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
I had just glanced at Kevin's photo and said (out loud) "Hey, Kevin! Right on!"
and prepared to delete the e-mail when I noticed Submit a Comment. Had to repeat this to you, before I deleted.
Thank GOD/GOODNESS/BRIGHTNESS for this decision! Other folks have said this same - people can run nearly ANYWHERE that is reasonable and be undisturbed. The wild creatures have no such luxury. LEAVE SOME PLACES TO THEM!
i support this decision and applaud the people who made it and chose to put wilderness and wildlife first. i wish more businesses and organizations would have a heart and get their priorities straight.
Wilderness is just that, wilderness! There can never be a place for commercial, or large organized activities in Wilderness Areas. The 2 things are entirely incompatible, and it is inappropriate to abuse wilderness areas for commercial purposes. Please stop the La Ruz Trail Run through the Sandia Mountain Wilderness permanently.
Thank you for your consideration.
I think this is great! We ALL need to protect Nature and enjoy it with as little human impact as possible. The Wildlife that live in these places need the room to roam. They are running out of open spaces as is.
Thanks for standing up for the wilderness. It's no place for races. Let's give the wildlife a break from us humans.
Keep our wilderness areas wild, man does not have to infiltrate every place on earth. Plenty of places to run.
Can't remember the last time I could say HURRAH, Forest Service!! THANK YOU, Ranger Crystal Powell and ALL who are CLEAR that it's past time we look at a Greater GOOD than parochial human "wants" and "desires"...starting with this excellent example. Celebrating and look forward to MORE good news!
I agree. The wilderness is wildlife habitat and humans need to respect that and not invade their territory with something such as a race. There are plenty other places to hold it that do not affect wildlife and nature.
This is a tough one, on one hand, running can be done somewhere else and its good to preserve wilderness. On the other hand, it gives environmentalists a bad reputation when people can't even run through an area on foot. I think its good to stop it, but let them run somewhere nearby that isn't wilderness. Let them run through a park or on a beach somewhere.
Running can be done anywhere with nothing more than two shoes. As a runner, I strongly support protecting wilderness over runners' wants.
This decision is right! We need to stop destroying our land/environment and taking away the natural habitat/homes of our animal life. We co-exist on this earth with animals and we must respect their right to live free with their families minus the intrusion and cruelty of humans.
A BIG thank you to Ranger Crystal Powell! It is wonderful to have competent leadership watching out for Mother Nature. I hope Ranger Powell's wise decision serves an example for other wild & natural areas.
Bravo- #SaveTheWilderness People don't have to tear down, pollute, and encroach on every space there is!