by Kevin Proescholdt
The recent decision by Forest Service District Ranger Crystal Powell to deny the permit to run the La Luz Trail Run race through the Sandia Mountain Wilderness may be understandably unpopular with some runners and race organizers (“La Luz race hits end of trail as Forest Service denies permit,” Albuquerque Journal, May 15). But this decision is the proper one to protect the wilderness character of this iconic area.
Wilderness is the most protective land designation in the United States. My organization, Wilderness Watch, works to safeguard Wildernesses around the country. We often challenge Forest Service decisions and occasionally take the agency to court when it violates the 1964 Wilderness Act. But in the case of the La Luz race permit, the Forest Service has made the right decision in accordance with the Wilderness Act and agency policies, and there are good reasons for runners and others to support this decision.
Wildernesses contain a huge array of values, many of them intangible like protecting opportunities for solitude, and some of them more tangible like protecting wildlife and increasingly scarce habitat. These values go far deeper than physical impacts to trails or whether litter is left behind. Wildernesses are emblematic of our human recognition of their inherent wildness, and symbolic of our society’s need for restraint and humility in dealing with them. By designating an area as wilderness, we recognize that area’s right to function on its own, without the active management and manipulation used on other federal lands and without the types of intensive intrusions prominent there.
Commercial activities and competitive races degrade a wilderness’s wild character. They detract from an area’s wildness and make an area more like the lands overrun by civilization, rather than “in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape,” as the Wilderness Act states. That’s why the framers of the Wilderness Act and Congress included a prohibition on commercial activities in designated wildernesses, with only a very narrow exception for some outfitting and guiding activities. The Forest Service’s wilderness regulations also contain prohibitions on commercial activities and competitive events.
I sympathize with organizers of the trail run, particularly when the race has occurred since before Congress designated the Sandia Mountain Wilderness. But all across the country are examples of activities once allowed in areas that have needed to end after an area was designated as wilderness, all to better protect the wild character of these special lands for future generations and for wildlife, which are continually squeezed into smaller and smaller pockets of secure habitat. In Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), for example, the 1978 BWCAW Act ended many activities, including a competitive international canoe race, to better protect the area.
Other options likely exist for the race. A few years back, the organizers of a winter sled dog race wanted to route its race through a portion of the BWCAW. The Forest Service appropriately rejected that proposed route, and the race organizers eventually selected a different route. That outcome—finding another venue or route outside of designated wilderness—may also well work for La Luz Trail Run, a far better outcome than weakening protections for the Sandia Mountain Wilderness.
Editor's note: Kevin's piece ran in the Albuquerque Journal on 5/31: https://www.abqjournal.com/2395565/ending-la-lu-zrun-safeguards-wilderness-2.html
As a trail runner, and competitive one at that, I wholeheartedly support this decision. I have seen firsthand what the competitive races have done to a trail and, as such, I have learned to choose my races with impact in mind. Unfortunately, many others just don't think about the consequences of their actions. Having the Forest Service arrive at this decision was the right choice, though I wish race organizers would be more responsible with their location choices and refrain from hosting events in sensitive areas in the first place. There are plenty of places better suited for a race than our precious Wilderness Areas. Thanks for doing the right thing this time Forest Service!
Thanks, Crystal, for making the decision to protect wilderness values. I support you in this ruling. Susan Ostlie RGVBB of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Yes, the wilderness and the animals that live there are far more important than people's activities. People have encroached on wilderness and animals enough, they can find another location for sports.
It's the correct decision to deny the permit/request in a wilderness area.
Wilderness areas need to be protected for sustaining wildlife and natural habitat.
Trail races can be conducted in other areas.
All wilderness areas, the animals that inhabit there and the environment of the area need to be protected. No racing on the La Luz.
IF THIS ORGANIZATION WHICH DEDICATES ITSELF TO SAVING THE WILDERNESS, HABITATS & ANIMALS SAYS THEY AGREE WITH
THE DECISION THAT WAS MADE NOT TO ISSUE THE PERMIT= THAN I AGREE!!!!!!!!
Thank you for protecting and showing respect for the wilderness. God created the beautiful wilderness and no doubt He is happy to see it being cared for. That is like a sacred space. The runners will survive and not suffer any serious damage.
I am very thankful that societies that I support and contribute to, that aim to protect our remaining wilderness areas, have been successful!!
We desperately need to protect the wilderness for the benefit of our wildlife and for the future of our planet.
I agree. The race does not belong in the wildness!! And the race is barred as a matter of law. As a practical matter this race activity is at complete odds with the wilderness mandate. The race is better held in an urban setting that is adapted for this type of activity.
I totally agree with this decision. A race like this would not only have runners, but those setting the course, media, etc. This does not belong in a designated wilderness area. I'm sure there are many other beautiful spots in the area for the race.
Policy decisions like the one made by the Forest Service is always a balancing act assessing conflicting needs or wants as well as the alternatives available. On the one hand, preserving the integrity of the wildness area and one is allowing taxpayers as runners to enjoy a piece of public property maintained by their taxes. Here, I agree with the decision. Allowing commercial exceptions starts a slippery slope that is hard to defend in the future. No other real option is available to protect the wilderness area. Assessing the runners needs and wants, there are clearly suitable options available on other trails and pathways. If this decision makes them sour on environmentalists, then they would find another reason to do the same if an exception were granted here. Finally, in some ways the organizers want to benefit from the wilderness area because allowing them to set a course through the wilderness area gives them a marketing or promotional unique benefit. They should not be allowed to benefit commercially from the very designation of wilderness that others want to preserve.
Yes yes Yes! You are doing the right thing to protect and preserve the precious and irreplaceable Wilderness character of the Sandia Mountain Wilderness! Stick to your guns! I feel sorry for the people who don't understand the special nature of Wilderness.
That place should be left alone for the wildlife animals & don't disturb by the runners. The runners may run anywhere in the city. Wildlife animals deserve to roam in their wildlife without the disturbance of the runners.
I commend this decision by Forest Service District Ranger Crystal Powell to deny the trail run.
At the end of the day, protecting the sanctity that is Wilderness is paramount.
Allowing a trail run would have set a terrible and inevitably destructive precedent, opening the door to more incursions into areas that have been designated and preserved for wildlife and sensitive flora.
Thank you, District Ranger Powell. Those who love Wilderness and wildlife will not forget this!