Wilderness Advocate Polly Dyer Recognized with Honorary Doctorate

By Susan Morgan and John Miles

pollydyer 04 22 14On March 22, 2014 Polly Dyer received her honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA to recognize and celebrate her lifetime of conservation achievements.

Four years ago, after Polly’s 90th birthday party, The North Cascades Conservation Council reported that three hours of speakers stories hadn’t scratched the surface of her remarkable history. “The fruits of Polly’s leadership have blossomed wherever there is wilderness, from the Wilderness Act of 1964 through WA State’s three National Park Wilderness Areas and our various National Forest Wilderness Areas.”[i] Through six decades of championing wilderness, she has nurtured generations of wilderness supporters.

Polly would be the first to say that her life’s work began in 1945 when she met Johnny Dyer walking up a trail on Deer Mountain near Ketchikan AK. Sparks flew. They were engaged in six weeks and married four months later, and for the next 63 years, Johnny Dyer (“Climber, Sierra Club” pronounced the pin on his hat) fostered his wife’s activism and shared her passion for wilderness preservation.[ii]

The Dyers became a great team; no conservation task was too big or too small. Polly persuaded people to join the cause and served as mentor and model; the network she developed was vast and ranged from local activists to politicians, agency personnel and players on the national stage. She gained the respect of all and grew close to many.

Long-time wilderness advocate Karen Fant remembered going with Polly to the Mt. Rainier National Park Centennial. As they made their way to the car after the program, for more than two hours Polly joyously stopped to talk to dear old friends and associates with the Park Service, Forest Service, USFW, agency and conservation representatives. Karen concluded that she needed a leash or they would never get home. (Polly was driving.)[iii]

Though Washington became her home and center of operations, Polly’s scope is national. When she and Johnny lived for briefer times in the San Francisco area or on the East Coast, Polly organized Girls Scouts and together they started Sierra Club chapters and other organizations. Alaska remains one of her most treasured wild places. So moved by it’s natural beauty and scope, she called her life there “the basis for my whole life since.” In 1947, Johnny crafted leather saddlebags for her three-speed Schwinn, and Polly and friend Dixie shipped their bikes to Juneau where they picked them up and barged to Haines. As they biked toward Haines Junction, Canadian Mounties gave them a lift the last few miles into town. The Mounties also generously offered mattresses to the girls in a building that turned out to be the local jail. “There weren’t any hotels in those days,” Polly says. “Jail was easier than tent camping at that point. Then we biked on to Valdez to get more cash and finally to Anchorage.”[iv]

In 1953 the Dyers joined their friend David Brower and a host of conservation organizations in the historic fight against Echo Park Dam in Dinosaur National Monument. Wearing her hat as the conservation chair of the Mountaineers and another hat as a citizen activist, after a two-year skirmish, she and cooperators prevailed. Dinosaur was saved.

During that fight, Polly met Howard Zahniser, Executive Secretary of The Wilderness Society. Zahnie prepared the first draft of proposed wilderness legislation in 1956, and in 1957, Polly began working with Zahnie and other national, state, and local conservation groups. As they crafted language along the way, Polly suggested that Zahnie use the word untrammeled to “describe the character of the public lands that should be eligible for designation.”[v] After sixty-six versions, the act was finally passed in 1964 to establish the National Wilderness Preservation System and of course that little-used word was in it. Twenty years later she was at the center of the successful campaign to pass a Washington State Wilderness Act, which brought nineteen new wilderness areas into the national system.

In 1958 Polly organized a three-day hike along the coastline of the Olympic Peninsula with then U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to increase public awareness about a planned portion of U.S. Highway 101. If constructed, the highway expansion would have destroyed what is now the 73-mile wilderness coastline of the Olympic National Forest. This successful hike now stand out in northwestern and National Park history.

Today, at 94, Polly moves more slowly but continues her work, primarily to “finish” North Cascades National Park. “I want to put my arms around wilderness” she says “and save it all.”[vi]

John Miles and Susan MorganIn 1967 Susan began her conservation career of twelve years with The Wilderness Society, and she subsequently worked with various conservation outfits (Earth First!, LightHawk, NM Environmental Coalition, Washington Wilderness Coalition, Forest Guardians, and others) that focused on wilderness, wildlands, and public lands conservation. Currently she is a copy editor and is president of The Rewilding Institute.

John is retiring after forty-six years as professor of environmental studies at Huxley College, Western Washington University. He is the author of several books on national park and wilderness history, and through these years in the Pacific Northwest has hiked, skied, and taught and studied the history of the North Cascades. He continues to write and plans much wilderness time in retirement.

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Read more about the word "untrammeled" and its inclusion in the Wilderness Act in Kevin Proescholdt's essay, "Untrammeled," by clicking here.
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[i] Olympic Park Associates, “Polly Dyer Chosen as Wilderness Hero,” Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring 2004

[ii] HistoryLink.org, The Seattle Times, August 7, 1974

[iii] Personal communication with Susan Morgan

[iv] Personal communication with Susan Morgan

[v] [v] Olympic Park Associates, “Polly Dyer Chosen as Wilderness Hero,” Vol 12, No. 1, Spring 2004, and personal communication with Susan Morgan

[vi] Personal communication with Susan Morgan
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Wolves and Isle Royale: Manipulated Zoo or Wild Wilderness?

by Kevin Proescholdt

Isle RoyalePressure has been mounting on the National Park Service to “save” the wolves on Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park and Wilderness.  Wolf numbers on the Lake Superior island have dropped, proponents of manipulation proclaim, and the decades of in-breeding have flattened the population’s genetic diversity.  We should transplant wolves from the mainland to insure that the wolf population survives, they assert, and to provide a “genetic rescue” to freshen up the wolves’ gene pool, much as zookeepers do with certain captive animals.

Wilderness Watch has strongly urged the National Park Service to refrain from that option, and rather let Nature take her course, even if that means the wolf population might become extirpated at some point in the future.  This decision about Isle Royale has national implications for all of the National Parks and all of the National Wilderness Preservation System, so it’s important to get it right at Isle Royale.

I was invited to be one of four panelists at a well-attended forum on this issue held at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis this past June, sponsored by the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute and the National Parks Conservation Association.  The other three panelists were long-time wolf biologist Dr. Dave Mech; Dr. Tim Cochrane, Superintendent of Grand Portage National Monument and an Isle Royale historian; and Dr. Rolf Peterson, the current lead wolf researcher on Isle Royale.  Isle Royale Park Superintendent Phyllis Green also participated in the forum, though not as one of the four panelists.  Of the four of us on the expert panel, only Rolf supported transplanting more wolves to Isle Royale, and he as the current wolf researcher there has more than a tiny conflict of interest in pushing for that option in order to perpetuate his research.

Isle Royale WolfThe issue of the Isle Royale wolves is very interesting and quite complex, but I’d like to offer the following reasons to support the non-intervention option and why we should let Isle Royale itself determine the fate of the wolves there.

1. New Wolf Pups Born in 2013.  The National Park Service reported earlier this summer that at least two and maybe three new wolf pups were born on Isle Royale in 2013, after none were born in 2012.  This breeding success reduces the need for a hasty decision, and eliminates one of the main arguments by transplantation promoters that the wolves are not reproducing.  The success with these new pups doesn't necessarily mean that the wolves are guaranteed long-term survival, but I think it does show that the wolf population is more resilient than the transplantation promoters believe.

2. Exaggerated Symbolism of Wolves.  I’m an Isle Royale visitor and one who loves wolves.  But Isle Royale has immense value and meaning beyond its well-publicized and well-studied wolves.  If wolves become extirpated on the island, Isle Royale itself will live on.  Isle Royale became a National Park before the wolves arrived, and the park will continue even if the iconic wolves die out.  And even if the wolves die out, that dynamic would be part of the evolution of Isle Royale, a likely outcome given what we now know about island biogeography.  If wolves “blink out” there, Isle Royale itself will endure.

3. Science Will Continue.  I certainly appreciate the extensive information and knowledge that have come from the classic predator-prey study on Isle Royale over the past half-century.  As Dave Mech pointed out in the June forum, the validity of that study will end if wolves are transplanted to Isle Royale now.  But other ecological studies will continue on Isle Royale to provide new scientific insights, whether the wolves survive or become extirpated.  Regardless of the outcome of the wolf population, continuing research can shed new light on questions of genetic variability in the context of island biogeography.  If wolves die out, how will the moose population respond?  Will genetic variability in moose also flatten over time?  Will the moose population revert to the boom-and-bust cycles of the 1920s to 1950, or will something else occur?  Will wolves naturally re-colonize Isle Royale on their own, even if the frequency of ice bridges to the Ontario mainland has declined with recent warmer winters?

4. Slippery Slope of Manipulation.  If we humans start transplanting wolves to Isle Royale, we start on a slippery slope that may have no end.  Additional wolves may be needed on the island after the first installment, to “freshen up” the gene pool yet again and again.  With a warming climate, Isle Royale may eventually lose its moose population, too.  Will we then import moose to Isle Royale in perpetuity to keep the imported wolves fed?  And, as Tim Cochrane pointed out in June, should we reintroduce the caribou and lynx that inhabited the island before the wolves and moose and lived there far longer?

5. Wilderness.  Congress has designated about 99% of the 132,018-acre Isle Royale as Wilderness.  The language and background of the 1964 Wilderness Act define Wilderness as “untrammeled” or unmanipulated.  This means that we allow Nature to call the shots, even if that might lead to extirpation of the wolves, either temporarily or permanently.  This is the very essence of Wilderness, that humans must treat Wilderness with humility and restraint and not manipulate Wilderness just because we can or think we know how to do so.  The writings of Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser are full of these deeper values and meanings of Wilderness.

Isle RoyaleThe current debate over the potential loss of wolves also indicates the fairly short-sighted approach of most land and wildlife management that is often based on the next 1-10 years, not centuries or millennia.  Because Wilderness is forever, we need to look beyond the short timeframe of human lifetimes and allow these natural processes to play out over much longer time spans, “to make it possible for those areas from the eternity of the past to exist on into the eternity of the future” as Zahniser once eloquently described it.  We should be “Guardians, Not Gardeners” as Zahniser urged us in another of his writings.  We should guard the natural processes on Isle Royale, even if they might lead to wolf extirpation, rather than garden the wilderness to become something more pleasing to our current human preferences and tastes.

The whole debate really comes down to this basic question:

Do we want a manipulated zoo at Isle Royale or a wild Wilderness?

That’s why we continue to urge the National Park Service to not intervene and manipulate the wolf population at Isle Royale by transplanting wolves from the mainland.

kevin proescholdtKevin Proescholdt is conservation director for Wilderness Watch. Kevin guided canoe trips in Minnesota's million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) for 10 years, and has visited designated and undesignated Wildernesses throughout the U.S. and Canada. He helped pass the 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act through Congress, directed the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness for 16 years, and co-authored the 1995 book, Troubled Waters: The Fight for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. For the eight years prior to joining the Wilderness Watch staff, Kevin directed the national Izaak Walton League's Wilderness and Public Lands Program. Kevin has been active with Wilderness Watch since 1989, joined the board of directors in 2003, and served two years as president of the board. He has written extensively on the Boundary Waters, and wilderness policy and history.
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Guest — Diane Brodak
One man I would not listen to is Dave Mech. Ask him what became of his beloved wolves when he was done with them. They were left ... Read More
Friday, 15 November 2013 12:00
Guest — Marilyn M Cooper
Without a top predator, isle Royale will live on all right, but it won't be a beautiful wilderness. I was in Yellowstone before th... Read More
Thursday, 14 November 2013 23:11
Guest — wildernesswatch
Thanks for your post, Marilyn. Wilderness is not supposed to be "beautiful" according to our current human tastes, but it is to b... Read More
Tuesday, 19 November 2013 07:38
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Wilderness: What and Why

howie 05 03 13WILDERNESS: WHAT and WHY
By Howie Wolke

A few years ago, I led a group through the wilds of northern Alaska’s Brooks Range during the early autumn caribou migration. I think that if I had fourteen lifetimes I’d never again experience anything quite so primeval, so simple and rudimentary, and so utterly and uncompromisingly wild. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, this beheld my eye above all else. Maybe that trek—in one of the ultimate terrestrial wildernesses remaining on Earth—is my personal yardstick, my personal quintessence of what constitutes real wilderness among a lifetime of wilderness experience. The tundra was a rainbow of autumn pelage. Fresh snow engulfed the peaks and periodically the valleys, too. Animals were everywhere, thousands of them, moving across valleys, through passes, over divides, atop ridges. Wolves chased caribou. A grizzly on a carcass temporarily blocked our route through a narrow pass.  It was a week I’ll never forget, a week of an ancient world that elsewhere is rapidly receding into the frightening nature-deficit technophilia of the twenty-first century.

Some claim that wilderness is defined by our perception, which is shaped by our circumstance and experience. For example, one who has never been to the Brooks Range but instead has spent most of her life confined to big cities with little exposure to wild nature might consider a farm woodlot to be “wilderness.” Or a small state park laced with dirt roads. Or, for that matter, a cornfield, though this seems to stretch this theory of wilderness relativity to the point of obvious absurdity. According to this line of thought, wilderness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Yet those who believe that perception defines wilderness are dead wrong. In our culture, wilderness is a very distinct and definable entity, and it can be viewed on two complementary levels. First, from a legal standpoint the Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness quite clearly. A designated wilderness area is “undeveloped” and “primeval,” a wild chunk of public land without civilized trappings that is administered to remain wild.

The Wilderness Act defines wilderness as “untrammeled,” which means “unconfined” or “unrestricted.” It further defines wilderness as “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent human improvements or habitation.” The law also generally prohibits road building and resource extraction such as logging and mining. Plus, it sets a general guideline of 5,000 acres as a minimum size for a wilderness.  Furthermore, it banishes to non-wilderness lands all mechanized conveniences, from mountain bikes and game carts to noisy fumebelching all-terrain vehicles and snow machines.

Written primarily by the late Howard Zahniser, the Wilderness Act creates a National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) on federally administered public lands. All four federal land management agencies administer wilderness: the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management. Under the Wilderness Act, the NWPS is to be managed uniformly as a system. And an act of Congress followed by a Presidential signature is required to designate a new wilderness area.

In addition to wilderness as a legal entity, we also have a closely related cultural view, steeped in mystery and romance and influenced by our history, which yes, includes the hostile view of wilderness that was particularly prevalent during the early days of settlement.  Today, our cultural view of wilderness is generally positive. This view is greatly influenced by the Wilderness Act, which means when people speak of wilderness in lieu of legal definitions, they speak of country that’s big, wild, and undeveloped, where nature rules. And that certainly isn’t a woodlot or cornfield.  In summary, then, wilderness is wild nature with all her magic and unpredictability. It lacks roads, motors, pavement and structures, but comes loaded with unknown wonders and challenges that at least some humans increasingly crave in today’s increasingly controlled and confined world. Untrammeled wilderness by definition comes with fire and insects, predator and prey, and the dynamic unpredictability of wild nature, existing in its own way in its own right, with utter disregard for human preference, convenience, and comfort.  And perception. As the word’s etymological roots connote, wilderness is “self-willed land,” and the “home of wild beasts.” It is also the ancestral home of all that we know in this world, and it spawned civilization, although I’m not convinced this is a good thing.  So wilderness isn’t just any old unpaved undeveloped landscape. It isn’t merely a blank space on the map. For within that blank space might be all sorts of human malfeasance that have long since destroyed the essence of real wilderness: pipelines, power-lines, water diversions, overgrazed wastelands, and off-road vehicle scars, for example. No, wilderness isn’t merely a place that lacks development.  It is unspoiled and primeval, a sacred place in its own right. Wilderness designation is a statement to all who would otherwise keep the industrial juggernaut rolling: Hands off! This place is special!  Designated wilderness is supposed to be different “in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape.” (Wilderness Act, section 2c)

Nor is wilderness simply a political strategy to thwart bulldozers from invading wildlands. That’s one valid use of our wilderness law, yes, but when we view wilderness only—or even primarily—as a deterrent to industry and motors, we fail to consider all of the important things that differentiate real wilderness from less extraordinary places. Some of those things include tangible physical attributes such as native animals and vegetation, pure water, and minimal noise pollution. But in many ways, the intangible values of wilderness are equally important in differentiating wilderness from other landscapes. Wonder and challenge are but two of them. For many of us, the simple knowledge that some landscapes are beyond our control provides a respite of sanity. Solitude and a feeling of connectedness with other life forms are also best attained in wilderness.  Wilderness also provides us with some defense against the collective disease of “landscape amnesia.” I began to use this term in the early 1990s while writing an educational tabloid on wilderness and roadless areas. It had begun to occur to me that, as we continue to tame nature, each ensuing generation becomes less aware of what constitutes a healthy landscape because so many components of the landscape gradually disappear. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water slowly brought to a boil, society simply fails to notice until it’s too late, if it notices at all. For example, few alive today remember when extensive cottonwood floodplain forests were healthy and common throughout the West. So today’s generations view our currently depleted floodplains as “normal.” Thus there’s no impetus to restore the ecosystem. This principle applies to wilderness. Wilderness keeps at least some areas intact, wild and natural, for people to see. We don’t forget what we can still see with our own eyes. Moreover, when we keep wilderness wild, there’s little danger that as a society we’ll succumb to wilderness amnesia, and forget what real wilderness is.  Perhaps the most important thing that sets wilderness apart is that real wilderness is dynamic, always in flux, never the same from one year or decade or century to the next, never stagnant, and entirely unconstrained despite unrelenting human efforts to control nearly everything. Natural processes such as wildfire, flood, predation, and native insects are (or should be) allowed to shape the wilderness landscape as they have throughout the eons. Remember, wilderness areas are wild and untrammeled, “in contrast” with areas dominated by humankind. That domination includes our interference with the natural forces and processes that shape a true wilderness landscape.  It has been said that wilderness cannot be created; it can only be protected where it still persists. There is some truth here, but there’s a big gray area too. Even though most new wilderness units are carved out of relatively unspoiled roadless areas, Congress is free to designate any area of federal land as wilderness, even lands that have been impacted by past human actions, such as logging and road building or off-road vehicles. In fact, Congress has designated such lands as wilderness on numerous occasions. Once designated, agencies are legally required by the Wilderness Act to manage such lands as wilderness. Time and the elements usually do the rest. For example, most wildernesses in the eastern U.S. were once heavily logged and laced with roads and skid trails. Today, they have reattained a good measure of their former wildness.

Perhaps the most crucial but overlooked sections of the Wilderness Act deal with caring for designated areas. The Wilderness Act quite clearly instructs managers to administer wilderness areas “unimpaired” and for “the preservation of their wilderness character.” This means that the law forbids degradation of wilderness areas.  Therefore, you would assume that once an area is designated as wilderness, all is suddenly right with at least a small corner of this world. But you would be wrong.

That’s because, despite the poetic and pragmatic brilliance of the Wilderness Act, land managers routinely ignore the law and thus nearly all units of the National Wilderness Preservation System fail to live up the promise of untrammeled wildness. To be fair, agency wilderness managers are often under tremendous pressure—often at the local level—to ignore abuse. Sometimes their budgets are simply inadequate to do the job. On the other hand, we citizens pay our public servants to implement the law. When they fail to properly maintain wilderness character, they violate both the law and the public’s trust.

Throughout the NWPS degradation is rampant. Weed infestations, predator control by state wildlife managers (yes, in designated wilderness!), eroded multi-laned horse trails, trampled lakeshores, bulldozer-constructed water impoundments, the proliferation of structures and motorized equipment use, over-grazing by livestock, and illegal motor-vehicle entry are just a few of the ongoing problems.  Many of these problems seem minor in their own right, but collectively they add up to systemic decline, a plethora of small but expanding insults that I call “creeping degradation,” although some of the examples seem to gallop, not creep. External influences such as climate change and chemical pollution add to the woes of the wilds as we head into the challenging and perhaps scary decades that lie in wait.

In addition to wilderness as both a cultural idea and a legal entity, there’s another wilderness dichotomy. That’s the dichotomy of designated versus “small w” wilderness. America’s public lands harbor perhaps a couple of hundred million acres of relatively undeveloped, mostly roadless wildlands that so far, lack long-term Congressional protection. These “roadless areas” constitute “small w” or “de-facto wilderness.” Here’s a stark reality of the early 21st century: given the expanding human population and its quest to exploit resources from nearly every remaining nook and cranny on Earth, we are rapidly approaching the time when the only remaining significant natural habitats will be those we choose to protect—either as wilderness or as some other (lesser) category of land protection. Before very long, most other sizeable natural areas will disappear.  In order to get as many roadless areas as possible added to the NWPS, some wilderness groups support special provisions in new wilderness bills in order to placate wilderness opponents. Examples include provisions that strengthen livestock grazing rights in wilderness, allow off-road motor vehicles and helicopters, grandfather incompatible uses like dams and other water projects, exempt commercial users from regulations, and much more. So we get legalized overgrazing, ranchers and wildlife managers on all-terrain vehicles, overzealous fire management and destructive new water projects, just to mention a few of the incompatible activities sometimes allowed in designated wilderness. This de-wilds both the Wilderness System and the wilderness idea. And when we allow the wilderness idea to decline, it is inevitable that society gradually accepts “wilderness” that is less wild than in the past. Again, it’s the disease of landscape or wilderness amnesia.

An equally egregious threat to wilderness is the recent tendency to create new wilderness areas with boundaries that are drawn to exclude all potential or perceived conflicts, also in order to pacify the opposition. So we get small fragmented “wilderness” areas, sometimes with edge-dominated amoeba-shaped boundaries that encompass little core habitat. Or legislated motor vehicle corridors that slice an otherwise large unbroken roadless area into small fragmented “wilderness” units. These trends alarm conservation biologists, who are concerned with biological diversity and full ecosystem protection.

Make no mistake, there’s a huge realm of unprotected public wildlands out there, and I’d give my right arm to get a big chunk of that largely roadless “small w” domain protected under the Wilderness Act. My arm yes, but not my soul. The soul of wilderness is wildness.  When we sacrifice wildness by undermining the Wilderness Act, we lose both an irreplaceable resource and an irreplaceable part of ourselves. We lose soul. If we fail to demand and work for real wilderness, then we’ll never get it. That’s guaranteed.  To some, particularly those who equate motors or resource extraction with freedom, wilderness designation seems restrictive. But in truth, wilderness is more about freedom than is any other landscape.  I mean the freedom to roam, and yes, the freedom to blunder, for where else might we be so immediately beholden to the physical consequences of our decisions? Freedom, challenge, and adventure go together, and wilderness provides big doses of each. Should I try to cross here? Can I make my way around that bear? Is there really a severe storm approaching? When we enter wilderness, we leave all guarantees behind. We are beholden to the unknown. Things frequently don’t go as planned. Wilderness is rudimentary and fundamental in ways that we’ve mostly lost as a culture. This loss, by the way, weakens us. Wilderness strengthens us.  Freedom. In wilderness we are free to hunt, fish, hike, crawl, slither, swim, horse-pack, canoe, raft, cross country ski, view wildlife, study nature, photograph, and contemplate whatever might arouse our interest. We are free to pursue our personal spiritual values, whatever they might be, with no pressure from the proclaimed authorities of organized church or state. And we are generally free to do any of these things for as long as we like.  Wilderness is also the best environment for the under-utilized but vitally important activity of doing absolutely nothing—I mean nothing at all, except perhaps for watching clouds float past a wondrous wilderness landscape.

Wilderness provides numerous free services for humanity. It is an essential antidote for civilization’s growing excesses of pavement, pollution, technology, and pop culture. Wilderness provides clean water and flood control, and it acts as a clean air reservoir. It provides many tons of healthy meat, because our healthiest fisheries and game populations are associated with wilderness (Who says “you can’t eat scenery”?).

Another wilderness service is the reduced need for politically and socially contentious endangered species listings. When we protect habitat, most species thrive.

By providing nature a respite from human manipulation, wilderness cradles the evolutionary process. It helps to maintain connectivity between population centers of large wide-ranging animals—especially large carnivores. This protects genetic diversity and increases the resilience of wildlife populations that are so important to the ecosystem. We are beginning to understand that without large carnivores, most natural ecosystems falter in a cascade of biological loss and depletion.

Wilderness is also our primary baseline environment. In other words, it’s the metaphorical yardstick against which we measure the health of all human-altered landscapes. How on earth might we ever make intelligent decisions in forestry or agriculture, for example, if there’s no baseline with which to compare? Of course, wilderness only acts as a real baseline if we really keep it wild and untrammeled.

Wilderness is also about humility. It’s a statement that we don’t know it all and never will. In wilderness we are part of something much greater than our civilization and ourselves. It moves us beyond self, and that, I think, can lead only to good things. Perhaps above all, wilderness is a statement that non-human life forms and the landscapes that support them have intrinsic value, just because they exist, independent of their multiple benefits to the human species.  Most emphatically, wilderness is not primarily about recreation, although that’s certainly one of its many values. Nor is it about the “me first” attitude of those who view nature as a metaphorical pie to be divvied up among user groups. It’s about selflessness, about setting our egos aside and doing what’s best for the land. It’s about wholeness, not fragments. After all, wilderness areas—despite their problems—are still our healthiest landscapes with our cleanest waters, and they tend to support our healthiest wildlife populations, particularly for many species that have become rare or extirpated in places that are less wild.

Having made a living primarily as a wilderness guide/outfitter for over three decades, I’ve had the good fortune to experience many wild places throughout western North America and occasionally far beyond. Were I to boil what I’ve learned down to one succinct statement, it’d probably be this: Wilderness is about restraint. As Howard Zahniser stated, wilderness managers must be “guardians, not gardeners.” When in doubt, leave it alone. For if we fail to restrain our manipulative impulses in wilderness, where on Earth might we ever find untrammeled lands?

Finally, when we fail to protect, maintain, and restore real wilderness, we miss the chance to pass along to our children and grandchildren—and to future generations of non-human life—the irreplaceable wonders of a world that is too quickly becoming merely a dim memory of a far better time. Luckily, we still have the opportunity to both designate and properly protect a considerable chunk of the once enormous American wilderness. Let’s not squander that opportunity. We need to protect as much as possible.  And let’s keep wilderness truly wild, for that, by definition, is what wilderness is, and no substitute will suffice.

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. This piece was published in "Wilderness: Reclaiming the Legacy." ©2011
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Guest — Salvador
Well I read this article and find it quite interesting for me. I will share it with my grandfather he also loves to read these kin... Read More
Tuesday, 07 March 2017 02:29
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Snow Kiting In Wilderness

by Kevin Proescholdt
kevinproescholdt 02 18 13I recently came across an on-line forum asking whether “snow kiting” is allowed in Wilderness.  While snow kiting in Wilderness might still be a rather rare activity, the question bears quite heavily on a variety of activities and the future of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

For those unfamiliar with the sport, snow kiting is an offshoot of kiteboarding (a water sport), but conducted on land and on snow.  Like kiteboarders, snow kiters use large inflatable kites – some are similar to parasails – that allow the wind to pull them along or to jump and glide in the air for seconds at a time.  Kite lines run to a snow kiter’s harness and handle, which are used to maneuver the kite.  Though many snow kiters use snowboards, some telemark and alpine skiers also use kites as part of their sport.

Snow kiting in units of the wilderness system seems to have increased in recent years.  But I believe snow kiting violates the Wilderness Act, even though the federal agencies have been slow in writing specific rules spelling out such a ban.  I hope that soon, before this use becomes too entrenched in units of the wilderness system, all four agencies will ban snow kiting in Wilderness for two main reasons.

First, snow kiting violates the Wilderness Act, most notably its ban on mechanical transport in Wilderness.  U.S. Forest Service wilderness policy comes close to articulating a ban on snow kiting, by prohibiting (among other banned mechanical transport) hang gliders and parachutes, which are similar to snow kiting:

Forest Service Manual 2320.5
Mechanical Transport. Any contrivance for moving people or material in or over land, water, or air, having moving parts, that provides a mechanical advantage to the user, and that is powered by a living or nonliving power source. This includes, but is not limited to, sailboats, hang gliders, parachutes, bicycles, game carriers, carts, and wagons.


At least some of these specific prohibitions have held up in the courts.  A federal court upheld a Forest Service ban on sailboats on wilderness lakes, for example, in one of a series of court cases involving the Sylvania Wilderness in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in this case, “Certainly, Congress could rationally conclude that certain forms of mechanical transport, including sailboats and houseboats, should be excluded from the Sylvania Wilderness in order to preserve the ‘wilderness character’ of the property.”

The National Park Service also appears to have prohibited snow kiting in Wilderness, though under its regulations that govern aircraft (snow kiting meets its definition of aircraft in the Code of Federal Regulations) and “aerial delivery,” and not under its regulations prohibiting mechanical transport in Wilderness.  As a result, the Park Service has prohibited snow kiting in Glacier National Park’s Recommended Wilderness as well as in other national park Wildernesses.

In addition to violating the ban on mechanized travel, snow kiting runs against the grain of the types of recreation the Wilderness Act sought to provide.  The law defines Wilderness in part as providing “a primitive and unconfined type of recreation….”  Snow kiting is clearly not this type of primitive recreation envisioned by the Wilderness Act.

Second, beyond the legal violations, snow kiting should be banned in Wilderness because the activity makes Wildernesses less wild.  This is not about snow kiting’s physical impacts on Wilderness, but about our relationship to Wilderness.  Snow kiting is a modern transportation method, not one envisioned by the founders of the Wilderness Act or the ideals behind it.  It is not travel by primitive means.  It ignores the humility and restraint that Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser urged us to use in our relationship to Wilderness.

Wilderness is in part about preserving and experiencing these places from an earlier time and an earlier pace of travel, such as by foot, horseback, or canoe.  According to the Wilderness Act, designated Wildernesses are to be “in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape….” If snow kiting and other yet-to-be-created transportation means are allowed in Wilderness, that contrast will be increasingly diminished and indistinct, and Wilderness will cease to be that special place set apart from modern civilization.  I believe that we must stand up for that distinction or we open the door to untold and unforeseen levels of non-human- or non-animal-powered transportation in Wilderness, making Wilderness little different from the rest of our human-dominated landscape.

I understand the concern expressed by some that any restrictions short of an outright ban on all mechanical devices (including, for example, a ski binding) would be somewhat arbitrary.  But it seems that the most reasonable, protective, and defensible rule is one rooted in the methods of travel in common use at the time the Wilderness Act was passed.  This is the approach a federal court took when several members of the Chippewa (also called Ojibwe or Anishinaabe) tribe challenged the prohibition on snowmobile use while exercising their treaty rights to fish in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota.  The court relied on the fact that Band members traditionally accessed the area by canoe or on foot at the time of the 1854 treaty, and therefore the Wilderness Act’s ban on modern snowmobiles didn’t constitute an infringement on treaty rights.

If we don’t keep wilderness protections anchored to something solid like the primitive modes of travel contemplated in the law, what’s to protect Wilderness from any whimsical fad, recreational pursuit, or technological advance that comes its way?

Kevin Proescholdt is conservation director (and former board president) for Wilderness Watch. He has written extensively on the Boundary Waters, and wilderness policy and history.
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Guest — Luke Lempart
I think this line of thinking is just as extremist as those who don't believe the government has any right to designate wilderness... Read More
Tuesday, 29 January 2013 05:19
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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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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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