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 agree! Protect the wilderness. We already have too few truly wild places and their ecosystems left. There is a worldwide biodiversity crisis. We must protect what we can!
I agree in not having races in wilderness areas. Other life forms need a place to exist. Sheila Pereira. CO
Certainly, I can understand the disappointment to the runners. But our wilderness areas are running their own race, and that for survival. We need to protect these areas in future despite human disappointment. I hope the runners find an alternative so that both races might be won.
I agree with the decision. Wilderness is wilderness and should be left alone to be enjoyed in the proper manner. Protecting nature should be a number one goal.
Animals need a place to be. And we need to preserve plants they might eat. We need to preserve the planet.
Wilderness areas and national parks are for everyone to enjoy and should not be used for activities like trail races. The decision by the Forest Service was the “correct” and “fair” decision!
Agreed - Wilderness areas should not be used for such events as trail runs. These areas are for wildlife that is getting squeezed into smaller and smaller areas as their habitat is increasingly encroached upon. All of the earth's animals have a right to be here and humans do not need to have unfettered access to every corner of the planet. Areas for trail runs are everywhere. Choose someplace else.
Finding another venue or route outside of designated wilderness is a far better idea than weakening protections for the Sandia Mountain Wilderness.
I have run 37 marathons and dozens of other races. Trail running has a very special feel. It is a thrill. But there are thousands of venues for such runs that are not in Wilderness Areas.
I have also hiked and camped in Wilderness Areas and that is an even greater experience. It is a peaceful inner experience And it can be accomplished without affecting the area or the other people who may be in the area.
The Wilderness must be experienced for the sake of the Wilderness. The thrill seekers can go elsewhere.
I am happy that you were able to put an end to the race. I hope that the runners will understand.
You'll notice we don't have any "wildness" national designation, just "wilder"ness. Says a lot about our species. You'll notice how many species (every category) haven't made it onto the ESA list yet even though some without protection will soon go extinct. Since I'm 70, I bequeath the following disabled, frangible, and possibly doomed world to you. I've done all I can to preserve you, but that's, by itself, probably not enough.
Wilderness areas should not be used to commercial activities including races. The integrity of the wilderness needs to be preserved and the wildlife that inhabit the area are already stressed to due the encroachment of activity on wild areas. There are many, many other areas to use for commercial purposes.
The planet is not ours to treat as plunder, profit, or power - it is our home, we are all a part of a many-million-year-old miracle of an existing, finite, closed-system organism - treat part of it, at least, with respect and love and leave it alone!
Well said! Thank you for cogently stating the many valid reasons why we don’t need yet another intrusion of people on the very few remaining areas where wildlife and the environment can be unmolested and pristine.