A Legal Win for the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and a Call to Protect Wolves and Wilderness in Idaho

Dana blog

by Dana Johnson

 

You might recall that in January 2016, the U.S. Forest Service authorized Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) to make 120 helicopter landings in the River of No Return Wilderness to place radio telemetry collars on 60 elk, despite the Wilderness Act’s clear prohibition on motorized intrusions and its directive to preserve an untrammeled Wilderness. To our knowledge, this was the most extensive helicopter intrusion in Wilderness that has ever been authorized. IDFG said the project was necessary to study an elk-population decline that has occurred since the return of gray wolves to the Wilderness and to inform IDFG’s future decisions concerning hunting, trapping, and “predator control” actions in the Wilderness.

 

Represented by Earthjustice, Wilderness Watch, Friends of the Clearwater, and Western Watersheds Project filed suit in Federal District Court—hours after receiving a copy of the signed special use permit authorizing project implementation. Within the next three days—over the weekend—while the suit was pending and before we could get before the judge, IDFG inundated the River of No Return Wilderness with repeated helicopter flights and landings. And, even though it was abundantly clear IDFG was not authorized to harass and collar wolves, IDFG nonetheless captured and collared four wolves. IDFG released those 60 elk and four wolves with collars transmitting precise location points to IDFG – an agency with an unapologetic history of wolf extermination efforts and a current plan to “aggressively manage elk and predator populations,” including exterminating 60 percent of wolves within the Middle Fork Zone of the River of No Return Wilderness.

 

The judge assigned to the case was no stranger to this issue. Back in 2010, after the reintroduction of wolves in Idaho, the same judge sat on our case where IDFG requested permission from the Forest Service to use helicopters to dart and collar at least one wolf in every pack in the same area. The judge reluctantly allowed the activity because the case represented the “most rare of circumstances” where “[i]t was man who wiped out the wolf from this area[, and] now man is attempting to restore the wilderness character of the area by returning the wolf.” But, the judge noted “the next helicopter proposal in the [Wilderness] will face a daunting review,” and “[t]he Forest Service must proceed very cautiously here because the law is not on their side if they intend to proceed with further helicopter projects in the [Wilderness].” The judge also put the Forest Service on notice that it “would be expected to render a final decision [on any future helicopter projects in the Wilderness] enough in advance of the project so that any lawsuit seeking to enjoin the project could be fully litigated.” 

 

Not surprisingly, the judge was concerned that “[t]he agency ignore[d] that directive in the present case,” and then the agencies argued that the Court didn’t have jurisdiction to review the case because IDFG had already completed the action. The Court rejected that argument, found the Forest Service in violation of the Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and enjoined IDFG and the Forest Service from utilizing the fruits of their illegal activity. Specifically, the judge’s order 1) forbade the Forest Service from considering the data from the illegally placed collars and from approving any future wildlife-related helicopter projects without delaying implementation for at least 90 days to allow time for litigation, 2) forbade IDFG from using any of the illegally obtained collaring data to justify future collaring proposals in Wilderness, and 3) ordered IDFG to destroy data received from the collars.

 

Both the Forest Service and IDFG appealed that ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But, the appeal was narrow. The agencies did not contest their violations of the Wilderness Act and NEPA. Instead, they argued, once again, that the Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case in the first place because the action was already done and that, even if it did have jurisdiction, it went too far in its injunction against IDFG and the Forest Service. 

 

In March 2020, after four years of litigation, we received an opinion from the Ninth Circuit largely upholding the lower Court’s order but narrowing the injunction. The Circuit reduced the 90-day implementation delay to 30 days, and it held IDFG does not need to destroy the data it obtained, but the Forest Service cannot consider that data as a basis for any future projects in the Wilderness. Importantly, the Circuit flatly rejected the argument that the case could evade judicial review by virtue of the agencies rushing to complete the project before the judge could rule, noting:

 

[The Forest Service] was aware that Wilderness Watch had lodged objections to the proposed operation and planned to challenge the permit in court at the first opportunity. On Wednesday, January 6, 2016, Wilderness Watch received notice of final agency action and requested a copy of the permit. On Thursday, January 7, Wilderness Watch received a copy of the permit, effective immediately, and filed its complaint. Wilderness Watch requested that the agency halt implementation of the operation to allow for a legal challenge. [The Forest Service] did not respond to this request until close of business on Friday, January 8. The agency denied the request. Wilderness Watch prepared a motion for emergency injunctive relief on Saturday, expecting to file it first thing on Monday, only to receive notification on Sunday that the operation had been completed earlier that morning. This sequence of events transpired in spite of the district court’s admonishment to [the Forest Service], in a 2010 proceeding regarding a similar helicopter operation, that the agency would be expected to issue future permits with enough time to allow for potential legal challenges. The record shows that in the weeks leading up to the issuance of the subject permit, Wilderness Watch reminded [the Forest Service] of the 2010 order. The record also makes clear that IDFG plans future helicopter operations, and that [the Forest Service] approval was motivated, at least in part, by the IDFG’s threat to proceed irrespective of [the Forest Service’s] approval and the [the Forest Service’s] desire to avoid litigation with the [IDFG] Director.

 

While this ruling will make it more difficult for the agencies to avoid judicial review of similar projects in the future, we know we have not seen the last of IDFG’s relentless focus on killing wolves, and we know they’ve got their eyes set on the River of No Return Wilderness. And, as the Ninth Circuit observed, the Forest Service has taken pains to avoid a show-down with IDFG—we have no indication this will change either. In fact, shortly after we received news of the Ninth Circuit opinion, IDFG announced that it killed 17 wolves in the Lolo area in Idaho—a remote, roadless area in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest north of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Wolves in the Lolo area have been brutally targeted by IDFG for years in an effort to inflate elk numbers to meet IDFG’s objectives. We know from Freedom of Information Act documents and other reports that IDFG regularly utilizes GPS collaring data to track and kill wolves, oftentimes through aerial gunning. Even more appalling, the documents and reports also show that IDFG and cooperating agencies utilize “Judas wolves”—a collared wolf that is tracked to its pack via GPS data. The pack is killed, but the collared “Judas wolf” is spared and then tracked until it establishes with another pack. Then that pack is gunned down, once again sparing the collared wolf who is doomed to repeat this horrible cycle over and over again. 

 

IDFG’s narrative about the Lolo area sounds remarkably similar to the story it is telling about the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. It has a plan to kill 60 percent of the wolves in the heart of the Wilderness to return elk numbers to levels observed in the 1990s – before the return of wolves to the Wilderness and before the restoration of natural predator / prey dynamics. We assume IDFG will pull no punches in pursuing that goal. We’ve already seen, and challenged, IDFG’s use of a professional trapper to kill two resident wolf packs—the Golden Creek and Monumental Creek packs—deep in the Wilderness. The Forest Service authorized IDFG’s use of a Forest Service cabin to serve as the trapper’s base camp, and it waived special use permit requirements, which allowed IDFG to proceed without public notice or federal oversight. As noted above, we challenged two IDFG helicopter-assisted collaring projects in the Wilderness, both geared toward advancing IDFG’s Elk Management Plan and its “aggressive” predator control measures. These projects were carried out under authorization from the Forest Service, including the rushed implementation of the second project in blatant disregard of a federal court order. And, in the last year, IDFG has significantly relaxed hunting limits on wolves and pushed to open airstrips within and adjacent to the Wilderness to increase hunter access. 

 

All of this is going on with Forest Service acquiescence and to the detriment of Wilderness, the values it safeguards, and the wild places and animals that find increasingly rare refuge within its borders. The Forest Service—the agency entrusted to protect this Wilderness pursuant to the tenets of the Wilderness Act—has demonstrated that it finds IDFG the squeakiest wheel. We will keep the pressure on in the courts, but we need to be louder than IDFG. We need to raise our collective voice in defense of this incredible place, in defense of the animals who call it home, and in defense of the idea of Wilderness. Intensive manipulation of wildlife populations is fundamentally antithetical to preserving “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man” and “primeval character and influence” are retained. The use of helicopters to pursue, capture, and place telemetry tracking collars on wild animals deep within the Wilderness—to transmit their every movement to a computer, manned by a “game” agency that places high value on control and manipulation—is fundamentally antithetical to everything Wilderness is about. It’s well beyond time for the Forest Service to take a stand for Wilderness.

 

And, even though its track-record is not encouraging, IDFG can also take this as an opportunity to pivot. IDFG will face growing public opposition to its wolf eradication and Wilderness manipulation efforts, and the latest court case has made it much more difficult for IDFG’s activities to slide under the radar of judicial review. It is time for IDFG to adopt an approach to wildlife management that respects natural processes and Wilderness. It is incumbent upon the Forest Service to ensure this happens.

 

You can help defend wolves and Wilderness in Idaho by writing to the responsible U.S. Forest Service officials and demand they stop sanctioning Idaho’s aggressive predator killing programs.

 

You can also make a special donation to Wilderness Watch to help us continue the fight to defend wolves and Wilderness in Idaho.

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Dana Johnson is the staff attorney for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula, MT, www.wildernessswatch.org.

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What’s All the Buzz in the Boundary Waters?

What’s All the Buzz in the Boundary Waters?Dana blog

by Dana Johnson

 

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is located within the Superior National Forest in Minnesota and stretches over 115 miles along the Minnesota-Ontario border. The Wilderness, along with Canada’s adjoining Quetico Provincial Park, protects a complex ecosystem of nearly 3,000 glacial lakes connected by a vast, meandering network of streams and portages. This watery landscape is home to a diverse mix of wildlife, and it holds one of the largest remnants of uncut forest east of the Rockies. Humans have relied upon its natural abundance for centuries, including the Ojibwe who navigated its waterways in birch bark canoes. More recently, the area offers an increasingly rare connection to a world that existed before an expanding population, with all of its fast-paced and heavily consumptive interests, took hold.

Efforts to protect this area from the fallouts of Westward Expansion, industrialization, and motorization span back over a century culminating in the designation of the BWCAW. Sigurd Olson, one of the eloquent leaders in the push to protect the Boundary Waters, recognized a tie between the silence of the canoe and something we were losing through the story of progress—the knowledge of what it is to be of and with the land and waters. 

"The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind. Silence is part of it, and the sounds of lapping water, bird songs, and wind in the trees. It is part of the medium through which it floats, the sky, the water, the shores.... There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness, and of a freedom almost forgotten. It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfactions." -Sigurd Olson, The Singing Wilderness, 1956

Sigurd would be troubled to learn that roughly one-fifth of the Wilderness’s waterways are still subjected to the persistent back and forth buzzing of motorboats including, on some routes, commercial towboats carting paying clients and their canoes to campsites and remote drop-off locations within the Wilderness, turning many entry-points and travel routes into busy motorways. The popular entry point of Moose Lake, where commercial towboat use is particularly excessive, is known for its motorized bottlenecks and the whine of engines. During one trip to survey the Moose Lake entry-point, Wilderness Watch staff were told by an outfitter that Wilderness visitors who would not otherwise consider a motorized tow regularly take a tow because paddling through motorized use areas is so unpleasant. The motorized mess in the Boundary Waters is a good example of why when Wilderness areas are designated it is so important to make sure it’s via a clean wilderness bill, without special provisions. 

The Wilderness Act was passed as a counterweight to “an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization,” and to safeguard a few wild areas “in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape.”[1] It expressly prohibits motorized and mechanized uses within Wilderness recognizing that these things represented the opposite of the restraint and humility needed to guard against our compulsion to stand as masters and controllers of the world around us.

It was in this context that the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was designated as one of the original Wildernesses in the 1964 Wilderness Act. Unfortunately, due to the familiar story of political pressure, the Wilderness Act included a confusing special provision allowing motorized use already existing in the BWCAW, as long as such use would not undermine the “primitive character of the area.”[2] Motorized use always undermines the primitive character of a wilderness area—that’s why the Wilderness Act prohibits it! This provision was short-lived. In response to “the confusion and litigation generated by the proviso, as well as in reaction to threatened deterioration of the wilderness from excessive use,”[3] Congress repealed the special provision and enacted the BWCAW Act of 1978.[4]


Unfortunately, once again due to political pressure, Congress was not able to eliminate motorboat use outright. Instead, this time around, Congress prohibited all motorboat use within the Wilderness except on a few specifically named lakes, instituted phase-outs of motorized use on other lakes, and imposed motor size restrictions.[5] On lakes where motorboat use was allowed, Congress set a statutory cap at “the average actual annual motorboat use of the calendar years 1976, 1977, and 1978 for each lake,”[6] and the Forest Service calculated and allocated that cap through a series of entry point quotas for each lake. What followed was decades of confused and inconsistent statutory application, an indecipherable hodgepodge of management policies and practices, multiple rounds of litigation, and an increase in particular types of motorized use to the detriment of the Wilderness. Commercial towboat use is a prime example. 

Congress did not expressly contemplate the continued use of commercial towboats when it passed the BWCAW Act in ’78, and the Forest Service has never been clear on how it monitors commercial towboat use in relation to the overall statutory cap on motorboat use. That notwithstanding, towboat use continued, and the Forest Service adopted measures to regulate it in the 1993 BWCAW Management Plan. The Plan required towboat operators to obtain special use permits, and it limited towboat use to “1992 levels for numbers of boats, trips, current operators, and specific lakes.” However, Wilderness Watch learned from a series of Freedom of Information Act requests that the Forest Service has not consistently monitored actual commercial towboat use since the inception of the BWCAW Act or since the 1993 Plan, it does not appear to know what the level of towboat trips from 1992 was, it has allowed some commercial towboat operators to run towboat services without a special use permit, and it appears that actual commercial towboat use has been steadily increasing.

Making matters worse, the Wilderness Act prohibits commercial enterprise in Wilderness with the exception of certain “necessary” commercial services.[7] The exception requires a specific finding of necessity—something typically done through a “commercial needs assessment” with requisite public involvement and formal National Environmental Policy Act review. The Forest Service had not done this either, and it wasn’t about to. So, we sued. That lawsuit resulted in a settlement where the Forest Service agreed to prepare a commercial needs assessment to get a handle on the current amount of actual towboat use in the Wilderness, make a determination on whether towboat services are necessary at all—particularly given their impact on wilderness character, and if the Forest Service deems them necessary, to what extent. The Forest Service agreed to complete this process by November 2019.

The Forest Service produced a document that attempts to assess the amount of current towboat use, but it doesn’t assess that use in the context of the overall regulatory scheme (the limitations imposed by the Act and the Plan) and explain how current use is within those limits, it does not analyze necessity in the context of impacts to wilderness character and opportunities for motorized recreation outside of Wilderness, and a host of other issues. You can read our concerns about the Forest Service’s Draft Needs Assessment here: https://wildernesswatch.org/images/wild-issues/2019/10-09-2019-WW-Comments-BWCAW-CNA.pdf.  Likely in response to the concerns we raised in the Draft Needs Assessment, the Final Needs Assessment included a reference to an “extent necessary worksheet” that might address some of our concerns (and comply with the settlement agreement). However, in a nod to Orwell, when we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for this worksheet, the Forest Service refused to give it to us saying the information was privileged and exempt from disclosure. 

The Forest Service has indicated it will likely, at an undisclosed point in the future, engage in National Environmental Policy Act review of commercial towboat use in the BWCAW. We’ll keep everyone posted about that process and encourage public involvement when the time comes. In the meantime, the towboats keep buzzing under the cloak of regulatory ambiguity and agency confusion, and we’re assessing our options for additional legal challenges. The moral of the story: Clean, simple wilderness bills without special provisions best protect Wilderness, and we must keep demanding them from Congress. In an era where much of the environmental movement has become apologetic in its approach to land protection, it isn’t surprising that wilderness bills littered with compromise are considered the norm. And we know we can’t expect the agencies to do the right thing without constant vigilance and pressure.

The very idea of Wilderness is on the line, and we must keep the courage to hold that line.

 

[1] 16 U.S.C. § 1131(a), (c).

[2] 16 U.S.C § 1133(d)(5) (1976), repealed by Pub. L. No. 95-495, 92 Stat. 1649, 1650 (1978).

[3] Minnesota v. Block, 660 F.2d 1240, 1246 (8th Cir. 1981).

[4] Pub. L. No. 95-495, 92 Stat. 1649 (1978). 

[5] Pub. L. No. 95-495, T92 Stat. 1649 (1978), 92 Stat. at 1650, 4.

[6] Pub. L. No. 95-495, T92 Stat. 1649 (1978), 92 Stat. at 1651, 4(f).

[7] 16 U.S.C. § 1133(d)(5).


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Dana Johnson is the staff attorney for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula, MT, www.wildernessswatch.org.

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Let's Protect our Nation's Largest Wilderness Study Area

kevinproescholdt 02 18 13 201by Kevin Proescholdt

 

At the end of October, Wilderness Watch filed a formal objection to the new Final Land Management Plan for the Chugach National Forest in response to the Forest Service’s seemingly intentional disregard for protecting the 2 million-acre Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area (WSA) that is part of the Chugach. In January, Wilderness Watch participated in an objection resolution meeting with the Forest Service, though the agency has not yet ruled on any of the objections we raised.

The Congressionally-designated Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA in Alaska’s western Prince William Sound is an ecological and scenic treasure of roughly 2 million acres of ancient rainforest, stunning mountains, sprawling glaciers, and meandering fiords laced with hundreds of remote islands. The Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA is also the nation’s largest Wilderness Study Area.

Not a single acre of Wilderness has been designated on the 5.4 million-acre Chugach National Forest, further elevating the importance of protecting the Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA. Unfortunately, the agency’s Final Land Management Plan for the Chugach fails abysmally to protect the wilderness character of the Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA.


Wilderness Watch filed the formal objection with Alaska Wilderness League, Eyak Preservation Council, WildEarth Guardians, and the Wilderness Society, highlighting the following concerns:

  • The Final Plan downgrades protection for the WSA.  The past two Chugach management plans have directed the Forest Service to protect “presently existing wilderness character” of the WSA, but the new plan downgrades that management to the undefined and meaningless standard of “presently existing character,” which would allow never-ending degradation over time. 
     
  • The Final Plan eliminates use of the Minimum Requirements Analysis (MRA), a tool for protecting wilderness. The 1964 Wilderness Act generally prohibits the use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment, structures and installations, allowing their use only if it is “necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area” to preserve its wilderness character. Congress included this clause in the Wilderness Act to minimize the use of nonconforming activities that agencies often want to do when stewarding Wilderness.  Though terribly weak and are often abused by the agencies, the MRA process is still better than nothing. The Forest Service completely eliminated the use of MRA in the Final Chugach Plan, suggesting the agency has little or no intention to analyze the impacts of its management activities on the WSA’s wilderness character.
     
  • The Final Plan eliminates WSA protection for 100,000 acres of wilderness-quality lands.  The federal government acquired lands from other ownerships within the boundaries of the Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA as part of the settlement following the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (EVOS) in 1989. Past Chugach National Forest plans haven’t differentiated between WSA lands and EVOS-acquired lands within the WSA, but the new Final Plan does, and creates a new management area classification for the EVOS lands that could well lead to degradation and development over time. The Forest Service should instead equally protect the EVOS-acquired lands by managing them as WSA lands, and the agency should also recommend the EVOS-acquired lands within the WSA for wilderness designation.
     
  • The Final Plan needs a larger Wilderness recommendation.  As part of any Forest Plan, the Forest Service recommends to Congress areas that the agency believes should be formally designated as Wilderness. The agency recommended only 1.4 million acres of the 2 million-acre WSA for Wilderness designation. But this is Alaska, after all, home to some of the wildest, largest, and most magnificent wilderness lands in the nation, including the Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA.  The agency should instead recommend all of the qualifying lands in and adjacent to the WSA for Wilderness designation.
     
  • The Final Plan fails to protect Chugach National Forest roadless areas. The Final Plan fails to incorporate Roadless Rule protection for all Inventoried Roadless Areas on the Chugach. The Inventoried Roadless Areas are National Forest lands on the Chugach outside of the WSA that retain wild and roadless characteristics. Particularly with the Forest Service proposing in a separate action (the Alaska Specific Roadless Rule) that the protection for any Alaska roadless area could be eliminated after a 45-day comment period, the need to protect the Inventoried Roadless Areas on the Chugach is greater than ever. The Final Plan should incorporate Roadless Rule protections for these roadless areas on the Chugach so they retain some protection even if the Alaska Specific Roadless Rule is adopted.

The formal administrative objection process continues, as Wilderness Watch and our allies urge the Forest Service to protect the wilderness lands on the Chugach and in the Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA. We will continue to fight to protect the wild character of the magnificent Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area so that future generations may also know the awe-inspiring beauty and magnificent wilderness qualities of these nationally important lands.

 

Read our Objection
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kevin proescholdt

Kevin Proescholdt is the conservation director for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula and focused on the protection of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

 

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Degrading the Wave

BLM Plan Would Degrade the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness

By Gary Macfarlane


Gary

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently released a draft environmental assessment for public input on its proposal to increase visitor use in fragile areas of the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness in Arizona, most specifically the Wave and Coyote Buttes North. These areas are almost exclusively day use, being only a few miles hike roundtrip.

What is astounding about this proposal is that BLM tacitly admits the reason for increasing visitor use has nothing to do with protecting Wilderness. BLM states, “There has been a shift over the last 10-20 years in the type of user to the wilderness. Many visitors lack knowledge of basic backcountry ethics and skills, as well as an understanding of land navigation principles. They are focusing more on a singular attraction such as the Wave, and less on wilderness qualities such as solitude, and an undeveloped natural experience.” In other words, the goal of BLM’s proposal is to inappropriately accommodate excessive visitor use rather than protect the Wilderness it’s entrusted with.

It doesn’t stop there. In addition to the proposed 250 to 500 percent daily visitor increase in the Wilderness, BLM is considering drilling into rock to place trail markers, despite the Wilderness Act’s prohibition on installations. BLM is also vague about possibly installing a phone either at the trailhead or inside the Wilderness itself. The plan is a far cry from the mandate of the Wilderness Act for an enduring resource of wilderness.

The proposal also fails to take concrete steps to address other problems in the Wilderness that stem from day use via the Wire Pass Trailhead, which accesses the Wave. Specifically, there are too many impacts from horse use in the canyon bottom leading into Buckskin Gulch, which is the first part of the hike to the Wave. (Ironically, Buckskin Gulch and other canyons of the Paria River system are closed to overnight horse use, but not day use by horses.) Additionally, BLM is proposing to increase parking at other trailheads, which could lead to overuse in other fragile areas of the Wilderness that do not currently have the name recognition of the Wave, and which still offer a relatively primitive experience. Work at trailheads, such as to reduce resource damage, must not lead to increased use in the Wilderness. The plan could turn Wilderness into something like a city park, overrun with crowds, rather than a Wilderness that offers solitude and a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.

The Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness was first established as the Paria Canyon Primitive Area in 1969, and was one of the first areas BLM recognized for its wilderness values. (The Federal Lands Policy Management Act, the law that made BLM-administered lands subject to the Wilderness Act, would not be passed until 1976.) If BLM can degrade the long-recognized Paria Canyon area—a region of spectacular slot canyons, geological wonders, and rare species like desert bighorn sheep—what chance do other BLM-administered Wildernesses have to remain wild?

Read Wilderness Watch's comments on the plan

 

Gary is the Secretary of the Board of Directors of Wilderness Watch and Ecosystem Defense Director for Friends of the Clearwater, where he is responsible for tracking public land issues in the Clearwater Basin of Idaho. Gary has over 30 years of activist experience and has been recognized as one of the most effective activists in the northern Rockies.
 
 
 
 
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Hell No to Helicopters in Hellsgate

Cyndiby Cyndi Tuell

 

They say the idea of Wilderness needs no defense, but that Wilderness just needs defenders. For the past five years Wilderness Watch has worked to defend Wilderness areas in the Tonto National Forest from two agencies that should be protecting rather than degrading these wild places. Both the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) and the U.S. Forest Service have been fighting—under the guise of “management”—to unlawfully land intrusive, noisy, and dangerous helicopters in Wilderness areas to track, trap, and relocate iconic bighorn sheep.

What both agencies really want to do to these wild, far-roaming animals is treat them like livestock, ranching them to ensure a “huntable” population. The proposed plan is to repeatedly land helicopters in Wilderness, catch sheep, take their blood, put collars on them, and monitor sheep movements constantly. This is antithetical to the very idea of Wilderness. Wilderness is where motorized use is prohibited. It is supposed to remain free from human manipulation. These actions will harm the sheep and other wildlife.

In 2014, more than half of the 31 sheep the AZGFD captured in Yuma and moved to mountains near Tucson using helicopters died as a result of relocation efforts. Some died during capture, some died during the flight, and some died in their new and unfamiliar surroundings. This same year, the AZGFD pushed the Tonto National Forest to allow helicopters to land hundreds of times a year to harass and move more bighorn sheep. Wilderness Watch and our allies pushed back hard on this unlawful plan because wild sheep in Wilderness areas should be protected from the intrusions of machines and man’s hubris.

And we won.

The Forest Service agreed that AZGFD’s plan was excessive and would likely violate environmental laws—including the Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

In 2019, the AZGFD was back at it. Wilderness Watch again had to defend Wilderness when the Arizona Game and Fish Department proposed up to 150 helicopter landings in the Four Peaks, Hellsgate, Mazatzal, Salt River Canyon, and Superstition Wildernesses to capture and collar bighorn sheep. The wildlife “managers” want to capture and monitor these wild sheep, day and night, landing their helicopters in our forests, under the guise of managing disease outbreaks. These same wildlife managers refuse to remove the main source of disease to wild sheep—domestic sheep. They refuse to protect wildlife corridors connecting Arizona’s mountains so bighorn sheep can move as they need to, ensuring healthy populations and biological diversity in wild populations.

We objected to this new plan last October because the project fails to advance the purposes of the Wilderness Act or Wilderness designations. We advocated for the agencies to consider managing only those bighorn herds that are outside of Wilderness, but the Forest Service approved the project anyway.

These intrusions into Wilderness areas are unnecessary, doing more harm than either agency will admit. Wild sheep should be allowed to move about the landscape on their own, finding habitat that suits them best. These agencies should do more to protect wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors. The best way to prevent the spread of disease to wild sheep is to limit the places domestic sheep can graze. The solutions are simple, but the agencies refuse to keep the wild in wildlife.

Learn more about this issue: bit.ly/35Fb7nK


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Cyndi Tuell is a member of Wilderness Watch's board of directors. She has worked as an attorney, consultant, and activist since 2007, focusing on public lands management issues related to roads and motorized recreation in national forests in New Mexico and Arizona. Recently, Cyndi focused her public lands work on protecting natural resources in the borderlands. A native of Tucson, Arizona, Cyndi is an avid hiker, backpacker, and defender of wild places. She received the Nancy Zierenberg Sky Island Alliance Advocate award in 2013 and was named the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter’s 2015 Conservationist of the Year.
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Wilderness Ethics as an Antidote to Climate Change Hubris

Andrew Hurshby Andrew Hursh

 

Would a modern Bob Marshall drive a Tesla to the trailhead?[i] Motors of any propulsion certainly drove him and other early leaders of the Wilderness movement out of the woods and into public advocacy.[ii] In 1901, when Marshall was born, only some 14,000 automobiles were registered in the United States. By his untimely death in 1939, there were over 31 million.[iii] The Wilderness Society founder’s life and core mission reflect a conservationist’s reaction to a great environmental challenge of his era, the zeal with which we roaded up so much of our undeveloped, wild country in so short a time.

Today, the hallmark of environmentalists is less notably their backcountry boosting and more commonly which vehicle they buy.[iv] A cynic might bemoan that this twist in attitudes betrays a loss, with the shift into the twenty-first century, of the Wilderness values so remarkably celebrated in the clutch of the twentieth. Perhaps, however, it’s a change that instead reflects a reaction to one great environmental challenge of our era, climate change. Consider these dates: Howard Zahniser, primary author of the Wilderness Act of 1964, died that same year, mere months before he could have witnessed President Johnson sign the bill into law.[v] Next, in 1965, Johnson had his science advisory committee evaluate other ecological issues with a report on “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment.”[vi] In the early pages of that report sits perhaps the earliest recognition in the US government of the greenhouse effect and the atmospheric impact of fossil fuels.[vii]

The coming sea change in the way we grapple with our effects on the natural world thus occurred lamentably late for us to gain the perspective of the architects of the Wilderness Act on the ramifications of climate change. As a result, today’s wilderness advocates are divided. Faced with the reality of how far-reaching our impacts on the natural world are, renewed debate has livened questions about what Wilderness means and when and how wilderness character should be compromised in the name of climate change mitigation and adaptation. From assisted migration to thinning, burning and replanting to other biological controls, the impulse to manipulate ecosystems in our National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) grows stronger along with our understanding of ways we may have inadvertently affected them. At the same time, generational shifts in thinking may exhibit erosion of the wilderness ethics that championed the original creation of the NWPS. Politically hyper-focused on climate change and broad-scale ecological concerns, some people may see wilderness areas more as venues for adventure sports than as temples to humility in the face of nature. Many otherwise conservation-conscious advocates simply misunderstand or have never learned what, and why, the NWPS is.

From intervention-minded managers to globally-minded millennials, what do these shifts in thinking mean for resolving the principled vision described by Howard Zahniser and those that shaped our original wilderness movement? There’s a reason that Zahniser favored a phrase like “Guardians not Gardeners”; although his writing predated certain complex dialogues about climate change, the foundations of wilderness ethics contain guidance for why we should exercise restraint and how to rescue wilderness—the ideal and the real, untrammeled landscape—in the modern era. Perhaps climate change presents the perfect test of our humility and an opportunity to reinvigorate the original reasoning for leaving the wild alone. Perhaps, as our developing knowledge leads us to lament the reach of human damage, we may reeducate ourselves about the cultural, scientific, ecological, and ethical reasons for leaving wilderness areas unmanipulated any further. “In wilderness,” Zahniser noted, “we should observe change and try not to create it!”[viii]

The key definitional phrase in the Wilderness Act calls for areas in the NWPS to be those “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.”[ix] That word choice is monumental and has caused much consternation among those who have tied some thread of their lives to this venerable resource. The problem arises when the Act “further defines” wilderness, using the phrase “primeval character” and calling for management “to preserve its natural conditions.”[x] In recent years, certain voices in Wilderness conservation have erected a perceived “paradox” or conflict in the Act’s mandate to preserve wilderness character, contending that “natural conditions” and “untrammeled” are management goals that can be at odds with one another.[xi] Some have expressed a belief that natural conditions should be defined by certain desired ecological baselines (some “primeval” analogue, or often even recent data points). When these have changed as a result of human influence, pursuit of their reconstruction then threatens our call to safeguard “untrammeled” wilderness character. Consider the following real-life example: as an unintended consequence of decades of fire suppression, there is some evidence that certain now-dense forests have lost their historical resilience to high-intensity wildfires. Should we step in and intensively restore these woods to a thinner density, through prescribed burning or silvicultural treatment? People with a perspective favoring action often see “trammeling” in such cases as an acceptable means of recreating a certain vision of “natural.” Consequently, numerous such proposals have come forward, among the most recent including the 19,000-acre Trinity Alps Wilderness Prescribed Fire project that was submitted for public comment in late July 2019.[xii]

A recent study evaluated the fire mitigation situation described above, noting that “restoration of altered fire regimes is a frequently cited justification for intervention in protected areas, including wilderness.”[xiii] The authors assessed a number of assumptions that must be made by managers inclined toward intervention, ranging from how variable historic fire regimes truly were, to the factors at play in the present forest conditions, to the likely response of the ecosystem to treatment. For each of these, the researchers found that “the scientific evidence at hand is not consistent with the assumptions that might be used to justify wilderness intervention.”[xiv] Additionally, note that USFS directives create a framework for evaluating manipulations. Among the criteria are that “there is a reasonable assurance that the project will accomplish the desired objectives” and that a “pilot study should take place in a comparable area outside of wilderness if possible.”[xv]


Faced with these criteria and a lack of definitive science on cause and effect with regard to forest conditions and fire, how could one possibly justify human intervention in such a case, compromising the untrammeled nature of the wilderness? As the authors of the above study concluded when recommending more restrained deliberation, “intervention proposals often lack the detail required to evaluate either the magnitude of the ecological threat or the likelihood that intervention will be successful.”[xvi] Nonetheless, all four of the agencies that manage lands in the NWPS have shown an openness toward ecological manipulations. Researchers at the Aldo Leopold Institute recently conducted a survey of wilderness interventions among BLM, USFS, NPS, and FWS managers, coming to the following conclusion: “landscape-scale actions in wilderness are happening across all agencies, for diverse reasons, across all geographic regions within the United States, and in both large and small wildernesses. Given changing climate patterns and documented ecological changes, more proposals to intervene are likely inevitable.”[xvii] Indeed, a Forest Service briefing paper recently noted that “climate change will force a reassessment of wilderness stewardship goals and objectives.”[xviii] While acknowledging the need to take special care to better define desired intervention outcomes and scientific reasons for limiting the practice, the document also stated that responding to climate change “will require compromise between such competing values as biodiversity conservation and the desire to leave nature alone” and that “the boundaries between wilderness and surrounding lands must be made more porous if ecosystems are to respond appropriately to climate change.”[xix] On the ground, the temptation towards active mitigation, a phenomenon researchers have coined “action bias,”[xx] often wins over. In a 2011 USDA report on adaptation to climate change in national forests, to “reconsider definitions of wilderness” is floated as a strategic option.[xxi]


Such reconsideration would of course be troubling to those who cherish wilderness. Leaders at Wilderness Watch in particular have argued that protecting “wildness” has always meant unifying the concepts of “natural” and “untrammeled,” each meant to support the preservation of areas that develop and change as nature sees fit in the absence of direct human influence and human intent.[xxii] This would best further our hard-fought wilderness vision and Zahniser’s deliberate advocacy for wilderness that “should be managed to be left unmanaged.”[xxiii] Opposing thinkers have argued that climate change renders moot the avoidance of human influence and that human intent to mitigate that influence justifies interventionist action.[xxiv] Perhaps, however, climate change instead presents a rich opportunity to revitalize the early wilderness movement’s principled, harmonious approach to noninterventionist Wilderness ethics.


Why did Zahniser, Marshall, and other early proponents invoke high-minded principles of human humility and the force of wilderness on our character and spirit? Through today’s lens of transactional conservation policy, it might seem like these advocates simply didn’t have robust technical tools such as ecosystem services concepts or tourism market studies to wield in the fight to protect their favorite remote habitat like the Selway or Alaska’s North Slope. But that view would cast careful ethical arguments as a cynical device for achieving designation; perhaps, rather, the “philosophy of land” that grew out of the wilderness movement was indeed as Aldo Leopold described it, “the end result of a life journey.”[xxv]

Today’s environmentalists often cast their climate activism less as a land ethic derived from life experience and more as a hubristic appeal to “save humanity.” Such apocalyptic rhetoric about the fate of the earth may be tenuously borne out by certain datasets, but it is also famous for leaving concerned citizens and scientists in a state of despondence and fatigue.[xxvi] Even when the goals appear to be similar, as in wilderness preservation, consider the consequences of the different scales at which each era has viewed the concept. Advocates in the early Wilderness movement sought mainly to protect certain special areas from the encroachment of mechanized, commercial and industrial development. We’ve been making way for those things everywhere else, they argued, but not here, not in the last of our wilderness. By contrast, the framing of the climate change generation seeks to protect the planet from the ill consequences of that same development. In the name of protecting everywhere, they seem to argue, we’re open to technical interventions that maintain certain ecologies anywhere, even at the expense of untrammeled wilderness.


Of course, that framing is not monolithic among the populace concerned about climate change. Proposals about the efficacy of geoengineering the climate, for example, have sparked lively debate about the precautionary principle and the likelihood of unintended consequences of our actions.[xxvii] And if a precautionary default should govern decision-making anywhere, it ought to be in wilderness. Nonetheless, there remains an action-minded strain of climate change advocacy pursuing species preservation, carbon sequestration and other goals that butt heads with the ideals of the NWPS. Unfortunately, these advocates may be under-exposed to wilderness principles, misunderstand the concept, or otherwise be concerned with different environmental challenges best suited for other lands.


For example, one recent survey probed the resonance of various wilderness values with survey respondents of different generations.[xxviii] The researchers analyzed the language favored by respondents—through statements regarding subjects like clean water, recreation, endangered species, science, or simply knowing wilderness is there—and they derived certain categories of values placed in wilderness. The researchers dubbed several traditional values “use amenities,” “non-use amenities,” and “ecological services.”[xxix] They noted that these three values “may not resonate as much with the youngest cohorts.” Older generations, of course, are neither known to venerate the “services” and “amenities” of wilderness in so many words, but the academic distinction derives from their greater appreciation for the label as something more than another type of technical habitat management. Younger respondents, by contrast, have mostly retained a value for what the researchers termed “ecological protection”—characterized by a more granular interest in natural conditions for certain species—in a manner hypothesized to stem from their “technological embeddedness.”[xxx]


What role, then, should the humble wilderness ethic play in contemporary times? Arguably, as it did during the mid-twentieth century, it could again provide a much-needed font from which to draw a “philosophy of land” that can inform and inspire environmentalists. A forward-looking, positive approach that esteems the inherent intelligence of nature would provide a potent antidote to the dual ills of modern climate change advocacy: technocracy and dejection. The power of an appeal to wilderness conservation as an act of humility for nature’s sake can avoid the pitfalls of nitpicking, technical critiques of our climate response measures—in wilderness, our desired conditions matter less than those that nature chooses on its own. And the same reverence for nature provides a richness of meaning and a recognition of our humble place on the earth that can outdo the gloomiest of human prognoses—we can rest easy knowing the wilderness we cherish will last if we let it.


If climate change activists and wilderness enthusiasts were unified by a “philosophy of land” rooted in the same reverence for nature that Zahniser, Marshall, and others carried into legislation, how would they attempt to distinguish climate change impacts from unconscionable trammeling? Roger Kaye recently dove into Zahniser’s use of the word “untrammeled” and settled on a helpful explanation of wildness as “freedom from human intent, as opposed to human effect.”[xxxi] This could be a useful place to start. The effects of climate change on wilderness do not stem from our actions within the protected area itself but instead seep in from outside. The responses of various species and systems to climate change are thus different from responses to actions we took in their immediate geographic vicinity, such as the introduction of non-native, invasive species. Some of our management actions have also created deliberate, if not desirable, impacts on wilderness ecosystems. Examples of these include the effects of livestock grazing, stocking of popular sport fish, and erosion and other impacts of heavy use. The obvious remedy to these is to stop doing them and remove the direct threat. The often unpredictable effects of climate change, by contrast, are unintentional. Perhaps the most insidious of intervention justifications could be considered those larger biological aims to broadly manipulate the landscape and indirectly mitigate the unintended consequences of climate change. These would surely be an unwelcome intrusion of human intent on the wild. Indeed, Representative Saylor from Pennsylvania, who introduced the first drafts of the Wilderness Act in the House, spoke to this same issue in 1962; he noted that wilderness was defined by areas “showing no significant ecological disturbance from onsite human activity” and that on-site activities are “distinct from activity outside the tract which may have indirect effects on the wilderness.”[xxxii]


 Wilderness advocates face a formidable challenge and opportunity to use this moment to strengthen wilderness values and protect the wilderness character in our NWPS for future generations. Presently, the lack of a principled, coherent approach to wilderness and climate change allows the whims of individual managers and the feel-good action of certain types of interventionist restoration to win the day, compromised principles or unintended consequences be damned. One recent law review article assessed ways in which the Act could be construed to allow management responses to climate change in wilderness. “The agency must jump through a variety of procedural and substantive hoops to justify active management for climate change adaptation,” the authors concluded.[xxxiii] “To be sure, these procedural and substantive hurdles place a thumb on the scale in favor of restraint and passive management.”[xxxiv] A smart approach to the watchdog role played by Wilderness Watch and others motivated to advocate for wild places should add weight to those scales by reinvigorating the humility underpinning the “untrammeled” requirement of wilderness (non)management. As another recent law review article noted, “the call for deliberate nonintervention is . . . precisely the stance that Congress adopted in the Wilderness Act and it is one that is becoming all the more imperative under the forces of climate change.”[xxxv]


When advocating for coherent and principled construction of the Wilderness Act, we can recall two particular frames through which its proponents and writers viewed the definition of wilderness. These arguments, even though they pre-date the climate change debate, elucidate the principles through which the crafters of our NWPS would likely have approached the issue. First, advocates for our initial designated wilderness areas recognized that an inability to totally remove human effect from the landscape should not preclude setting an area aside as wilderness. For example, prior to 1964, we were aware of issues such as fire suppression, grazing, and logging that had re-shaped many proposed wilderness lands. Fire suppression tactics had changed the structure and density of forests in a number of our original Wilderness areas. Historical grazing practices received certain accommodations by advocates for the Wilderness Act—they hoped to phase out the practice, but the presence of the ecological effects of grazing was not considered a barrier to designation. And early wilderness advocates recognized that some areas in the East, even though logged extensively in the past, had re-gained a wildness that, through “untrammeled” non-management going forward, could be protected through inclusion in the NWPS. Importantly, boosters of the Wilderness Act did not argue that we first had to actively restore such areas before they could be considered wilderness. It was the act of leaving them untrammeled, prospectively, that would allow them to adapt and recover through natural, unguided processes. Representative Saylor, testifying on the bill before the house, noted that in wilderness, “the time required for restoration is considerable; the process cannot be forced.”[xxxvi]


Second, a key characteristic of wilderness areas is their contrast with other lands. Representative Saylor again stressed that “most of the value of wilderness tracts depends on the existence of sharp contrast between wilderness tracts and the rest of the country. Within this framework, therefore, the aim of minimum interference is not only appropriate but essential.”[xxxvii] In fact, “scientific, educational . . . or historical values” are ancillary characteristics of wilderness areas that the Act explicitly seeks to protect.[xxxviii] Scientists who hope to better understand climate change and how various ecosystems adapt are particularly interested in retaining unmolested natural areas from which to draw comparisons and collect baseline data. “When we exploit paleoenvironmental archives derived from these study sites,” one researcher writes, “we define the background variability of the processes that shape ecosystems. Understanding the nature of this variability, both in terms of its causes and its consequences, is increasingly recognized as a key to sound ecosystem management.”[xxxix] Testifying prior to the passage of the Wilderness Act, Representative Mike Mansfield put it similarly: “a further value of wilderness . . . is the importance of having undisturbed plant and animal communities available for scientific studies. It is felt that only with such controls can the effects of man’s many modifications be properly judged, and unwise practices avoided.”[xl]


Modern critics might quibble with the naivete of early takes like Mansfield’s on what constitutes “undisturbed” nature or the reference to “primeval” landscapes. Today’s science and anthropology have better informed us about how ubiquitously we’ve managed to affect our earth. What early twentieth-century writers viewed as “primeval,” for example, was more a vestige of the hollowing out of once-thriving and populous indigenous civilizations across much of the continent.[xli] Recent science has also informed us that land use change likely affected our atmosphere over a much longer period than just since the industrial revolution—the early development of agriculture itself may have contributed to the climate stabilization we so enjoyed until contemporary times.[xlii] Similarly, evolution in our knowledge about disturbances in dynamic ecosystems has deflated old myths about “climax communities” and “steady states.”[xliii] But retrospectively ignorant-looking notions should not be used to undercut the forward-looking stances taken by early wilderness writers; this would be to woefully misunderstand their position. Zahniser, for one, well-recognized that setting aside wilderness was itself a novel, and noble, human project. He wrote: “The idea of wilderness as an area without man’s influence is man’s own concept. Its values are human values. Its preservation is a purpose that arises out of man’s own sense of his fundamental needs.”[xliv] Chief among those needs is the need to reserve and learn from vast resources we did not mold. During an early wilderness conference, Zahniser admonished the perspective of one scientist who framed wilderness as a scientific resource that presented an opportunity for “the intelligent use of our technical skills.”[xlv] Much like many managers do today, that scientist used the extant presence of what Zahniser called “wilderness-administration delinquencies”—fire suppression, dams, insect spraying, vegetation clearing—to justify a position that “we should do more” to intelligently correct them.[xlvi] Zahniser countered that such practices would be antithetical to wilderness and would “make of these areas gardens rather than preserves. Technology to create (or re-create) the wilderness to suit our fancy,” he wrote, would be one sure way to lose our wilderness.[xlvii]


Throughout that exchange, Zahniser commended the “intelligence” of the professor advocating for hands-on wilderness restoration, while clarifying that he misunderstood the resource. Recognizing our failings and better estimating our impacts are indeed laudable developments. Today, so much of our research into historical natural variability has led to broad observations that anthropogenic climate change has pushed many systems well out of the bounds of “normal.” This provides what some have called a “no-analogue” situation, whereby there is no historical precedent for the natural state of an ecosystem absent any human effect.[xlviii] In fact, there’s a growing movement to dub the era since the Industrial Revolution the “Anthropocene” in the annals of academic geologists.[xlix] And again, in response to our evolving knowledge, some who would compromise wilderness offer a shrug of futility: if we’ve tainted everything beyond pure “naturalness,” why not actively cultivate environmental conditions to mitigate future change? But a stronger response would be to point out that natural conditions, if defined by the wild processes of nature and the absence of our human intent, have not changed. In fact, our reverence for untrammeled nature and our need to escape the “mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment”[l] have been consistent forces through many eras of change.


In 1957, Howard Zahniser gave a speech to the New York State Conservation Council on “where wilderness preservation began.” Representative O’Brien of New York entered his remarks into the congressional record the following year in support of an early draft of the Wilderness Act.[li] In the speech, Zahniser discussed a lineage of wilderness values dating to writers in the nineteenth century. Zahniser was interested in why Mr. William H.H. “Adirondack” Murray, back in 1869, had complained about “how harshly the steel-shod hoofs smite against the flinty pavement” in the clamor of big-city Boston.[lii] Zahniser experienced wilderness as a reprieve from development in the age of airplanes and automobiles, so he imagined nineteenth-century Boston would seem a “quaint and serene” place to retreat.[liii] The value of wilderness as an escape from human noise, he noted, is certainly relative but has long been a cultural and spiritual need.


So today we’ve seen another relative shift in the trappings of civilization from which wilderness advocates seek to create enclaves of protection. Aldo Leopold once called for wilderness areas large enough for a “two-week pack trip” over which the mules wouldn’t cross their own tracks.[liv] Such travel, of course, is decreasingly the norm among backcountry enthusiasts, who more commonly explore their treasured landscapes by packraft, mountain bike, and belay device. Climate change, our great environmental challenge, is battled with windmills and electric cars and international treaties. But nonetheless, the need for a refuge of wilderness persists, and the need for a strong wilderness ethic could not be greater. Faced with the realities of climate change and evidence of the unpredictability of human over-action, we need places that stand on their own, where we do our utmost to let nature proceed as unhindered, as untrammeled, and in which we visit as unassumingly as we can.


Somewhere in the wilderness today wanders the modern Bob Marshall. When she’s motivated out of the woods, ready to combat contemporary environmental threats, it may be by decrying federal inaction on the push for renewable energy. She might pen op-eds about the fate of the earth, or read about cutting-edge proposals from tech billionaires who want to geoengineer us out of climate catastrophe.[lv] She’ll roll her eyes. Marshall’s objection notwithstanding, she might plug into an electric vehicle charger at the trailhead. In 1964, atmospheric carbon dioxide was around 320 parts per million. Today, it’s well over 400.[lvi] And through the great environmental challenge of her era, all the global development, the hubris, and the complexity, she’ll turn to our wilderness heritage as an ethical guide. Through this, where nature in all its entropy inspires and educates, she’ll lead our fellow citizens, our public servants, and our courts to use these guiding principles, in the same way we once mobilized to put them into law, as a means of achieving the environmental humility we so crave in the face of climate change.

 

[i] Ask yourself what Marshall might have thought of the author of this piece: Brendan Leonard, “Can a Tesla Become the Ultimate Adventure Vehicle?”, Outside Magazine (Sep. 6, 2017). https://www.outsideonline.com/2235846/charging-cross-country

[ii] See Paul S. Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement (2002).

[iii] U.S. Federal Highway Administration. “State Motor Vehicle Registrations, By Years, 1900 – 1995.” https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/summary95/mv200.pdf.

[iv] See, e.g., Camilla Barbarossa, Patrick De Pelsmacker & I. Moons, Personal Values, Green Self-identity and Electric Car Adoption, 140 Ecological Economics 190 (2017).

[v] Howard Zahniser, wilderness.net. https://wilderness.net/learn-about-wilderness/howard-zahniser.php

[vi] The White House. Restoring the Quality of Our Environment: Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel, President’s Science Advisory Committee (Nov. 1965).

[vii] See id. at 9 (“Carbon dioxide is being added to the earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at the rate of 6 billion tons a year. By the year 2000 there will be about 25% more CO2 in our atmosphere than at present. This will modify the heat balance of the atmosphere to such an extent that marked changes in climate, not controllable through local or even national efforts, could occur.”).

[viii] Howard Zahniser, Review of the Eight Biennial Wilderness Conference, 84 The Living Wilderness 34, 39 (1963).

[ix] 16 U.S.C. § 1131(c).

[x] Id.

[xi] See, e.g., The Wilderness Society v. FWS, 316 F.3d 913 (2003) (in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals discusses “natural” as a quality that can be at odds with “untrammeled”).

[xii] See U.S. Forest Service, Trinity Alps Wilderness Prescribed Fire Project, Project overview: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=30965&exp=overview; Project detail: https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/64705_FSPLT2_029433.pdf.

[xiii] Cameron E. Naficy, Eric G. Keeling, Peter Landres, Paul F. Hessburg, Thomas T. Veblen, & Anna Sala, Wilderness in the 21st Century: A Framework for Testing Assumptions about Ecological Intervention in Wilderness Using a Case Study of Fire Ecology in the Rocky Mountains, 114(3) Journal of Forestry 384, 391 (2016).

[xiv] Id.

[xv] U.S. Forest Service. FSM 2300 – Recreation, Wilderness, and Related Resource Management, Chapter 2320: Wilderness Management 33 (2007).

[xvi] Nacify, supra note 9 at 392.

[xvii] Lucy Lieberman, Beth Hahn & Peter Landres, Manipulating the Wild: a survey of restoration and management interventions in U.S. Wilderness, 26(5) Restoration Ecology 900 (2018).

[xviii] U.S. Forest Service. Climate Change and Wilderness Briefing Paper. https://winapps.umt.edu/winapps/media2/wilderness/toolboxes/documents/climate/FS%20-%20Chiefs-Brief-climate.pdf

[xix] Id.

[xx] M.S. Iftekhar & D.J. Pannell, Biases’ in adaptive natural resource management. 8 Conservation Letters 388 (2015).

[xxi] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Responding to Climate Change in National Forests: A Guidebook for Developing Adaptation Options 41 (2011).

[xxii] George Nickas & Kevin Proesholdt, Minimizing Non-Conforming Uses in the National Wilderness Preservation System A Tool for Protecting Wilderness in Future Wilderness Designations, Wilderness Watch Policy Paper (2005).

[xxiii] Zahniser, supra note 8 at 40.

[xxiv] See, e.g., Alejandro Camacho, Assisted Migration: Redefining Nature and Natural Resource Law under Climate Change, 27 Yale J. on Reg. 171 (2010).

[xxv] Aldo Leopold, Draft foreward to A Sand County Almanac, Companion to A Sand County Almanac (ed. J. Baird Callicott) (1987).

[xxvi] See, e.g., On the Media, The Psychological Toll of Working as a Climate Scientist, (Jul. 12, 2019). https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/psychological-toll-working-climate-scientist.

[xxvii] See, e.g., Lili Fuhr, Guest Post on Governance for a Ban on Geoengineering, Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative. https://www.c2g2.net/governance-for-a-ban-on-geoengineering/; Kevin Elliott, Geoengineering and the Precautionary Principle, 24 International Journal of Applied Philosophy 237 (2010); Elizabeth Tedsen and Gesa Homann, Implementing the Precautionary Principle for Climate Engineering, 7 Carbon & Climate L. Rev. 90 (2013).

[xxviii] Rebecca Rasch, An exploration of intergenerational differences in wilderness values, 40 Population & Environment 72 (2018).

[xxix] Id.

[xxx] Id.

[xxxi] Roger Kaye, The Untrammeled Wild and Wilderness Character in the Anthropocene, 24 Int’l J. of Wilderness 1 (2018). https://ijw.org/the-untrammeled-wild-and-wilderness-character-in-the-anthropocene/.

[xxxii] Congressional Record – Appendix, May 2, 1962, A3255 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[xxxiii] Elisabeth Long & Eric Biber, The Wilderness Act and Climate Change Adaptation, 44 Envtl. L. 623, 623 (2014).

[xxxiv] Id.

[xxxv] Sandra Zellmer, Wilderness, Water, and Climate Change, 42 Envtl. L. 313, 315 (2012).

[xxxvi] Congressional Record – Appendix, May 31, 1962, A3995 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[xxxvii] Congressional Record – Appendix, June 6, 1962, A4064 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[xxxviii] 16 U.S.C. § 1131(c).

[xxxix] Lisa J. Graumlich, Global Change in Wilderness Areas: Disentangling Natural and Anthropogenic Changes, USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-3. (2000).

[xl] Congressional Record – Appendix, Aug. 24, 1959, A7298 (Hon. Mike Mansfield extension of remarks).

[xli] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227, 255 (2017) (discussing Bill McKibben’s book End of Nature).

[xlii] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227, 255 (2017) (discussing Bill McKibben’s book End of Nature).

[xliii] See, e.g., Anil Gupta, Origin of agriculture and domestication of plants and animals linked to early Holocene climate amelioration, 87 Indian Academy of Sciences 58 (2004).

[xliv] Congressional Record – Appendix, June 1, 1955. (Hubert Humphrey extension of remarks: Howard Zahniser, “The Need for Wilderness Areas”).

[xlv] Zahniser, supra note 8 at 37-39.

[xlvi] Id.

[xlvii] Id.

[xlviii] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227 (2017).

[xlix] Meera Subramanian, “Anthropocene now: influential panel votes to recognize Earth’s new epoch.” Nature News (May 21, 2019). https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01641-5.

[l] Howard Zahniser, “The Need for Wilderness Areas,” 59 The Living Wilderness, 58 (1956).

[li] Congressional Record – Appendix, April 22, 1958, A3612 (Hon. Leo W. O’Brien extension of remarks).

[lii] Id.

[liii] Id.

[liv] Origins and Ideals of Wilderness Areas (1940). Meine, Curt. The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries (Richard L. Knight ed., University of Wisconsin Press, 1999).

[lv] See, e.g., Dave Levitan, “The Billionaires' Guide To Hacking The Planet,” Pacific Standard (May 2, 2019).

[lvi] C02.earth, “NOAA Monthly CO2 Data.” https://www.co2.earth/monthly-co2.

 

[1] Ask yourself what Marshall might have thought of the author of this piece: Brendan Leonard, “Can a Tesla Become the Ultimate Adventure Vehicle?”, Outside Magazine (Sep. 6, 2017). https://www.outsideonline.com/2235846/charging-cross-country

[1] See Paul S. Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement (2002).

[1] U.S. Federal Highway Administration. “State Motor Vehicle Registrations, By Years, 1900 – 1995.” https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/summary95/mv200.pdf.

[1] See, e.g., Camilla Barbarossa, Patrick De Pelsmacker & I. Moons, Personal Values, Green Self-identity and Electric Car Adoption, 140 Ecological Economics 190 (2017).

[1] Howard Zahniser, wilderness.net. https://wilderness.net/learn-about-wilderness/howard-zahniser.php

[1] The White House. Restoring the Quality of Our Environment: Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel, President’s Science Advisory Committee (Nov. 1965).

[1] See id. at 9 (“Carbon dioxide is being added to the earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at the rate of 6 billion tons a year. By the year 2000 there will be about 25% more CO2 in our atmosphere than at present. This will modify the heat balance of the atmosphere to such an extent that marked changes in climate, not controllable through local or even national efforts, could occur.”).

[1] Howard Zahniser, Review of the Eight Biennial Wilderness Conference, 84 The Living Wilderness 34, 39 (1963).

[1] 16 U.S.C. § 1131(c).

[1] Id.

[1] See, e.g., The Wilderness Society v. FWS, 316 F.3d 913 (2003) (in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals discusses “natural” as a quality that can be at odds with “untrammeled”).

[1] See U.S. Forest Service, Trinity Alps Wilderness Prescribed Fire Project, Project overview: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=30965&exp=overview; Project detail: https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/64705_FSPLT2_029433.pdf.

[1] Cameron E. Naficy, Eric G. Keeling, Peter Landres, Paul F. Hessburg, Thomas T. Veblen, & Anna Sala, Wilderness in the 21st Century: A Framework for Testing Assumptions about Ecological Intervention in Wilderness Using a Case Study of Fire Ecology in the Rocky Mountains, 114(3) Journal of Forestry 384, 391 (2016).

[1] Id.

[1] U.S. Forest Service. FSM 2300 – Recreation, Wilderness, and Related Resource Management, Chapter 2320: Wilderness Management 33 (2007).

[1] Nacify, supra note 9 at 392.

[1] Lucy Lieberman, Beth Hahn & Peter Landres, Manipulating the Wild: a survey of restoration and management interventions in U.S. Wilderness, 26(5) Restoration Ecology 900 (2018).

[1] U.S. Forest Service. Climate Change and Wilderness Briefing Paper. https://winapps.umt.edu/winapps/media2/wilderness/toolboxes/documents/climate/FS%20-%20Chiefs-Brief-climate.pdf

[1] Id.

[1] M.S. Iftekhar & D.J. Pannell, Biases’ in adaptive natural resource management. 8 Conservation Letters 388 (2015).

[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Responding to Climate Change in National Forests: A Guidebook for Developing Adaptation Options 41 (2011).

[1] George Nickas & Kevin Proesholdt, Minimizing Non-Conforming Uses in the National Wilderness Preservation System A Tool for Protecting Wilderness in Future Wilderness Designations, Wilderness Watch Policy Paper (2005).

[1] Zahniser, supra note 8 at 40.

[1] See, e.g., Alejandro Camacho, Assisted Migration: Redefining Nature and Natural Resource Law under Climate Change, 27 Yale J. on Reg. 171 (2010).

[1] Aldo Leopold, Draft foreward to A Sand County Almanac, Companion to A Sand County Almanac (ed. J. Baird Callicott) (1987).

[1] See, e.g., On the Media, The Psychological Toll of Working as a Climate Scientist, (Jul. 12, 2019). https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/psychological-toll-working-climate-scientist.

[1] See, e.g., Lili Fuhr, Guest Post on Governance for a Ban on Geoengineering, Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative. https://www.c2g2.net/governance-for-a-ban-on-geoengineering/; Kevin Elliott, Geoengineering and the Precautionary Principle, 24 International Journal of Applied Philosophy 237 (2010); Elizabeth Tedsen and Gesa Homann, Implementing the Precautionary Principle for Climate Engineering, 7 Carbon & Climate L. Rev. 90 (2013).

[1] Rebecca Rasch, An exploration of intergenerational differences in wilderness values, 40 Population & Environment 72 (2018).

[1] Id.

[1] Id.

[1] Roger Kaye, The Untrammeled Wild and Wilderness Character in the Anthropocene, 24 Int’l J. of Wilderness 1 (2018). https://ijw.org/the-untrammeled-wild-and-wilderness-character-in-the-anthropocene/.

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, May 2, 1962, A3255 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[1] Elisabeth Long & Eric Biber, The Wilderness Act and Climate Change Adaptation, 44 Envtl. L. 623, 623 (2014).

[1] Id.

[1] Sandra Zellmer, Wilderness, Water, and Climate Change, 42 Envtl. L. 313, 315 (2012).

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, May 31, 1962, A3995 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, June 6, 1962, A4064 (Rep. Saylor extension of remarks).

[1] 16 U.S.C. § 1131(c).

[1] Lisa J. Graumlich, Global Change in Wilderness Areas: Disentangling Natural and Anthropogenic Changes, USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-3. (2000).

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, Aug. 24, 1959, A7298 (Hon. Mike Mansfield extension of remarks).

[1] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227, 255 (2017) (discussing Bill McKibben’s book End of Nature).

[1] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227, 255 (2017) (discussing Bill McKibben’s book End of Nature).

[1] See, e.g., Anil Gupta, Origin of agriculture and domestication of plants and animals linked to early Holocene climate amelioration, 87 Indian Academy of Sciences 58 (2004).

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, June 1, 1955. (Hubert Humphrey extension of remarks: Howard Zahniser, “The Need for Wilderness Areas”).

[1] Zahniser, supra note 8 at 37-39.

[1] Id.

[1] Id.

[1] See Sean M. Kammer, No-Analogue Future: Challenges for the Laws of Nature in a World Without Precedent, 42 Vt. L. Rev. 227 (2017).

[1] Meera Subramanian, “Anthropocene now: influential panel votes to recognize Earth’s new epoch.” Nature News (May 21, 2019). https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01641-5.

[1] Howard Zahniser, “The Need for Wilderness Areas,” 59 The Living Wilderness, 58 (1956).

[1] Congressional Record – Appendix, April 22, 1958, A3612 (Hon. Leo W. O’Brien extension of remarks).

[1] Id.

[1] Id.

[1] Origins and Ideals of Wilderness Areas (1940). Meine, Curt. The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries (Richard L. Knight ed., University of Wisconsin Press, 1999).

[1] See, e.g., Dave Levitan, “The Billionaires' Guide To Hacking The Planet,” Pacific Standard (May 2, 2019).

[1] C02.earth, “NOAA Monthly CO2 Data.” https://www.co2.earth/monthly-co2.


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Andrew Hursh studies at Vermont Law School, focusing on environmental law, public lands, and international climate change agreements. He grew up in the Midwest but moved to Missoula, Montana in 2010 for college and graduate school. Wilderness has been central to all his motivations since, from the Wilderness Institute's minor program, to guiding backcountry and river trips, to trail work, to his ecology and policy research. His pathway toward a public interest legal career developed out of a desire to connect his science background and graduate climate change research with policy decisions that utilize our knowledge (or fail to) on the ground. Outside of his academic work, Andrew tries to stay outside—he’s always had the backcountry bug, and for the past few years, the travel bug has gotten to him, too, with opportunities to explore some wild landscapes abroad. Andrew is thrilled to contribute to Wilderness Watch's work this summer and to better get to know the folks who protect our public lands so that his legal career can soon join the effort.

 

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Why Chainsaws Matter

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by George Nickas

 

Bill Worf, Wilderness Watch’s founder, liked to tell the story of when shortly after the Wilderness Act passed in 1964, engineers at the Forest Service Development and Technology Center expressed their interest in developing a “silent” chainsaw. Their rationale was that if the newly passed wilderness bill prohibited noisy machines, a really well muffled chainsaw would pass muster since only the operator would hear it. Bill told them not to bother—the Wilderness Act didn’t ban motorized equipment simply because it made noise, but rather because it represented a level of technology that was not in keeping with the ideals of the Wilderness Act.

Bill would have known. He served on the Forest Service task force that wrote the regulations and policies for implementing the Wilderness Act, and then became the first Forest Service wilderness program leader. Prior to that, as Forest Supervisor overseeing the Bridger Wilderness in northwest Wyoming, he had the opportunity to lead wilderness bill author and chief lobbyist Howard Zahniser on a trip into the Bridger. Bill credited his time with Zahniser with helping him to understand that the wilderness the Wilderness Act sought to protect wasn’t an undeveloped recreation area, but a place where we let nature be—a commitment to humility and restraint. Accept Wilderness on it on its own terms, and use only the lightest touch when allowing for the public uses (recreation, science, education, etc.) it provides.

Congress prohibited chainsaws because motorized tools are about domination—they allow humans to transform the landscape quickly and easily to meet our ends rather than transforming our own attitudes and desires to accommodate the landscape. Chainsaws are the antithesis of restraint. They embody the attitude that our convenience, impatience and demands come first, that we aren’t willing to slow down and meet nature on its own terms, and that there aren’t a few wild places left beyond the reach of our attempts to dominate and control.

Authorizing chainsaws to clear trails, as the US Forest Service regional forester for Region 2 recently did strikes a blow to this foundational tenet of the Wilderness Act itself, and that’s why Wilderness Watch and our allies challenged his decision in court.

But there’s another reason the decision to allow chainsaw use should concern all who care about Wilderness. The regional forester’s rationale for allowing their use—not enough trail crews to clear trails the traditional way—was essentially an admission that the Forest Service has failed miserably to maintain an adequately staffed or trained wilderness program. At a moment’s notice, the agency routinely assembles hundreds of firefighters, planes and heavy equipment to attack even a small wildfire, but from its nearly 30,000-plus employees and $5 billion budget it can’t pull together a handful of trained trail crews to help clear the trails in the Weminuche and South San Juan Wildernesses. Why is that?

About two decades ago the Forest Service effectively abandoned its wilderness program and outsourced the job to volunteers. It began by diverting funds from field crews to pay the salaries of foresters, engineers, or other desk-bound bureaucrats and putting “wilderness” in their job descriptions to make the transfer seem legit. But the main effort was putting the emphasis on creating “partnerships" with volunteer groups to mask the fact the wilderness program was being gutted. Its freshly minted directorship for Wilderness was charged with building partnerships, not rebuilding the agency’s flagging wilderness program. So today while many Wildernesses have volunteer “friends” groups trying to keep trails open or plug holes elsewhere, the agency’s program of a professionally trained and skilled field-going wilderness force has—to borrow a phrase from Bob Marshall—faded like a south-facing snowbank under a June sun.

The real lesson from the proposed chainsaw assault on the Weminuche and South San Juan Wildernesses isn’t that the Forest Service is ignoring the Wilderness Act—that’s hardly news at all. The most important takeaway is that Forest Service leadership has so decimated the agency’s wilderness program that using chainsaws to clear trails is even being discussed.


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George Nickas is the executive director of Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula, MT, www.wildernessswatch.org.

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Buyer Beware

Hovercraft Ruling Deals a Major Blow to Land Conservation in AlaskaDana blog

by Dana Johnson

 

In a major blow to conservation efforts in Alaska, including efforts to protect over 56 million acres of Wilderness in the state, the U.S. Supreme Court held that John Sturgeon, a moose hunter, can “rev up his hovercraft in search of moose” on the Nation River—a river that flows through the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in Alaska. The suit came after the Park Service told Sturgeon he could not use his hovercraft within the Yukon-Charley because Park Service regulations ban hovercraft within national preserves and parks. Sturgeon sued the Park Service, arguing that it had no authority to regulate activity on rivers in the preserve because the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) restricts Park Service authority to federally owned “public lands,” and the Nation River does not constitute federally owned public land under ANILCA. The Court agreed, noting, “If Sturgeon lived in any other State, his suit would not have a prayer of success” because the Park Service’s normal statutory authority would allow it to regulate both land and waters within parks and preserves, regardless of who owns the land and water. But, the Court found Alaska is “the exception, not the rule.”


ANILCA, signed into law in 1980, more than doubled the size of the National Park System and protected over 104 million acres of federally owned public land in the state, including over 56 million acres of new Wilderness. The Act designated such iconic Wildernesses as Denali, Gates of the Arctic, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Wrangell-Saint Elias, Izembek, Arctic Wildlife Refuge, Kenai, Misty Fjords, as well as many other Wildernesses administered by the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Unfortunately, the law also contains a number of bad provisions that affect federal agencies’ abilities to protect these areas from degradation.


The problem here comes with one provision within ANILCA stating, “Only those lands within the boundaries of any conservation system unit which are public lands (as such term is defined in this Act) shall be deemed to be included as a portion of such unit.” The Court noted that while the Park Service normally has broad authority to protect the land and water in parks, “add Section 103(c) [of ANILCA], and the equation changes.” Under this one provision, “[a]ll non-public lands (… including waters) [are] ‘deemed,’ abracadabra-style, outside Alaska’s system units,” and “[g]eographic inholdings thus become regulatory outholdings, impervious to the Service’s ordinary authority.” While the Park Service can still regulate “public lands flanking rivers,” and while it may still enforce regulations designed to protect its reserved water rights from diversion or depletion, it cannot apply park regulations to rivers in Alaska that fall outside of this narrow regulatory bubble.

Understandably, the Park Service argued that such a holding would significantly hamstring its ability to protect parks and preserves from degradation. Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg seemed to agree. While they felt legally constrained to join the unanimous opinion, in a separate concurring opinion they highlighted the unintended consequences that can flow from compromise provisions in statutes. “Many of Alaska’s navigable rivers course directly through the heart of protected parks, monuments, and preserves. A decision that leaves the Service with no authority, or only highly constrained authority, over those rivers would undercut Congress’s clear expectations in enacting ANILCA and could have exceedingly damaging consequences.”

So, where does this leave things? The Court’s opinion states that the Park Service cannot apply park system rules and regulations to non-public lands and waters in Alaska. Presumably this would apply to other federal land management agencies. Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg suggest that there may be avenues for the Park Service to regulate non-public areas when such regulation is necessary to protect parklands—it just can’t “apply normal park rules to nonpublic lands.” For example, while the Park Service can’t broadly prohibit hovercraft use on the Nation River under its general park ban, it might be able to prohibit hovercraft “in certain designated areas [on the River] to protect a particular sensitivity in a surrounding (public) park area, including some habitats on the banks of the Nation River.” Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg also suggest that the opinion might have gone differently had the Nation River been designated a Wild and Scenic River, noting “the Service should retain full authority to regulate the Wild and Scenic Rivers as parklands.” But, the legal durability of those regulatory paths will be left for a different day, and the two Justices worry “that authority may be more circumscribed than the special needs of parks require… threaten[ing] the Service’s ability to fulfill its broader duty to protect all of the parklands through which the rivers flow.” To remedy harm caused by Section 103(c) of ANILCA, they note that “Congress can and should clarify the broad scope of the Service’s authority over Alaska’s navigable waters.”

Ultimately, this case is illustrative of the poison pill problem—compromise provisions made to get a conservation bill passed may ultimately weaken the law so substantially that its original intent is smothered by the weight of exception. In this case, one provision leaves navigable waters flowing through the heart of National Parks and Wildernesses in Alaska largely unregulatable by the federal agencies charged with protecting them. Buyer beware.


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Dana Johnson is the staff attorney for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula, MT, www.wildernessswatch.org.

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The Not So Good Public Lands Omnibus Bill

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The Not So Good Public Lands Omnibus Bill

by George Nickas

 

As they say, the devil is in the details, and when the likes of anti-public lands legislators Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) stamp their approval on a massive 698-page public lands omnibus bill, we’d best dig deep.  So, why isn’t that happening?  A bipartisan chorus has applauded the “Natural Resources Management Act,” a bill written in the last Congress—the most anti-public lands Congress in memory—and about to be rubber-stamped by the new one. It is being hailed as one of the biggest conservation achievements in decades, but it is full of harmful provisions that would never see the light of day were they not tucked quietly into the omnibus. 

Take the relatively innocuous sounding “wildlife management in national parks” provision.  It should be called “Opening National Parks to Hunting,” because that’s what it does.  It allows the Secretary of Interior, heretofore Ryan Zinke, to open the Parks to “volunteer” hunters whenever the Secretary deems a wildlife population needs culling.  Zinke has already made such a declaration for predators in national preserves in Alaska, where state officials are pushing to eliminate wolves, grizzly bears, and anything else that eats hunters’ “game”.  There’s little reason to believe Zinke and his ilk won’t do the same elsewhere.  In the states surrounding Yellowstone National Park there’s a constant cry from State officials to cull the bison and elk herds, and to limit the number of wolves and grizzly bears that dare wander beyond the Park borders.  Zinke’s trophy hunting buddies in groups like Safari Club International and the NRA have always chafed at the ban on hunting in National Parks, and the public lands bill is their key to finally opening the lock.  And it’s not limited to just Yellowstone.  Bison in the Grand Canyon, elk in Rocky Mountain and wildlife in other parks could become targets with passage of the bill.

And then there’s the Alaska Native Vietnam Era Veterans Land Allotment provision that makes hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands, including in national wildlife refuges, available to privatization, development and resale in Alaska. It’s the biggest public lands privatization scheme in 50 years.  For background, in 1971, Congress passed a law that established a sunset date for a 1906 land allotment program available to Alaska Natives.  It gave a “final” opportunity for those who hadn’t made a claim in the preceding 65 years.  However, some Alaska Natives stationed in Vietnam couldn’t meet the deadline.  To address this, Congress created a new 18-month window in 1998, which was later extended to 2000.  Congress made it clear at the time that the latest deadline was final.  That didn’t stop the Alaska delegation from coming back in 2002 for another extension, which Congress and the Bush Administration roundly rejected as a land-grab.  Yet here they are again.  So much for “keeping public lands in public hands.”

There’s more. The so-called “sportsmen’s” provision elevates hunting, angling, and recreational shooting as a priority in public lands management.  A major gas pipeline will run through Denali National Park. Other provisions bring many new problems for our National Wilderness Preservation System. What did you expect, given the previous Congress wrote the bill.

To be sure, the bill contains positive provisions, but it should have undergone the scrutiny of committee hearings, public hearings, and proper oversight.  The U.S. House of Representatives should do just those things before the bill becomes law, or if the ship is too big to steer at this point, perhaps we should hail an iceberg. 

They say it’s a done deal, and it probably is.  But if you want to contact your Member of Congress and express your concerns, you can reach their offices at 202-224-3121.


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George Nickas is the executive director of Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula, MT, www.wildernessswatch.org.

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Outlook for Wilderness in Congress

george nickas 200x150kevinproescholdt 02 18 13 201by George Nickas and Kevin Proescholdt

 

Now that the 116th Congress has convened, the good news is no longer will the likes of Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Tom McClintock (R-CA) set the agenda and tone for wilderness and public lands legislation in the People’s House. Largely gone from public debate will be the tidal wave of terrible legislation that threatened to undo a half-century of Wilderness protection. And there should be no more pseudo “oversight” hearings that served no purpose but to attack the Wilderness Act.

 

The more sobering news is that not much changed in the Senate, and we can expect the Trump Administration to continue to push the limits of administrative power to exploit our public domain.

 

Here's our brief take on the House and Senate:

2019 Congress: House. The Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives as a result of the 2018 mid-term election, and now have a 235-200 majority. While not all Democrats are good for Wilderness (and not all Republicans are bad), this change in control is generally great news for Wilderness.

 

            Leadership: Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) now chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, replacing anti-wilderness Republican Rob Bishop (R-UT). Rep. Grijalva has been a strong supporter of Wilderness, and virtually all wilderness-related bills go through this committee. The incoming chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies is Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who has been a champion for National Parks and Wilderness, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in her home state of Minnesota. She replaces Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) as chair of this influential panel.

 

            Outlook: Even with a more favorable House, passing good legislation will remain a challenge as any bill must get through the Senate and be signed by the President. The best news is that bad wilderness bills that have been pushed relentlessly by House Republicans in the past several Congresses, such as the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE Act) (which would have gutted the 1964 Wilderness Act), and the Wheels in Wilderness Bill (which would have opened every Wilderness in the nation to mountain bikes and other mechanized forms of transportation), are now unlikely get a hearing in the House, let alone pass.

 

In the House we might be able to look forward to more oversight of the federal land management agencies and their wilderness programs. Oversight hearings, or even letters from committees to the land management agencies can shine a light on agency abuses and ultimately bring about positive change, as we saw in the early 1990s, the last time Congress took a serious look at the agencies’ wilderness programs. Hearings can also lay the groundwork for legislation to strengthen existing Wilderness laws and ensure those laws are enforced, should oversight alone fail to right the ship.

 

The House can also use the power of the purse to set policy and undo some of the most destructive actions of the current Administration and last Congress. Foremost on its agenda should be preventing the spending of any federal dollars to pursue mineral exploration or leasing on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. The Alaska delegation used a must-pass tax bill to open the Arctic Refuge to leasing and drilling, the House could potentially use the same to stop it. Similarly, the House might be able to use the budget process to prevent the Dept. of Interior from spending money to effectuate a land exchange with the State of Alaska that will lead to a road through the heart of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness. This would buy time for our lawsuit challenging Zinke’s unlawful end-run around the Wilderness Act and the 1980 Alaska Lands Act to work through the courts.

 

2019 Congress: Senate. Republicans retained control of the Senate and picked up two additional seats as a result of the mid-term election, and now have a majority of 53-47. This means that the Senate will probably treat Wilderness much the same as in the past couple of years of Republican control. Because the Senate operates differently from the House, and the majority needs some minority votes to reach the 60-vote filibuster-ending level, Democrats can still exercise some control (albeit limited) over the really bad wilderness bills promoted by Republicans.

 

            Leadership: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will continue to chair the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the committee through which nearly all wilderness-related bills must pass. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is slated to become the Ranking Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Manchin has a thin record on Wilderness, which leaves open the potential to create an advocate. The chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies will also continue to be Sen. Murkowski, leaving this anti-wilderness legislator in two key positions of power over Wilderness. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), a good supporter of Wilderness, will continue as the ranking minority member of this appropriations subcommittee.

 

            Outlook: Even though Republicans will retain control of the Senate, the dynamic between the House and Senate will dramatically change as a result of the new Democratic control of the House. In the past, the Republican House kept passing and sending over to the Senate one bad wilderness bill after another. That pattern will change now. While gridlock is probably the best bet, there may be opportunities to pass some modest wilderness designation bills or reforms to agency programs.

 

2019 Omnibus.  In December 2018, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee put together a massive public lands omnibus bill that ran to nearly 700 pages. While many of the bills in that package were noncontroversial, the omnibus did contain some bad bills as well. Fortunately, the omnibus was not included in the Continuing Resolution at the last minute in the Senate, but Sen. Murkowski has revived it in the new Congress.

 

Wilderness Watch will carefully monitor the discussions, and will work to protect Wilderness in any possible omnibus package.


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George Nickas is the executive director and Kevin Proescholdt is the conservation director of Wilderness Watch.

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What’s Wrong with Monitoring Inactive Volcanoes in Wilderness?

kevinproescholdt 02 18 13 201by Kevin Proescholdt

 

Wilderness Watch recently objected to a Forest Service decision to allow permanent seismic monitoring stations in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington state. If this decision doesn’t change, the Forest Service would fail to protect and preserve Glacier Peak’s wilderness conditions consistent with the 1964 Wilderness Act. Beyond Glacier Peak, any Wilderness—including those surrounding seismically-active Yellowstone National Park or elsewhere—would be damaged by the installation and servicing of any kind of permanent monitoring stations.


Wilderness is a uniquely American idea and ideal. We are incredibly lucky we still have some of it left. The framers of the Wilderness Act constantly reminded us that we would have to practice humility and restraint to keep it around. That means that all of us, visitors, managers, and other users, have to be willing to do things differently in order to preserve Wilderness for present and future generations. It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary. That’s why the recent proposal for permanent instrument installations raises concerns.

The 1964 Wilderness Act includes safeguards against permanent installations and structures in designated Wilderness, even if done for scientific purposes. Section 4(c) of this landmark law states, “…there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.” (Emphases added.) The law therefore prevents the installation of permanent seismic monitoring stations in Wilderness as well as the landing of helicopters or use of any other motorized equipment to service the stations.

The Wilderness Act does provide a very narrow exception to allow otherwise-prohibited activities, but only where such activities are necessary to preserve the area’s wilderness character. To date, the Forest Service has utterly failed to prove that degrading the Glacier Peak Wilderness with permanent structures and installations, the landing of helicopters, and the use of any other motorized equipment is the minimum necessary for preserving the area’s wilderness character.

Wilderness Watch supports scientific research in Wilderness. It is one of the primary reasons for wilderness designation and one of its greatest values. Like other activities in Wilderness, however, scientific research has to be done in a way that protects the other values of Wilderness and doesn’t include those things that the law prohibits, such as the use of helicopters for access and the installation of permanent structures. In other words, like all other wilderness visitors, including Forest Service or other wilderness managers, researchers should walk or use packstock to access Wilderness and carry in their supplies.

Our organization also supports public safety and a better understanding of seismic activity. Warning signs of an eruption, which are usually detectable outside of Wilderness, tend to be normal for Cascade Range volcanoes. Such warning signs generally precede any eruption by a significant length of time. Increasingly, researchers are also able to monitor seismic activity remotely, even from satellites. But if monitoring must be done inside designated Wilderness, it must comply with the Wilderness Act and not degrade that specific Wilderness.

Unfortunately, the Forest Service typically does not analyze any alternatives beyond the proposals submitted by the U.S. Geological Survey or other researchers. First and foremost would be the question of whether monitoring stations near or just outside the Wilderness could provide any useful monitoring data. These data may not be quite as detailed or complete as data collected from inside the Wilderness, but would likely be adequate. Unfortunately for the Glacier Peak Wilderness, the Forest Service hasn’t even looked at this sort of analysis. The Forest Service has simply failed to uphold its obligations under the Wilderness Act to protect Wilderness and merely rubber-stamped the proposal to degrade this spectacular Wilderness.

Wilderness Watch believes the federal wilderness agencies can do better and should devise plans that uphold the letter and spirit of the Wilderness Act, and not simply cast aside this important national inheritance because it causes some inconvenience and challenge for researchers. We needn’t so easily sacrifice our shared wilderness heritage just for a few additional data points as is often proposed.

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Kevin Proescholdt is the conservation director for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula and focused on the protection of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

 

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Why Wilderness? It's Irreplaceable

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Why Wilderness? It's Irreplaceable

By Franz Camenzind

 

There is a lot being said about wilderness these days: some misrepresentations and a lot of confusion as to what wilderness is, legally and ecologically.

First, wilderness designation is the best land protection law our nation has. As one wildlands advocate stated decades ago: “Wilderness is nature in its original condition.”

Wilderness cannot be manufactured; it can only be protected. Just as the 300-square-mile Jonah Field exists where oil and gas occurs, so can wilderness be protected only where it occurs. And the Jackson region is blessed with incomparable wild lands in need of protection.

Some say a wilderness designation is tantamount to a “lockout.” Wilderness is not a lockout. Anyone can enter on foot, skis, canoe, kayak, horseback or wheelchair. Anyone can backpack and camp, and any license-holder can enter to hunt and fish. Licensed hunting camps are permitted in wilderness areas, and many allow livestock grazing.

What wilderness excludes is entry by mechanized transport and the commercial extraction of resources, the building of dams and roads, the flying of drones and the landing of aircraft. It allows whipsaws, but not chain saws. It welcomes footsteps and sweat, but not motorized conveniences.

Nor is wilderness a place to be raced through on mountain bikes. Instead, it’s a place to be experienced as it was before the invention of the wheel. It’s incredible to think that anyone capable of riding a mountain bike into a wilderness area would not be able to walk or ride a horse into the same landscape.

At most wilderness is a filter that asks nothing more of those seeking entry than to check mechanization at the trailhead. Wilderness designation protects the land’s “original conditions” while allowing human activities that leave no land-altering footprint.

Our wilderness areas help shape our quality of life by providing incomparable, year-round recreation opportunities. They help fuel today’s robust economy while also protecting our watersheds and wildlife.

Besides the obvious benefits to humans, wilderness provides our iconic wildlife with secure habitats and movement corridors at a time when globally the rate of wilderness loss is nearly double the rate of protection.

We have our wilderness areas and national parks because of the vision of Jackson Hole’s first conservationists. They understood the value of protecting what is best about this region: our public lands. Their foresight and determination has served us well, and continuing their legacy is clearly today’s best investment strategy.

Jackson Hole’s conservation work continues. We are now on the threshold of making the largest land management decision in decades: the destiny of the Palisades and Shoal Creek wilderness study areas.

These wilderness study areas came about as a result of the 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act, which dedicated the Gros Ventre, Winegar Hole and Jedediah Smith wilderness areas. Although both county political parties and the full Teton County Commission wanted more wilderness dedicated, they could not convince our Congressional delegation. Consequently, a compromise was reached where it was agreed that these areas would be protected as WSAs, to be managed as wilderness until their fate could be determined at a later date. Now is that later date.

The Palisades connects the Tetons and the northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the Wyoming and Salt River ranges, which in turn approach the High Uintas, which then line with the Colorado Rockies.

A Palisades Wilderness will allow wide-ranging species such as the lynx, wolverine, wolf and potentially the grizzly bear to reconnect with large portions of their historic range. It will benefit all our native wildlife and provide them with a better chance of thriving well into the future.

Likewise, the Shoal Creek Wilderness Study Area has high ecological value. It contains low-elevation habitats rare in many wilderness areas. It provides summer parturition and winter habit for elk, deer and moose, and contains documented migration corridors for our mule deer population. Wilderness designation for the Shoal Creek Wilderness Study Area will ensure that these critical habitats retain their highest wildlife values.

On Oct. 9 the Teton County Commission is tentatively set to take a position on the future of these lands. Will it recommend that the wilderness study areas be released for multiple use, such as roads, mechanized and motorized activities, logging and mineral development? Or will it recommend full wilderness protection?

Jackson Hole has a long and enviable history of land conservation; to suddenly express less then full support for wilderness would be an economic and ecological mistake with irreparable consequences. And so doing would be an affront to our conservation legacy.

The decision will put our community on record as either supporting wilderness, the best land protection option, or as giving up and turning these two great, in “original condition” land masses over to special interests for inevitable commercialization and degradation.

Jackson, which will it be: conservation or commercialization? When it comes to wilderness we can’t have it both ways. Share your views with the commission at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Franz Camenzind, Ph.D.
Jackson, Wyoming
9/26/2018
 

 

Franz is a wildlife biologist and the Vice-President of Wilderness Watch's board of directors.

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Wilderness Giant Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg Moves on at 93


Wilderness Giant Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg Moves on at 93

by Kevin Proescholdt

BrandyBrandy around 1980On April 14th, wilderness legend Stewart M. “Brandy” Brandborg broke camp one last time from his home in Hamilton, Montana, and headed over the Divide. He was 93.

Brandy was a giant in the wilderness movement, and the last surviving architect of the 1964 Wilderness Act. A wildlife biologist by training, Brandy conducted groundbreaking field studies of mountain goats in Idaho and Montana in the late 1940s and early 1950s. That work led to a job with the National Wildlife Federation in the Washington, DC, area in 1954. He quickly came to the attention of Howard Zahniser, the executive director of the Wilderness Society. Zahniser recruited Brandy to join the Wilderness Society’s Governing Council in 1956, the same year that Zahniser drafted the first version of the Wilderness Act, so Brandy was in on the ground floor of the eight-year push to pass this landmark bill. In 1960, Zahniser hired Brandy to join the staff of the Wilderness Society, where he worked alongside Zahniser, David Brower of the Sierra Club, and others to pass the bill through Congress.

Not only were there external interests (like timber, mining, and ranching) to overcome to pass the Wilderness Act, but internal challenges as well. Some members of the Wilderness Society Governing Council, like Jim Marshall (older brother of Bob Marshall) and Dick Leonard (head of the Sierra Club), constantly badgered and second-guessed Zahniser and Brandy on their strategies and efforts. Worried that the organization might lose its nonprofit tax-exempt status, they even suggested that the Wilderness Society abandon its effort to pass the Wilderness Act. As the organization’s executive director, Zahniser took the brunt of their criticisms and badgering.

One such point was reached in 1959. But it was the young, eloquent firebrand on the Governing Council who rallied the group to stay the course and push ahead toward final passage of the Act. On October 27th, Brandy wrote an impassioned nine-page letter to the Governing Council. “Our organization has become a major force in the conservation movement,” Brandy wrote. “This is because we stand for something that people need. We have had the finest kind of progressive leadership through the years from Olaus and Zahnie. Now we face a real test and great opportunity to establish a law that will recognize and provide a satisfactory procedure for protecting wilderness. I hope we do not turn our backs on it because of a preoccupation with our organization’s status and financial security….If we fail to meet the wilderness challenge, will others also?” Brandy’s eloquent entreaty fortunately carried the day.

Brandy TWS Gov CouncThe Wilderness Society Governing Council in 1959 at Alpine, Arizona, next to the Blue Range Primitive Area. Back row, left to right: Olaus Murie, Howard Zahniser, Robert Cooney Middle row: Jim Marshall, George Marshall, Ernest Griffith Front row: Sigurd F. Olson, Dick Leonard, Harvey Broome, Stewart M. BrandborgAfter Zahniser’s untimely death in May of 1964, Brandy was selected to succeed Zahniser as the executive director of the Wilderness Society. Brandy helped push the Wilderness Act across the finish line when President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law on the 3rd of September 1964.

One of the defeats within the Wilderness Act was a requirement that Congress must pass a new law to add each new area to the National Wilderness Preservation System. This provision was insisted upon by the powerful House committee chair, Rep. Wayne Aspinall, no doubt to limit the number of new Wildernesses added to the system. Little could Aspinall have anticipated what he had unleashed.

Part of Brandy’s genius turned this seeming defeat into an incredibly powerful tool to build and expand and activate the wilderness movement all across the nation. Brandy embarked on a years-long process of identifying local wilderness supporters, organizing them, training them on the Wilderness Act, and turning them loose on their state’s Congressional delegations to push for new areas to be added to the Wilderness System. Educator Joe Fontaine of California, for example, now a past president of both Wilderness Watch and the national Sierra Club, was one of those activists recruited and trained by Brandy. Brandy’s efforts paid dividends for decades, long after Brandy’s departure from the Wilderness Society in 1976, and long after the Wilderness Society abandoned its grassroots focus. By the time Brandy left that organization, he had seen the Wilderness System grow by 70 new Wildernesses in 31 states. But the momentum he generated and the wilderness movement he built continued long after 1976, as that wilderness movement convinced Congress to continue adding new Wildernesses to the Wilderness System throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Today we see some 765 Wildernesses in the National Wilderness Preservation System covering 110 million acres in 44 states, a testament to the strength of Brandy’s vision and the movement he inspired.

After he was ousted by the Wilderness Society’s Governing Council in 1976, Brandy worked with the National Park Service during the Carter Administration where he continued to organize training for activists. Brandy always believed that organizing people provided benefits not only for wilderness conservation, but also for society as a whole. “Building the circles” of people enriched the social fabric of the nation, Brandy believed, in addition to finding and organizing activists for wilderness conservation or local planning.

Brandy AnnaVeeBrandy and Anna Vee at their home in May 2013. Brandy and his wife Anna Vee returned to the Bitterroot Valley in Montana in 1986. He never really retired, but continued his wilderness activism for another three decades. He joined the board of directors of Wilderness Watch in 1998, where he served with other such wilderness luminaries as Stewart Udall, Orville Freeman, Joe Fontaine, Michael Frome, and Bill Worf. Brandy served on the board, and later as Wilderness Watch’s Senior Advisor, for a 20-year run from 1998 until his final journey in April. With each visit and phone call, Brandy would ask for the latest updates from the wilderness field, and then hand out our assignments to save all the remaining Wilderness with no compromise and no collaboration. Dedicated and feisty to the end, he gave a final speech to a full house of activists in Hamilton a few weeks before he died.

Brandy WWWilderness Watch leaders received their next assignments from Brandy in October 2016. All of us at Wilderness Watch extend our condolences to the Brandborg family, and our thanks to them for sharing Brandy with us for so many years. Brandy will continue to inspire the wilderness movement and Wilderness Watch far into the future, and we fully expect to receive our next assignments from him in short order.

 

Kevin Proescholdt is Wilderness Watch's conservation director.

 

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Isle Royale Wolves: I Vote for Nature's Way

Franz 200x150

Isle Royale Wolves: I Vote for Nature's Way 

By Franz Camenzind

 

Isle Royale is both a National Park (1940) and a designated Wilderness Area (1976). Each authority brings significant protection to the land, but with differing mandates. As a National Park, its clear purpose is to preserve and protect its wilderness character, cultural and natural resources, and ecological processes; where humanity's protectionist's footprint may be very apparent.


As a Wilderness, its clear purpose is to protect the area so as to preserve its natural conditions in a manner that generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature; where humanity's preservationist's footprint leaves at most, only a faint impression.


These mandates contain contradictions that may seem subtle to most, but they can confound management decisions. Isle Royale, known for its wolf population, is facing a critical decision point-to physically import wolves from the mainland to "rescue" the current isolated population which is likely to "blink out" in the next year due to the consequences of severe inbreeding or, to leave nature alone and allow the island's wolf population to disappear. Wolves first arrived on the island in the late 1940s via an ice bridge from the mainland, but their stay appears to be a short one. The question is whether to allow a natural event (likely extirpation) to play out, as was the case when wolves first arrived on the island, or to intervene and extend the wolves tenure by translocating wolves from mainland.


We now face a situation where some argue that the Park's mandate allows for the heavy footprint of an artificial reintroduction of wolves to keep a functioning wolf population on the island. Others argue that the wilderness designation means managers should leave nature to take its course and preserve the area's wild and untrammeled condition even if that means the end of the wolf population on the island. It is nature's way.


Adding to the decision's challenge is the argument that Isle Royale without wolves will result in a moose population explosion (the wolf's major food source and the moose's only significant predator), which will lead to severe over-browsing and long-term habitat damage. Wilderness advocates argue that this impact too would pass. If over-browsing occurs and moose populations subsequently decline, the habitat will very likely rebound. This happened before wolves arrived on the island (moose predate wolves on the island by several decades). It's nature's way.


Although their origins are uncertain, what is known is that moose first appeared on Isle Royale at the very beginning of the 20th Century, decades before the first wolves arrived. It is widely accepted that the particularly cold winter of 1948-49 allowed an ice bridge to form, which in turn allowed the first wolves to cross the 15 miles from the mainland to the island. However, for nearly half a century the island, and its moose, survived without wolves. Interestingly, during that wolf-free period, it is quite clear that moose had severely over-browsed their forest habitat and were on the verge of starving out. Not surprisingly, the habitat recovered, and so did the moose population.


Scientists say that moose populations are controlled by available forage as much or even more so than by the presence of wolves. Clearly, for decades, the two acting together have made for a very interesting and natural dynamic. But in the long course of ecological events, their decades-long drama may have been nothing more then a brief relationship.


I vote for nature's way. I do so because ninety-nine percent of Isle Royale's 134,000 acres is Wilderness, and so a different type of "management" is required for this place, one that respects the area's wild character and does not try to manipulate wildlife populations or habitat conditions on the island. In other words, impose a management decision not to manage.


I also support nature's way because capturing and hauling wolves in from the mainland will not alter the overriding reality-Isle Royale is an island only occasionally connected to the mainland by an ice bridge. By itself, the island is too small to sustain a long-term, genetically healthy wolf population, and perhaps the same can be said for the moose population. I have to ask, if a "rescue" were to occur, when would inbreeding again overtake the isolated wolf population and when would demands for another "rescue" be made? Would this human manipulation become the new normal? How is this natural? How does this leave the Wilderness untrammeled? How does this maintain the Park's or its Wilderness' natural processes?


It doesn't.


Some rescue proponents insist that if the island's wolves die off, over 60 years of wolf-moose research will come to an end. Without a doubt, the Isle Royale wolf-moose dynamics have been superbly documented throughout this time as the longest major predator-prey study in history. However, if wolves are purposely brought onto the island, what will it do for the continuity of the research? It will effectively change a natural study paradigm into a manipulated (island) laboratory research project, one whose results will always require a disclaimer that the findings were influenced by human intervention and no longer represent a naturally occurring phenomena.

 

In effect, it would be new research that could best be described as a "before and after" intervention study and difficult to claim as an uninterrupted, continuation of the previous work.
Proponents of wolf "rescue" also argue that with climate change, ice bridges and natural re-colonization by wolves are less likely to occur, therefore human intervention is justified, if not necessary. A logical scenario, but other climate-driven factors are also coming into play on the island. Perhaps most significant is the documented change already occurring in the vegetative regime on the island, a change not favoring the moose population. As the habitat's vegetation shifts away from moose-preferred species, will the moose population again be put in jeopardy? If this is the case, do we "rescue" the moose population too? Or do we initiate a wolf reduction program to safeguard the remaining moose? Or do we initiate a moose reduction program in an attempt to safeguard the remaining habitat? Where does this intervention end?


We forget that Isle Royale is an island and cannot operate like an expansive and complex mainland landscape. Like most island settings, its species composition is much simpler then the nearby mainland. For example, only 19 species of mammals occur on the island compared to over 40 on the surrounding mainland. Consequently, its ecological systems are far simpler then those operating on the mainland. And because of its limited size, it cannot support populations of low density species such as the wolf or other large carnivores that require large, connected landscapes to sustain their own numbers, and their own genetic diversity. And we forget that as far back as 3,500 years ago, the island was home to woodland caribou and Canada lynx. And coyotes made it to the island on their own around 1905, but disappeared by 1955. Consensus is that they were all eliminated due to human actions. Do we re-colonize the island with these previous, naturally occurring residents, ones lost not naturally, but through deliberate human actions? We face a dilemma of conflicting values; not one solved with on-going intervention. When would it end?


And last, the decision to "rescue" the island's wolf population might be easier to accept if doing so would be a step toward saving the species from extinction. This is not the case. What happens to the wolves of Isle Royale will have little to no impact on the species' overall survival.


Allow Isle Royale to be a wilderness park, let its future be shaped as it was during its not so distant past-by nature's forces, not humankind's manipulated version of a "natural" island system. Then and only then can we observe and learn how island ecosystems truly function. There aren't many places like this left in the world, let us not spoil it with heavy-handed intervention.

Franz Camenzind, Ph.D.
Jackson, Wyoming
02/27/2018
 

 

Franz is a wildlife biologist and the Vice-President of Wilderness Watch's board of directors.

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Restraint the Key to Keeping Wilderness Wild

Chris Neill

Restraint the Key to Keeping Wilderness Wild
Guest post by Christopher Neill

  

 

Ten years ago I got out of an MBL pickup truck and walked away from the only road for 300 miles into North America's greatest wilderness. Across spongy tundra alive with the tinkling of Smith's longspurs. Upstream along a braided river channel I shared with harlequin ducks, common mergansers and red-throated loons. Then up a jumbled talus slope with a view to the other side of glacial U-shaped valley through air so clear that the distant tops of unnamed Brooks Range mountains looked like you could toss a rock to the Dall sheep high up on their slopes.

 

For my one-day walk into the Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge I carried nothing but a daypack with warm clothes, a rain suit, a day's worth of food and binoculars. For me, it was the perfect antidote to a fast-paced modern world.
 
The Refuge—as its supporters refer to it—is the crown jewel of protected lands in the US. It's arguably the wildest and least human-modified swath of Earth that we as Americans have collective responsibility for. In one day, I hiked through a small but stunning southern section of the 19 million-acre Refuge that adjoins the north-south corridor for the Alaska Pipeline Haul Road. From there, the Refuge stretches for more than 160 miles—with no roads, no trails, and no other human structures—to the Arctic Ocean.
 
That now will change. This week the House and Senate included in the tax bill a provision that opens up the Refuge's costal plain to oil and gas drilling. At a time when the nations of the world need cut carbon dioxide emissions and keep fossil fuels in the ground to avoid the most disruptive consequences of runaway climate change, this decision reveals the worst side of human nature.
 
Wilderness protection started as an American idea. The US created a formal system for designating wilderness when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act on September 3, 1964. That Act protected 9.1 million acres on Federal lands.
 
The Wilderness Act contains a succinct and moving definition of wilderness: "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
 
Today's wilderness system encompasses 109 million acres in 44 states. The largest preserve is the 9 million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Wilderness in eastern Alaska. Eight million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are wilderness. The smallest wilderness is the six-acre Rock and Islands in California's northern coast. While 109 million acres of wilderness sounds like a lot, 40 percent of US wilderness is in Alaska and wilderness makes up less than 3 percent of the total area of the other 49 states.  
 
A few days after my hike into the Refuge, while at the nearby Toolik Field Station, I had the good fortune to hear a talk by Roger Kaye. Kaye, a bush pilot and historian at the University of Alaska, wrote a history of the Refuge's creation, first as the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960 and later as the current Refuge in 1980.
 
Kaye asked his audience, what single word best captures the philosophy behind designating a near-pristine swath of the planet a place where people can visit but not remain. After a minute somebody finally got it. Restraint.
 
That word stuck with me all these years because it's so utterly perfect. Wilderness is important not because lots of people visit it—but precisely because they don't. I have set foot in perhaps half dozen out of our nation's 765 official wilderness areas. I am unlikely to visit many more.
 
But the fact that they exist—and the fact that we can agree, through our collective endeavors, to let nature simply be over some meaningfully large patches of Earth—gives me great hope.
 
The three southern New England states have only one federally-designated wilderness area—but it happens to be our Cape Cod shoreline. It's 3,244 acres of the wild and dynamic Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham. Barely one percent of Cape Cod.
 
But unraveling protections seems also to be a deeply ingrained American idea—and one that cuts close to home. Even small protected areas are contentious. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Town of Chatham for the last several years have disputed the sand flats on the west side of the Monomoy Refuge because the FWS argues that some activities—like windsurfing and mussel harvests—are not compatible with the Refuge's primary mission to protect nesting and migrating birds.
 
On September 15 of last year, President Barak Obama designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument for permanent protection. It's a teeming, 3.1 million-acre marine ecosystem about 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod that is among the least-disturbed underwater habitats of the entire Atlantic Ocean within US territory. The area's extinct underwater volcanoes and marine canyons support thousand year-old corals, seabirds, whales and sea turtles. It's 1.5 percent of the US Atlantic coastal waters.
 
The pushback by some parts of the commercial fishing industry has been relentless. And the administration of President Donald Trump is likely to oblige. The Washington Post reported in September that a memo from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended opening the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument to commercial fishing. Claims that the Monument designation will harm commercial fishing are vastly overblown and contradict data collected by NOAA that show very little fishing actually takes place there.
 
Battles over wilderness and protected areas—including those just off our shores—go to the heart of who we are and what we are willing to hold sacred. We need places that, in the words of National Park Service biologist Lowell Sumner—who wrote about the Arctic Refuge at its founding—have the "freedom to continue, unhindered and forever if we are willing, the particular story of Planet Earth."
 
We need places that show we are willing to exercise that most important of human qualities—restraint. 
 

 

Christopher Neill is an ecologist and Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts. He studies the consequences of deforestation and expanding agriculture in the Brazilian Amazon and approaches to management and restoration of grasslands, wetlands and estuaries along the New England coast. From 2008 to 2010 he taught a hands-on course in Arctic ecosystem change to science journalists at Toolik Field Station in northern Alaska.   

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Gianforte joins stealth attack on Wilderness in Montana

George Nickas

Gianforte joins stealth attack on Wilderness in Montana
By George Nickas

 

Montana’s designated wildernesses are the pride of our state. We might fight like hell over whether to designate this area or that one as new wilderness, but the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, Selway-Bitterroot, Absaroka-Beartooth, and our other protected wildernesses are sacred to Montanans of all stripes.
 
That is, apparently, all stripes except Rep. Greg Gianforte, who just voted to effectively repeal the Wilderness Act and open places like “the Bob” to endless forms of habitat manipulation, predator control, road building, and anything else that might be construed as benefiting “hunting, angling, recreational, shooting or wildlife conservation.”
 
This stealth attack on the Wilderness Act comes in the form of H.R. 3668, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. It would affect every wilderness in the nation, including all of Montana’s wilderness gems.
 
By nearly unanimous vote, Congress passed the 1964 Wilderness Act to protect America’s wildest landscapes. The law describes wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man... retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” The Wilderness Act is essentially nature’s Bill of Rights, places where we humans, out of a sense of respect, humility and foresight, have agreed to let nature be. Since passage of the Wilderness Act, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown to include 110 million acres in more than 760 units.
 
The SHARE Act would turn the Wilderness Act on its head allowing logging, chaining, herbicide spraying or myriad other offenses under the guise of “wildlife conservation” or for providing hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting experiences. While such management might be fine for a Texas game farm, it represents a dramatic change for the Wilderness Act, which for over 50 years has required the preservation of wilderness character as the top priority for public Wildernesses.
 
The SHARE Act would also allow the construction of “temporary” roads, dams, or other structures in wilderness. And all such projects would be exempt from any environmental review or public scrutiny under the National Environmental Policy Act — in essence making wildernesses some of the least-protected of all public lands.
 
The bill is being pushed at the behest of the Safari Club International and a few like-minded groups that are upset that wildernesses around the country aren’t managed like game farms, something Montanans roundly rejected at the ballot box not long ago. Not satisfied with the rich diversity of life our wildernesses hold, these groups want wilderness managed solely to benefit their idea of hunting and to favor the animal species they want to shoot. Even if it means building a road or a dam, clear cutting a forest, or wiping out native predators to meet their hunting or angling goals.
 
Montanans who love our wildest, best places and don’t want them degraded for a selfish few should contact Gianforte and urge him to remove the wilderness-gutting provisions from the SHARE Act — before it’s too late.

 

George Nickas is the executive director of Wilderness Watch.  

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Mount Washington Wilderness Protected From Invasive Ecological Meddling

By Gary Macfarlane


Gary Macfarlane
Conservation groups recently learned that the Forest Supervisor of the Willamette National Forest has withdrawn the draft decision on a proposal to conduct a “prescribed fire” in a portion the Mount Washington Wilderness. Three conservation organizations--Wilderness Watch, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project and BARK—filed a formal administrative objection to the Scott Mountain Prescribed fire in Wilderness Environmental Assessment. The Forest Supervisor’s decision ended the objection process. While no reasons were given as to why the draft decision was withdrawn, points raised by the organizations certainly played a role in that decision. For the time being, the Forest Service will not subject this portion of the Mount Washington Wilderness to intensive ecological manipulation. Wilderness, by law, is to be untrammeled, which means that areas designated as Wilderness are to free from direct human control.  In addition to the manipulation, the Wilderness would have been marred by numerous helicopter flights to light fires in the Wilderness.

 

Mount Washington is one of the original Wildernesses set aside by the 1964 Wilderness Act.  It lies in the central Cascade Range in of Oregon and lies between the Mount Jefferson and Three Sisters Wildernesses.  Mount Washington itself is a 7,800 foot Cascade mountain that dominates the northern part of the Wilderness. The extensive lava fields in the south, lakes, old forests, and recently burned areas create a great diversity of habitat for many species of mammals and birds.

 

The organizations noted in their objection several key points including:

 

Human-ignited fires are inconsistent with the Wilderness Act. Wilderness is supposed to be “in contrast” to areas where humans dominate the landscape. Further, natural lightning-caused fires tend to burn differently than agency-prescribed fires because the agencies usually choose times to light fires than when they burn naturally.

 

Trammeling Wilderness is not consistent with the best available science. The forests in this part of the Cascades are well within their natural range. These forests burn infrequently and intensely. This part of the Wilderness is one of the few areas in the nearby region that has not been recently burned by natural fire or been dedicated to logging. It is already very diverse because this older forest remains intact within a larger landscape that has largely burned in the recent past or has been logged.

 

The Forest Service did not show that this project was necessary for preservation of the area as Wilderness. Indeed, the objectors noted it would detract from the Wilderness because of the intentional human manipulation of the landscape and the extensive use of helicopters.

 

The Scott Mountain project is emblematic of the lack of support among many wilderness managers to let nature be.  Efforts to reshape these areas in the vision of managers is a growing phenomenon resulting from agency policies that downplay the central tenet of the Wilderness Act—that Wildernesses are to be left wild and untrammeled.  Let’s hope the project’s initial demise is a signal of things to come.

 

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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Bigger is Better

Bigger is Better
By Howie Wolke

howie 05 03 13 201This essay appeared in our Spring 2017 newsletter.

When it comes to wilderness, bigger is better. This is as true from an ecological perspective as it is from that of the human wilderness experience.

The Wilderness Act defines wilderness (in part) as “…at least 5,000 acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition…” Although as a Montanan, 5,000 acres seems pretty small, the Act’s authors recognized that wilderness is fundamentally distinct from tiny areas of protected open space, such as many county parks or small state recreation areas, with size being one of its distinguishing characteristics.

From a human perspective, it is difficult to experience wilderness values such as awe, oneness with nature, solitude and challenge in a small woodlot or county park hemmed in by noisy roads or machines. The authors of the Wilderness Act rightly understood that in the face of our growing and expanding civilization, if folks accepted postage-stamp sized natural areas as “Wilderness”, then our perception of wilderness would lose its unique distinction. And as the wilderness idea is cheapened, so too, is wilderness on the ground.

From a biocentric perspective, conservation biologists assert that size of a protected area is crucial to maintaining native biodiversity. So is connectivity. And often ignored is the interior to edge ratio of protected lands.

Large wild areas with connectivity to other wildlands protect native species populations from inbreeding depression, random loss of adaptive genetic traits (common in small isolated populations), disease, and environmental events such as wildfire, flood or prolonged drought. Species that have specific habitat needs such as old growth forest or undisturbed sagebrush steppe are particularly vulnerable to the problems associated with small isolated habitats. So are large carnivores, which naturally occur in much lower densities than prey species, and thus are spread thinly across large areas. Many of these vulnerable creatures are called “wilderness dependent species” and small isolated wildland tracts do not promote their survival.

I also mentioned interior to edge ratio. As human population growth continues to spiral out of control, most protected wildlands are increasingly impacted by human activities on surrounding lands. Logging, mining, roadbuilding, road “hunting”, poaching, urban sprawl, off road vehicles, livestock grazing, fences, power corridors, dams and diversions and more all serve to isolate wilderness areas. When wilderness boundaries are amoeba-shaped with “cherry-stemmed” exclusions, we create lots of edge compared with more secure interior habitat. Along the edges are where many of these destructive human activities occur. So not only is bigger better, but so are areas with holistic boundaries that minimize edge.

The problem is that what works best on the ground is often forsaken by the increasingly sketchy politics of wilderness conservation. Many conservation organizations now get funding from foundations that demand “collaboration” with traditional wildland opponents. And all too often these collaborations produce “wilderness” boundaries that exclude all or most of the potential conflicts in order to mollify the opposition. These processes create compromised wilderness units that are small, isolated and laden with boundary intrusions and non-wilderness corridors that create much edge and minimal secure interior habitat. Moreover, so-called wilderness proponents often accept or even promote special provisions in wilderness bills that clash with the intent and letter of the Wilderness Act. Or, they sometimes actually support agency actions that overtly violate the Wilderness Act.

Of course, our political system is based upon compromise, and compromise works when both sides have legitimate concerns and common goals. When it comes to wilderness, though, we do well to remember that each wilderness debate begins with an already greatly compromised remnant wildland. And also, wilderness areas laden with legislated exceptions to the letter of the Wilderness Act are not really wilderness in any meaningful sense of the word.

So, bigger is better. In North America, we find healthy populations of grizzly bear, wolf, lynx and many other species only where big wilderness is a dominant landscape feature. Healthy watersheds thrive only where the entire watershed is protected. Also, dynamic disturbance-driven natural vegetation patterns can be maintained only in large protected landscapes. For example, natural wildfire patterns are not allowed to prevail in small nature preserves near suburbs or commercial timber stands.

In other words, temptations to compromise wilderness in terms of size, “collaborated” boundary exclusions and diminished internal untrammeled qualities are immense in 21st century industrial America. Protecting and maintaining real wilderness won’t get easier. But unless wilderness organizations develop a better understanding of what real wilderness is and the importance of size, connectivity and wholeness, it is unlikely that the very concept of wilderness will survive for many more generations. And I mean generations of the four-leggeds and all members of the biotic community, in addition to the upright two-legged great apes that we call “human”.


Howie Wolke is an ornery old wilderness guide from southern Montana and is a recent past President of Wilderness Watch.

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Sigurd Olson and the Establishment of Voyageurs National Park

kevinproescholdt 02 18 13 201by Kevin Proescholdt

Last year, 2016, marked the centennial of the formation of the National Park Service.  The heightened awareness of the National Park Service surrounding this anniversary has triggered a fresh interest in the national parks that this agency manages.  Of particular interest to those with an interest in Sigurd F. Olson is the story of national parks in Sig’s home state of Minnesota and Sig’s role with them.  As this article will show, Sig did play a critical role in the establishment of Minnesota’s only full-fledged national park, Voyageurs National Park, for at least a decade in the 1960s and early 1970s.

There had long been an interest in establishing a national park along the international border in northern Minnesota.  As early as 1891, the Minnesota Legislature passed a resolution asking the President to establish a national park in Minnesota by “setting apart a tract of land along the northern boundary of the state, between the mouth of the Vermilion River on the east and Lake of the Woods on the west….”

By 1959, the National Park Service (NPS) expressed interest in updating its 1939 parks and recreation plan for the Minnesota Division of State Parks, and NPS field staff visited the area to do that and to begin investigating possible national areas in the Kabetogama Lake area.  The State Parks Director, U.W. “Judge” Hella (not a judge in real life), briefed Minnesota Governor Elmer L. Andersen in September 1961 about the NPS interest, and Andersen became like Hella an enthusiastic national park supporter.  Sigurd Olson would also play a vital role.

At this point in time, Sig stood in a very important position nationally.  He had gained national attention for his wilderness conservation work in the late-1940s to protect the area later to be re-named the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  Sig had worked as a wilderness ecologist for the Izaak Walton League of America since the late-1940s, and also served as a consultant to the President’s Quetico-Superior Committee.  He had written three critically-acclaimed and popular books (The Singing Wilderness, 1956; Listening Point, 1958; and The Lonely Land, 1961) that brought him new national distinction and standing, with three more books coming out later in the 1960s.  He had served on the board of directors of the National Parks Association for most of the 1950s, including six years as board president, and he had joined the Wilderness Society’s Governing Council in 1956 where he would also become president in the 1960s. 

And perhaps most importantly for the Voyageurs story, Sig served on the Department of Interior’s Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments beginning in 1959.  This prestigious board advised the Interior Secretary on park management and potential new national parks.  Invited to join by President Eisenhower’s Interior Secretary, Fred Seaton, Sig continued on this board during the new Kennedy Administration where he strengthened his friendship with NPS Director Conrad “Connie” Wirth and developed a close relationship with newly-appointed Interior Secretary Stewart Udall.  Those connections, his position on the National Parks Advisory Board, and his personal familiarity with the broad international Quetico-Superior region that included the future Voyageurs National Park would all prove immensely valuable.

In October 1961, Sig participated in a field trip with NPS staff, Hella, and others to the area around the Kabetogama Peninsula.  The field party agreed that “Kabetogama had potential as a national area and recommended that the director authorize full-scale studies of the area.”  At the end of that same month, Wirth authorized those studies to begin, and Gov. Andersen began promoting the concept.  The push to establish Voyageurs had begun.

In June of the next year (1962), Gov. Andersen invited Connie Wirth to visit Minnesota, in part to be present at the dedication of the new Bear Head Lake State Park between Tower and Ely.  But Andersen had also arranged a visit to the proposed national park site so Wirth could see the area himself.  Sig, Judge Hella, and others joined them on the field trip on June 27th to the Kabetogama-Rainy Lake area.  Connie Wirth was quickly convinced.  During that field trip and a discussion of what to name the new park, Sig suggested the name as Voyageurs, after the hardy canoemen of the fur trade era who had paddled their birchbark canoes through the region.  According to an unpublished essay Sig wrote nearly two decades later, Wirth slapped his knee at Sig’s suggestion and exclaimed, “That’s it!”  The name stuck.

Sig continued to fight for Voyageurs in the coming years, including work with the National Parks Advisory Board.  In October of 1962, the board voted to submit a formal recommendation to the secretary of interior that stated that the region was “superbly qualified to be designated the second national park in the Midwest.”  (Isle Royale was the first national park in the region.)  In 1964, as another example, Wirth’s successor as National Park Service Director, George Hartzog, suggested downgrading the proposed national park to a lesser category such as a national recreation area.  Sig successfully urged the Advisory Board to re-affirm its support for Voyageurs as a full national park, and Hartzog relented.

Sig spoke at public meetings, worked with the Voyageurs National Park Association (which had formed to push for the park’s establishment), and continued to work with Elmer Andersen, who remained a strong park proponent even after Elmer had left the governor’s office in 1963.  Sig testified at the Congressional field hearings on the Voyageurs National Park legislation in International Falls in 1969, and again at House hearings in Washington, DC, the following year, testifying that the proposed park’s spiritual and intangible values were its greatest resources.

The Voyageurs Park proposal was not without controversy, of course, and at many steps in the process obstacles appeared that could have delayed or killed the bill.  Intense opposition in some parts of the local communities often nearly derailed the effort.  In late 1970, after the Voyageurs bill had passed the House, a worried Rep. John Blatnik (who represented the area) asked Elmer Andersen and Sigurd Olson to come out to lobby for the Voyageurs bill when it appeared the bill might die in the Senate.  They did so and, among many other frantic lobbying efforts, arranged a personal meeting with Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who chaired the Senate committee.  They convinced Jackson, worked around other obstacles, and the bill passed the Senate.  President Nixon ultimately signed the Voyageurs bill into law in January 1971.

Voyageurs National Park, though authorized by the 1971 legislation, would not officially be established until 1975.  The Voyageurs bill required the State of Minnesota to first donate state-owned lands within the park (some 36,000 acres, of which 25,000 were School Trust Lands) to the federal government.  This required special legislation from the Minnesota Legislature and compensation to the State School Trust Fund (first condemnation, then the sale of state bonds to reimburse the trust fund).

But in January 1971, after the Voyageurs bill had passed Congress but before the park was officially established, Sig was asked to write about Voyageurs for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s magazine, the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.  Here is part of what he wrote, a summation of his values and dreams for the brand-new national park he had worked for a decade to establish, in an article entitled “Intangible Values of Voyageurs National Park”:

“Cultural, esthetic and intangible values are a composite of many things: beauty of terrain, geological and ecological understanding, and the background of human history.  Knowledge of how the land was formed, its volcanic eras, the vast glacial periods which smoothed, gouged and shaped its surface into what we see today is vital to appreciation of its values.  The evolution of wildlife and vegetation, their slow adjustment to climate, water, soil, and land forms are as necessary as having an understanding of the hopes, dreams, and fears of those who lived and labored here hundreds and even thousands of years ago.  All this imparts deeper meaning and even enhances its beauty.

As an ecologist, I became convinced that the entire area was an ecosystem of special significance, one of the rare undisturbed regions of the Great Lakes biotic complex with infinite and authentic interdependencies among its many associations.  The stands of beautiful red and white pines growing along the lake shores meant more to me knowing they were the northern-most extension of their range, that while a few stands could be found elsewhere and even beyond the Quetico, it would be spruce or jackpine intermingled with birch and aspen, from here up to the barren lands of the tundra.

Knowing the involved geological formations with their exposures of greenstone and intrusions of granite and basalts, the story of the glaciology with its disturbed drainage patterns and the response of all life to the ancient fire ecology of the north, gave new appreciation of the area’s intangible values.  The bogs with their paleobotanical records of phantom forests of the past imparted insight to the forests of today.

This maze of waterways had its human history as well, for over its lakes and portages had passed voyageurs on their 3000-mile trek from Montreal into the far Northwest.  Here too went the great explorers, Alexander Mackenzie, the Henrys, Verèndrye and a host of others, a stream of heroic figures through the border lakes from Grand Portage and eventually through Crane, Namakan, Kabetogama and Rainy Lake into the park area.  Over these routes went tons of trade goods to the west and fortunes in fur for the waiting markets of the east.  This was the route of Canadian destiny.

As one paddles down this famous wilderness highway, it takes little imagination to picture the colorful brigades of the past, red-tipped paddles flashing in the sun, the gaudy designs on bow and stern of each canoe.  As one sits before a campfire one can almost hear the sound of them and the songs of the French voyageurs coming across the waters.

Voyageurs National Park is properly named, for all traffic from east and west funneled into Rainy Lake, the canoes from Grand Portage along the border, those from Fort William over the French-Dawson route, those from Lake Superior going up to Vermilion and La Croix.  No wonder an important post was maintained at Rainy as a rendezvous and meeting place for expeditions from Montreal and far away Athabasca.  Of such human history are intangible values made, and all add to the beauty and meaning of the Voyageurs National Park area.

Perhaps as important a value as any is the wilderness character of the area between Lake Superior and the Rainy River, where alone of the 3000 mile extent of the Voyageur’s Highway, the scene is still relatively unchanged with old pines standing that voyageurs saw as they passed by.  This wilderness, the old sense of solitude and silence, can still be felt there.

When we talk about the intangible values of the Voyageurs area we know such values are a composite of all the cultural facets of the region, that Voyageurs National Park is more than terrain.  It is in a sense a living storehouse of beauty, of historical and scientific significance.  If museums are places where the treasures of a people are safeguarded and cherished then Voyageurs is truly such a place.”

 

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kevin proescholdtKevin Proescholdt of Minneapolis is the conservation director for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization.  He has written widely on Wilderness, including Troubled Waters: The Fight for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (1995) and Glimpses of Wilderness (2015).



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Wolke On Wheels

Wolke On Wheels

By Howie Wolke

howie 05 03 13 201A slightly edited version of this essay appeared in our Summer 2016 newsletter.

Our readers will note much discussion about mountain biking in this issue of Wilderness Watcher. As I reflect upon my early years in the conservation movement (the mid-1970’s), the primary opponents to Wilderness were the timber, mining, oil, livestock and off-road vehicle industries. Mountain bikes simply did not exist. But times have changed, to say the least.

If, in 1975, I could have peered into a crystal ball and seen that groups of mostly young, physically fit people would replace extractive industry as the primary organized impediment to Wilderness designations and to keeping Wilderness wild, my jaw would have dropped. Yet that’s exactly what has happened.

It’s not that the traditional wilderness foes have disappeared. Rather, off-road mountain bikers have emerged as an organized anti-wilderness lobby every bit as fanatical as typical four-wheel drive or extractive industry proponents. Almost wherever there are endangered roadless lands, off-road bicyclists emerge to oppose or diminish potential Wilderness designations.

But that’s just part of the problem. Radical mountain bikers are also lobbying to open the National Wilderness Preservation System to mountain biking. They’ve even convinced two U.S. Senators, Republicans Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee (both from Utah) to introduce the so-called “Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Act” (S-3205) that would amend the Wilderness Act to allow for mountain biking at the discretion of the managing agencies! This is a dangerous bill, for once we amend the Wilderness Act for bicycles, will snow-machines be next? And will we also tarnish the Wilderness Act for who-knows-what contraptions that have yet to be invented?

Please contact your elected representatives and ask them to oppose the Hatch/Lee bill.

One of the most egregious mountain biker claims is that the Wilderness Acts’ authors never intended to exclude bicycles from designated Wilderness. Hogwash! In fact, the Wilderness Act did not specifically preclude mountain bikes because these contraptions didn’t exist in 1964, and the authors couldn’t even imagine them. Yet with impressive foresight, the Wilderness Act specifically excludes “mechanized”, not just motorized transportation.

What really sticks in my craw, though, is that these people claim to be “conservationists”, who just want the rules changed to accommodate their “harmless” muscle-powered recreation. Yet mountain biking in wild country is anything but harmless. Bikers destroy fragile vegetation by riding off-trail. They also rip up trails. And studies show mountain biking to be particularly disturbing to sensitive wilderness-dependent species such as grizzly, lynx and wolverine, because the quiet, speedy approaches startle animals. And, as a recent fatal incident near Glacier National Park illustrates, backcountry biking in griz country is bad for both the bear and the biker!

In addition, mechanized speed renders the deep interior of wild country more accessible and less remote. Wilderness landscapes become effectively smaller, and for non-mechanized human travelers, the “wilderness experience” becomes more ordinary, contrasting less with civilized environments. And make no mistake; mountain biking is about speed and adrenaline. Otherwise, bikers would be content to walk. And they wouldn’t need to wear the padded lycra suits with helmets.

Conservationists? Hardly. With exceptions, mountain bikers are just another self-interest group, willing to sacrifice land protection for their own selfish purposes. Wilderness, by contrast, is about selflessness, a statement that we humans ought to simply let nature prevail wherever possible, while we still have the chance. Off-road mountain bikers are, in general, as selfish as any organized anti-conservation lobby.

There are so many reasons to designate new Wilderness areas and to keep the National Wilderness Preservation System as wild as possible. It almost seems frivolous to spend so much energy on bicycles. But in modern America, where the political discourse constantly sinks to new lows, nothing surprises me. The mountain biker problem is real. It has already kept millions of deserving acres out of the Wilderness System. And some of these people want to kick the door in for a wheeled invasion of designated Wilderness, too. It is time for the conservation movement to take the gloves off and oppose these alien invaders of Wilderness and potential Wilderness with all of our resources.


Howie Wolke, President Wilderness Watch
& Co-Owner, Big Wild Adventures
Emigrant, Montana


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 the president of Wilderness Watch.

 

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