage. Wilderness advocates argue that this impact too would pass. If over-browsing occurs and moose populations subsequently decline, the habitat will very likely rebound. This happened before wolves arrived on the island (moose predate wolves on the island by several decades). It's nature's way.


Although their origins are uncertain, what is known is that moose first appeared on Isle Royale at the very beginning of the 20th Century, decades before the first wolves arrived. It is widely accepted that the particularly cold winter of 1948-49 allowed an ice bridge to form, which in turn allowed the first wolves to cross the 15 miles from the mainland to the island. However, for nearly half a century the island, and its moose, survived without wolves. Interestingly, during that wolf-free period, it is quite clear that moose had severely over-browsed their forest habitat and were on the verge of starving out. Not surprisingly, the habitat recovered, and so did the moose population.


Scientists say that moose populations are controlled by available forage as much or even more so than by the presence of wolves. Clearly, for decades, the two acting together have made for a very interesting and natural dynamic. But in the long course of ecological events, their decades-long drama may have been nothing more then a brief relationship.


I vote for nature's way. I do so because ninety-nine percent of Isle Royale's 134,000 acres is Wilderness, and so a different type of "management" is required for this place, one that respects the area's wild character and does not try to manipulate wildlife populations or habitat conditions on the island. In other words, impose a management decision not to manage.


I also support nature's way because capturing and hauling wolves in from the mainland will not alter the overriding reality-Isle Royale is an island only occasionally connected to the mainland by an ice bridge. By itself, the island is too small to sustain a long-term, genetically healthy wolf population, and perhaps the same can be said for the moose population. I have to ask, if a "rescue" were to occur, when would inbreeding again overtake the isolated wolf population and when would demands for another "rescue" be made? Would this human manipulation become the new normal? How is this natural? How does this leave the Wilderness untrammeled? How does this maintain the Park's or its Wilderness' natural processes?


It doesn't.


Some rescue proponents insist that if the island's wolves die off, over 60 years of wolf-moose research will come to an end. Without a doubt, the Isle Royale wolf-moose dynamics have been superbly documented throughout this time as the longest major predator-prey study in history. However, if wolves are purposely brought onto the island, what will it do for the continuity of the research? It will effectively change a natural study paradigm into a manipulated (island) laboratory research project, one whose results will always require a disclaimer that the findings were influenced by human intervention and no longer represent a naturally occurring phenomena.

 

In effect, it would be new research that could best be described as a "before and after" intervention study and difficult to claim as an uninterrupted, continuation of the previous work.
Proponents of wolf "rescue" also argue that with climate change, ice bridges and natural re-colonization by wolves are less likely to occur, therefore human intervention is justified, if not necessary. A logical scenario, but other climate-driven factors are also coming into play on the island. Perhaps most significant is the documented change already occurring in the vegetative regime on the island, a change not favoring the moose population. As the habitat's vegetation shifts away from moose-preferred species, will the moose population again be put in jeopardy? If this is the case, do we "rescue" the moose population too? Or do we initiate a wolf reduction program to safeguard the remaining moose? Or do we initiate a moose reduction program in an attempt to safeguard the remaining habitat? Where does this intervention end?


We forget that Isle Royale is an island and cannot operate like an expansive and complex mainland landscape. Like most island settings, its species composition is much simpler then the nearby mainland. For example, only 19 species of mammals occur on the island compared to over 40 on the surrounding mainland. Consequently, its ecological systems are far simpler then those operating on the mainland. And because of its limited size, it cannot support populations of low density species such as the wolf or other large carnivores that require large, connected landscapes to sustain their own numbers, and their own genetic diversity. And we forget that as far back as 3,500 years ago, the island was home to woodland caribou and Canada lynx. And coyotes made it to the island on their own around 1905, but disappeared by 1955. Consensus is that they were all eliminated due to human actions. Do we re-colonize the island with these previous, naturally occurring residents, ones lost not naturally, but through deliberate human actions? We face a dilemma of conflicting values; not one solved with on-going intervention. When would it end?


And last, the decision to "rescue" the island's wolf population might be easier to accept if doing so would be a step toward saving the species from extinction. This is not the case. What happens to the wolves of Isle Royale will have little to no impact on the species' overall survival.


Allow Isle Royale to be a wilderness park, let its future be shaped as it was during its not so distant past-by nature's forces, not humankind's manipulated version of a "natural" island system. Then and only then can we observe and learn how island ecosystems truly function. There aren't many places like this left in the world, let us not spoil it with heavy-handed intervention.

Franz Camenzind, Ph.D.
Jackson, Wyoming
02/27/2018
 

 

Franz is a wildlife biologist and the Vice-President of Wilderness Watch's board of directors.

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Restraint the Key to Keeping Wilderness Wild

Chris Neill

Restraint the Key to Keeping Wilderness Wild
Guest post by Christopher Neill

  

 

Ten years ago I got out of an MBL pickup truck and walked away from the only road for 300 miles into North America's greatest wilderness. Across spongy tundra alive with the tinkling of Smith's longspurs. Upstream along a braided river channel I shared with harlequin ducks, common mergansers and red-throated loons. Then up a jumbled talus slope with a view to the other side of glacial U-shaped valley through air so clear that the distant tops of unnamed Brooks Range mountains looked like you could toss a rock to the Dall sheep high up on their slopes.

 

For my one-day walk into the Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge I carried nothing but a daypack with warm clothes, a rain suit, a day's worth of food and binoculars. For me, it was the perfect antidote to a fast-paced modern world.
 
The Refuge—as its supporters refer to it—is the crown jewel of protected lands in the US. It's arguably the wildest and least human-modified swath of Earth that we as Americans have collective responsibility for. In one day, I hiked through a small but stunning southern section of the 19 million-acre Refuge that adjoins the north-south corridor for the Alaska Pipeline Haul Road. From there, the Refuge stretches for more than 160 miles—with no roads, no trails, and no other human structures—to the Arctic Ocean.
 
That now will change. This week the House and Senate included in the tax bill a provision that opens up the Refuge's costal plain to oil and gas drilling. At a time when the nations of the world need cut carbon dioxide emissions and keep fossil fuels in the ground to avoid the most disruptive consequences of runaway climate change, this decision reveals the worst side of human nature.
 
Wilderness protection started as an American idea. The US created a formal system for designating wilderness when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act on September 3, 1964. That Act protected 9.1 million acres on Federal lands.
 
The Wilderness Act contains a succinct and moving definition of wilderness: "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
 
Today's wilderness system encompasses 109 million acres in 44 states. The largest preserve is the 9 million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Wilderness in eastern Alaska. Eight million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are wilderness. The smallest wilderness is the six-acre Rock and Islands in California's northern coast. While 109 million acres of wilderness sounds like a lot, 40 percent of US wilderness is in Alaska and wilderness makes up less than 3 percent of the total area of the other 49 states.  
 
A few days after my hike into the Refuge, while at the nearby Toolik Field Station, I had the good fortune to hear a talk by Roger Kaye. Kaye, a bush pilot and historian at the University of Alaska, wrote a history of the Refuge's creation, first as the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960 and later as the current Refuge in 1980.
 
Kaye asked his audience, what single word best captures the philosophy behind designating a near-pristine swath of the planet a place where people can visit but not remain. After a minute somebody finally got it. Restraint.
 
That word stuck with me all these years because it's so utterly perfect. Wilderness is important not because lots of people visit it—but precisely because they don't. I have set foot in perhaps half dozen out of our nation's 765 official wilderness areas. I am unlikely to visit many more.
 
But the fact that they exist—and the fact that we can agree, through our collective endeavors, to let nature simply be over some meaningfully large patches of Earth—gives me great hope.
 
The three southern New England states have only one federally-designated wilderness area—but it happens to be our Cape Cod shoreline. It's 3,244 acres of the wild and dynamic Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham. Barely one percent of Cape Cod.
 
But unraveling protections seems also to be a deeply ingrained American idea—and one that cuts close to home. Even small protected areas are contentious. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Town of Chatham for the last several years have disputed the sand flats on the west side of the Monomoy Refuge because the FWS argues that some activities—like windsurfing and mussel harvests—are not compatible with the Refuge's primary mission to protect nesting and migrating birds.
 
On September 15 of last year, President Barak Obama designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument for permanent protection. It's a teeming, 3.1 million-acre marine ecosystem about 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod that is among the least-disturbed underwater habitats of the entire Atlantic Ocean within US territory. The area's extinct underwater volcanoes and marine canyons support thousand year-old corals, seabirds, whales and sea turtles. It's 1.5 percent of the US Atlantic coastal waters.
 
The pushback by some parts of the commercial fishing industry has been relentless. And the administration of President Donald Trump is likely to oblige. The Washington Post reported in September that a memo from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended opening the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument to commercial fishing. Claims that the Monument designation will harm commercial fishing are vastly overblown and contradict data collected by NOAA that show very little fishing actually takes place there.
 
Battles over wilderness and protected areas—including those just off our shores—go to the heart of who we are and what we are willing to hold sacred. We need places that, in the words of National Park Service biologist Lowell Sumner—who wrote about the Arctic Refuge at its founding—have the "freedom to continue, unhindered and forever if we are willing, the particular story of Planet Earth."
 
We need places that show we are willing to exercise that most important of human qualities—restraint. 
 

 

Christopher Neill is an ecologist and Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts. He studies the consequences of deforestation and expanding agriculture in the Brazilian Amazon and approaches to management and restoration of grasslands, wetlands and estuaries along the New England coast. From 2008 to 2010 he taught a hands-on course in Arctic ecosystem change to science journalists at Toolik Field Station in northern Alaska.   

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Gianforte joins stealth attack on Wilderness in Montana

George Nickas

Gianforte joins stealth attack on Wilderness in Montana
By George Nickas

 

Montana’s designated wildernesses are the pride of our state. We might fight like hell over whether to designate this area or that one as new wilderness, but the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, Selway-Bitterroot, Absaroka-Beartooth, and our other protected wildernesses are sacred to Montanans of all stripes.
 
That is, apparently, all stripes except Rep. Greg Gianforte, who just voted to effectively repeal the Wilderness Act and open places like “the Bob” to endless forms of habitat manipulation, predator control, road building, and anything else that might be construed as benefiting “hunting, angling, recreational, shooting or wildlife conservation.”
 
This stealth attack on the Wilderness Act comes in the form of H.R. 3668, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. It would affect every wilderness in the nation, including all of Montana’s wilderness gems.
 
By nearly unanimous vote, Congress passed the 1964 Wilderness Act to protect America’s wildest landscapes. The law describes wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man... retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” The Wilderness Act is essentially nature’s Bill of Rights, places where we humans, out of a sense of respect, humility and foresight, have agreed to let nature be. Since passage of the Wilderness Act, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown to include 110 million acres in more than 760 units.
 
The SHARE Act would turn the Wilderness Act on its head allowing logging, chaining, herbicide spraying or myriad other offenses under the guise of “wildlife conservation” or for providing hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting experiences. While such management might be fine for a Texas game farm, it represents a dramatic change for the Wilderness Act, which for over 50 years has required the preservation of wilderness character as the top priority for public Wildernesses.
 
The SHARE Act would also allow the construction of “temporary” roads, dams, or other structures in wilderness. And all such projects would be exempt from any environmental review or public scrutiny under the National Environmental Policy Act — in essence making wildernesses some of the least-protected of all public lands.
 
The bill is being pushed at the behest of the Safari Club International and a few like-minded groups that are upset that wildernesses around the country aren’t managed like game farms, something Montanans roundly rejected at the ballot box not long ago. Not satisfied with the rich diversity of life our wildernesses hold, these groups want wilderness managed solely to benefit their idea of hunting and to favor the animal species they want to shoot. Even if it means building a road or a dam, clear cutting a forest, or wiping out native predators to meet their hunting or angling goals.
 
Montanans who love our wildest, best places and don’t want them degraded for a selfish few should contact Gianforte and urge him to remove the wilderness-gutting provisions from the SHARE Act — before it’s too late.

 

George Nickas is the executive director of Wilderness Watch.  

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There was no secret deal for mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

kevinproescholdt 02 18 13 201by Kevin Proescholdt
 

 

Congressmen Rick Nolan and Tom Emmer, among others, have made various claims recently suggesting that the 1978 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act opened the Superior National Forest outside the BWCAW in northern Minnesota to mining. Some variations of this story even talk about a "secret dea" or a "nod and a handshake."

 

These fictitious claims are usually made to support the proposed PolyMet mine or Twin Metals mineral exploration on the doorstep of the BWCAW. Both pose potentially disastrous environmental impacts, not only for the BWCAW but for the St. Louis River watershed as well.

 

As co-author of the definitive history of the 1978 BWCAW Act, "Troubled Waters," I can say that no such deal occurred. I say this not only based on my own involvement in the process and my direct contact with the involved members of Congress — including my friend Rep. Nolan — but also upon my research of:

 

 

  • All BWCAW bills in Congress from 1975-1978, including those by Congressman Jim Oberstar, who strongly opposed the wilderness legislation.

  • All Congressional Record debates.

  • Transcripts of BWCAW hearings in Washington.

  • All House and Senate committee reports.

  • The final conference committee report.

  • The published legislative history of the 1978 act.

  • All Congressional Record statements not included in the published legislative history.
     

In addition to these official documents, I reviewed every BWCAW article from 1978 in the Ely Echo, which strongly opposed the wilderness legislation. If such a deal occurred, the Echo would have reported it. As with the congressional documents, the Echo reported no mining deal. It was never reported anywhere because it never occurred.

 

The 1978 law did include provisions that intensified forest management on the Superior National Forest outside of the BWCAW. But forest management and mining are not the same thing, and the law included nothing promoting or promising mining on the rest of the Superior.

 

What I can report about mining during those congressional debates was the nearly universal concern to protect the Boundary Waters from the impacts of mining. Even Rep. Oberstar recognized the hazards of sulfide-ore mining, which poses hundreds, if not thousands, of years of toxic runoff to the waters of the BWCAW. Rep. Oberstar indeed spoke many times during the committee mark-ups and floor debates about the need to protect the Boundary Waters itself from mining.

 

This is the real promise of the Boundary Waters law, not the version being promoted by Reps. Nolan and Emmer. The real promise of the BWCAW Act, from its own language, is to "maintain high water quality in such areas;" to "provide for the protection and management of the fish and wildlife in the wilderness, so as to enhance public enjoyment and appreciation of the unique biotic resources of the region;" to "protect and enhance the natural values and environmental quality of the lakes, streams, shorelines and associated forest areas of the wilderness;" and to "minimize to the maximum extent possible, the environmental impacts associated with mineral development affecting such areas."

 

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a wildland resource of immense value to the nation and the world. Though parts were damaged in the past, it still retains a wilderness character unmatched anywhere else in the National Wilderness Preservation System, with lakes so clean one can drink right from them and where visitors can thrill to the evocative call of loons on a starlit night and experience the great silences and solitude that are increasingly rare in our frantic world.

  

This is the true promise of the Boundary Waters: not the imaginary promise of mining and its attendant pollution, as promoted by Nolan, Emmer, and others, but a promise from past generations to future ones to pass along unimpaired this hauntingly beautiful wilderness gem with its sparkling clear waters far into the future.

  

Rather than throw away this hope for a relatively few mining jobs and its toxic pollution, we should instead work together to fulfill the true promise of clean water and a protected Boundary Waters.

 

 

Kevin Proescholdt of Minneapolis is the conservation director for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization.  He has written widely on Wilderness, including Troubled Waters: The Fight for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (1995) and Glimpses of Wilderness (2015).

 

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Mount Washington Wilderness Protected From Invasive Ecological Meddling

By Gary Macfarlane


Gary Macfarlane
Conservation groups recently learned that the Forest Supervisor of the Willamette National Forest has withdrawn the draft decision on a proposal to conduct a “prescribed fire” in a portion the Mount Washington Wilderness. Three conservation organizations--Wilderness Watch, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project and BARK—filed a formal administrative objection to the Scott Mountain Prescribed fire in Wilderness Environmental Assessment. The Forest Supervisor’s decision ended the objection process. While no reasons were given as to why the draft decision was withdrawn, points raised by the organizations certainly played a role in that decision. For the time being, the Forest Service will not subject this portion of the Mount Washington Wilderness to intensive ecological manipulation. Wilderness, by law, is to be untrammeled, which means that areas designated as Wilderness are to free from direct human control.  In addition to the manipulation, the Wilderness would have been marred by numerous helicopter flights to light fires in the Wilderness.

 

Mount Washington is one of the original Wildernesses set aside by the 1964 Wilderness Act.  It lies in the central Cascade Range in of Oregon and lies between the Mount Jefferson and Three Sisters Wildernesses.  Mount Washington itself is a 7,800 foot Cascade mountain that dominates the northern part of the Wilderness. The extensive lava fields in the south, lakes, old forests, and recently burned areas create a great diversity of habitat for many species of mammals and birds.

 

The organizations noted in their objection several key points including:

 

Human-ignited fires are inconsistent with the Wilderness Act. Wilderness is supposed to be “in contrast” to areas where humans dominate the landscape. Further, natural lightning-caused fires tend to burn differently than agency-prescribed fires because the agencies usually choose times to light fires than when they burn naturally.

 

Trammeling Wilderness is not consistent with the best available science. The forests in this part of the Cascades are well within their natural range. These forests burn infrequently and intensely. This part of the Wilderness is one of the few areas in the nearby region that has not been recently burned by natural fire or been dedicated to logging. It is already very diverse because this older forest remains intact within a larger landscape that has largely burned in the recent past or has been logged.

 

The Forest Service did not show that this project was necessary for preservation of the area as Wilderness. Indeed, the objectors noted it would detract from the Wilderness because of the intentional human manipulation of the landscape and the extensive use of helicopters.

 

The Scott Mountain project is emblematic of the lack of support among many wilderness managers to let nature be.  Efforts to reshape these areas in the vision of managers is a growing phenomenon resulting from agency policies that downplay the central tenet of the Wilderness Act—that Wildernesses are to be left wild and untrammeled.  Let’s hope the project’s initial demise is a signal of things to come.

 

Gary is the ecosystem defense director for the Friends of the Clearwater, an advocacy group in central Idaho's Wild Clearwater Country. For nearly 30 years, Gary has been one of the country's most dedicated public lands' activists working throughout the Intermountain West and Northern Rockies. He serves on the WW board of directors.
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National Monument "Review" Threatens Wilderness Too

George NickasNational Monument "Review" Threatens Wilderness Too

By George Nickas

 

President Trump’s executive order demanding a review of all national monuments larger than 100,000 acres and established since 1996 portends serious consequences for the National Wilderness Preservation System.

 

For starters, within those 27 monuments are 30 Wildernesses in six western states. While the president can’t undo the Wilderness designations—that would require an act of Congress—the protections national monument status affords to the lands surrounding these Wildernesses undoubtedly help preserve the conditions within them. Healthy wildlife habitat and populations, biodiversity, water quality, scenic vistas, silence, solitude, remoteness, and dark skies are all values within these Wildernesses that benefit from the surrounding national monuments.

 

Consider the Dark Canyon Wilderness, as just one example.  This relatively small 45,000-acre Wilderness on the Manti-LaSal National Forest in southeastern Utah lies near the geographic center of the new 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument. Prior to establishment of the national monument, much of the land around Dark Canyon was open to logging, mining, oil and gas development, and off-road motorized and mechanized vehicle use. But because of the monument proclamation the lands surrounding Dark Canyon Wilderness are largely protected from industrial uses, and vehicles are limited to roads and trails designated for their use. If Bears Ears National Monument is rescinded, the Dark Canyon Wilderness could eventually be ringed with development and ORV use.

 

But there is an even greater threat to Wilderness from President Trump’s monument repeal effort: it is the first shot across the bow of the Administration and Congress to undo many of our nation’s greatest conservation laws. There are all ready more than a dozen bills introduced in Congress to weaken the Endangered Species Act. And as I write this the House of Representatives has an oversight hearing scheduled to discuss the “overreach” of the Wilderness Act and Federal Land Policy Management Act, which they claim have “gone astray.” Any day we expect to see the latest incarnation of the “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act,” legislation that would effectively repeal the Wilderness Act. Previous versions have passed the House, but stalled in the Senate, partly due to the Administration’s opposition.  That opposition has likely vanished.

 

While the national media and public attention is focused on issues like the health care debate, tax reform, and Russian meddling in our elections, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the Trump Administration is failing and its agenda is stalled. To those involved in protecting our endangered wildlands, threatened wildlife, and our nation’s natural legacy, the Trump agenda is anything but stalled. It’s full speed ahead.

 

This is why every wildlands and wildlife conservationist should be alarmed and ready to do battle over the Administration’s efforts to repeal any of our nation’s national monuments. Should Trump, Secretary Zinke, and their allies in Congress succeed, the monuments will be only the first to fall.

 

 

George Nickas is the executive director of Wilderness Watch. 

This is a corrected version of an essay that appeared in our Summer 2017 newsletter. 

 
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Bigger is Better

Bigger is Better
By Howie Wolke

howie 05 03 13 201This essay appeared in our Spring 2017 newsletter.

When it comes to wilderness, bigger is better. This is as true from an ecological perspective as it is from that of the human wilderness experience.

The Wilderness Act defines wilderness (in part) as “…at least 5,000 acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition…” Although as a Montanan, 5,000 acres seems pretty small, the Act’s authors recognized that wilderness is fundamentally distinct from tiny areas of protected open space, such as many county parks or small state recreation areas, with size being one of its distinguishing characteristics.

From a human perspective, it is difficult to experience wilderness values such as awe, oneness with nature, solitude and challenge in a small woodlot or county park hemmed in by noisy roads or machines. The authors of the Wilderness Act rightly understood that in the face of our growing and expanding civilization, if folks accepted postage-stamp sized natural areas as “Wilderness”, then our perception of wilderness would lose its unique distinction. And as the wilderness idea is cheapened, so too, is wilderness on the ground.

From a biocentric perspective, conservation biologists assert that size of a protected area is crucial to maintaining native biodiversity. So is connectivity. And often ignored is the interior to edge ratio of protected lands.

Large wild areas with connectivity to other wildlands protect native species populations from inbreeding depression, random loss of adaptive genetic traits (common in small isolated populations), disease, and environmental events such as wildfire, flood or prolonged drought. Species that have specific habitat needs such as old growth forest or undisturbed sagebrush steppe are particularly vulnerable to the problems associated with small isolated habitats. So are large carnivores, which naturally occur in much lower densities than prey species, and thus are spread thinly across large areas. Many of these vulnerable creatures are called “wilderness dependent species” and small isolated wildland tracts do not promote their survival.

I also mentioned interior to edge ratio. As human population growth continues to spiral out of control, most protected wildlands are increasingly impacted by human activities on surrounding lands. Logging, mining, roadbuilding, road “hunting”, poaching, urban sprawl, off road vehicles, livestock grazing, fences, power corridors, dams and diversions and more all serve to isolate wilderness areas. When wilderness boundaries are amoeba-shaped with “cherry-stemmed” exclusions, we create lots of edge compared with more secure interior habitat. Along the edges are where many of these destructive human activities occur. So not only is bigger better, but so are areas with holistic boundaries that minimize edge.

The problem is that what works best on the ground is often forsaken by the increasingly sketchy politics of wilderness conservation. Many conservation organizations now get funding from foundations that demand “collaboration” with traditional wildland opponents. And all too often these collaborations produce “wilderness” boundaries that exclude all or most of the potential conflicts in order to mollify the opposition. These processes create compromised wilderness units that are small, isolated and laden with boundary intrusions and non-wilderness corridors that create much edge and minimal secure interior habitat. Moreover, so-called wilderness proponents often accept or even promote special provisions in wilderness bills that clash with the intent and letter of the Wilderness Act. Or, they sometimes actually support agency actions that overtly violate the Wilderness Act.

Of course, our political system is based upon compromise, and compromise works when both sides have legitimate concerns and common goals. When it comes to wilderness, though, we do well to remember that each wilderness debate begins with an already greatly compromised remnant wildland. And also, wilderness areas laden with legislated exceptions to the letter of the Wilderness Act are not really wilderness in any meaningful sense of the word.

So, bigger is better. In North America, we find healthy populations of grizzly bear, wolf, lynx and many other species only where big wilderness is a dominant landscape feature. Healthy watersheds thrive only where the entire watershed is protected. Also, dynamic disturbance-driven natural vegetation patterns can be maintained only in large protected landscapes. For example, natural wildfire patterns are not allowed to prevail in small nature preserves near suburbs or commercial timber stands.

In other words, temptations to compromise wilderness in terms of size, “collaborated” boundary exclusions and diminished internal untrammeled qualities are immense in 21st century industrial America. Protecting and maintaining real wilderness won’t get easier. But unless wilderness organizations develop a better understanding of what real wilderness is and the importance of size, connectivity and wholeness, it is unlikely that the very concept of wilderness will survive for many more generations. And I mean generations of the four-leggeds and all members of the biotic community, in addition to the upright two-legged great apes that we call “human”.


Howie Wolke is an ornery old wilderness guide from southern Montana and is a recent past President of Wilderness Watch.

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Sigurd Olson and the Establishment of Voyageurs National Park

kevinproescholdt 02 18 13 201by Kevin Proescholdt

Last year, 2016, marked the centennial of the formation of the National Park Service.  The heightened awareness of the National Park Service surrounding this anniversary has triggered a fresh interest in the national parks that this agency manages.  Of particular interest to those with an interest in Sigurd F. Olson is the story of national parks in Sig’s home state of Minnesota and Sig’s role with them.  As this article will show, Sig did play a critical role in the establishment of Minnesota’s only full-fledged national park, Voyageurs National Park, for at least a decade in the 1960s and early 1970s.

There had long been an interest in establishing a national park along the international border in northern Minnesota.  As early as 1891, the Minnesota Legislature passed a resolution asking the President to establish a national park in Minnesota by “setting apart a tract of land along the northern boundary of the state, between the mouth of the Vermilion River on the east and Lake of the Woods on the west….”

By 1959, the National Park Service (NPS) expressed interest in updating its 1939 parks and recreation plan for the Minnesota Division of State Parks, and NPS field staff visited the area to do that and to begin investigating possible national areas in the Kabetogama Lake area.  The State Parks Director, U.W. “Judge” Hella (not a judge in real life), briefed Minnesota Governor Elmer L. Andersen in September 1961 about the NPS interest, and Andersen became like Hella an enthusiastic national park supporter.  Sigurd Olson would also play a vital role.

At this point in time, Sig stood in a very important position nationally.  He had gained national attention for his wilderness conservation work in the late-1940s to protect the area later to be re-named the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  Sig had worked as a wilderness ecologist for the Izaak Walton League of America since the late-1940s, and also served as a consultant to the President’s Quetico-Superior Committee.  He had written three critically-acclaimed and popular books (The Singing Wilderness, 1956; Listening Point, 1958; and The Lonely Land, 1961) that brought him new national distinction and standing, with three more books coming out later in the 1960s.  He had served on the board of directors of the National Parks Association for most of the 1950s, including six years as board president, and he had joined the Wilderness Society’s Governing Council in 1956 where he would also become president in the 1960s. 

And perhaps most importantly for the Voyageurs story, Sig served on the Department of Interior’s Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments beginning in 1959.  This prestigious board advised the Interior Secretary on park management and potential new national parks.  Invited to join by President Eisenhower’s Interior Secretary, Fred Seaton, Sig continued on this board during the new Kennedy Administration where he strengthened his friendship with NPS Director Conrad “Connie” Wirth and developed a close relationship with newly-appointed Interior Secretary Stewart Udall.  Those connections, his position on the National Parks Advisory Board, and his personal familiarity with the broad international Quetico-Superior region that included the future Voyageurs National Park would all prove immensely valuable.

In October 1961, Sig participated in a field trip with NPS staff, Hella, and others to the area around the Kabetogama Peninsula.  The field party agreed that “Kabetogama had potential as a national area and recommended that the director authorize full-scale studies of the area.”  At the end of that same month, Wirth authorized those studies to begin, and Gov. Andersen began promoting the concept.  The push to establish Voyageurs had begun.

In June of the next year (1962), Gov. Andersen invited Connie Wirth to visit Minnesota, in part to be present at the dedication of the new Bear Head Lake State Park between Tower and Ely.  But Andersen had also arranged a visit to the proposed national park site so Wirth could see the area himself.  Sig, Judge Hella, and others joined them on the field trip on June 27th to the Kabetogama-Rainy Lake area.  Connie Wirth was quickly convinced.  During that field trip and a discussion of what to name the new park, Sig suggested the name as Voyageurs, after the hardy canoemen of the fur trade era who had paddled their birchbark canoes through the region.  According to an unpublished essay Sig wrote nearly two decades later, Wirth slapped his knee at Sig’s suggestion and exclaimed, “That’s it!”  The name stuck.

Sig continued to fight for Voyageurs in the coming years, including work with the National Parks Advisory Board.  In October of 1962, the board voted to submit a formal recommendation to the secretary of interior that stated that the region was “superbly qualified to be designated the second national park in the Midwest.”  (Isle Royale was the first national park in the region.)  In 1964, as another example, Wirth’s successor as National Park Service Director, George Hartzog, suggested downgrading the proposed national park to a lesser category such as a national recreation area.  Sig successfully urged the Advisory Board to re-affirm its support for Voyageurs as a full national park, and Hartzog relented.

Sig spoke at public meetings, worked with the Voyageurs National Park Association (which had formed to push for the park’s establishment), and continued to work with Elmer Andersen, who remained a strong park proponent even after Elmer had left the governor’s office in 1963.  Sig testified at the Congressional field hearings on the Voyageurs National Park legislation in International Falls in 1969, and again at House hearings in Washington, DC, the following year, testifying that the proposed park’s spiritual and intangible values were its greatest resources.

The Voyageurs Park proposal was not without controversy, of course, and at many steps in the process obstacles appeared that could have delayed or killed the bill.  Intense opposition in some parts of the local communities often nearly derailed the effort.  In late 1970, after the Voyageurs bill had passed the House, a worried Rep. John Blatnik (who represented the area) asked Elmer Andersen and Sigurd Olson to come out to lobby for the Voyageurs bill when it appeared the bill might die in the Senate.  They did so and, among many other frantic lobbying efforts, arranged a personal meeting with Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who chaired the Senate committee.  They convinced Jackson, worked around other obstacles, and the bill passed the Senate.  President Nixon ultimately signed the Voyageurs bill into law in January 1971.

Voyageurs National Park, though authorized by the 1971 legislation, would not officially be established until 1975.  The Voyageurs bill required the State of Minnesota to first donate state-owned lands within the park (some 36,000 acres, of which 25,000 were School Trust Lands) to the federal government.  This required special legislation from the Minnesota Legislature and compensation to the State School Trust Fund (first condemnation, then the sale of state bonds to reimburse the trust fund).

But in January 1971, after the Voyageurs bill had passed Congress but before the park was officially established, Sig was asked to write about Voyageurs for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s magazine, the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.  Here is part of what he wrote, a summation of his values and dreams for the brand-new national park he had worked for a decade to establish, in an article entitled “Intangible Values of Voyageurs National Park”:

“Cultural, esthetic and intangible values are a composite of many things: beauty of terrain, geological and ecological understanding, and the background of human history.  Knowledge of how the land was formed, its volcanic eras, the vast glacial periods which smoothed, gouged and shaped its surface into what we see today is vital to appreciation of its values.  The evolution of wildlife and vegetation, their slow adjustment to climate, water, soil, and land forms are as necessary as having an understanding of the hopes, dreams, and fears of those who lived and labored here hundreds and even thousands of years ago.  All this imparts deeper meaning and even enhances its beauty.

As an ecologist, I became convinced that the entire area was an ecosystem of special significance, one of the rare undisturbed regions of the Great Lakes biotic complex with infinite and authentic interdependencies among its many associations.  The stands of beautiful red and white pines growing along the lake shores meant more to me knowing they were the northern-most extension of their range, that while a few stands could be found elsewhere and even beyond the Quetico, it would be spruce or jackpine intermingled with birch and aspen, from here up to the barren lands of the tundra.

Knowing the involved geological formations with their exposures of greenstone and intrusions of granite and basalts, the story of the glaciology with its disturbed drainage patterns and the response of all life to the ancient fire ecology of the north, gave new appreciation of the area’s intangible values.  The bogs with their paleobotanical records of phantom forests of the past imparted insight to the forests of today.

This maze of waterways had its human history as well, for over its lakes and portages had passed voyageurs on their 3000-mile trek from Montreal into the far Northwest.  Here too went the great explorers, Alexander Mackenzie, the Henrys, Verèndrye and a host of others, a stream of heroic figures through the border lakes from Grand Portage and eventually through Crane, Namakan, Kabetogama and Rainy Lake into the park area.  Over these routes went tons of trade goods to the west and fortunes in fur for the waiting markets of the east.  This was the route of Canadian destiny.

As one paddles down this famous wilderness highway, it takes little imagination to picture the colorful brigades of the past, red-tipped paddles flashing in the sun, the gaudy designs on bow and stern of each canoe.  As one sits before a campfire one can almost hear the sound of them and the songs of the French voyageurs coming across the waters.

Voyageurs National Park is properly named, for all traffic from east and west funneled into Rainy Lake, the canoes from Grand Portage along the border, those from Fort William over the French-Dawson route, those from Lake Superior going up to Vermilion and La Croix.  No wonder an important post was maintained at Rainy as a rendezvous and meeting place for expeditions from Montreal and far away Athabasca.  Of such human history are intangible values made, and all add to the beauty and meaning of the Voyageurs National Park area.

Perhaps as important a value as any is the wilderness character of the area between Lake Superior and the Rainy River, where alone of the 3000 mile extent of the Voyageur’s Highway, the scene is still relatively unchanged with old pines standing that voyageurs saw as they passed by.  This wilderness, the old sense of solitude and silence, can still be felt there.

When we talk about the intangible values of the Voyageurs area we know such values are a composite of all the cultural facets of the region, that Voyageurs National Park is more than terrain.  It is in a sense a living storehouse of beauty, of historical and scientific significance.  If museums are places where the treasures of a people are safeguarded and cherished then Voyageurs is truly such a place.”

 

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kevin proescholdtKevin Proescholdt of Minneapolis is the conservation director for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization.  He has written widely on Wilderness, including Troubled Waters: The Fight for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (1995) and Glimpses of Wilderness (2015).



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Wilderness Intended as Refuge from Bikes and other Mechanization

kevinproescholdt 02 18 13 201by Kevin Proescholdt

Several recent opinion pieces from around the country[i] have asked why mountain bikes cannot be allowed to ride in Congressionally-designated Wildernesses.  A new mountain biking organization has even had a new bill introduced in Congress (S. 3205)[ii] to open all Wildernesses in the country to mountain bikes and chainsaws.  But the short answer to their question is that allowing bicycles in these areas would defeat the very purpose of setting aside and protecting these areas as Wilderness.

 

Congress passed the Wilderness Act to protect the wilderness character of these places, not to establish recreation areas. Wilderness preserves the great silences of lands removed from the influences of modern civilization.  Wilderness is free from human domination or manipulation, where ecological and evolutionary processes may continue unhindered by humankind.  Wilderness provides places where wildlife can thrive without being startled by zooming human machines.

 

In order to protect wilderness character, Congress and the framers of the 1964 Wilderness Act prohibited bikes (and other intrusions of modern civilization) from Wilderness while writing and passing this landmark law.  The law specifically says, “there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.”[iii] (Emphasis added.) Bicycles are obviously a form of mechanical transport; the law can’t be much clearer than this.

 

This issue is not about the physical differences in trail damage by bikes versus horses, this is not so much about trail safety, nor is it about whose mode of outdoor transportation is better.  This issue is about protecting the wild character of Wilderness.

 

Under the Wilderness Act, Wilderness is a sanctuary for wild animals and wild processes to occur, and a sanctuary for humans to escape the influences of our modern industrialized civilization.  Like other sanctuaries, Wilderness must be treated with humility and restraint.  Part of that humility and restraint lies in how we approach and travel through Wilderness.  Mountain bikes and other machines are no more appropriate in Wilderness than they might be in other sanctuaries like Washington National Cathedral.

 

Mountain bikers sometimes claim that Congress didn’t specifically mention bicycles in the Wilderness Act so therefore they must be allowed.  Such an argument is merely wishful thinking, just as would be claims by all-terrain vehicle owners or snowmobilers that the Wilderness Act didn’t specifically enumerate their choice of machine transport.

 

Mountain bikers sometimes claim that the U.S. Forest Service didn’t specifically ban bikes until 1984, but that’s an intentionally misleading claim.  For starters, Congress banned bikes from Wilderness in 1964, and it doesn’t matter a whit whether the Forest Service waited to specifically mention bikes in its regulations.  If bikers did ride in Wilderness after 1964 (in that era before mountain bikes were invented), they did so illegally. Moreover, the other three federal agencies that administer Wilderness (National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management) all specifically banned bicycles in designated Wilderness in their initial regulations and there was never any doubt about or challenge to the rules.

 

The 1964 Wilderness Act has served the nation well in the 50-plus years since it was enacted.  It protects these special places from activities that degrade their wilderness values, including mechanical transport and mountain bikes.  As a nation, we need to continue to use humility and restraint in how we treat our Wildernesses, and that includes not weakening the Wilderness Act.  The new bill in Congress (S. 3205) would allow mountain bikes to invade these sanctuaries.  That bill must not pass.  There are many, many areas for riding bicycles, but Wilderness is not one of those places.

 

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kevin proescholdtKevin Proescholdt of Minneapolis is the conservation director for Wilderness Watch[iv], a national wilderness conservation organization.  He has written widely on Wilderness, including Troubled Waters: The Fight for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness[v] (1995) and Glimpses of Wilderness[vi] (2015).



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Wolke On Wheels

Wolke On Wheels

By Howie Wolke

howie 05 03 13 201A slightly edited version of this essay appeared in our Summer 2016 newsletter.

Our readers will note much discussion about mountain biking in this issue of Wilderness Watcher. As I reflect upon my early years in the conservation movement (the mid-1970’s), the primary opponents to Wilderness were the timber, mining, oil, livestock and off-road vehicle industries. Mountain bikes simply did not exist. But times have changed, to say the least.

If, in 1975, I could have peered into a crystal ball and seen that groups of mostly young, physically fit people would replace extractive industry as the primary organized impediment to Wilderness designations and to keeping Wilderness wild, my jaw would have dropped. Yet that’s exactly what has happened.

It’s not that the traditional wilderness foes have disappeared. Rather, off-road mountain bikers have emerged as an organized anti-wilderness lobby every bit as fanatical as typical four-wheel drive or extractive industry proponents. Almost wherever there are endangered roadless lands, off-road bicyclists emerge to oppose or diminish potential Wilderness designations.

But that’s just part of the problem. Radical mountain bikers are also lobbying to open the National Wilderness Preservation System to mountain biking. They’ve even convinced two U.S. Senators, Republicans Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee (both from Utah) to introduce the so-called “Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Act” (S-3205) that would amend the Wilderness Act to allow for mountain biking at the discretion of the managing agencies! This is a dangerous bill, for once we amend the Wilderness Act for bicycles, will snow-machines be next? And will we also tarnish the Wilderness Act for who-knows-what contraptions that have yet to be invented?

Please contact your elected representatives and ask them to oppose the Hatch/Lee bill.

One of the most egregious mountain biker claims is that the Wilderness Acts’ authors never intended to exclude bicycles from designated Wilderness. Hogwash! In fact, the Wilderness Act did not specifically preclude mountain bikes because these contraptions didn’t exist in 1964, and the authors couldn’t even imagine them. Yet with impressive foresight, the Wilderness Act specifically excludes “mechanized”, not just motorized transportation.

What really sticks in my craw, though, is that these people claim to be “conservationists”, who just want the rules changed to accommodate their “harmless” muscle-powered recreation. Yet mountain biking in wild country is anything but harmless. Bikers destroy fragile vegetation by riding off-trail. They also rip up trails. And studies show mountain biking to be particularly disturbing to sensitive wilderness-dependent species such as grizzly, lynx and wolverine, because the quiet, speedy approaches startle animals. And, as a recent fatal incident near Glacier National Park illustrates, backcountry biking in griz country is bad for both the bear and the biker!

In addition, mechanized speed renders the deep interior of wild country more accessible and less remote. Wilderness landscapes become effectively smaller, and for non-mechanized human travelers, the “wilderness experience” becomes more ordinary, contrasting less with civilized environments. And make no mistake; mountain biking is about speed and adrenaline. Otherwise, bikers would be content to walk. And they wouldn’t need to wear the padded lycra suits with helmets.

Conservationists? Hardly. With exceptions, mountain bikers are just another self-interest group, willing to sacrifice land protection for their own selfish purposes. Wilderness, by contrast, is about selflessness, a statement that we humans ought to simply let nature prevail wherever possible, while we still have the chance. Off-road mountain bikers are, in general, as selfish as any organized anti-conservation lobby.

There are so many reasons to designate new Wilderness areas and to keep the National Wilderness Preservation System as wild as possible. It almost seems frivolous to spend so much energy on bicycles. But in modern America, where the political discourse constantly sinks to new lows, nothing surprises me. The mountain biker problem is real. It has already kept millions of deserving acres out of the Wilderness System. And some of these people want to kick the door in for a wheeled invasion of designated Wilderness, too. It is time for the conservation movement to take the gloves off and oppose these alien invaders of Wilderness and potential Wilderness with all of our resources.


Howie Wolke, President Wilderness Watch
& Co-Owner, Big Wild Adventures
Emigrant, Montana


Howie Wolke co-owns Big Wild Adventures, a wilderness backpack and canoe guide service based in Montana’s Paradise Valley, near Yellowstone National Park. He is an author and longtime wilderness advocate, and is the president of Wilderness Watch.

 

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It’s time to change how we administer Wilderness and strengthen the National Wilderness Preservation System

Brett HaverstickBy Brett Haverstick

 

Taking a long trip into the backcountry during winter doesn’t appeal to some people. That’s understandable. But I enjoy it, and it’s something I try to do a few times a year. Winter backpacking is very different, and more challenging, compared to strapping on the pack during other seasons.

 

For one it’s darn cold, with many trips never getting above freezing, day or night. Two, there’s usually lots of snow on the ground, which means you’re probably wearing snowshoes, and, perhaps, breaking trail too. Three, your pack is heavier because of all the extra warm gear you are carrying, including more food because you need to consume a lot of calories each day. Four, you have to work harder in just about everything you do, from setting up your shelter and trying to stay warm to melting water and attempting to stay hydrated. Five, there’s not a lot of daylight, so you have to stay motivated and keep moving if you want to cover some miles. Lastly, not too many people want to spend 5-6 days in the cold, blowing snow of the northern Rockies in January! But find someone to share the workload if you can!

 

My recent trip into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness was with a friend, and, perhaps more importantly, an individual with a skill set that I could trust and depend on. Once the weather report showed a high-pressure system moving across the region, Russell and I finalized our plans and set out for the trailhead. We felt confident we could cover 50 miles before the next weather front moved in.

 

brett haverstick 1    brett haverstick 2

 

For two and a half days, we trudged across the frozen ridge, one foot after the other, breaking snow almost the entire time. Occasionally, we would hear the call of the raven or the knock of the woodpecker, but for the most part we walked in silence and deep in thought. Accompanying us the whole time was a set of moose tracks, with deer and elk tracks scattered about. It appeared snowshoe hare were in the area too. Blood on the trail indicated that a mountain lion, or another carnivore, might have wounded one of the ungulates.


The daily routine of building the morning fire, boiling water, drying gear, packing up, snowshoeing 10-16 miles, and then searching for a place to dig out the next snow cave was in some ways more mentally challenging than physical. But the white silence of the forest was peaceful, views of the snow-covered mountain peaks were tantalizing, and the cold, crisp air was exhilarating. With each arduous step, the wilderness boundary drew nearer.


You know the feeling. As one travels down the trail, through the forest, around the next bend or over the saddle, your heart pounds like a kid at Christmas. You anxiously await the sign that reads “…Wilderness, “…National Forest.” Yes, you say to yourself. Hope for humanity. Escape from the madness. Refuge for the plants and animals. Nature’s Bill of Rights at last. Leave me here and let me die with my true friends! And down the trail you continue.


Prior to our trip departure, Russell and I learned about the intent of the Idaho Fish & Game Department to land helicopters, and harass and collar elk, in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. We were angry, concerned, disappointed, and flabbergasted by the fact that the Forest Service gave the green light to land machines in the Wilderness, up to 120 times over a 3-month period. Of course, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 time or 12 times, but 120 times was mind-blowing. Who the hell is running the Forest Service? Didn’t they, along with millions of Americans, just celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act not too long ago? Looks like that was lip service!


And what about the people running the Idaho Fish & Game Department? Why do they still have authority over wildlife management on federal public lands? Why are their intensive and intrusive management plans being permitted in federally designated Wilderness? When is that going to change? Why is the Forest Service continually shining the shoes of the state hook and bullet departments? Who is really administering the Wilderness?


As Russell and I descended in elevation on the third day, the sun shined warmly, the skies stretched a bright blue, and the mighty Salmon River came within view. We peered though the binoculars, and combed the south-facing slopes for herds of elk. Dozens of ungulates lay basking on the hills, while those closer leaped and bound to a more secure place. We also observed whitetail and mule deer (strangely enough together) and lots of wolf tracks. Far off in the distance, we saw what looked like two golden eagles circling a spot on the hill, as if a kill had recently occurred.


Despite seeing a number of horses by the river late that afternoon (why are horses running freely on the national forest in winter, particularly in crucial winter-range habitat?), not a human was in sight, and the frozen riverbank was ours to explore and make home. We rested and dreamily watched small pieces of ice float downstream along the sides of the quiet, rolling river.


Later that evening, after a hot meal, warm fire, and the usual time-to-get hydrated routine, we dozed peacefully under a star-studded sky when suddenly we were awoken by the yips, screams, and howls of coyotes. After shaking our heads no, those are not wolves, we gleefully listened to the songs (and celebrations?) of a dozen coyotes not far from our tarp. They yipped for 3-4 minutes but it felt like a lot longer than that. The sweet music of the Wilderness had finally reached us!

When day broke and our bags were packed, Russell and I contemplated where the Idaho Fish & Game helicopters could be. Were they invading to the south along Big Creek? Were they harassing and stressing dozens of cows and calves to the east? The mere thought of these non-conforming, highly mechanized machines flying and landing wherever they want in the Wilderness made us sick to our stomachs. We both wanted to know how can the uses of helicopters, net-guns, tranquilizers, and GPS-collars be the minimal tool(s) needed to administer the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness? None of it made any sense. Little did we know that wolves were being collared too.


Which leads me to my final thoughts. What good is a National Wilderness Preservation System if the federal officials charged with administering the system, and individual areas, continues to approve projects that are incompatible with the Wilderness Act? Why are the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service repeatedly rubber-stamping proposals that harm Wilderness? How is the collaring of wildlife in federally designated wilderness representative of a self-willed landscape? Explain to me how helicopters, net-guns, and radio-collars enhance or preserve wilderness character?

This tragedy (“accident”) should serve as a lightning rod to spark a discussion, better yet, a movement, to do two things: create an independent federal department solely charged with stewardship of the wilderness system, and pressure Congress to pass legislation that forbids all state fish and game agencies from conducting any operations inside federally designated Wilderness.


To hell with the Forest Service and the other federal agencies, which continue to trammel the Wilderness and our natural heritage. We cannot keep leaving it to the attorneys to defend the Wilderness Act. We must do something bold. The status quo is badly broken and only getting worse. Ed Abbey is rolling in his grave and still screaming, “The Idea of wilderness needs no defense, just defenders.” This message needs to reach every living room in America.


Brett Haverstick is the Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group based in Moscow, Idaho. He has a B.S. in Parks & Recreation Management from Northern Arizona University and a Master’s degree in Natural Resources from the University of Idaho. He has been a member of Wilderness Watch since 2007. The views expressed are his own.

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Can We Still Keep Wilderness Wild?

louise lasley wilderness watch presidentby Louise Lasley

Most of us probably believe we can correctly figure out fact from fiction, good from bad, and many other distinctions we make every day. But sometimes our perceptions are forged by subtle, if inadvertent, messages we receive. And before long the collective perspective becomes our culture with an almost unobservable change in what is believed to be right or good or necessary. This shift from original intent to accepted practices applies to our best-protected lands and threatens not only designated Wilderness, but the Wilderness Act, too.

 

I recently received information on an upcoming wilderness festival, and the first thing that caught my attention was the phrase: “management is a necessary part of our interaction with this resource” (meaning Wilderness). I count this as one of those subtle messages that tend to shift behavior. To manage something is a dynamic, manipulative action that implies human intervention and control. The responsibility of the four federal agencies that oversee Wilderness is to administer these lands using a hands-off approach rather than manage them. Congress and the American people have set aside Wilderness to allow nature to call the shots.

 

The Wilderness Act defines Wilderness as, “…an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Howard Zahniser explained in a 1957 speech the intended meaning of “untrammeled” as “free, unbound, unhampered, unchecked, having the freedom of the wilderness.”

Stewart Brandborg worked closely with Zahniser on the Wilderness Act, and then served as executive director of the Wilderness Society for 12 years after the law’s 1964 passage. These two roles created millions of acres of designated Wilderness. The late Bill Worf, a former Forest Service (FS) supervisor and fierce advocate for Wilderness, was part of a small group tasked with writing the FS regulations for the Wilderness Act. For years these two men were the backbone of Wilderness Watch, the only national organization working exclusively to assure that Wilderness is administered according to the law. Neither would stray from their conviction that the Act does not allow for compromise nor should it be subject to individual interpretation.

I can’t tell you when the shift from the original intent for stewardship of these lands began, but it has been moving a lot. The other night at dinner Stewart Brandborg said that the next presentation regarding Wilderness should be titled: “It’s all Screwed Up.” Here are a few examples of how the law is being disregarded:

 

  1. A private company used a helicopter to haul materials to repair the Fred Burr High Lake dam in the Montana portion of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, even though in the past materials were carried in by packstock or found onsite.
  2. A proposed road would cut through the Izembek Wilderness in Alaska.
  3. In the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, commercial towboat traffic has increased significantly instead of maintaining levels existing at the time of designation.
  4. There is a proposal to considerably expand the Fish Lake airstrip in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho.
  5. In the Emigrant Wilderness in California, buildings have been rebuilt and commercial packstations exceed historical numbers.
  6. Commercial shellfishing is occurring in the Monomoy Wilderness in Massachusetts.
  7. 450 Helicopter landings have been proposed for bighorn management in Wildernesses in Arizona.
  8. Motorized cattle herding has been proposed in Wildernesses in the Owyhee region of Idaho.
  9. Water developments have been built in the Kofa Wilderness in Arizona, using construction equipment and helicopters.
  10. Unnecessary structures have been restored and rebuilt in the Olympic Wilderness in Washington.
  11. And on and on…


Such illegal actions were probably considered acceptable by the agencies, weren’t that much different than some earlier action, or would help with an issue unrelated to Wilderness. Or as my friend Howie says, “They have landscape amnesia.” In other words, they’ve forgotten what Wilderness is supposed to be. All illegal actions are damaging to Wilderness, but cumulatively they amount to a “death by a thousand cuts,” with incremental changes sometimes only obvious over longer periods of time.


How did we get to this place? Who is responsible? Often, agency employees notify Wilderness Watch of violations occurring in Wilderness. The most abused part of the Wilderness Act is the administrative exception in section 4(c), which allows the minimal action necessary to administer the Act. It was intended to apply to those exceedingly rare instances where motorized equipment, motor vehicles, aircraft, structures or installations are truly necessary and constitute the absolute minimum required to preserve Wilderness.  Instead, the agencies increasingly invoke the exception whenever it is convenient or to promote recreation or one of the other uses of Wilderness. Unfortunately, many of these violations provide the jumping-off step for the next, bigger illegal action.


The U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have a long history of resisting the Wilderness Act. But it is not just the agencies that have dropped the ball. Congress has failed in its oversight of the agencies and its review of the state of the Wilderness system. A 1989 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report requested by the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands found that the Forest Service was “devoting only minimal attention to wilderness,” but nothing came of the report’s recommendations to prevent further degradation of Wilderness. In 1995, Congress passed the Paperwork Reduction Act, which rescinded a provision of the Wilderness Act that required the agencies to submit substantive annual reports to Congress on the state of the Wilderness system. And in perhaps the most alarming assessment of the Wilderness system, a 2001 report by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation warned, “The four wilderness agencies and their leaders must make a strong commitment to wilderness stewardship before the Wilderness System is lost.” Yet neither Congress nor the agencies have made any meaningful actions to address the recommendations of this in-depth, comprehensive report. It is now largely forgotten.


Current stewardship oversight, or lack thereof, is only part of the degradation of Wilderness by Congress. Congress is proposing bills as damaging to Wilderness as the violations the agencies are carrying out—and maybe more so. Bills designating Wilderness in the past were clear and simple and adhered to the Act. Increasingly, wilderness bills include exceptions not in the Act, have language that undercuts the Act, or add damaging non-conformities to both existing and proposed Wildernesses. The current Congress includes 51 such bills. , Many of the proposed bills are supported by the larger conservation organizations, who, because of their size, proximity to DC, and their budgets, have usurped negotiations from local organizations who are working to designate additional Wilderness. These larger organizations who claim that compromise is necessary to gain more public support, along with Congress, are making the Wilderness Act into something other than what was envisioned during its long and inclusive passage into law.


So whose responsibility is it to ensure that Wilderness retains the character that makes it wild, that ours and future generations are able to experience the wild, and that accountability for wilderness is acknowledged and accepted? I believe this responsibility belongs to Congress, to the four administering agencies, and finally to us—the “public”, the folks who know the wilderness lands around them, cherish their unique and special qualities, and are grateful for what Wildernesses don’t have: those activities that would make a Wilderness just the same as any other place. The question remains, can we still keep Wilderness wild in the face of so many challenges to the Act’s original intent?

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Paddling would mar wild landscapes

Paddling would mar wild landscapes
By Franz Camenzind

franzFor the second time in as many years, a bill that would open certain waterways within Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to "hand-propelled vessels" is making its way through the legislative maze in Washington, D.C. Introduced by Congressman Cynthia Lummis and pushed by the kayaking and packrafting community, the new law is aimed at granting this single user group access to more front- and backcountry waterways in our two national parks. As written this bill directs "the Secretary of Interior to promulgate [to proclaim formally or put into operation] regulations to allow the use of hand-propelled vessels on certain rivers and streams" in the two parks.

Instead of having our park's waterways managed by resource professionals abiding by the service's Organic Act, this bill would set as policy the desires of a special interest group teamed with Washington politicians. This is a terrible way to manage our national parks.

A leading force behind this legislation is the Jackson-based American Packrafting Association. Its website presents a list of rivers and streams it wants studied for floating — 39 in Yellowstone and 13 in Grand Teton, totaling 475.2 miles. Included are portions of the Gros Ventre River (the park-elk refuge section), Cottonwood, Ditch, Spread, Pacific, Pilgrim and Lake creeks, and parts of the Firehole, Madison, Gallatin, Gardner, Lamar, Lewis, Nez Perce, Pebble and Slough creeks in Yellowstone. A singular (unwritten) goal of APA is to gain access to the 36-mile stretch of the Yellowstone between Seven Mile Hole (a few miles below the Lower Falls) and Gardner, with the grand prize being the 20-mile segment known as the Black Canyon.

If these streams are opened to whitewater adventuring, iconic vistas enjoyed by millions of visitors each year will no longer seem wild and untouched. Instead, visitors will be distracted by scenes of florescent technology cutting through the heart of some of our nation's most treasured landscapes. Gone will be that glimpse of what primitive America looked like when the land was untouched and imaginations were free to contemplate creation's many wonders. Tranquility and the ability to be inspired by wild, uncluttered vistas are values worthy of protection, too. These are values cherished by millions of visitors each year. Values worth protecting for all future generations. So much would be forever lost if packrafting, kayaking and floating were allowed on these few, last free-flowing waterways. And all because one special interest group wanted another adventure-filled playground.

Proponents argue that this law will only cause the parks to "study the feasibility" of floating select streams, and that this study needs to occur because this issue has not yet been properly analyzed. Both assertions are false. As written, the bill would require the parks to divert their under-staffed management teams away from day-to-day park operations and have them conduct an expensive NEPA analysis of all floatable rivers and streams within their jurisdiction, and to create regulations allowing certain streams to be opened to floating. The APA claims that it only wants 42 "select" waterways studied. A NEPA process would likely require that all major floatable segments and all types of floating devices be analyzed. APA does not control how NEPA works.

In part because of heavy pressure from a few individuals in the late 20th century, Yellowstone officials conducted a NEPA analysis of this very issue. The document signed in 1988 recommended that: "Due to the high level of potential impact that river boating has on the biophysical environment of Yellowstone National Park, the No Boating/No Action alternative is recommended." The recommendation was based in part on the fact that abundant whitewater opportunities occur outside the park. Apparently APA has chosen to ignore the previous findings and that the study even occurred.

Every time we extend our self-indulgent and technologically enhanced desires deeper into the backcountry — whether it be opening waterways to kayaking, carving turns in remote backcountry or paving trails through rich wildlife habitat — we force wildlife into smaller corners of our remaining undisturbed lands. How many times, how many ways can we keep squeezing our wildlife and still hope to have sustainable populations? Our stewardship responsibilities demand that we examine our actions and impacts generations into the future. Not just for our benefit but, for the future of the land and the wildlife it is home to.

There is no other Greater Yellowstone. Our parks should be the most protected and most intact parts of this greater landscape. They should not become pleasuring grounds for a select group of adventure seekers wanting to push their new technologies deeper into our wildlands. Why is it that we seem to want to conquer everything like dogs running feral across the landscape? Can we not leave a few of our planet's remaining treasures free from change?

Conservation has its deepest meaning when motivated by selfless altruism, not special interest desires.

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Dr. Franz Camenzind is a wildlife biologist turned filmmaker and environmental activist. In his career he conducted numerous wildlife assessments, often focusing on threatened and endangered species. Serendipitous opportunities lead him to a long career in the documentary film industry where he produced films on coyotes, wolves, grizzly bears, pronghorn antelope, giant pandas and black rhinos. Although now enjoying retirement in his Jackson, Wyoming home of 44 years, he is still very much involved in local, regional and national environmental issues. He spent his last 13 years as Executive Director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. Prior to that he served on its board for 13 years and was one of the founding board members of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Dr. Camenzind serves on Wilderness Watch's board of directors.

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A winter visit to Cumberland Island Wilderness

A Winter Visit to Cumberland Island Wilderness
by Jerome Walker

photo 02 04 15In February, the weather is usually perfect on Georgia’s coastal islands.  That’s one of the reasons why America’s  wealthiest men formed the exclusive Jekyll Island Club during the late 1800’s and turned that island into a Gilded Age playground.  Every winter they repaired to their “cottages” on Jekyll to hunt, fish, play golf and tennis, sail, and otherwise divert themselves. It’s rumored that poor Thomas Carnegie wanted to join the club, but because he and his brother Andrew came to this country as penniless teenagers from Scotland, they were supposedly turned away. Whether this story is true or not, in 1884 Thomas Carnegie purchased most of Cumberland Island, just south of Jekyll Island. He and his wife Lucy then proceeded to build a complex of lavish mansions there. Today, 17 mile-long Cumberland Island, larger than Manhattan Island, is a National Seashore, administered by the National Park Service. Along with places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, it’s been designated a World Heritage Center by the United Nations for its unique natural beauty. Roughly the northern half of the island is a federally designated Wilderness.

 

Since Cumberland Island now belongs to the American public, who purchased it from the private owners, in early February of last year my wife and I decided to check on our property by making a three day-back-pack. It was her first visit to the island, and we especially wanted to visit Cumberland Island Wilderness, and also visit Carol Ruckdeschel, a renowned biologist who lives on the island. For decades, Carol has fiercely protected both the island and the endangered sea turtles who nest on its beaches every summer.  Carol is part of the fascinating history of Cumberland Island, and has been written about by a number of writers, including John McPhee. The most recent, and probably best account of her efforts to keep Cumberland wild, is Will Harlan’s book "Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island," which was published by Grove Press this past May.

 

 

After spending the night in St. Marys, a sleepy fishing village on the southeast tip of Georgia’s coast, we boarded the early morning Park Service ferry for the 45 minute ride to the island. Pelicans and gulls flew overhead and dolphins played in the ferry’s bow wave. After a brief orientation at Sea Camp Ranger Station -- which used to be developer Charles Fraser’s headquarters when he had plans to turn the island into another Hilton Head -- we started walking north towards the Wilderness.  Along the way we passed near Greyfield, one of the mansions built as wedding gifts for Thomas and Lucy Carnegie’s children. Now it’s an inn run by some of the Carnegie descendants.

 
photo2 02 04 15 2A little over a decade ago, on a backpack with friends,  I witnessed the Park Service driving a pickup truck through the wilderness area, and later saw a truck load of guests staying at Greyfield Inn being taken on a motorized commercial tour through the Wilderness. Soon thereafter, the Park Service, with the blessing of The Wilderness Society and National Parks Conservation Association, began conducting its own motorized visitor tours using 15-passsenger vans. When this was reported to Wilderness Watch’s founder Bill Worf, he was incredulous and came to Georgia himself to check it out. Later, in 2004, Wilderness Watch brought suit against the Park Service and won in the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.  A three judge panel ruled unanimously that of course driving in Wilderness was illegal. Unfortunately, this victory was short-lived, as the local Republican Congressman, Jack Kingston, quietly tacked a rider onto an omnibus spending bill in Congress later that same year. His rider removed the unpaved single lane main road that runs the length of the island and also the entire beach from the Wilderness. This was the first time, and hopefully the last, that Wilderness had ever been removed from the National Wilderness Preservation System without public input.
 
Later that day, we passed another luxurious Carnegie mansion, Plum Orchard, which the Park Service has renovated at considerable expense for daily tours.  At 25,000 square feet with countless bedrooms, an indoor pool and squash court, a huge formal dining room, a “gun room” for the men, and an enormous staff of servants, it was a wedding gift to Thomas and Lucy’s son George, who enjoyed it only for a few months each year. Finally, we reached the wilderness boundary and spent our first night in Yankee Paradise, one of three designated wilderness camping areas.  The next day we hiked under huge live-oak trees dripping Spanish moss to our next campsite at Brickhill Bluff, which overlooks the marshes between the island and the mainland. After setting up our tent, we continued hiking to the north end of the island. This is a small area beyond the wilderness boundary shared by Carol’s modest cabin, the historic one room First African Baptist Church, established in 1893, and a private complex owned by the Candlers, heirs of the inventor of Coca-Cola. We spent a very pleasant afternoon sitting on Carol’s porch, marveling at the pet animals, including several buzzards, that live there with Carol, and talking about the challenges of keeping the island protected, which are explained in an excellent website that Carol writes, http://www.wildcumberland.org.
 
The next day we had a long hike back to the ranger station to catch the afternoon ferry, mainly walking on the beach, which is so long you can’t see from one end of it to the other due to the earth’s curvature.  We didn’t spot a single person until we reached the south end of the island!  This place, in my view, is the most beautiful and interesting place in Georgia. Cumberland gets into your blood, and it’s my hope to continue to visit the island at least once a year.



Jerome WalkerJerome Walker's introduction to Wilderness Watch and Wilderness began when his late wife, Melissa, author of Living on Wilderness Time, served 10 years on WW's board, including a term as vice president. A retired neurologist who specialized in groundbreaking headache research and treatment, Jerome has concentrated on wilderness photography for the last two decades. He has photographed wild country from Alaska to Florida, traveling on foot and by canoe. Jerome's images have been displayed in galleries and currently are in private and corporate collections throughout the country. They have been used in books, newsletters, calendars and are on his website (jeromewalkerphotography.com). His time in Wilderness has led him to recognize its fragility and has motivated his work to protect it. He lives in Missoula, MT.
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So-Called Conservation Groups Betray Wilderness

So-Called Conservation Groups Betray Wilderness
By Howie Wolke

howie 05 03 13 201This is the slightly amended written document that I worked from while giving my talk at the 50th Anniversary Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque this past October. My actual talk included some additions that I felt were important based upon what I’d already experienced at the conference and a few deletions due to the time constraint. I did begin with a brief story of a personal encounter with a sow grizzly with cubs that illustrates how much we still do not know about wildland ecosystems. The actual speech can be viewed on You Tube.


My name is Howie Wolke and I live in the foothills of the Gallatin Range in southern Montana just north of Yellowstone National Park, about a mile from the greater Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Complex. I’ve been a wilderness guide/outfitter for backpacking and canoe trips since 1978. I am also a past President and the current Vice-President of Wilderness Watch.

When I first applied to give a presentation at this conference I intended to share my thoughts about the state of our wilderness lands on the ground, given my perspective from having guided well over 500 wilderness treks. Most of these trips have been 5-10 days in duration, and after 36 years I still guide trips from the Arctic Refuge to the Gila including many areas in between. Our company’s major focus, though, are the wildlands of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, my primary home range. There may be someone out there with more guiding experience than I have but if so, I don’t know who that person is.

I mention this because unfortunately, my guiding perspectives will have to be shared outside the context of this panel, perhaps over a beer somewhere or at another forum. That’s because there’s little opportunity in this conference to examine as a group, with meaningful interchange, the failings of and potential remedies for, effective wilderness activism in the U.S. This is my attempt to focus at least a bit of attention on a very big problem that I will soon describe.

Let me be clear: I really appreciate the staggering effort put forth by conference organizers. They’ve secured some wonderful and well-known keynote speakers, like Terry Tempest Williams, Sylvia Earle and Dave Foreman -- plus some famous media people, agency leaders and politicians, and that’s fine. But there were some glaring omissions and perhaps for the next Wilderness conference we could also include folks such as Michael Soule’, George Wuerthner and E. O. Wilson (who advocates that 50% of the planet should be biodiversity reserves, way more than most of the American Conservation Movement is willing to support). I should also mention Carole King, a real wilderness activist hero in addition to being a pretty fair singer/song-writer.

And perhaps future conferences could be better structured to facilitate debate and real interchange of ideas. In my mind, it is unfortunate that this very panel is competing with 11 other concurrent panels. That’s an insult. I came all the way to Albuquerque to talk to 8% of the participants? This conference is a wonderful gathering of some really great minds. But it’s very academic, not at all conducive to having wilderness advocates really examine and debate as a group where we should be going after 50 years of Wilderness legislation in the United States.

The truth is that a deep malaise afflicts wildland conservation. Certainly, there are some really great activist groups out there, on the local, regional and even national levels. Such as Friends of the Clearwater, Wilderness Watch, Western Watersheds Project, Friends of the Bitterroot, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Swan View Coalition, and many more. But these outfits are routinely undercut by a relatively small cadre of big national and regional groups with big budgets, and often with obscenely big salaries for their executives. Real activism that highlights education and organizing wilderness defenders has been swept aside, replaced by collaborative efforts to designate watered-down Wilderness. That’s where the money is, so the PEW Foundation and other funders who defend the status quo dictate strategy, favoring radical compromise and collaboratives where everyone holds hands and sings Kumbaya. These collaboratives forge deals that make some people feel good but almost always the land and its creatures get the shaft. These outfits work for legislative notches in their Beltway belts, at any cost -- the costs often being special provisions in Wilderness bills and radically truncated Wilderness boundaries. This creates increasingly human-manipulated and tame “Wilderness”.

Unfortunately, I am not simply talking about honest differences of opinion over strategy. I’m talking about the Big Greens actively working against conservation, routinely teaming up with corporate exploiters and other anti-wilderness constituencies. There’s a fine line between strategic differences and actually working to oppose grassroots conservation; and that line is now routinely crossed. I’ll give you just a few examples, which is all that my time allotment allows, but there are, sadly, plenty more.

So, of course I am disappointed but not surprised that TWS President Jamie Williams is a conference keynote, because – as I will shortly explain – his organization has turned its back both on the Wilderness Act and it’s formidable but increasingly distant pro-wilderness past. Now, before anyone accuses me of getting personal, I assure you that there is nothing personal about this. I don’t know Jamie Williams; I’ve never met him. He is probably nice man who believes that he’s working for the greater good. But I do know that his organization has abandoned its formidable history of wilderness defense and advocacy and that in The Wilderness Society, the buck stops in his office.

Yet, Stewart Brandborg, former Executive Director of TWS who helped pass the Wilderness Act, was not invited to be a featured speaker here, and don’t let anyone tell you that he was, because that’s simply not true. If they really wanted him they could have got him; he wanted to come. He told me this in a personal conversation just a few days ago. But perhaps because some of the organizers knew that he was planning to strongly reprimand TWS/PEW/USFS etc., he remains in Montana. Like many of us, Brandy is truly horrified by what's happened to the wilderness movement and he wanted me to convey that message to this group.

In some ways, the problem really materialized during RARE II, when a small group of TWS and Sierra Club Washington, D.C.-based employees, I’m told led by Doug Scott (another of this conference’s keynote speakers, by the way) decided that conservationists should propose less than half of the available national forest roadless acreage for Wilderness. My old friend Dave Foreman was one of those D.C. strategists at the time, but to his credit, he later renounced the RARE II strategy of minimal proposed Wilderness. Unfortunately, out of 80 million available national forest roadless acres (62 million inventoried in RARE II), the Carter Administration, constrained by the conservation movement’s radically compromised vision, recommended just 15 million acres for wilderness designation. The dye was cast. The opportunity to define the wilderness/roadless debate on biocentric terms by advocating Wilderness for all or nearly all roadless areas was blown. Millions of wild acres were subsequently bulldozed, and with exceptions, the wilderness movement has behaved like a beaten dog ever since.

The Wilderness Society has fallen far. Earlier I complained about TWS President Jamie Williams being a Keynote speaker at this conference. Here are just a few examples why: TWS has opposed the efforts of Wilderness Watch and local conservationists to keep Georgia’s Cumberland Island National Seashore wild, by supporting the National Park Services’ running motor tours through this designated Wilderness. TWS has also encouraged the BLM to allow ranchers to use ATV’s in the Owyhee Canyons Wilderness in Idaho, and it has supported an extremely absurd Forest Service plan to burn nearly the entire Linville Gorge Wilderness in North Carolina! Of equal shock value, a couple of years ago, TWS staffer Paul Spitler produced a paper entitled “Managing Wildfires in Wilderness”. That paper supported logging, road-building and bulldozing pre-emptive fire-breaks in designated Wilderness. I quote from this TWS Paper: “In short, any fire suppression activities that are allowed outside of wilderness are allowed within wilderness as well”. That is an incorrect interpretation of the Wilderness Act, arguable at best, but why is TWS working to promote rather than restrain heavy-handed management in wilderness? Do they not recall Howard Zahnisers’ poignant reminder that in Wilderness “we must be guardians, not gardeners”?

And then there’s Green Mountain, in Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness. That’s where the Forest Service illegally replaced a dilapidated fire lookout with a brand-spanking new lookout/visitor center under the phony guise of historic preservation. Wilderness Watch sued the Forest Service and won a legal slam-dunk victory for Wilderness and for the Wilderness Act. The FS was ordered to remove the structure. But TWS again undercut conservation by working to exempt Green Mountain from the requirements of the Wilderness Act. And Congress did exactly that. Obviously, TWS is so determined to appease the agencies that they have abandoned their mission, with zeal. When Stewart Brandborg was running TWS, there were certainly strategic differences among groups, sure, but this kind of undermining could never have occurred. Back in the 60’s and 70’s TWS understood the need to support, not oppose, the grassroots. But that was a long time ago. Long before TWS saw fit to put Wilderness deconstructionist Bill Cronin on its Board of Directors. Even worse, TWS is now paying former timber lobbyist and Assistant Agriculture Secretary Mark Rey for lobbying services! Rey has a veritable history of radical anti-environmentalism and his lobbying for TWS is like the NAACP hiring the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Clan! Yesterday we hard speakers Chris Barnes and Ken Brower eloquently describe this problem in general terms, and suggest that first and foremost we all need to love wilderness. I suggest that we also stop hiring those who don’t!

TWS is not alone at working to undermine the efforts of other conservationists. In my home region, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) produced a display at a recent Montana Wilderness Association convention extolling the virtues of broad-scale national forest thinning/logging for nebulous and scientifically incorrect “forest health” reasons. They did this as other groups work to educate the public about the folly of the so-called “forest health” claims made by some in the Forest Service and industry. With friends like GYC, who needs enemies? And a few years ago, MWA betrayed the Central Montana Wildlands Association, a small grassroots group based in Lewistown, Montana. These folks had sued the Forest Service over a travel plan allowing snow-machines in the Big Snowies WSA. But it turns out that MWA had cut a deal with the Montana Snowmobile Association to allow snow-machines in part of the Wilderness Study Area. Then, MWA actually intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of the Forest Service and the snowmobilers, opposing the grassroots effort. You did not hear me wrong.

The Wilderness Society, MWA and GYC have also refused to support a grassroots wilderness proposal for a 545,000 acre Gallatin Range Wilderness in Montana and Wyoming, and in a number of instances that I’d be happy to detail when I’m not on the clock, have intentionally undermined the efforts of a local group, Montanans for Gallatin Wilderness. A GYC representative even told us that their group wouldn’t support any more Wilderness than our Democrat Senator Jon Tester supported. Huh?

TWS and its cohorts seem to forget that our job is to push, pull, cajole, embarrass and encourage the agencies and politicians to support new Wilderness designations and to keep designated Wilderness wild, even when – no, especially when – individual bureaucrats and politicians drag their heels. Our job is not to rubber stamp agency plans or to appease Congressional Democrats. We must challenge public officials whenever their actions diminish or degrade Wilderness!

I could continue, but time is running short. Again, I respect strategic differences within the conservation community but what I’ve described is something entirely different. In the past I’ve counseled fellow conservationists to avoid public criticisms of other conservation groups. I thought we should not air our dirty laundry for all to see. But I’ve changed my mind. The situation has gone too far. When a wheel is broken, ignoring it won’t fix the problem. The Conservation Movement has lost its way. John Muir, Bob Marshall and Howard Zahniser spin in their graves. The malfeasance must end.

I don’t know what the solution is except to say that perhaps it’s time for groups such as TWS, MWA, GYC, The Nature Conservancy (whose chief scientist Peter Kareiva argues that Wilderness has become irrelevant) and maybe some others to simply disband and get out of the way. Of course I know that this won’t happen. I also appreciate that occasionally these outfits do good work. But occasionally doesn’t cut it. Protecting our priceless heritage of both designated Wilderness and potential designated Wilderness Areas is not going to get easier as the already overpopulated United States of America continues to expand its already bloated amount of human biomass. As the U.S. population climbs toward 350 and 400 million Americans, pressures on wilderness are going to increase from every imaginable direction. Continued destructive behavior by so-called conservation groups simply exacerbates an already difficult situation.

In summary, recall that Ed Abbey once wrote that “the idea of wilderness needs no defense, only more defenders”. That’s true today, more than ever. Wilderness is about restraint and humility. It teaches one that we don’t know it all and never will. There is wisdom in the rocks and the trees and the deserts, the prairies and the tundra. Wild habitats speak to us, if we listen. And one thing they tell me is to heed the wisdom of the wilderness movement’s early visionaries. Now is not the time to abandon their ship. Let’s quit playing “Let’s Make A Deal” and other political games and get on with the real job of really defending what remains wild.

I realize that many people will find what I just discussed to be profoundly disturbing. I certainly do. And believe me, I would have much rather discussed what I’ve learned about wilderness on the ground from my 37 years as a wilderness guide. But I also feel strongly that to avoid this difficult discussion would have been neglecting my responsibility both to the Conservation Movement and to the Wilderness itself.

Howie Wolke, Vice President Wilderness Watch
& Co-Owner, Big Wild Adventures
Emigrant, Montana


Howie Wolke co-owns Big Wild Adventures, a wilderness backpack and canoe guide service based in Montana’s Paradise Valley, near Yellowstone National Park. He is an author and longtime wilderness advocate, and is a past president and current board member of Wilderness Watch.

 
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Wilderness: The Next 50 Years?

Wilderness: The Next 50 Years?

christopher barns martin nie 200x150By: Martin Nie and Christopher Barns

September 3, 2014 commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964. No other environmental law, save perhaps the Endangered Species Act, so clearly articulates an environmental ethic and sense of humility. The system the law created is like no other in the United States. Once designated by Congress, a wilderness area is to be managed to preserve its wildness, meaning that these special places are to be free from human control, manipulation, and commercial exploitation.

Celebrations are being planned throughout the country and each will undoubtedly take a look back at the history of this law and the land it now protects. But what is the future of the wilderness system?

The story of wilderness is far from finished. Most at stake are lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Both agencies manage millions of acres that are potentially suitable for wilderness designation. For the USFS, this includes land that is currently managed pursuant to the 2001 roadless rule (35.7 to 45 million acres depending on the inclusion of the ever-contested Tongass National Forest), and state-specific roadless rules covering Idaho (9.3 million acres) and Colorado (4.2 million acres). Also at stake are wilderness study areas (3.2 million acres) and places recommended for wilderness designation by the agency itself (5 million acres).

The BLM manages 528 Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) totaling approximately 12.8 million acres, most of which were identified in the initial BLM inventory of its lands in the late 1970s. The agency is currently updating its inventory of other areas with wilderness characteristics, and a very rough estimate is that an additional 5 to 10 million acres will be identified – not including Alaska. The first inventory for areas with wilderness characteristics on lands managed by the BLM in Alaska has started, and perhaps 40 million acres will be found.

These lands provide the base from which future wilderness designations on USFS and BLM lands may come. Complicated planning processes, interim management measures, and politics will ultimately determine whether or not these lands are protected in some form in the future. The politics of wilderness is more complicated and challenging in 2014 than it was in 1964. We believe that three interrelated factors will shape wilderness designations in the future: extreme political polarization, trends in collaboration, and increasing demands for the manipulation of wilderness.

Congressional Polarization
We begin by focusing on the increasing polarization of Congress and its impact on wilderness politics. Since the Wilderness Act requires an act of Congress to designate wilderness, what happens in this institution necessarily impacts what happens to wilderness-eligible lands.

The history of the Wilderness Act makes clear that Congressional partisanship and ideology have always factored into wilderness politics. After all, Congress considered some 65 versions of the law over an eight-year political process. Politics notwithstanding, the U.S. House of Representative still passed the law by a vote of 374 to 1, and in the previous year, the U.S. Senate passed a version of the Act by a 73 to 12 margin.

What has so remarkably changed since these votes is the degree of partisan and ideological polarization of Congress. The so-called "orgy of consensus" that ostensibly characterized the environmental lawmaking of the 1960s and 1970s has all but disappeared in a loud and angry falling out of the center.

Political scientists show the extent to which the parties have polarized, or become more ideologically consistent and distinct, since the 1970s. A drastic homogenization and pulling apart of the parties is evident. A task force convened by the American Political Science Association shows there to be a major "partisan asymmetry in polarization." According to the authors, "Despite the widespread belief that both parties have moved to the extremes, the movement of the Republican Party to the right accounts for most of the divergence between the two parties."

Polarization has already impacted wilderness politics. For example, the 112th Congress was the only Congress to actually decrease the size of the Wilderness System. And we cannot recall a House session that has introduced or passed so much anti-wilderness legislation.

There is little reason to believe that polarization will abate any time soon so chances are good that gridlock and dysfunction will characterize wilderness politics, as it does in so many other policy areas. Designations will become more difficult and those opposing them will ask for a more absurd list of political concessions. If legislative channels remain blocked, we also suspect that a wilderness-friendly President will take more protective actions in the future, such as using Executive powers to withdraw lands from mineral development or by using the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments.

Compromise and Collaboration
Some wilderness advocates have embraced more collaborative approaches to wilderness politics, an approach whereby those seeking additional wilderness make deals with an assortment of interests that want something else, from rural economic development to motorized recreation. While collaboration could potentially break long-time wilderness stalemates, we fear that those collaborating in today's polarized political context may make deals that collectively threaten the integrity of the Wilderness System.

The move towards collaboration in contemporary wilderness politics is understandable for a couple of reasons. First is the nature of the remaining wilderness-eligible lands managed by the USFS and BLM. Many wilderness battles of the past were focused on protecting "rocks and ice," high altitude alpine environments with fewer pre-existing uses than found on lower elevation lands. But many current wilderness proposals now aim to protect lower elevation landscapes—and thus places with more "historic" uses and entrenched interests associated with them. The growing use of motorized recreation also helps us appreciate why some wilderness advocates have a sense of urgency when it comes to making deals to get wilderness designated sooner rather than later. Wilderness advocates fear that these machines will increasingly intrude into potential wilderness areas and make their protection more difficult in the future because of associated impairments and claims of "historic use."

That compromise is part of wilderness, as it is for politics more generally, is not the dispute. What is disputed is whether these compromises have gone too far in recent years and what precedent they set for the future of the Wilderness System. We suspect that multi-faceted negotiations, in which wilderness is but one part of larger deals, will increase in scale and complexity. Wilderness may become currency in lop-sided negotiations—providing something to trade in return for more certain economic development on non-wilderness federal lands.

We are also concerned that those interests collaborating will view the original 1964 law as simply a starting point for negotiations and that there will be increasing calls for non-conforming uses and special provisions in newly-designated wilderness areas, such as language pertaining to grazing, wildlife management, motorized use, and fire. Precedent is a special concern in this context because of how often special provisions—to meet the desires of those opposed to wilderness—are replicated in subsequent wilderness laws. There appears to be a disturbing trend in the collaborators representing "conservation" interests negotiating away central tenets of the Wilderness Act in exchange for simply getting an area called "Wilderness" designated. As a result, recent legislation appears to be enshrining the WINO – Wilderness In Name Only.

Wilderness Manipulation
The third issue pertains to what we believe will be increasing demands to control and manipulate wilderness in contravention of the law's mandate to preserve wilderness areas as "untrammeled." Such demands will likely be made in the context of ecological restoration and efforts to mitigate and adapt to various environmental changes, such as threats posed by climate change. We suspect that future wilderness designations and the politics surrounding them will increasingly use climate change—whether as a legitimate concern, or merely an excuse—to focus on issues such as water supply, fire, insects, disease, and invasive species.

The relationship between water and wilderness will be particularly problematic in the West. Testifying before Congress on the proposed San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act of 2011, the USFS shocked many by opposing the bill's provision to prohibit new water development projects in the new wilderness areas.

The water issue is also likely to manifest itself through the artificial delivery of water to wildlife populations in wilderness. The USFWS acquiesced to the state of Arizona's request to build two artificial wildlife waters to benefit bighorn sheep within the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness, despite the presence of over 60 such installations already in the area. However, this decision to manipulate the wilderness ecosystem was contested, and in 2010 the Ninth Circuit ruled that the USFWS failed to adequately analyze whether these "guzzlers" were necessary to meet the law's minimum requirements. It seems that the courts will defend the undeveloped nature of an untrammeled wilderness where the agency charged with its stewardship will not.

Recently introduced legislation goes even further – beyond simply providing artificial water: the Sportsmen's Heritage Act of 2012 version that passed the House would guarantee that any action proposed by a state wildlife agency would automatically satisfy the "necessary to meet minimum requirements" test mandated by Section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act.

Manipulating wilderness ecosystems frequently involves placing structures or installations in areas that are, by law, supposed to be undeveloped. They may make the area less natural, even though the law requires wilderness to be "protected and managed to preserve its natural conditions." And, uniformly, they manipulate areas "where the earth and its community of life are [supposed to be] untrammeled." These demands may end up as bargaining chips in the designation process – part of the increase in collaboration and compromise that is the hallmark of recent legislation. Manipulating wilderness ecosystems, which now seems acceptable to some "conservation" interests, may become a de facto political requirement in an increasingly polarized political climate where it seems one side seems to not care how an area is managed as long as it's called "Wilderness," and the other side doesn't care what it's called as long as it's not managed as wilderness.

So, is "Wilderness" an idea whose time has come and gone?

***

We reflect on the words used by Congress in establishing the Wilderness System in 1964:
In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.

The italicized words are emphasized because they explain why the reasons for adding to the Wilderness System are stronger in 2014 than they were fifty years ago. In 1964, the U.S. population was 192 million, it is now approaching more than 319 million. Along with this increasing population has come a staggering expansion of settlement, especially in the American West, and a phenomenal increase in the amount and power of motorized and mechanized use on public lands. The Wilderness System remains vital in protecting places and values that are increasingly rare in modern society.

Now, more than ever, we need the transcendent anchor provided by Wilderness. This is not asking for too much when we consider that roughly 5 percent of the entire U.S. is protected as wilderness, and a mere 2.7 percent when Alaska is removed from the equation. Nor is it too much when we consider that the majority of the U.S. has already been converted to agricultural and urban landscapes, with much of the remaining lands networked with roads. We are not so poor economically that we must exploit every last nook and cranny of our wild legacy for perceived gain; we are not yet so poor spiritually that we should willingly squander our birthright as Americans.

This is why we must fight for "Capital W" Wilderness, as originally envisioned, and make a stand for those last remaining roadless areas with wilderness characteristics that deserve our protection. It also means pushing back against the tide of compromising away the very essence of wilderness, and resisting the urge to manipulate wild places as if they were gardens to produce some desired future as if we knew what was always best for the land.

We need Wilderness, real Wilderness. Now, more than ever.
***

Martin Nie is Director of the Bolle Center for People & Forests at the University of Montana. Chris Barns is a BLM Wilderness Specialist in the National Landscape Conservation System Division, and that agency's representative at the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center. His contribution to this essay should not be taken as an official position of the Department of the Interior or BLM. The Article from which this essay stems was published by the Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy in October of 2014. Click here to view.
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Wilderness in the Eternity of the Future

Wilderness in the Eternity of the Future
By Ed Zahniser

*Editor’s note: The following is reprinted from a speech Ed Zahniser gave this past May in Schenectady, NY.

wilderness50thkellyedzahniser 09 09 14Ed Zahniser speaks at the Kelly Adirondack Center of Union College in Schenectady, NY, May 8, 2014. The Center includes the former home of Paul and Carolyn Schaefer and family. Photo: Dan Plumley, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.


My father Howard Zahniser, who died four months before the 1964 Wilderness Act became law 50 years ago this September 3, was the chief architect of, and lobbyist for, this landmark Act. The Act created our 109.5-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System.

Had I another credential, it would be that Paul Schaefer—the indomitable Adirondack conservationist—was one of my chief mentors and outdoor role models. Paul helped me catch my first trout. I was seven years old. That life event took place in what is now the New York State-designated Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area in the Adirondacks. Izaak Walton should be so lucky.

I worked for Paul Schaefer’s construction outfit, Iroquois Hills, for two high school summers. I lived here in the family home—897 St. David’s Lane—along with three of Paul and Carolyn’s four children, Evelyn, Cub, and Monica, and Paul. I slept in the Adirondack room—in the loft. Carolyn Schaefer, Ma Schaefer, was cooking for the weather station on Whiteface Mountain those two summers. Evelyn and Monica and I were on our own in the kitchen with an oven that had just two settings, “off” and “hot as hell.”

I spent many of those summer weekends with Paul in his Adirondack cabin, the Beaver House, near Bakers Mills. It was his heart’s home. And so for me, as in much of life, it’s not what you know. It’s who. But I must add that trying to fry three two-minute eggs the way Paul Schaefer liked them—with NO cellophane edges!—could bring down more wrath than Marine boot camp. And don’t ever let Paul sleep too late on Sunday morning to make it to mass in nearby North Creek.

Paul Schaefer lived by letterheads. He had a double fistful over the years. I was born the same year as Paul’s letterhead group Friends of the Forest Preserve, formed in 1945 to fight the Black River Wars. I must now confess—with all due respect—that my siblings and I still often address each other as “Dear Friends of the Forest Preserve.” Today the official group is Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

When I first read James Glover’s A Wilderness Original: The Life of Bob Marshall it reminded me that the many family friends I grew up taking for granted as national conservation associates of my father Howard Zahniser had been recruited by New Yorker Bob Marshall in his travels. Bob Marshall’s cohorts and co-founders of The Wilderness Society included Benton MacKaye, Bernard Frank, Harvey Broome, Aldo Leopold, and Ernest Oberholtzer. They carried on his wilderness work as The Wilderness Society after Marshall died at age 38 in 1939.

MacKaye, Frank, and Leopold were trained foresters, as was Marshall, who also had a PhD in plant physiology. Broome was a lawyer for the Tennessee Valley Authority, where MacKaye and Frank worked as foresters. Also helping with Marshall’s early Wilderness Society work were his personal recruits Sigurd Olson, an advocate with Ernest Oberholtzer of today’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, and Olaus and Margaret E. “Mardy” Murie, who would play crucial roles in the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Bob Marshall inspired wilderness advocacy not only for federal public lands but also for the Adirondack wilderness of his youthful summers at the Marshall family camp near Saranac Lake. In July 1932, three years before The Wilderness Society was organized, Bob Marshall ran into a young Paul Schaefer atop Mount Marcy. Schaefer was photographing ravages of forest fires caused by careless logging of Adirondack High Peaks forests above the elevations that loggers had assured Bob Marshall and others that they would not cut.

Paul Schaefer was doing what his conservation mentor John Apperson said we must do. Stand on the land you want to save. Take pictures so the public sees what is at stake. John Apperson’s rallying cry was “We Will Wake Them Up!” Paul would practice just that for more than a half century of wildlands advocacy. Atop Mount Marcy, not far above Verplanck Colvin’s Lake Tear of the Clouds, Bob Marshall captured Paul Schaefer’s wild imagination. Marshall called for wilderness advocates to band together, which took place with The Wilderness Society’s birth three years later, in 1935.

In 1946, 14 years after his peak experience with Bob Marshall, Paul Schaefer recruited our father Howard Zahniser to defend Adirondack forest preserve wilderness. Apperson and Schaefer showed their documentary film about the dam-building threats to western Adirondack forest preserve lands at the February 1946 North American Wildlife Conference in New York City. My father had gone to work for The Wilderness Society the previous September 1945. After their presentation, my father told Schaefer that The Wilderness Society would help defend the western Adirondacks against dams in what became known as the Black River Wars.

When they took up the gauntlet in 1946, to block the series of dams was universally deemed a lost cause. But Schaefer and Zahnie—as our father was known—went from town to town in western New York, testifying at public hearings, meeting with news people, and identifying and cultivating local advocates of wildlands.


Zahnie also brought national experts from Washington, D.C. to New York to testify against the dams. So Paul Schaefer was Zahnie’s mentor in sticking with lost causes, too. As Olaus Murie later said—and this is my all-time favorite quotation about our father—“Zahnie has unusual tenacity in lost causes.” That was a New York State skill. I hope you have that skill, too, “. . . unusual tenacity in lost causes.”

Schaefer invited Zahnie and our family to experience Adirondack wilderness firsthand that summer of 1946. Backpacking across the High Peaks wilderness that summer with Schaefer and his fellow conservationist Ed Richard, Zahnie remarked that the ‘forever wild’ clause of New York’s state constitution might well model the stronger protection needed for wilderness on federal public lands. The next summer, 1947, The Wilderness Society governing council voted to pursue some form of more permanent protection for wilderness. That 1947 vote set the stage for the 1964 Wilderness Act.

The administrative classifications that Bob Marshall and Aldo Leopold had won to protect wilderness on federal, national forests were proving ephemeral. A housing boom followed World War II’s end in 1945. Federal bureaucrats started de-classifying administratively designated wilderness areas for exploitation of timber, minerals, and hydropower.

Under Schaefer’s tutelage, Zahnie dove into the Black River Wars here in New York. Zahnie’s federal government public relations work had taught him the machinations of multi-media publicity. But from and with Paul Schaefer in the Adirondacks, Zahnie learned firsthand the art of grass roots organizing and stumping for wilderness. Paul Schaefer built a statewide coalition of hunters, anglers, and other conservationists and held it together by the strength of his personality for 50 or 60 years. If you’re looking for a job, there’s one that is probably going begging tonight.

This truths our calling the Adirondacks and Catskills “where wilderness preservation began.” The epic early 1950s fight against the Echo Park Dam proposed inside Dinosaur National Monument in Utah built the first-ever national conservation coalition. Then, having defeated the Echo Park dam proposal by 1955, Zahnie and the Sierra Club’s David Brower put that coalition to work for the legislation that would become the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Zahnie and David Brower, who then headed the Sierra Club, led the Echo Park Dam fight. Brower told Christine and me at the National Wilderness Conference in 1994 that Zahnie was his mentor in the practical technics of conservation advocacy. So this also puts David Brower in the direct line of mentoring by Bob Marshall and John Apperson and Paul Schaefer’s Adirondack wilderness advocacy. It was also during the western Adirondack dam fights that Zahnie met the philanthropist Edward Mallinkrodt, Jr., who helped bankroll the campaign against Echo Park Dam in the early 1950s.

In 1953 Zahnie gave a speech in Albany, New York to a committee of the New York State legislature. This was my father’s first major public formulation of the wilderness idea. His topic was the remarkable record of the people of the Empire State in preserving in perpetuity a great resource of wilderness on their public lands. The speech was titled “New York’s Forest Preserve and Our American Program for Wilderness.” The 1953 speech also included a sentence that, unfortunately, does not appear in the 1964 Wilderness Act. Zahnie told the legislators that “We must never forget that the essential character of wilderness is its wildness.”

Then, in 1957, Zahnie addressed the New York State Conservation Council’s convention in Albany. He titled this speech “Where Wilderness Preservation Began.” In it Zahnie said: “This recognition of the value of wilderness as wilderness is something with which you have long been familiar here in New York State. It was here that it first began to be applied to the preservation of areas as wilderness.” In August 1996 Dave Gibson and Ken Rimany, Paul Schaefer’s grandson David Greene, and my brother Matt Zahniser and I and our four sons backpacked across the High Peaks to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1946 trip made by Schaefer, Ed Richard, and Zahnie. It remains crucially important to speak clearly and strongly for this unparalleled legacy of wildness—here and nationally—that we love and cherish. And only astute wilderness stewardship can put the forever in a wilderness forever future.

Bob Marshall, who was Jewish, early fought for wilderness as a minority right. Marshall also fought for a fair shake for labor and other social justice issues. On his death at age 38 in 1939, one-third of Bob Marshall’s estate endowed The Wilderness Society, but two-thirds went to advocate labor and other social justice issues. Wilderness and wildness are necessity; they are not peripheral to a society holistically construed.

This bit of biography underscores how Congress declares the intent of the National Wilderness Preservation System Act to be “for the permanent good of the whole people...” —and this by a 1964 House of Representatives vote of 373 to 1. Isn’t that amazing? And by an earlier Senate vote of 78 to 12.

Wilderness and wildness are integral to what Wendell Berry calls the circumference of mystery. Wilderness and wildness are integral to what the poet Denise Levertov calls the Great Web. Wilderness and wildness are integral to what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. calls our inescapable network of mutuality. Wilderness and wildness are integral to what God describes to Job as the “circle on the face of the deep,” to the bio-sphere, to our circle of life, to our full community of life on Earth that derives its existence from the Sun.

The prophetic call of wilderness is not to escape the world. The prophetic call of wilderness is to encounter the world’s essence. John Hay calls wilderness the “Earth’s immortal genius.” Gary Snyder calls wilderness the planetary intelligence. Wilderness calls us to renewed kinship with all of life. In Aldo Leopold’s words, we will enlarge the boundaries of the community—we will live out a land ethic—only as we feel ourselves a part of the same community.

By securing a national policy of restraint and humility  toward natural conditions and wilderness character, the Wilderness Act offers a sociopolitical step toward a land ethic, toward enlarging the boundaries of the community.

Preserving wilderness and wildness is about recognizing the limitations of our desires and the limitations of our capabilities within nature. But nature really is this all-encompassing community—including humans—that Aldo Leopold characterized simply as “the land.” With preserving designated wilderness we are putting a small percentage of the land outside the scope of our trammeling influence.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law on September 3, 1964. Our mother Alice Zahniser stood in our father’s place at the White House signing, and President Johnson gave her one of the pens he used. The future of American wilderness lies in continued concerted advocacy by spirited people intent on seeing our visionary legacy of thinking—and feeling—about wilderness and wildness taken up by new generations. Howard Zahniser said that in preserving wilderness, we take some of the precious ecological heritage that has come down to us from the eternity of the past, and we have the boldness to project it into the eternity of the future. If you are looking for good work, you will find no better work than to be a conduit for those two eternities. Go forth, do good, tell the stories, and keep it wild.

Ed Zahniser recently retired as the senior writer and editor with the National Park Service Publications Group in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. He writes and lectures frequently about wilderness, wildlands, and conservation history topics. He is the youngest child of Alice (1918-2014) and Howard Zahniser (1906–1964). Ed’s father was the principal author and chief lobbyist for the Wilderness Act of 1964. Ed edited his father’s Adirondack writings in Where Wilderness Preservation Began: Adirondack Writings of Howard Zahniser, and also edited Daisy Mavis Dalaba Allen’s Ranger Bowback: An Adirondack farmer: a memoir of Hillmount Farms (Bakers Mills).
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Happy 50th Anniversary, Wilderness Act!

"The Wilderness Bill preserves for our posterity, for all time to come, 9 million acres of this vast continent in their original and unchanging beauty and wonder." -- President Lyndon B. Johnson, upon signing the Wilderness Act into law on September 3, 1964



50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act


Fsigning act 09 03 14ifty years ago today, on September 3, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law at a Rose Garden signing ceremony.  This landmark law established the National Wilderness Preservation System, initially 54 Forest Service-administered areas that totaled 9.1 million acres.  The Wilderness Act also provided, for the first time ever, protections for Wildernesses in the federal statutes, with the goal that wilderness designation would be permanent protection.  The law, thanks to Howard Zahniser (the author of the Act), lyrically provided the legal definition of Wilderness, in part as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The Wilderness Act also required that each additional area to be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System must do so through an Act of Congress.  Since 1964, Congress has responded to the desires of the American public and expanded the wilderness system again and again.  Today, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown to 758 areas that total just under 110 million acres.

More detailed information on the Wilderness Act, its 50th anniversary, and Wilderness Watch’s own 25th anniversary will be found in the forthcoming issue of our print newsletter, the Summer/Fall issue of the Wilderness Watcher.

south side tent 950x348(1) 09 03 14 2So today we celebrate with deep pride and great gratitude the people, like our own Stewart "Brandy" Brandborg, who struggled to pass the Wilderness Act for the eight long years it took, and for all those across the country who have fought to protect other areas that are now part of our magnificent National Wilderness Preservation System, areas that will be, in the words of the Wilderness Act, “an enduring resource of wilderness” for all generations.

Happy Anniversary!
1920px gila.panorama 09 03 14 3
Photos:
TOP: On September 3, 1964, President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law.  Standing behind him are many of the Congressional sponsors of the law.  On the far right is Secretary of Interior Steward Udall. The 3rd  from the right in the front row, with the dark-rimmed glasses and dark hair, is Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman. Only two women stand in the group, Alice Zahniser with black hair and Mardy Murie with grey hair. The President gave to each of them the pens that he used in signing the Wilderness Act into law; the husbands of each of these women (Howard Zahniser and Olaus Murie) had worked hard to write and pass the Wilderness Act but had died before that day. Photo by Abbie Rowe, courtesy of National Park Service, Harper’s Ferry Center, Historic Graphic Collection.

MIDDLE: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

BOTTOM: The Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, was one of the original Wildernesses designated by the Wilderness Act. Photo: Wikipedia.
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Wilderness More Important than Ever

Wilderness More Important than Ever

by Kevin Proescholdt and Howie Wolke

kevin and howie1 07 23 14 Christopher Solomon got it wrong in so many ways in his July 6 New York Times editorial, “Rethinking the Wild: The Wilderness Act Is Facing A Midlife Crisis”.  The history of the wilderness movement and of the 1964 Wilderness Act shows how wrong and myopic he was.  In fact, the visionary Wilderness Act is needed now more than ever.

Solomon bases his argument on a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning and value of Wilderness.  He argues that since all Wildernesses are affected by anthropogenic climate change, human manipulation of Wilderness is now acceptable -- even desirable, since the genie is already out of the bottle.  Intervene and manipulate without constraint, he proclaims. But this approach contradicts the very idea of Wilderness.

Mr. Solomon obviously confuses wildness with absolute pristine conditions. Congress never intended to set the bar so high that only entirely natural and pristine areas could qualify for Wilderness designation. Humanity’s global imprint is not new. Climate change is but the latest in a long history of human impacts to every corner of the planet, from smog and acid rain to habitat fragmentation and widespread human-caused extinctions.

A basic understanding of the Wilderness Act helps us understand the value of the uniquely American wilderness idea.  A half-century ago, Congress defined Wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”  Untrammeled means un-manipulated or unconfined, requiring humility and restraint, to allow Wilderness to function without the heavy-handed human manipulations that characterize most of the world.

Human impacts have never disqualified areas from becoming Wilderness.  But once Congress designates a Wilderness, manipulations and interventions must cease. Fortunately, there still remain large untrammeled landscapes where human impacts are “substantially unnoticeable” and where “wilderness character” dominates.

The Wilderness Act’s primary author was Howard Zahniser. His thoughts and writings are central to what the Wilderness Act means, and Solomon would benefit by studying them.  Zahniser wrote, for example, that (unlike Solomon’s contention of the central importance of absolute pristine conditions) it is wildness that is central to Wilderness.  “We must remember always that the essential quality of the wilderness is its wildness,” Zahniser explained, and his choice of “untrammeled” in the poetic definition of wilderness in the 1964 law was intended to protect that core character of wilderness.

Solomon also repeats the misconception that Zahniser and other Wilderness System founders never anticipated threats to Wilderness like climate change.  On the contrary, Zahniser anticipated the very calls like Solomon’s for manipulating Wilderness when he wrote, “Such tracts should be managed so as to be left unmanaged.”  And he defined wilderness as a place where human impacts are “substantially unnoticeable”, not entirely absent.

Change is constant in wild nature; Mr. Solomon is obviously unaware that wilderness enthusiasts have long acknowledged this. Once again, Howard Zahniser provided the needed guidance: “In the wilderness we should observe change and try not to create it!”  Even though changes may occur in Wilderness that we humans may not like, the true test of our commitment to the Wilderness idea is to exercise that humility and restraint and eschew intervention.

Zahniser anticipated calls to manipulate Wilderness, even for seemingly beneficial-sounding reasons such as some of those Solomon proposed.  That’s why Zahniser famously wrote, “With regard to areas of wilderness we should be guardians and not gardeners.”

So while modern human impacts certainly tempt us to try to “fix” whatever we perceive to be wrong or undesirable, let us not forget that such efforts often backfire, simply because nature is far more complex than we can perceive. And such efforts in wilderness would eliminate wildness and the contrast between wilderness and the rest of the planet.

On this increasingly human-dominated planet, un-manipulated wild Wilderness now has more value than ever. Solomon concludes that Wilderness manipulation is a “necessary apostasy to show how much we truly revere these wild places.”  Yet if we follow his suggestions and manipulate the wildness out of Wilderness, there will be no wild places left.  And that is exactly what the Wilderness Act guards against.

 

----------

Kevin Proescholdt is the Minnesota-based Conservation Director for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization. Howie Wolke co-owns Montana-based Big Wild Adventures and has been a wilderness guide/outfitter for 36 years. He is the current Vice President of Wilderness Watch. Each has been actively involved with wilderness conservation for over 40 years.

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The evolution of Monte Dolack's Commemorative Wilderness Poster

Peaceable Kingdom"The Peaceable Kingdom of Wilderness"
by Monte Dolack. ©2014

“The Peaceable Kingdom of Wilderness,” by internationally-acclaimed artist Monte Dolack, commemorates the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary and celebrates our 110 million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System, which spans ancient forests, vast arctic reaches, sweeping deserts, soaring mountains, remote coastal islands, and wild canoe country.

Wilderness Poster thoughts
"I worked through several ideas for this commissioned painting thinking about the important individuals who contributed to the idea of preserving Wild places. It is diverse and many people made this happen. I decided instead to focus on a rather formal portrait of some of the animals of our wild places with a backdrop of some of the wilderness areas across the United States. This painting for the 50th anniversary of the American Wilderness Act is about the interconnectedness of life and richness of landscape. All of our wilderness areas, though separated from each other physically are non-the-less connected, as is everything on this small planet spinning in space. The idea of the Peaceable Kingdom of Wilderness springs from Edwards Hicks’ 1820 Peaceable Kingdom which is folkloric in nature.It is one of the best ideas we as a nation have ever had."

Monte Dolack
5/23/14

Monte Dolack working on an early sketch of the painting.Monte Dolack working on
an early sketch of the painting.
Mr. Dolack was commissioned to create the original artwork and poster by Wilderness50, a group of non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies planning events around the country to commemorate the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary. Wilderness Watch has played a key role in Wilderness50’s planning efforts and recommended Mr. Dolack for this special project. Wilderness Watch worked closely with the artist throughout the process and is handling distribution of the posters.

 

 
Monte Dolack working on an early color study of the painting.Monte Dolack working on an early color study of the painting
Monte Dolack working on the painting's composition.Monte Dolack working on the painting's composition.
Purchase a poster here: https://www.charity-pay.com/d/donation.asp?CID=75

Monte Dolack working on final drawing of the painting.Monte Dolack working on final drawing of the painting.
img 2293 06 18 14 7The painting in progress.
Monte Dolack with the original artwork, Monte Dolack with the original artwork, "The Peaceable Kingdom of Wilderness."

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