Wilderness: A Place to Unplug

By Gary Macfarlane

Gary Macfarlane"The temptation for wilderness users themselves to resort to practices that modify through convenience their own wilderness experiences is indeed one of the great threats to the maintenance of wilderness. When this temptation is used by administrators and other friends of wilderness areas to attract more people into the wilderness the result is a compound threat.”  Howard Zahniser, 1949

Howard Zahniser, the author of the 1964 Wilderness Act and the single person most influential in developing the idea of Wilderness, was perhaps prescient. This quote foreshadowed, more than 60 years ago, one of the most insidious threats to Wilderness, technological communication gadgets. Cell phones and GPS units are the most obvious examples with the second generation of tech toys also including satellite and smart phones, notebook computers, eBook readers, digital cameras and video recorders, personal locator beacons, and MP3 players. And if that isn’t enough, new devices formerly undreamed of are being developed right now.

By using these devices, the user diminishes Wilderness and the wilderness experience for himself and other visitors. Real time web-posting of trips to sensitive, “undiscovered” places can lead to overuse and a loss of solitude, which the Wilderness Act seeks to protect. Viewing photos and/or video of a wilderness spot online certainly diminishes one’s sense of discovery and mystery upon seeing the “real thing.” The GPS-supported sport of geo-caching has led some people to leave illegal caches of junk and litter all over some Wildernesses. Evidence suggests that cell phone use is increasing visitor requests for motorized rescues in Wilderness. Gadgets provide a false sense of security and people fail to prepare for the unexpected conditions inherent in wild places, rather than rely on self-sufficiency to keep themselves safe in wild country. And for those of us who value wilderness as a place to unplug, meeting someone shouting, “Can you hear me now?,” certainly lessens our wilderness experience.

The agencies are also using these devices in Wilderness. They radio-collar wildlife, destroying the wildness of wildlife and wilderness.  There ought to be a few places where we don’t poke, prod, and collar wildlife, where they can live out their lives as wild creatures, and where our science is done the way Aldo Leopold used to do it: with a notebook and field observation. If not in Wilderness, then where? Neither should human visitors be tagged and collared with miniature satellite tracking devices on backpacks, even if agencies believe doing so will improve user management in Wilderness.

A few years ago the idea of radio collars for humans would have been considered absurd.  Already, there are chips embedded in drivers licenses and passports. All too soon, visitors may be required to carry tracking beacons, at least in certain areas. Thus we will be, in effect, tracked and collared wherever we wander. This will be sold as a safety device and a way to better provide a “quality” wilderness experience. All it would take would be a location chip embedded into the wilderness permit, something the agencies have begun discussing in the name of “safety.”

As usual, the agencies and most environmental groups are way behind the curve on this major wilderness threat. The outdoor industry’s aggressive marketing and promoting of gadgets certainly doesn’t help. Indeed, some environmentalists may support and see nothing wrong with the use of these wilderness-destroying technologies.

Aldo Leopold and Howard Zahniser both issued warnings against technology in wilderness. Leopold despised the technology of his day—guidebooks and hunting gadgets. How far we have sunk in the decades since his death! The academic community issued a direct warning, in 1998, about the very kinds of devices that have proliferated (see Wilderness @ Internet: Wilderness in the 21st Century—Are There Technical Solutions to our Technical Problems? Wayne Freimund and Bill Borrie, International Journal of Wilderness Volume 3 Number 4. P. 21-23).  The few warning voices in the environmental movement have been literal voices crying in the wilderness. Scott Silver of Wild Wilderness has written passionately about this problem. Wilderness Watch addressed the issue at a conference in the late 90s when the threat was emerging.

You can do something for Wilderness to keep it wild. Don’t take tech toys on your next wilderness visit. Instead, learn outdoor survival and route-finding skills and be prepared for the unexpected. Learn how to read a map or better yet, navigate by sight or teach yourself to follow a rough game trail. You will be amazed by how much you may experience if you are not always consulting that small luminous screen. Perhaps you will catch a glimpse of a wolf, hear a hummingbird fly by, smell the decomposing leaves on a wet forest floor. Your wilderness experience will be real and authentic if you shed the gadgets. Not only you, but wildness itself deserves no less.

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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At Glacier National Park, History Trumps Wilderness

Heavens Peak Lookout in Glacier National ParkHeavens Peak Lookout in Glacier National ParkGlacier National Park recently decided to move forward with its plan to stabilize the non-operational Heavens Peak Lookout, within recommended wilderness, despite the objections of Wilderness Watch, two retired Glacier NP rangers, and the majority of those who commented on the environmental assessment. The project includes the use of a helicopter (up to 12 flights) and a generator. Wilderness Watch objected to the plan based on its disregard for the Wilderness Act (which prohibits structures and the use of motorized vehicles/mechanized equipment in Wilderness) and Park Service policy (which requires recommended wilderness to be managed as Wilderness).

A local newspaper article stated that opposition to the project was based on, "the belief (emphasis added) that preservation of cultural resources and the use of helicopters are not permitted by the Wilderness Act," when in fact, opposition was based on NPS wilderness policy and federal law. A Wilderness Watch member and former Glacier National Park biologist responded to the article with this excellent Op Ed:

The Inter Lake article “Glacier Park lookout restoration gets green light” (9 June) did not accurately describe the reasons for broad opposition to this project. The article stated: “most opposed it based on the belief that preservation of cultural resources and the use of helicopters are not permitted by the Wilderness Act.”  It is not a question of “belief.” At issue is the accurate interpretation of the letter and intent of the Wilderness Act. Glacier National Park already has proposed this lookout area for inclusion in legal Wilderness. Although a Civilian Public Service crew built the lookout, they simply provided the labor. Put a plaque in a visitor center acknowledging the crew.  But are the crumbling ruins of the Heavens Peak Lookout, built in 1945 and used for only a few years, a cultural resource of such significance that it trumps the values of Wilderness? The Wilderness Act does not permit unnecessary agency use of a helicopter; can helicopter use be justified for this project as if it were essential, e.g., has the same importance as a rescue mission? The decision to approve the project is based on elevating a minor cultural resource to importance it does not warrant and cavalierly dismissing impacts to wilderness values.

This confusing duplicity is nothing new. The National Park Service (NPS) did not support the inclusion of national parks in the Wilderness System when the Act was signed in 1964 and the agency has never demonstrated a commitment to the Act. NPS Historian Richard Sellers has written: “Although many of the National Park Service’s rank and file enthusiastically supported the wilderness bill, the bureau’s leadership seems to have drifted from outright opposition to reluctant neutrality.” The NPS has made this shift by conveniently writing inordinate flexibility into its management standards.

Eight years after passage of the Wilderness Act, the NPS advocated Wilderness classification for Glacier. However, Director Hartzog and Glacier Superintendent Briggle wanted the proposal to include an aerial tram or gondola route from the Many Glacier Hotel to Grinnell Glacier, and new “wilderness” chalets within 100-acre enclaves at Cosley Lake, Debris Creek, Fifty Mountain, and the head of Kintla Lake. Public opposition sunk these schemes.

The NPS proclaims that helicopter flights, a generator, and other activities associated with the lookout reconstruction will have “No Significant Impact” on the environment or on wilderness characteristics. This conclusion is not supported by the facts.  A careful reading of the Environmental Assessment (EA) reveals that short shrift is given to impacts on visitor experiences, natural quiet, natural landscapes, and wildlife. Even when the reconstruction work has been completed, insults will continue with periodic helicopter flights for maintenance. There is no plan to actually “use” the rebuilt lookout. Rather than the old structure continuing to gradually disintegrate, the restored lookout will serve as a permanent blemish on the ridge skyline.

According to the EA, the NPS does not plan to reconstruct the trail to the lookout because it is within the area of highest density of grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Yet we are told that construction workers will bushwhack from Packers Roost to a construction camp. Inevitably, hikers will bushwhack their way to see this intrusive monument. Is this responsible management of prime grizzly habitat?  The route from the planned camp to the Lookout is up a steep talus slope, where the trail will have to be reconstructed to avoid multiple erosion scars. Current NPS wilderness management policy (available on the internet) stresses the importance of determining whether a proposed project has an adverse impact on the preservation of natural conditions including the lack of man-made noises, the assurance of outstanding opportunities for solitude, and the assurance that wilderness will be preserved and used in an unimpaired condition. The basic policy is clear and the Heavens Peak Project does not meet the policy’s criteria for approval. However, the NPS relies on policy exceptions that apparently allow a superintendent to conjure up justifications for antithetical projects such as Heavens Peak.

Wilderness qualities, and the opportunity for visitors to appreciate and enjoy wilderness, depend on the standards by which an area is managed, not simply on naming an area “Wilderness,” as Superintendent Cartwright advocates.

Riley McClelland, West Glacier
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Wilderness: A Plan for Change

By Jeff Kane

jeff kane photo for ww2 05 25 11Last month I had the good fortune to hear a lecture by Dr. Frederick L. Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, at a conference on food justice at the University of Oregon.  In the midst of discussing several aspects of food justice – from environmental sustainability to energy consumption to human health to conditions for agricultural workers – Dr. Kirschenmann discussed how we can bring about the change needed to create an equitable and sustainable food system.

He noted that in the book The End of Oil, author Paul Roberts made the point that bringing about the changes needed in energy policy worldwide would not be a matter of convincing the powers-that-be to make those changes. Rather it would require preparing for the inevitable change that will be forced upon us by dwindling fossil fuel supplies, pollution, climate change, despotic regimes, etc.

The lesson for food activists is not to be worried about persuading beneficiaries of the current broken system to change.  Rather, we should focus on developing alternatives that allow the system to adapt. We should focus on the doing ourselves, rather than trying to convince others to do it our way.

What struck me about this idea – in addition to fostering a vision of change and action that we as individuals can achieve whether politicians, Monsanto, or Cargill ever find it in their interests to tag along – was how the Wilderness Act embodies the concept of planning for the inevitable before the crisis arrives in full force.

Congress’ purpose in enacting the Wilderness Act in 1964, articulated in the Act’s preamble, was

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.

In other words, Congress recognized that development and technology would soon extend to all corners of the country absent concerted planning and statutory intervention. If we sit back and let the inevitable pressures of population growth and economic development act unimpeded, little or none of our country’s landscape heritage would be left in its natural state.

Congress’ solution was to designate large tracks of existing, relatively pristine federal public lands as Wilderness areas. Within each Wilderness, motorized and mechanized uses, commercial activities, and roads, new buildings, and other infrastructure would be prohibited except when consistent with, or necessary to, preserving wilderness character.

Congress’ prescience in recognizing and planning for the inevitable march of development and technology is reaffirmed with each passing day. Wild lands, designated as Wilderness or not, are increasingly under threat of expanding settlement, the tentacles of technology, and economic enterprise. At one time, the agencies that manage wilderness could generally be counted on to understand and work to uphold the Wilderness Act. Now the four federal land management agencies—the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management—seem increasingly to believe it’s their duty to bend and ignore the requirements of the Wilderness Act to accommodate desires for more structures, motorized intrusion, and excessive recreational use.

Each of these trappings, so normal to life everywhere outside Wilderness, threaten to undermine the natural conditions Congress sought to preserve, and the legacy of wildlands unique to America and our history. Thus, the Wilderness Act provided the precise tool needed to plan for the inevitable pressures of change. It is now up to Wilderness lovers and our public servants to bring that plan to fruition and ensure our National Wilderness Preservation System is truly wild.

Jeff Kane recently completed law school and is a member of Wilderness Watch's Board of Directors.
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Your vote will help gain a stronger Wilderness stewardship policy for wildlife refuge Wilderness

Arctic FWSIn 1999 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released a new draft policy for Wilderness stewardship in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The draft policy was a bold step forward for protecting Wilderness on National Wildlife Refuges. Public comments overwhelmingly supported the draft policy with the vast majority requesting the policy be further strengthened to protect Wilderness. But political hacks in the newly arriving Bush administration hijacked the policy, took its final development away from wilderness leaders in the FWS, and turned it over to State fish and game agency officials who were very antagonistic toward Wilderness protection. The resulting current policy is but a faint shadow of the bold policy developed more than a decade ago. Managers are given far too much leeway in approving projects that manipulate wilderness ecosystems—foregoing the Wilderness Act's basic tenet that Wilderness areas be "untrammeled by man"—and far too much leeway for casting aside the Act's prohibition on motor vehicle and motorized equipment use, structures and installations. Wilderness protection is treated as a secondary (or lesser) concern even in designated Wilderness.

With 20 million acres of Refuge lands already designated Wilderness, and tens-of-millions more that qualify for future designation, the need for a revised and strengthened wilderness stewardship policy is paramount. There’s an opportunity right now to show your support for such a policy. The FWS’ new vision initiative, called Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation, offers the chance for public participation by voting on this and other ideas and reviewing and commenting on the draft vision. 

To vote for a stronger FWS Wilderness stewardship policy:

1. Visit the website
2. Click Join the Conversation to create an account or login with your Facebook account
3. Look through the Draft Vision, or go to Your Bold Ideas
4. Use your 20 votes to vote for your favorite ideas (up to three votes/idea)

Ideas we feel are especially worthy of your votes:
1. Revise the Wilderness Stewardship policy*
*Please vote as soon as possible on this idea so that it will move to the front page of "Top Ideas," where people will see it and it'll garner more support.
2. Recognize that our National Wildlife Refuges are not state game production areas
3. Prevent wolf control on Alaska refuges
4. Make the communication of environmental sustainability a high priority for the NWRS and USFWS
5. Wilderness for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
It’s a good idea to comment on the Bold Ideas you support. You can also comment on all sections of the Draft Vision.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to speak up for Wilderness on our wildlife refuges!
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Wilderness and Overpopulation

WILDERNESS AND OVERPOPULATION
By Howie Wolke


pc1702902 03 02 11Nobody knows how many species inhabit this lovely green planet, but estimates range from 10 to 30 million. Yet just one of these species, Homo sapiens, now consumes or otherwise utilizes over half of the plant biomass produced each year on Earth, funneling it into an ever-expanding human population plus related support structures and activities.

Nearly 7 billion humans are creating the greatest mass extinction event since the late Cretaceous Era, when an asteroid crashed into the Earth. As the Earth’s human population grows at the rate of about 76 million additional humans per year, we alter the Earth’s climate, deplete its fisheries, pollute its atmosphere, oceans, rivers and soils, and continually carve civilization into its remaining wild habitats. Overpopulation is at the root of nearly all of our problems, yet few work to tame this beast. That includes the U.S. government, which has no population policy.

Here in the United States, we are slowly increasing automotive fuel economy and building better energy efficiency into new structures. Renewable energy industries are growing. Yet in 2010, we spewed out more carbon and methane than ever before. Why? It’s simple. The technological gains are being overwhelmed by population growth (over 300 million and increasing).

Historically, as humanity grows and spreads, true wilderness has been the first thing to go. Forest are cut, soils plowed, prairies and deserts fenced and over-grazed, rivers dammed, and various habitats are dug up and drilled for oil, gas, coal and metals. Also, millions of miles of roads and highways dissect the landscape. And of course, cities and suburbs sprawl across the planet, gobbling up habitat like a hungry teen-ager gobbles up lunch.

In the U.S. south of Alaska, about 9% of our total land area remains in a wild or semi-wild condition; that is, it’s roadless and more or less natural in chunks of 5,000 acres or larger. About 2-½% of the landscape is protected as designated Wilderness. Yet even as the National Wilderness Preservation System grows, the overall amount of wild country shrinks, as unprotected wildlands in the United States and around the globe succumb to the ever-expanding human hoard.

Population growth also lowers our expectations for wild places. As humans experience increasingly crowded and unnatural living conditions, they settle for “wilderness” that’s decreasingly wild. As wilderness becomes less wild, so does the human soul. Daniel Boone probably wouldn’t consider much of today’s wilderness to be very wild.  Nor, I suspect, would Teddy Roosevelt. Nowadays, even tiny chunks of degraded wildland – for example, over-grazed areas infested with exotics – are viewed by many as “wilderness”.

In the past, I have referred to this phenomenon of decreasing expectations as “Landscape Amnesia”. As ensuing generations experience less wildness and increasingly unnatural landscapes, they begin to collectively forget what real wilderness and healthy habitats are. So we settle for wilderness that’s less wild than ever before. Designated Wilderness becomes less wild and more impacted by the expanding population’s increasing pressures and demands. It is the inevitable result of population growth.

If you read Wilderness Watcher or the Guardian, you know that overcrowding, overgrazing, motor vehicle incursions, illegal water and other construction projects, predator control, pollution and various attempts to manipulate natural processes plague designated Wilderness, and they increase as population grows.

Obstacles to halting and reversing population growth are formidable. For one thing, the momentum of population growth IS the history of our species, so concurrently we tame, subdue and subjugate wild nature partly because we know no other way.

Many on the political left view jobs and social issues as more important than the environment; they miss the numerous connections to overpopulation. And they oppose the tough immigration policies that could halt continued growth (in the U.S. today, population growth is mostly a function of immigration) in the United States. Meanwhile, the political right worships at big industry’s altar of growth at all cost. In addition, religious fundamentalists of nearly every ilk believe that it is their duty to overwhelm all others with their progeny.

And the environmental movement, at least here in the U.S., remains oddly silent on overpopulation.

The solutions to overpopulation are no secret. Economic policies based upon stability, not perpetual growth, are essential. Better health care and education plus political and economic empowerment of women – especially in poorer countries – are equally important. Family planning services must be integral, safe, and available to all, everywhere. Also, men must assume greater responsibility for their obvious role in population growth. In the United States, immigration must be brought under control. We also need to create tax and other economic incentives for smaller families. But none of this will happen if overpopulation continues to elude the discussion.

Until overpopulation is recognized, the United States and many other nations will continue to fail to develop and implement population policies, and humans will continue to obliterate not just wilderness, but most remaining natural ecosystems on Earth. Oh well, it’s obvious that humans can endure in horribly over-crowded, polluted, denuded and impoverished squalor. That’s proven each day in many corners of the world. The flip side of that problem is that so many other forms of life cannot.

Howie Wolke is a Montana-based wilderness guide/outfitter, board director and former Wilderness Watch President, and long-time advocate for wilderness and other wild habitats.
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The Need for Wilderness Litigation

bd jon 102210There is a good amount of cynicism about the legal system these days. Truth is, we have long been cynical about lawyers and lawsuits. “The first thing we do,” Shakespeare wrote in Henry VI, over four hundred years ago, “let’s kill all the lawyers.” The line has a certain humor, even allure, yet today. Just imagine a civilization without lawyers, without litigation. How good, how amicable, how non-litigious life would be!

As a lawyer myself, I am somewhat biased against Shakespeare’s approach. Maybe let’s spare the lawyers, but we could certainly confine them. We could choose to be non-litigious, to forget about lawsuits, to take a more civilized approach. If we have a dispute, let’s talk it through, resolve it like human beings, without the need for a messy lawsuit.

I have heard echoes of this view in the conservation community, and even among wilderness advocates. I have heard accusations that our community and cause, and the groups that represent it, are too litigious, are too willing to run into court over the tiniest little thing. The argument goes that it puts the agencies that steward our public lands and wildlife in a tough spot. Make any move and run the risk of getting sued. Don’t make a move and get sued as well. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

In some measure, that may be right. In some cases, there may be too much reliance on the court system as the fix-all for the environment. But to be honest, I don’t worry about that problem. I trust that the remedies and realities of the legal system will address that concern just fine. What I worry about is our reaction to it. I worry about the view that we should shy away from lawsuits as a means of defending wilderness and the values that it represents, over any concern that we are being too acrimonious by doing so.

We have to keep in mind the basic tenets behind the legal system itself. The root of that system is, of course, the Constitution. This one, short document designed a government of three branches, each one delicately balanced to keep the other two in check. Article I created Congress, vesting it with the legislative authority – the power to make law. Article II created the executive branch, charging it with the duty to faithfully execute the laws that Congress passed. Article III created the judicial branch, vesting it with the authority to hear cases arising under those laws.

This basic structure has an incredibly important implication for wilderness. The reason why begins with Article IV. After creating the three branches, the Constitution vested Congress with the power to regulate federal lands. The legislative power is so broad in this area that absent an unlikely breach of the Constitution, it cannot be challenged. The Supreme Court has held that “neither the courts nor the executive agencies [can] proceed contrary to an Act of Congress in this congressional area of national power.” Congress’s authority is “without limitation.”

While Congress cannot create wilderness any more than it can strike lightning, it can surely seek, through legislation, to protect federal land in its untrammeled, natural condition– as wilderness. To do this, there are any number of paths Congress could have taken. It could have, for example, passed a general mandate turning the issue of wilderness protection over to the executive branch, similar to what the Organic Act did with the National Park System. By so doing, Congress would have taken itself out of the business of wilderness preservation. The law would only have conveyed a general intent that there be lands preserved as wilderness, but would have otherwise left it up to the agencies to figure out what that means.

Such a legislative strategy would have had the compounding effect of mostly taking the judicial branch out of play. The reason for this is sovereign immunity – a doctrine that, in general, makes the government immune from lawsuits brought by citizens. No one can just sue the government out of hand. Instead, Congress must pass a law that waives sovereign immunity to whatever extent it sees fit. In the case of environmental litigation, that law is the Administrative Procedure Act, or APA, which allows citizens to sue governmental agencies in order to overturn administrative decisions that are arbitrary, capricious, or unlawful.

Take heed at that point: Congress wanted citizens to be able to enforce statutes like the Wilderness Act by initiating lawsuits against federal agencies in the federal court system.

With a statute like the Organic Act, this is difficult to do. More often than not, a court will view such a statute as only a general mandate that gives an agency a broad range of discretion to manage the lands under its jurisdiction as it sees fit. For this reason, there are very few cases in which a plaintiff has successfully enforced the Organic Act against the National Park Service.

But for wilderness, Congress took a wholly different approach. Instead of expressing its intent and deferring the nuts-and-bolts to the agencies, it got directly into the business of wilderness itself. The Wilderness Act of 1964 is an unusual federal lands statute in that it provides a series of specific and clear directives on what wilderness is and how a system of wilderness is to be created and maintained. Indeed, one federal judge has deemed it the “closest thing to a purist manifesto as exists in federal law.” The Act’s directives effectively take away much of the discretion that the agencies normally enjoy. For established areas, it imposes a statutory structure with detailed requirements – no vehicles, no structures, and no commerce – along with a strict, over-arching mandate to preserve wilderness character.

The benefit of this approach is that it puts wilderness squarely within the checks and balances of the three branches. Congress can and did pass a law to preserve lands as wilderness. The executive branch is to faithfully execute that law. To the extent that it fails to do so, the judicial branch has the authority to mend any breach of that law. Avoid that last step, and destroy the balance that makes the entire system work. Take out the judiciary and the balance goes away, as does the check on the agencies, leaving no mechanism by which to enforce the Wilderness Act against them.

I do not mean to derogate those that bear the responsibility for stewarding our wilderness areas. In fact, I mean exactly the opposite. Our government is, after all, an enterprise staffed by human beings, who by their nature are not perfect, have their own opinions, and can reasonably disagree. Prior to courts, for hundreds if not thousands of years, the resolution of conflict was a matter of the sword, a matter of might makes right. Our present system of government seeks to avoid that by creating a forum for intelligent, civilized debate moderated by a judge vested with the power of the sovereign. At its root, the idea of litigation is that it allows two disagreeing parties to come forward and speak their peace to a neutral authority, who then reviews the evidence and decides the issue, thereby resolving the conflict. To be blunt, the point of the judicial branch is to resolve conflict, not to create it.

What better opportunity is there to advocate the values of wilderness than that? What more reasoned approach exists by which wilderness advocates can air their disagreements with agencies to an authority that is obligated to follow and enforce the law exactly as it is written?

Indeed, such a forum lends itself particularly well to a statute like the Wilderness Act. It is hard to find a more clear, basic statutory command than, for example, there shall be no motor vehicles in wilderness. But the challenge of understanding the Act is that the rationale behind such statutory commandments is not so easy. The reason why it is important to have wild areas free of motorized vehicles is not obvious. It requires an understanding of not only the inter-workings of all of the Act’s terms, but also the philosophies and ideals underlying those terms – as the author of the Act, Howard Zahniser, put it, the need for wilderness itself.

In fact, Zahniser himself recognized that part of the need for wilderness lay in its educational lessons, which in his words included “the lessons of history – a stimulus to patriotism of the noblest order – for in the wilderness the land still lives as it was before the pioneers fashioned in and from it the civilization we know and enjoy.” Such lessons of history include our political history, the values underlying our own system of government. On one level, the Wilderness Act seeks to preserve a system of lands that allowed the American democratic experiment to occur and flourish. Likewise, the Declaration of Independence holds that our self-evident rights are derived from the state of nature – wilderness itself. As we litigate wilderness issues, we are placing our trust in the legitimacy of a system born from the geographic and philosophical roots of the very lands we are seeking to preserve.

So too does litigation lend itself well to the oversight of different lands in a common system. No lawsuit is an island. Each judicial decision that is handed down creates and becomes a part of a greater body of law in and of itself.

While courts in different circuits and jurisdictions can disagree, all decisions, no matter how minor, have at least some weight. Whenever a lawyer steps to the podium to argue for wilderness, he or she is never doing so only with respect to the issue at hand, but is seeking an application of the Act that will exist in perpetuity, for as long as our government shall last. Litigation over the Wilderness Act is not only a check on the agencies that administer wilderness, but also acts as a continuous test of the Act itself. If courts find the Act to be infirm, or unclear, then there is no better signal that the Act is not doing its job and needs to be strengthened through legislative action.

As for the idea that wilderness advocates could somehow be too litigious, the practicalities of litigation offer an effective deterrent. Lawsuits are hard. They require a significant investment of time and resources, and no matter the amount of effort expended, they are always difficult to win. The judicial system must be used judiciously. A plaintiff must carefully consider the merits of every lawsuit in advance, to determine whether the issue at stake is worth fighting for, whether there are sufficient resources to see it through to the end, and whether a good or bad outcome will enhance or inhibit the greater aspects of the cause. No one who takes litigation lightly will advance their mission, either by rushing to the courthouse for any minor dispute, or refusing to do so for any dispute.

Be cynical towards litigation. Be wary of lawyers. But do so in the right way, a way that is careful in approach but bears in mind the incredible importance that this branch of government has. Anyone who has been in this line of work for any length of time realizes that effectively advocating for wilderness preservation demands effective advocacy in all three branches. Wilderness needs litigation. If we decide to ignore that, then the very resource we seek to protect is destined for the same fate as Henry VI.

Jon Dettmann is an attorney with Faegre & Benson in Minneapolis, MN, an experienced Wilderness Act litigator, and President of Wilderness Watch's Board of Directors.
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Perseverance Pays Off

Wilderness Watch's efforts help preserve the Emigrant Wilderness--Black Bear TrailWilderness Watch's efforts help preserve the Emigrant Wilderness--Black Bear TrailA poorly conceived trail project in the Emigrant Wilderness in California was recently modified as a result of persistent efforts by Wilderness Watch’s Central Sierra Chapter. The steep and rough primitive trail, consistent with the wilderness setting, accesses a relatively remote part of the Wilderness immediately adjacent to Yosemite National Park. From 1997 to 2004 Wilderness Watch repeatedly raised concerns and requested more detail about a proposed “reconstruction” project that would have fundamentally changed the area’s wilderness character. The Forest Service provided no further information, and we heard nothing until this past May when a local newspaper article alerted us that the project had received funding and would be done this year. When further inquiry revealed the project had been categorically excluded from environmental assessment or analysis through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and approved with a decision memo, Wilderness Watch considered legal action to stop it. Acknowledging that the planning process had been mishandled and our concerns with the project had not been properly considered, the district ranger then offered some major modifications that positively responded to our primary concerns. The changes also addressed erosion problems and meadow impacts without significantly altering the trail’s character. Thanks to the Central Sierra Chapter for its unrelenting efforts, demonstrating the importance of focused commitment and resolve to ensure a good outcome for wilderness.

Photograph and post by Steve Brougher
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Building New History in Wilderness

Green Mountain 'Lookout', Glacier Peak Wilderness, WAGreen Mountain 'Lookout', Glacier Peak Wilderness, WAWilderness Watch recently alerted its members to the U.S. Forest Service’s (FS) newly constructed Green Mountain “Lookout” in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington’s North Cascades (and also mentioned a number of other outlaw projects we’re dealing with). It was built with freight helicopters and power tools along with a healthy dose of arrogance. It’s actually not intended to serve as a lookout: the last time a person manned a lookout in the area was the early 1970s. No, this was built to be a visitor center of sorts, complete with its resident ranger leading nature hikes, and directly contrary to the legal mandate that there be no structures or installations in Wilderness.

The agency would have gotten away with this egregious breach of wilderness ethics and law had not a Wilderness Watch member and former wilderness ranger discovered the project on his own. You see, Forest Service officials plotted it in private, avoiding public process or participation, thinking they might sneak their unlawful activities under the radar.

While the administrators who approved this structure may view it as a minor intrusion, the pictures alone demonstrate that it is anything but. This is a steel-reinforced human-built structure high atop a mountain ridge deep in Wilderness in clear violation of the letter and spirit of the law.

This isn’t the first lookout at this wilderness site. What follows is a brief history:

• The original lookout was constructed around 1933.

• By the late 1970's the FS had determined it was no longer serving effectively as a fire detection lookout and it was abandoned.

• The Washington Wilderness Act of 1984 expanded the Glacier Peak Wilderness to include Green Mountain.

• The 1991 Forest Plan contained a standard that read, "Stabilize and preserve the Green Mtn. Lookout. Accept non-conforming structure (We’re guessing there wasn't anyone paying attention to wilderness rules!)."

• In 1998, a brief decision memo was signed for use of motorized equipment for repair (reconstruction) of the lookout. With that decision in-hand, the FS used a grant from the White House Millennium Council's Saving America's Treasures program to construct a new foundation, catwalk, railings, siding, etc.

• In 2002, the whole structure was seriously damaged and was removed from the Wilderness. This was done with a helicopter, but without any public notification or analysis.

• In 2009, the new structure was built. Again, no public notice or environmental analysis. It was all done using helicopters to transport materials, and motorized equipment for the construction. It's obvious from the photos that the materials used in the reconstruction are mostly new (A former ranger describes it as "95% new material including some re-used from the reconstruction ten years earlier.").

What is it about the law’s mandate that there be “no structure or installation” built in Wilderness that the Forest Service doesn’t understand? We don’t intend to let them get away with this. And with your support, we’ll make sure they don’t.
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Cleaning up the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act

Jerry Peak Ken StraleyFor several years Wilderness Watch has been been a leading voice in opposition to the the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA). Working alongside 46 other grassroots conservation groups, we have vigorously fought the most egregious terms of this dangerous, precedent-setting, quid pro quo land bill. Some of those most concerning to us included highly fragmented, watered-down Wilderness-in-name-only designations—where private interests would take precedent over the public good, 5,000 acres of land giveaways and the release of 200,000 acres of potential Wilderness from current protections—opening them to damaging off-road vehicle (ORV) abuse.

This year, Wilderness Watch is happy to report that our work has vastly improved Wilderness provisions in CIEDRA, Senate Bill 3294. Gone from the bill are most of the provisions allowing extensive motor vehicle use, habitat manipulation, and commercial special interest rights in the Wilderness it designates. We’ve asked Congress to make a few additional changes to CIEDRA so it adequately protects the wilderness in the Boulder-White Clouds of central Idaho. These requests include removing motorized corridors splitting the Wilderness into four fragments, protecting Wilderness Study Areas released by the bill from degradation—by prohibiting increased ORV use and corridors, and modifying CIEDRA’s language to precisely match that of the Wilderness Act so the Boulder-White Clouds is administered to protect its wilderness character.

Thank you to all of the groups and individuals who helped clean up this bill! This is a real victory for activists and public land lovers who reject the harmful trade-offs of quid pro quo wilderness legislation.

Click here to read a statement by Wilderness Watch, Western Lands Project, and Friends of the Clearwater on CIEDRA for the hearing record
Click here to listen to the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests hearing on 6/16/10
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Not Open for Business

UPDATE, 9/10: After Idaho Public TV completed filming in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the Forest Service released an interim rule authorizing even more commercial filming in National Forests, including Wilderness. This is in blatant disregard of the Act’s prohibition on commercial enterprise. The only qualification in the new rule is that the agency must approve of the film’s message. The content of the message has no relevance in determining whether the activity is commercial, nor is the regulation of free speech an appropriate role for the Forest Service or any other government agency. An agency spokesperson conceded in a Montana Public Radio interview (1/3 of the way through) that the policy would allow James Cameron (of Titanic and Avatar fame) to shoot his next film in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. We find ourselves in the absurd situation where the agency takes on the Orwellian role of authorizing a “wilderness” experience we view from the comfort of our living rooms, while degrading true wilderness to produce this virtual experience.

The following comment was posted on Idaho Conservation League’s blog in response to their 5/20 post, “Wilderness Take Two.”


Filming in the Wilderness
Posted by Nellie Bunce at Jun 04, 2010 09:17 AM


I was the crew leader on the Trails project, of which was the center of this controversy.
The film crew from IPTV was allowed on our trail project.
I withdrew my consent to be filmed as I have strong beliefs that this type of filming should NOT ever be allowed in our Wilderness areas.
My suspicion that this filming was completely unnecessary was confirmed shortly after our trail work began. We were working the Camas Creek Trail, which begins in the Salmon-Challis National Forest and after 4 miles or so it crosses into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. The film crew would ask several times a day if we could move any faster, If we really needed to fix everything on the trail, When we would get to the wilderness boundary, all the time with the tone of hurry, hurry, hurry....
It was ridiculous. When we finally moved across the wilderness boundary the cameraman stayed long enough to film 2 of my crew members put up a tent and then the cameraman left. Not a single second of trail conservation work was filmed inside the wilderness. This section of filming for, Outdoor Idaho, was a joke. They could easily have filmed outside of the wilderness and avoided this argument altogether and in doing so showed a concerned and valid wilderness ethic, instead of making a mockery of our last best places, our wilderness.


Sincerely,
Nellie A. Bunce

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Not Open for Business

dawn serra 200x150By Dawn Serra
Wilderness Watch • Missoula, MT


The Forest Service initially made the right decision in denying Idaho Public Television’s (IPTV’s) request to film a trail maintenance project in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.  It might have gone a step further by suggesting an alternative location where IPTV could obtain the desired footage, thereby avoiding much of the controversy that has ensued.

The Wilderness Act prohibits commercial enterprise, including commercial filming, in these special places, and it’s the responsibility of the Forest Service to implement the laws that Congress passes.  Unfortunately, after receiving pressure from Idaho Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter and Congressman Mike Simpson, Regional Forester Harv Forsgren reversed the decision of local Forest officials and permitted the filming to start immediately.

Many of the commentaries critical of the Forest Service’s original decision are based on the mistaken notion that IPTV’s “non-profit” status under the Internal Revenue Code makes its activities inherently non-commercial.  That represents a misunderstanding of what “non profit” status means.  Courts have routinely held that private, non-profit corporations can engage in commercial activities, and many do, including public televisions stations.  These stations use their programming to obtain advertisers (“corporate sponsors”), not unlike the network and cable channels do, and to solicit contributions from their viewers.

Others have suggested that IPTV’s record of pro-environment programming justifies ignoring the Wilderness Act and giving the station a filming permit.  However, the content of the message has no relevance in determining whether the activity is commercial, nor is content-based speech regulation an appropriate role for land managers in the Forest Service.  One person’s “educational video” is another’s “fundraising tool.”  I’m sure there will be more than a few Hollywood directors willing to put Wilderness on the big screen for the educational benefit of us all.

The Wilderness Act bars commercial enterprise, including filming, because the Act’s framers saw the benefit, indeed the need, to protect Wilderness from being viewed and used as a commodity, and from having its management compromised by economic interests.  Upholding this aspect of the law may not always be politically popular, but it’s the job of the federal land management agencies to make sure they uphold the law.  When public officials put private interests above those of the people they erode the public’s faith in government and its ability to carry out its responsibilities under the law.

There was a simple solution that met the needs of the television station without compromising the protections afforded wilderness.  IPTV could have done its filming on another trail project in the backcountry, but outside the Wilderness.  Idaho certainly doesn’t lack other wild public lands where trail work could be filmed.  This would be a “win-win” solution that provided the desired film footage without compromising the Wilderness Act or the ethics of the agency responsible for managing the FC-River of No Return Wilderness.
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