We Need Big Holistic Wilderness

by Howie Wolke

 

Howie Wolke

Back in the 1980’s, Dave Foreman and I compiled The Big Outside, A Descriptive Inventory of the Remaining Big Wilderness Areas of the United States (Harmony Books, 1989). The primary purpose was to accurately depict the true extent of each large roadless area in the contiguous 48 states, defining “large” as 100,000 acres or more in the West, with a 50,000 acre minimum for the East. We defined roadless areas as physical entities delineated by the location of roads and other intrusions that actually interrupt the flow of wildness.

So we mapped what was literally roadless and wild on the ground. We did not rely on agency inventories, because relying on federal agency inventories limits one to what the agencies have inventoried. Agency “roadless area” inventories are notoriously incomplete and often follow political demarcations such as state and county lines, national forest and BLM district boundaries, and isolated sections of state or private land. Moreover, agencies frequently gerrymandered “official” roadless area boundaries to exclude big chunks of wild country in order to facilitate plans for logging, mining, oil wells, off-road vehicle routes, water projects, livestock developments and so on. In other words, for a variety of reasons, many big contiguous chunks of roadless wilderness were and are divided into different administrative units, masking the true extent of the wildland.


Therefore, we hoped that by providing a comprehensive accurate inventory that clearly depicts the true extent of each big roadless area on the ground, regardless of political boundaries or considerations, conservationists would be more likely to develop and promote bigger, more holistic proposals for additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

 

Here’s an example of one inventoried big roadless area: we called it the “South Absaroka” wildland in northwest Wyoming. The Big Outside inventoried this area as the sixth largest unbroken wildland in the lower 48 states, at 2,190,000 acres. We also discovered and noted that deep within the South Absaroka was the most distant point from a road in the lower 48 states, 21 miles, just outside the southeast corner of Yellowstone. At the time of our inventory, the South Absaroka included the 704,000-acre Washakie Wilderness on the Shoshone National Forest, the 585,000-acre Teton Wilderness on the Bridger-Teton Forest, 483,000 acres of roadless backcountry in the southeastern quadrant of Yellowstone, 350,000 acres of unprotected roadless areas on both the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton National Forests, 60,000 roadless acres on the Wind River Indian Reservation, and about 10,000 acres of undeveloped state and private lands that abut national forest boundaries.


South Absaroka Washakie Wilderness
But because the South Absaroka is thus subdivided on paper into various named and un-named units, the true size and value of the area is obscured. To recognize the South Absaroka in the holistic sense is to recognize a 2,190,000-acre unbroken wildland, not just its various parts. Thus, the 350,000 acres of unprotected national forest roadless areas assume even greater importance than they would were they to stand alone. Same goes for the 483,000 acres of unprotected Yellowstone backcountry. That’s because the ecological value of wilderness increases with size. When it comes to wilderness, size matters. There are many reasons why.

 

For one thing, big chunks of wild country retain species and subspecies (biodiversity) better than small wildlands. Connectivity also increases the effective size of a wildland. Small isolated habitats lose species due to inbreeding depression and genetic drift in small isolated populations. Also, small isolated habitats and populations are vulnerable to demographic and environmental upheavals. The rate of species loss in small isolate (“island”) habitats can actually be calculated, as has been shown by E.O. Wilson and other ecologists. Many species simply won’t or can’t successfully cross roads, fences, reservoirs, off-road vehicle routes, power corridors, subdivisions, clear-cuts, oil fields, border walls and other developments that effectively create habitat islands of isolated populations. Habitat fragmentation is the enemy of biodiversity, and is rampant on our public lands. For example, the U.S. Forest Service has built a 400,000 mile-plus road network crisscrossing the public forests, not including state, county and other federal rights of way! You might say that the Forest Service and the BLM are primarily in the habitat fragmentation business, though they euphemistically call it “multiple use”.

Big protected Wilderness is a hedge against habitat fragmentation. Big wilderness also protects wilderness-dependent species such as grizzly, lynx and wolverine. It is well documented that large carnivores need big chunks of habitat because their populations are necessarily thinly spread over the landscape. Big carnivores are often “keystone species”, crucial to healthy ecosystem function.

For example, in the eastern U.S. the lack of large carnivores and the resulting explosion of whitetail deer in fragmented forests has damaged the eastern deciduous forest biome’s vegetation. Also, the recent resurgence of quaking aspen in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is partly a result of large carnivore recovery, mainly wolves, grizzlies and mountain lions – but the recovery is now jeopardized by various state plans to dramatically reduce wolf populations. Before wolf reintroduction, there were way too many elk browsing aspen seedlings and saplings (increased wildfire, beginning in 1988, has also stimulated quaking aspen growth). With the comeback of wolves and other big carnivores, elk numbers are down and aspens are coming back. So are willows, mostly for the same reasons. With more aspen and willow, beaver populations have increased, creating wetland habitats for various species of birds and other animals.

Big wilderness protects a greater variety of habitats than do small protected units, and greater habitat variety equals greater biodiversity. In addition, by protecting habitats along both elevational and latitudinal gradients, big wilds provide room for species to migrate in response to climate change. Big wilderness is a hedge against exotic weed infestations, which tend to explode in heavily managed roaded multiple use landscapes. Small isolated wildlands are often similarly infested, because of their proximity to roaded areas.

Big wilderness protects seasonal migratory routes better than small fragmented areas.


Big wilderness is also, obviously, our best opportunity for real solitude, an increasingly endangered value in this over-crowded world. Because deep backcountry is less crowded than areas easily accessible by road, resource damage is minimized. So there’s less need for agencies to regulate user numbers or to otherwise impose regulations. Fewer regulations means more freedom, another increasingly rare wilderness value.

Organ Pipe Wilderness
Size facilitates good wilderness stewardship in other ways, too. Big wilderness is self-protecting, its core protected from human malfeasance by its remoteness. The armies of logging, mining, poaching, littering, off-road vehicle abuse, livestock trespass, arson and even illegal agency construction projects all are facilitated by roads. The insatiable agency compulsion to manipulate vegetation – especially in the Forest Service and BLM -- is also facilitated by proximity to roads. In big wilderness, illegal attempts to manipulate, tame, poison, construct, modify, and bulldoze are countered by the simple impracticality of implementing such mischief many miles from the nearest road. In other words, bigness increases the core to edge ratio of a wildland, and the edges, along and near roads, are where most human-induced mischief occurs.

Of course, size is self-protecting only when Congress doesn’t legislate special provisions that allow for destructive activities otherwise prohibited in wilderness. The biggest designated wilderness in the lower 48 states, the Frank Church River of No Return in central Idaho, includes a hodgepodge of legislatively grandfathered airstrips, jetboats, and private structures. Not to mention severe abuses by river and horse outfitters, to which the Forest Service invariably turns a blind eye.

Wildland Edge Effect is not just an inherent problem with small areas, but the shape of a wildland also has ecological ramifications. Excluding corridors from wilderness proposals for off-road vehicle use – including mountain bikes -- and excluding big chunks of wild country in order to mollify special interests such as loggers, oil drillers or ranchers results in wilderness boundaries that are irregularly shaped, like an amoeba, with low core to edge ratios. “Cherry stem” exclusions that dead-end deep within surrounding wilderness lands likewise produce more edge. Again, when remoteness is lacking, ecosystem integrity declines.

Here’s another huge reason for big wilderness: it allows for natural landscape processes. Natural predator/prey relationships, especially those that entail large carnivores are an obvious example (see above). And similar to predation, natural disturbance regimes such as wildfire, flood, blowdown and native insect outbreaks fuel the fires of evolution by weeding out those that are unfit to survive. The Wilderness Act defines wilderness in part as “untrammeled”, meaning uncontrolled or unregulated. Wild, not tamed. Most of these processes require big wilderness. For example, large carnivores simply can’t survive in tiny wilds. And it is difficult to allow natural wildfire to thrive in small wildlands adjacent to homes, towns, commercial logging areas and other facets of civilization.

When we researched The Big Outside, Dave and I were excited to discover that many chunks of roadless wildernesses were actually much larger than advertised. We had hoped that by inventorying the actual wildland entity as it existed on the ground, our project would inspire conservation groups to propose wildernesses designations that reflected the full wildland entity – or to at least begin a campaign from a stronger, less compromised position. We also suggested in numerous situations areas where roads could be closed, reclaimed and included in designated wilderness in order to create more holistic boundaries with less edge. But apparently, few of our conservation colleagues paid attention.

And therein lies the crux of the matter. Three decades later, too many conservation groups still begin the political process with parred down compromised wilderness proposals that are destined to grow even smaller as the political system inevitably slices and dices away at ecological wholeness. And unfortunately, the “big greens” such as The Wilderness Society (TWS) and some of their regional satellites – the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Montana Wilderness Association, for example – are leading the charge toward small edge-dominated “wilderness”.

In a nutshell, the template is this: Collaborate with local wilderness opponents and eliminate from the “wilderness” proposal most or all of the controversial areas so that mountain bikers, snowmobilers, loggers, oil drillers, ranchers and other wilderness opponents are mollified. Then take your emaciated proposal to the appropriate agency and to Congress. I actually watched one employee of The Wilderness Society give a seminar in which he proudly described the exact process that I just outlined.

Earlier, I mentioned special provisions that mar the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Various special provisions are often added to these weak “wilderness” bills to further appease opponents. Special provisions undercut both the letter and the spirit of the Wilderness Act by allowing activities in wilderness that are otherwise prohibited.  In addition to airstrips and motorboats, special grazing privileges, water projects, ATV use for ranchers and other affronts to wilderness are often added to bills to make the so-called “wilderness” legislation even more palatable to otherwise anti-wilderness interests. Some wilderness bills even have special provisions to control natural wildfire, including fuel-breaks and logging in the name of “fuel reduction”. Special provisions for wildlife management include “guzzlers” to artificially inflate game numbers in arid landscapes, and provisions for implementing predator control. Remember, wilderness is supposed to be “untrammeled”, which means wild and unmanipulated by human whims.

With all of these enervated “wilderness” proposals, Marshall, Leopold, Murie, Zahniser, Brandborg and other wilderness visionaries spin in their graves. So does old Cactus Ed.

There are many examples of wilderness designations that facilitate habitat fragmentation, edge effect and mechanized recreation at the expense of ecosystem integrity. The former 545,000 acre (inventoried roadless acreage from The Big Outside) Boulder-White Clouds Roadless Area in south-central Idaho is one example. It was first whittled down and then sliced into two separate “wilderness” units by Congress, in order to create a non-wilderness mountain bike and motorcycle corridor. This dramatically decreased the core to edge ratio, slicing a big chunk of unbroken wild country in two.

In my home neck of the woods, the 575,000-acre Gallatin Range roadless area in northwest Wyoming and southern Montana includes 325,000 unbroken roadless acres in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park plus 250,000 acres of contiguous wilds to the north on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest. The Gallatins are an unbroken roadless wildland extending from West Yellowstone nearly to Bozeman, encompassing some of the richest mountain wildlife habitats in North America.

Gallatin Range proposed wilderness Custer Gallatin NF
The so-called “Gallatin Forest Partnership” (GFP) was an ill-advised collaboration with wilderness opponents that intentionally excluded all of the less compromising conservation groups. The Wilderness Society, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Montana Wilderness Association (now called “Wild Montana” without the word “wilderness” in its name) were the three main “conservation groups” responsible for this debacle. After most of the popular snow-machine and mountain biking areas were cut, GFP proposed 100,000 acres of mostly high altitude “wilderness on the rocks” out of 250,000 roadless acres in the Gallatins north of Yellowstone. Sadly, the best wildlife habitats in the Gallatins – especially the Porcupine and Buffalo Horn drainages – were excluded from wilderness consideration. Porcupine and Buffalo Horn, by the way, also form the crucial wildlife link between Yellowstone and the northern Gallatins and wildlands further to the north. Fortunately, Congress has not yet acted on the GFP plan.

Of course, these public lands are a legacy for all Americans, not just local “stakeholders”. That is another basic problem with all of the locally-based special interest “collaborations”. Most of the American public is excluded from the decision-making.

In my opinion, many of the larger conservation groups have lost their way, populated nowadays by careerists for whom wilderness is just one of many worthy causes on a varied career track. They view wilderness as one of many land use options rather than the fundamental basis for life on Earth, for 3.5 billion years of organic evolution. Political expediency prevails. The mentality is to pass truncated “wilderness” bills at all cost, nearly always through collaboration with traditional opponents. Avoid enmity and discord. And let’s face it. The big foundations, such as Pew, for example, expect collaboration and compromise. Follow the money and forget about biodiversity, wildlife and the value of big uncompromised holistic wilderness.

Nonetheless, I am aware that we live in a world where little gets done without some level of compromise. Yet wilderness and related natural landscape protections stand alone, different from other social and environmental issues in a couple of important ways. Wilderness represents the antitheses of civilization’s unrelenting quest to tame, dam, pave, graze, cultivate, control and mold the world into and unnatural quagmire for human convenience. And once wilderness is defaced, it is usually gone for good. In the contiguous United States, about 90% of the wilderness has already been compromised away. Can’t we save the remaining 10% of the landscape? To resist further compromise isn’t “radical”. It’s common sense. It should behoove the conservation movement to do everything within its power to resist further compromise of wildlands. And let’s also restore key wildlands that have been degraded. E.O. Wilson suggests that 50% of the Earth’s landscapes should be protected as nature reserves. Clearly, we have a long ways to go.

By contrast, the old fashioned way requires a long-term commitment to educating and organizing, so that the general public learns that wilderness is far more than a primitive recreation area, not just a pie to be chomped down and divvied up among user groups. It also requires the strength of character to avoid beginning a process by compromising with opponents, and by fighting for every possible acre thereafter as the process proceeds. This requires leadership that loves and values wilderness as the highest expression of human selflessness: as a biocentric entity with intrinsic value just because it exists as a wild place. That mentality is often lacking in today’s conservation movement.

I am aware of today’s considerable social and political barriers to enacting clean wilderness bills (those with no special provisions) that include most or all of the available wildland entity. They are formidable. I get that. I realize that todays’ public land debate is a complex beast in an increasingly complex world. For example, mountain bikes didn’t even exist prior to the 1980’s. But now, mountain bikers (mostly young, physically fit socially liberal outdoor enthusiasts) are a major anti-wilderness lobby. And because today’s snow-machines can tackle much tougher terrain compared with those of the past, snowmobiler opposition to wilderness designations has grown accordingly.

So, in today’s global social and environmental shitstorm of climate crisis, overpopulation and the biological meltdown (the ongoing human-caused extinction event) – not to mention wars, racism and the demise of democracies – it is not surprising that wilderness flies below the radar of many activists. And when you fail to recognize the importance of something, it is easy to compromise it away.

But still. Still thriving deep in my cranium’s long term memory synapsis I can recall a better way. I recall when folks like Bob Anderson and Randall Gloege and their Senate champion Lee Metcalf (D-MT) simply wouldn’t accept a divided Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness. Today, the greater  Absaroka-Beartooth wildland is a 1,249,000-acre unbroken expanse of wild country (acreage from The Big Outside), dominated by the officially protected 944,000-acre Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

The battle to enact the 1964 Wilderness Act itself was before my time, but Howard Zahniser and crew didn’t get LBJ’s signature on the bill by being meek and making it palatable to every self interest group. Yes, there were unfortunate political compromises along the way – for example, to accommodate mining claims through 1984 and to grandfather in livestock grazing -- but our side fought to minimize these special provisions. I cannot help thinking that given today’s mindset, were the Wilderness Act on the 2021 political docket, the National Wilderness Preservation System would more resemble Disneyland than real wilderness.

 

Political victories don’t emerge from the woodwork; nor from wishful thinking. They require a full-time commitment to public education and grassroots organizing. As long-time activist Brock Evans put it, they require “endless pressure endlessly applied”. Congressional wilderness champions such as Lee Metcalf were possible only because Congress perceived that voters wanted big wilderness. I am not naive enough to believe that there is any kind of quick fix for the conservation movement in these complex and frightening times. I fully realize that it may be too late in the climate game to save much of anything. Yet the Thirty by Thirty and Half Earth movements provide a ray of hope. Birth rates in many parts of the world are declining (though not enough). And if we don’t try, we guarantee failure. Designating big holistic wilderness and keeping it wild needs to be a priority if we are to slow the biological meltdown and maintain some level of long term wildness and naturalness on this beleaguered planet.

Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness
To summarize, wilderness is primarily about habitat, wildlife, biodiversity and the intrinsic value of  wild landscapes. Big wilderness defines our healthiest landscapes, be they forest, desert, prairie, tundra or combinations of diverse habitats. Wilderness is also about non-mechanized recreation, yes, and related spiritual values including solitude. But recreation and solitude are not its primary purpose, and our remaining wildlands are far more than an outdoor gymnasium.

Real wilderness is the primary control area in the vast experiment called human civilization. For how else can we measure the health of civilization except to compare it with unspoiled nature? All wilderness and semi-wilderness lands have conservation value. But protected wilderness ought to be as large as possible. It should be kept wild, without human manipulation and without livestock grazing. It should be managed under the Wilderness Act without special provisions that weaken protections.

Wilderness boundaries should also reflect the actual wildland entity on the ground, rather than the artificial borders of BLM or ranger districts, county lines, state lines, and old incomplete agency roadless area inventory borders.

Where feasible, wildland units should be interconnected or proximate, without barriers to wildlife movement. And wilderness areas should have holistic boundaries that minimize edge and maximize interior remoteness. Big, wild remote holistic wilderness is the cradle of all life on Earth and needs to be treated as such. Small fragmented edge-dominated oddly-shaped wildlands are better than nothing, sure, but they don’t fully maintain the core values of wilderness that are so important on this otherwise human-dominated planet.

In a sane world, overpopulation, the climate crisis, and the ongoing biological meltdown would top most any thinking person’s political agenda. Big holistic wilderness is intricately linked to all three. If the so-called “big greens” won’t lead the charge, unapologetic and with passion, based upon good science and biophilia, then they need to get out of the way of those who will.

 

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Howie Wolke recently retired from 41 years of outfitting and guiding wilderness backpack treks from Alaska to Mexico. He is on the Wilderness Watch board of directors and has been a wilderness advocate in the northern Rockies since 1975. He lives with his wife Marilyn Olsen and their dog Rio in southern Montana near Yellowstone National Park.

 

All photos © Howie Wolke. From top to bottom: Washakie Wilderness, South Absaroka Complex, WY; Escalante Canyons Proposed Wilderness, UT; Buffalo Horn Drainage, Gallatin Range Proposed Wilderness, MT; Grizzly Bear, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness, AK.

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Wilderness for its own sake

Roy (Monte) Highby Roy (Monte) High

 

Over the years I’ve heard numerous people disparage the designation of wilderness areas by speaking on behalf of people with disabilities. They say that wilderness areas are unfair to the disabled because there are no roads allowed to take them there. I’ve heard it said that the designation of wilderness areas is like a slap to the face of the disabled population. As a person with a disability, I wholeheartedly disagree.

 

In 1983, as a 20-year-old boy, I was driving along a small winding highway between Dolores and Cortez, Colorado when five horses ran out in front of me. The ensuing collision caused a spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed, a quadriplegic with limited movement below the neck. I have now lived most of my life navigating the Earth in a wheelchair.

Before the crash I was very physically active, and spent much of my time in the great outdoors—hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, being. Some of my best memories are of traversing the tree line—hiking along rushing streams, through mountain meadows, aspen and pine, to come face to face with rocky outcroppings. Walking through the wild wonder. Otherworldly surroundings. The silence—there is sound, but no noise. Just the soothing sound of nature. I’d sit still and listen, and move on with a renewed sense of belonging. I am reminded of the connectedness of all things, that everything is one in God. I am awakened to reality, aware of my place on the sacred path I follow as a human being. O the beauty! O the peace, the exaltation of my soul! Even now, as I write these words the beauty brings me to my knees in reverence, tears roll from my eyes. The tears come not because I can no longer visit these pristine places, but because these places exist—just knowing that such beauty exists within our world brings me joy.

I still love getting out into nature. There are many beautiful natural areas that I can access in my wheelchair, places I can sit where it seems as if I am out in the middle of the wilderness, where I can recharge my connection to nature, experience a sense of immediacy and enter wholly into the moment. I live in Grand Junction, Colorado. I love spending time on trails along the Colorado River and the local state parks. Wheelchair accessibility has come a long way in recent years. I am grateful. Yet, I am aware of the need for designated wilderness areas and I am grateful for the wild places where wildlife can thrive.

As a wheelchair user I have learned to adapt. There are many places that are not accessible to me, including many of my friend’s homes. I do not take this as a sign that I am not welcome. I do not expect my friends to spend thousands of dollars to remodel their houses just so that I can enter. There are many other places where we can meet, where my friends can welcome me into their hearts. Likewise, I do not expect anyone to build roads and trails over every square inch of wilderness so that I can visit in my wheelchair. Especially when I realize that my selfishness could lead to the demise of the very land I love. I love knowing that there are wild places where animals can room free without human disruption. Many species are going extinct. Some animals, such as elk, require large wildlife corridors for migration, and many species cannot survive around the noise and pollution of machines. These lands mean much more than how much money we can pump out of them—for much of God’s creation these wilderness lands are crucial for their survival.

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Roy (Monte) High

Roy (Monte) High lives in Grand Junction, Colorado. He enjoys getting out into the natural areas nearby with his wife Elizabeth.

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Wilderness and the Value of Doing Nothing

Dana blog

by Dana Johnson

 

Along the high-elevation, wind-swept ridges of the West, a long-lived, gnarly-branched pine is in trouble.  A species of stone pine known for its high stress tolerance and adaptability, whitebark pine is slow-growing and can live between 500 – 1,000 years.  Lacking wings for wind-dispersal, its calorie-dense seeds are spread primarily by Clark’s Nutcracker, a member of the crow family with a specialized bill for extracting large seeds from pinecones and a pouch under its tongue for stashing and carrying seeds long distance.  Those seeds are a prized food source for a range of species, including the imperiled grizzly bear. 

As tough as the species is, whitebark pine is facing mounting pressures from climate change, decades of fire suppression, blister rust, mountain pine beetles, and competing conifers migrating to higher elevations in response to warming temperatures.  Already found at high elevations, many worry that whitebark pine will have nowhere to run. 

This cocktail of stressors has landed whitebark pine on the short-list for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.  Unfortunately, the proposed listing rule allows logging and other “forest management” activities in whitebark pine habitat, and is, per usual, loudly silent on actions that might address the underlying causes of global warming.  Instead, it focuses heavily on intervention and manipulation strategies—like selectively breeding and planting blister rust resistant trees, pruning and thinning stands, fighting back other migrating conifers with logging, applying insecticides and pheromones, and even wrapping pinecones in wire mesh to keep red squirrels and Clark’s nutcrackers from getting at the seeds.

This is a familiar story.  Humans are exceedingly bad at exercising restraint and simply not doing things.  Rather than drastically reducing consumption, travel, recreation, and development—things that take real personal and political sacrifice but create space for other species to exist—we put an enormous amount of effort into developing technologies that enable us to continue with business as usual or at least provide a veil of plausible deniability regarding our impact on the world.  Slap enough windmills on the hilltops, and we’ll never have to slow down.  Gather enough data on wildlife, and we can invade their space with abandon.  Or, worst case, fire up the helicopters, pluck the critters from their homes, slap tracking collars on their necks, and drop them elsewhere.  There is a deep tendency to treat everything as if it is merely an engineering challenge that is solvable with enough data and ingenuity (and money). 

This is not to say we shouldn’t pursue things less harmful than our current things—we’ve dug quite an overwhelming hole with climate change, and we need to be creative in how we deal with it.  But too often our efforts are tunnel-visioned on maintaining the status quo, and the tougher conversations about how we exist on this planet are altogether muted. 

Take for instance grizzly bears.  A widely cited research paper states that “[h]umans are the primary agent of death” for grizzlies.  We know this.  When humans and bears mix, bears end up dead.  So, areas with less human access and activity (e.g. recreation, logging, fast-moving cars and trains, etc.) are areas with fewer dead bears.  And in areas with greater human activity, we sorely need greater tolerance (and compassion) for bears.  As with so many other species reacting to rapidly changing conditions, we need to provide grizzlies with the space to move and adapt, and we need to keep open minds about what that might look like.  Yet, in the whitebark pine listing rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service downplays the importance of whitebark pine as a food for grizzlies calling them “opportunistic feeders.”  But whitebark pine is often found in remote, high elevation sites away from humans.  When whitebark pine seeds are scarce, bears search out other food, which often brings them into lower elevations and in closer contact with humans.  We don’t much care for the idea of sharing our favorite creek-side trail with a berry-munching grizzly or dealing with potholes in our golf courses from a bear digging up earthworms, so when an “opportunistic” bear ends up in our space, we trap the bear and move him back to his allotted “recovery zone.”  And if the bear crosses our line in the sand again—looking for food, or a mate, or a new home—we kill him, and we go to great pains gathering more data and rationalizing all the reasons why this is the way of things, why we don’t need to change our own behavior or ask, “What gives us the right?”

These tendencies toward control and entitlement make our collective agreement on Wilderness pretty remarkable.  Wilderness is a conscious reflection of human restraint—a place where we decided there is value in Nature’s own wild order, in the autonomy and freedom of the wild, and in allowing the land to play whatever hand it is dealt without our intentional interference.  It is a recognition that we don’t and can’t know everything and that we might learn something if we step back and observe what happens when we don’t impose our will.  Because of this, unsurprisingly, Wilderness is some of the best habitat left for species trying to eke out an existence alongside humans.  

The idea of Wilderness as a self-willed landscape has been a difficult one for land management agencies.  They have an ingrained history of modifying public lands to achieve “desired conditions,” an idea laden with value bias even in the best of times.  Throw climate change and all of its uncertainties into the mix, and the increasing urge to actively maintain static conditions becomes all the more problematic. 

Even though the agencies often resist it on the ground, their policy guidance reflects the value in Wilderness.  Agency guidance states, “Wilderness areas are living ecosystems in a constant state of evolution[,]” and “[i]t is not the intent of wilderness stewardship to arrest this evolution in an attempt to preserve character existing” at some prior time.  And, “A key descriptor of wilderness in the Wilderness Act, untrammeled refers to the freedom of a landscape from the human intent to permanently intervene, alter, control, or manipulate natural conditions or processes.”  And, “Maintaining wilderness character requires an attitude of humility and restraint. We preserve wilderness character by … imposing limits on ourselves.”  In Wilderness, we “[p]rovide an environment where the forces of natural selection and survival rather than human actions determine which and what numbers of wildlife species will exist.” 

Agency policy is taking a notable turn.  One agency stated its “policy prior to climate change was to take a ‘hands-off’ approach where overt human influences were not the primary reasons for population fluctuations.”  It now believes its role is shifting to  adaptive management to maintain “natural conditions,” and this conversation is growing across the agencies.  This—at its core—is a conversation about whether we will allow Wilderness to persist into the future. 

This shift is reflected in the proposed whitebark pine rule.  It lists Wilderness under “Challenges to Restoration,” setting the stage for conflict between an imperiled species and an imperiled landscape.  But this is likely a false conflict.  Roughly 29 percent of whitebark pine habitat is in Wilderness.  Given the variables and unintended consequences inherent in manipulations, that 29 percent should be set aside as an important baseline for comparison to our tinkerings elsewhere.  The listing rule acknowledges “a high degree of uncertainty inherent in any predictions of species responses to a variety of climate change scenarios. This is particularly true for whitebark pine given it is very long lived, has a widespread distribution, has complex interactions with other competitor tree species, relies on Clark’s nutcracker for both distribution and regeneration, and has significant threats present from disease, predation, and fire.”

It also acknowledges “[t]here is no known way to control, reduce, or eliminate either mountain pine beetle or white pine blister rust…particularly at the landscape scale needed to effectively conserve this species.”  In fact, “the vast scale at which planting rust-resistant trees would need to occur, long timeframes in which restoration efficacy could be assessed, and limited funding and resources, will make it challenging to restore whitebark pine throughout its range. One estimate indicates that if planting continues at its current pace, it would take over 5000 years to cover just 5 percent of the range of whitebark pine[.]”

This does not appear to be a scenario where we have to grapple with fine lines.  There is no discrete, human-caused disruption in Wilderness that can be corrected with a discrete, short-lived intervention.  This is not an errant patch of spotted knapweed along a stock trail that can be pulled.  But it is illustrative of the moral and ethical questions coming our way.  Climate change will continue to cause vast changes in the world as we know it, and we will see more attempts to mitigate the effects through ongoing, counterbalancing manipulations.  The question will be whether we lose Wilderness in the process. 

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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.

 

Big Whitebark Keith Hammer


Photo: Keith Hammer

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The otherwise good article omits the elephant in the closet which is that humans cannot curtail their propensity to breed. Unless... Read More
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All so true, Dana Johnson! Wilderness Watch, you are my favorite group these days because your philosophies are spot on. We must p... Read More
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I don’t have any problem with most of Rob’s comments and agree the IR wolf inbreeding was primarily responsible for their decline.... Read More
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Wilderness: Is it all about us?

george nickas 200x150

by George Nickas

 

A while back I received an email from the founders of a recently established organization that was created out of a concern for the “wilderness visitor.” They wrote to challenge Wilderness Watch’s long-time insistence that the fundamental mandate in the Wilderness Act requires managers to—first and foremost—protect each area’s wilderness character. They claim WW’s position misinterprets the law, has incorrectly shaped the views of much of the conservation community and, to the degree we influence the federal agencies, caused them to protect Wilderness from the people.

 

The gist of their argument is that Wilderness was established to provide recreation opportunities, and that the emphasis many put on protection is diminishing the recreational opportunities that Wilderness affords. To bolster their view they point to language in the law, repeated three or four times, that says wilderness areas “shall be administered for the use and enjoyment” of the American people. The law’s protection requirements, according to their point of view, are operative to the degree they don’t unduly interfere with the overarching purpose of providing recreational opportunities.


I’ve heard variations of this argument before. A long-time wilderness advocate once tried to convince me that recreation was the chief purpose of the Wilderness Act, and as proof offered that the Act uses the words “use and enjoyment” or “recreation” a combined seven times, while “protect” or its derivatives are used only five. I replied that since the Wilderness Act uses the word “mining” 11 times, maybe it was mining, not recreation or protection that the Act sought to achieve! It ended that discussion, but obviously hasn’t ended the debate.

 

The purpose of the Wilderness Act was never lost on the Act’s architect and supporters. Testifying to Congress in 1962, the law’s chief author and lobbyist Howard Zahniser, explained, “The purpose of the Wilderness Act is to preserve the wilderness character of the areas to be included in the wilderness system, not to establish any particular use.” This directive was codified in the statute with the clear mandate that “[e]ach agency administering any area designated as wilderness shall be responsible for preserving the wilderness character of the area and shall so administer such area for such other purposes for which it may have been established as also to preserve its wilderness character.”

 

The benefits of “use and enjoyment” of Wilderness were also high on Zahniser’s list, but the concept wasn’t merely synonymous with recreation. He understood the phrase in a much more expansive and meaningful way. Responding to a critic who claimed it was rather selfish to set aside large areas for the limited few who would use them, Zahniser insisted that those who sought out wilderness deserved the opportunity to experience it, but he also explained that the use and enjoyment extended to

 

“many people who never even hope to explore it…they find relief and inspiration in the wilderness vicariously, and a consciousness of its existence is essential to them. This may be hard to explain, but the people I know who want the wilderness saved for these reasons greatly outnumber those I know who want the wilderness saved for their own excursions.”*


None of this suggests recreation isn’t an important public purpose of Wilderness. To many of us our time spent in Wilderness is essential to our being. But Wilderness is valuable for many reasons, including for its own sake; it doesn’t derive its value from us. Wilderness can exist and thrive without recreation, and indeed some areas do, but for us to have an authentic wilderness experience there has to be a real Wilderness to enjoy.

 

*Quoted from “The Wilderness Writings of Howard Zahniser,” by Mark Harvey. A must read for wilderness advocates who want to understand more about the person, the ideas and the language underpinning the Wilderness Act.
------------------

George Nickas is the executive director of Wilderness Watch.

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Guest — Johanna Schwarzer
There is nothing better than being in the great outdoors, listening to the birds, observing the wild animals, observing bushes and... Read More
Tuesday, 06 April 2021 11:31
Guest — Janet Muir
I read with appreciation George Nickas’ comments in “Wilderness: Is it all about us? Over the years, I have enjoyed several week... Read More
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Guest — Maggie Frazier
I absolutely agree! As someone who very likely will never be able to physically "engage" in any Wilderness Area, the knowledge th... Read More
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Thirty by Thirty and Half Earth: Promises and Pitfalls

Dana blog


by Howie Wolke

 

INTRODUCTION

In 2016, legendary ecologist Edward O. Wilson published Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. In this remarkable book, Wilson documents the ongoing anthropogenic planet-wide biological meltdown, the greatest extinction event since a meteor crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, about 60 million years ago. As a remedy, Wilson argues for protecting half of the Earth’s terrestrial acreage as inviolate nature reserves.

Flash back to the early 1980s. The original wilderness-focused Earth First! suggested that a fair balance for wilderness and civilization might be 50% for each. It was called “crazy”, “radical”, “unrealistic” and other terms of endearment not fit for print. And in my 1991 book Wilderness on the Rocks, I suggested that 30% of the U.S. be designated wilderness as a short term goal. That was also ridiculed as “unrealistic”.

Today, the “Nature Needs Half” coalition is promoting Wilson’s vision, and the “Thirty by Thirty” movement is gaining traction in the mainstream political discourse. Its goal is to protect 30% of the Earth’s landscape in nature reserves by the year 2030. The 30/30 goal is now considered by many to be attainable. And it is gratifying to see land protection efforts of this magnitude inch their way into the public discourse. The 30/30 goal does not mean that 30% of the land would be designated wilderness in the United States. Wilderness is our highest level of protection and it will be an important part of the equation. But other protective strategies, which also protect natural habitats for wildlife, biodiversity and other ecosystem values, will also be essential, especially for lands that lack wilderness characteristics. The purpose of this essay is to advance the discussion on how to effectively protect nearly a third of the U.S. landscape, including but not limited to designated wilderness.

DISCUSSION

30/30 would be a great start toward Wilson’s more thorough vision of Half Earth. But in my view, it is just that: a great start. Increasing numbers of scientists have concluded that 30/30 is the minimum starting point for conserving native biodiversity. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has endorsed 30/30, along with a growing list of American and international conservation groups.

President Joe Biden has endorsed 30/30, as has California Governor Gavin Newsom. There is also plenty of public support for protecting wildlands. According to a poll by the Center for American Progress, about 86% of Americans support the 30/30 concept, including 76% of polled Republicans. Clearly, when it comes to land protection, there is a huge disconnect between Republican politicians and the rank and file.

The extinction crisis is driven by habitat destruction and fragmentation, pollution, poaching, the proliferation of exotic weed species plus climate change. The meltdown is fueled by a growing human population that continues to expand unabated like a spreading cancer into remaining natural habitats around the globe, displacing native life and ecosystems. Some ecologists estimate that half of the estimated 10 million species that we share the planet with could be extinct or plummeting toward the eternal abyss by late this century. Thus, the need to protect land and water becomes more acute. Conservation biologists assert that we need to protect big interconnected landscapes as nature reserves.

Of course, protecting wild nature isn’t just about countering the biological meltdown. Wilderness is the primary repository of 3.5 billion years of organic evolution on this blue green spinning ball of life that we call Earth. Wilderness is the fundamental environment that shaped all known life, including humans, though many deny this primal connection. That’s why new wilderness designations and good wilderness stewardship should top the 30/30 agenda, while recognizing that other kinds of land protections will also be essential.

I also believe that wild nature has intrinsic value, something that’s worthwhile for its own sake, independent of the multitude of benefits it provides humans. That’s my primary motive as a conservationist. Many of us simply love all that is wild—and we know deep in our primate bones that Aldo Leopold said it best: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

“Untrammeled”, “primeval”, “natural”, and “where the imprint of man’s (sic) work is substantially unnoticeable” are phrases used in the 1964 Wilderness Act to define designated wilderness (I believe the authors of the Wilderness Act used the term “natural” to describe a landscape dominated by native plants and animals. Thus I do not consider croplands, livestock pastures and monocultures of exotic weeds to be “natural”). Today's National Wilderness Preservation System encompasses about 111 million acres, or about 4% of the U.S. landscape. Yet about half of that acreage is in Arctic and Subarctic Alaska, whereas only about 2.7% of the lower 48 states is designated Wilderness.

Because of this geographic disparity, for the 30/30 campaign, let’s view these two geographies through distinct lenses, so that at least 30% of the lower 48 is protected. And, let’s set the 2030 goal for Alaska at 50%. In that vast realm that’s still mostly wild, achieving Wilson’s goal would be easy, at least from a landscape viewpoint. For starters in Alaska, the Naval Petroleum Reserve (keep that oil in the ground, where it won’t harm the atmosphere!), the entire Alaska Range east of Denali, and most of the Chugach and Tongass national forests should all be protected as designated wilderness.

Where do we find 30%—or 50%—of our landscape to protect? Start with the existing National Wilderness Preservation System (2.7% of the lower 48 states). Then, add protections for all roadless areas, wilderness study areas, and backcountry areas administered by our four federal land management agencies. Based upon research I did back in the 1980s, I estimate that roughly 12-15% of the land area of the lower 48 states is in a wilderness or near-wilderness condition. This includes over a hundred million additional acres—according to agency inventories—of wilderness or semi-wilderness quality lands in the lower 48 states, in national forest and BLM-administered roadless areas and Wilderness Study Areas alone! We can also designate many new national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges.

States can also add to the protected acreage by adding parks and wildlife preserves. A few states already maintain significant protected wildland acreages: New York’s Adirondack Forest Preserve, for example. In the private domain, large holdings with conservation easements and protected holdings of land trusts and conservancies might also qualify as “protected” lands under 30/30. We can also use additional tax incentives for conservation easements plus the Land and Water Conservation fund to acquire additional conservation lands.

In addition, we can restore the wilds! There is vast potential for wildland restoration (“re-wilding”) across tens of millions of acres of the public domain. We can even restore wilderness. The Wilderness Act’s authors never intended for the definition of wilderness to preclude lands that were less than pristine. Note that according to the Wilderness Act, the imprint of humanity’s work must simply be “substantially unnoticeable”. In fact, Congress can and has designated wilderness for lands that had been previously roaded, clearcut and otherwise developed. Once designated, under the Wilderness Act, agencies must manage such lands as wilderness, letting nature re-wild the landscape. In fact, most wilderness areas in the eastern U.S. have been re-wilding themselves, for the most part just by being left alone.

Yet agency bureaucrats routinely violate the Wilderness Act by allowing illegal developments in designated wilderness. And Congress too often enacts wilderness bills with special provisions (for example allowing for off-road vehicular use in wilderness for ranchers) which weaken wilderness protections. Nonetheless, in this imperfect world, designated wilderness remains our highest level of land protection in the U.S., and should be a big component of the 30/30 movement. Thus, as we move toward 30/30, keeping designated wilderness areas truly wild (the primary mission of Wilderness Watch) will assume even more importance!

I mentioned entrenched bureaucrats. Here’s an example: According to Custer-Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson, “I view all public lands as being protected.” It is hard to believe, I know, but yes, I heard her say that. Thus, in her worldview, giant eroding weed-infested clearcuts, roads gouged across 45-degree slopes (including a 400,000+ mile road network on national forest lands alone!), open- pit mines, oil fields, ORV sacrifice areas, heavily fenced livestock pastures with devastated riparian zones, exotic weed monocultures, dams, pipelines, power corridors, ski areas, summer homes and more constitute the fabric of “protected” public lands. We must guard against bureaucrats who would water down the meaning of “protected” land. Otherwise, 30/30 will be used to simply rubber stamp existing agency mismanagement.

SPECIFICS

Which brings us to the central question of both the Nature Needs Half and the 30/30 movements: “What constitutes ‘protected’ land?” We need definitive standards in addition to those in the Wilderness Act, which will assure that all of the 30% is really protected. 

For example, the U.S. Geological Survey defines 4 levels of land protection called “Gap Status”. Status level 1 represents the strictest level of protection and Status 4 the least. Without detailing each of these levels, I would argue that even Gap Status 1 is weak, and that Status levels 2 through 4 represent little more than business as usual for public lands under typical agency multiple (ab)use management. For the record, Gap Status 1 is defined as

     An area having permanent protection from conversion of natural land cover and a mandated management plan in operation to maintain a natural state within which disturbance events ( of a natural type, frequency, intensity and legacy) are allowed to proceed without interference or are mimicked through management.

Here's another, slightly better definition of protected land utilized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP):

     A protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

I propose that we combine the best aspects of the above two definitions, and then further strengthen the definition with a few caveats. My proposed definition of protected land:

     A clearly defined geographical area having permanent protection through legal or legislated or other effective means, to achieve long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values. Natural conditions are maintained and the conversion of natural native land cover is precluded. Natural disturbance events and processes such as wildfire, flood and predation, are allowed and encouraged.

I believe this to be a workable definition, with the following caveats:

  • Mechanized Travel must be restricted to designated roads within reserves.
  • New road construction is prohibited.
  • Resource extraction such as mining, oil drilling and commercial logging are prohibited.
  • Lands that have been impacted in the past, including logged over lands and lands with limited or primitive road networks, can be included if a management plan is in place to restore and maintain wild and natural conditions (re-wilding).
  • In some regions of the world, existing subsistence hunting/gathering/fishing rights—preferably via traditional primitive means—might continue, depending upon the circumstance. However, this question probably merits more of a discussion than is practical in this brief overview.

Here are some examples of lands that could constitute our protected 30%:

  • The National Wilderness Preservation System
  • National forest and BLM Roadless areas and Wilderness Study Areas
  • Protected state wildlands such as those in New York’s Adirondack Forest Preserve
  • National Parks
  • National Monuments
  • National Wildlife Refuges
  • Forest Service and BLM-administered multiple use lands in which a plan is in place to restore wild and natural conditions (re-wilding).
  • Private conservation lands in which natural conditions are maintained via conservation easement or other legal protection(s)
  • About 24 million acres of lands included in the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, which designates new wilderness areas, biological corridors, and wildland recovery areas in the U.S. Northern Rockies.
  • Protected public and private lands in Montana’s growing American Prairie Reserve
  • Existing and potential biological corridors

Here are a few examples of lands that should NOT be included in the “protection” category:

  • Lands that are intensively grazed and managed primarily for livestock production
  • Croplands or manicured urban parks not characterized by native vegetation, even if they are maintained as “open space” by conservation easements
  • Typical Forest Service- and BLM-administered “multiple use lands” that are managed for timber production, livestock, minerals, and mechanized transportation. As noted above, such lands can be moved into “protected” status if a re-wilding plan replaces “multiple abuse”.


And finally, the first step to 30/30 should be a National Wildlands Inventory conducted by an independent panel of scientists to identify both public and privately-owned wildlands that could qualify for some level of protected status under a 30/30 plan. Part of the inventory—and ultimately part of the 30/30 plan—should specifically identify the country’s major eco-regions, to assure that each ecoregion  has at least one protected area that is large enough (and/or functionally interconnected with other nearby wild areas) to support most of the native keystone species—large carnivores, for example —for that ecosystem.

SUMMARY

Wildland conservation has an opportunity to move forward with a bold plan to protect wilderness and other wild habitats on nearly one third of our landscape. Conservation groups can support the 30/30 movement as a minimum starting point, looking ahead to E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth vision as the long term goal.

Achieving 30/30 will not be easy. It faces a hostile gauntlet of the usual bad actors: entrenched bureaucrats, myopic and corrupt elected officials plus the industry lobbies that work to thwart most conservation initiatives. Not to mention the rapidly expanding army of mechanized recreationists, including mountain bike organizations. Yet the history of conservation proves that commitment and determination can overcome enormous political obstacles. Today’s global ecological crisis demands that we dramatically increase land and water protections. This includes pushing for maximum protected acreage for wilderness quality lands and other areas that remain relatively natural and wild.

Like cockroaches, humans can adapt to and even thrive in nearly every artificial environment imaginable. Like Mumbai, for example. Or Houston. Or the expansive monocultural wastelands of Kansas. But is cockroach habitat and vast impoverished human-scapes the world that we wish to pass on? The least we can do for future generations of both human and non-human life is to approach wildland conservation as though the survival of life as we know it on Earth depends upon it—which in fact, it does. Enacting a strong 30/30 plan would be a great start.

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Howie Wolke is a long-time wilderness proponent. He has been a board member for Wilderness Watch on and off for over two decades, including two terms as President. He is a retired wilderness backpacking and canoeing guide/outfitter who now enjoys wilderness adventure without having to be responsible for others. He and his wife, Marilyn Olsen, and their dog Rio live in the foothills of the Gallatin Range, just north of Yellowstone National Park in southern Montana.

Author’s note: Thanks go to Marilyn Olsen and Wilderness Watch board member René Voss for their suggested edits, many of which have been incorporated into the final version. However, any errors and anything the reader might deem to be offensive are entirely my responsibility.

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I think it's absurdly naive to expect any meaningful wilderness (yes "wilderness") protection to happen as long as humanity acts i... Read More
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Guest — Wilderness Watch
Gregory, thanks for your comment. Please see our blog post: https://wildernesswatch.org/keeping-wilderness-wild-blog-post/wilderne... Read More
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Guest — Barrett Walker
Thank you for your thoughtful approach to achieving the 30/30 conservation goal.
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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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Guest — Stephen
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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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North Cascades Grizzly Recovery: Looking for an Alternative that is Good for Grizzlies and Good for Wilderness

kevinproescholdt 02 18 13 201by Kevin Proescholdt

 

Wilderness Watch recently asked the National Park Service (NPS) to develop a new alternative in the planning for grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades of Washington State. Our suggested proposal would both benefit grizzlies and protect designated Wilderness, something that none of the existing alternatives in the NPS’s current plan do. Wilderness Watch has requested that a natural recovery alternative be thoroughly developed and studied for grizzly restoration.

 

A natural recovery alternative doesn’t mean do nothing as some of its critics contend, but instead would call for real action in British Columbia and the U.S. to facilitate natural recovery. That could mean many things, such as changes in black bear hunting regulations in both countries, facilitating passage across highways, reducing road densities, guidelines for human behavior in the areas most likely used as connecting corridors for grizzly expansion, building social tolerance, and the like. In other words, it would be a cooperative plan between the U.S. and Canada for grizzly recovery. If this kind of cooperation can’t be obtained, then grizzly recovery in the U.S. portion of the North Cascades is likely to fail, regardless of the number of bears that are translocated there. And without linkages across the border with British Columbia, the long-term genetic viability of a relatively small grizzly population on the U.S. side of the border would also be at risk.

 

We recognize at least some of the current challenges to facilitating grizzly movement across the border from Canada, but we also believe it is imperative for the NPS to rigorously study, analyze, and disclose such an alternative. Sometimes grizzlies can confound even the experts. Twenty years ago, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a plan (which died after the election of George W. Bush) to reintroduce 25 grizzlies into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness but as an “experimental, nonessential” population that would receive lesser protections under the Endangered Species Act. Most experts said there was absolutely no way that grizzlies could get into the Selway-Bitterroot on their own. But now, 20 years later, grizzlies are indeed moving in there on their own. The North Cascades ecosystem has differences with the Selway-Bitterroot regarding potential grizzly movement, of course, but the NPS has not seriously looked at the possibilities and pitfalls of a natural recovery option for grizzlies in the North Cascades.

 

The current plan by the NPS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to translocate grizzly bears into the North Cascades in Washington raises many concerns about the harms posed to individual bears, who will be snared or culvert-trapped or pursued by helicopters and shot with tranquilizers, removed from their familiar home territories, poked, prodded, and collared with electronic surveillance devices. The environmental analysis indicates bears would be taken “from source populations in northwestern Montana and/or south-central British Columbia” where, at least in Montana, grizzly bear populations are still struggling and suffering record high mortality rates. The heavy-handed capture and translocation methods proposed—as well as continued monitoring and handling methods—could result in death or injury of the bears, which are protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. And if that weren’t enough, the DEIS ignores the literature describing the negative effects—including severe stress responses and avoidance of important habitat—of all this helicopter traffic on wildlife, including grizzlies

 

And, as we’ve unfortunately seen again and again in Idaho and Washington, politically controversial predators with electronic tracking devices around their necks are regularly targeted for “removal actions.” Freedom of Information Act documents in Idaho showed that Idaho Fish and Game (and possibly the federal management agencies involved before delisting) regularly supplied Wildlife Services with GPS data from wildlife collars to locate and kill wolves, oftentimes through aerial gunning. Washington also has a long, sordid history of killing wolves at the behest of cattle ranchers. The environmental analysis here indicates “all released grizzly bears would be GPS-collared and monitored. If a bear frequents an allotment area, the FWS and WDFW would work with the USFS and livestock owners to determine the best course of action to minimize bear-livestock interactions.” We are sympathetic to the desire to move quickly if there are only a few bears left in the North Cascades, but what of the bears that are dropped there against their will? What of the struggling source populations? And, are we simply creating another island population that cannot survive without ongoing, heavy-handed intervention? Is this really good for the bears? For Wilderness? We think these are questions that deserve serious analysis and public disclosure.

 

The current plan is misguided in the many ways that it would violate the 1964 Wilderness Act. None of the current action alternatives in the Draft Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) are compatible with Wilderness. The proposed recovery area of 6.1 million acres includes North Cascades National Park and 2.6 million acres of Wilderness in the Pasayten, Mt. Baker, and Stephen Mather Wildernesses. All, or almost all, of the proposed helicopter landings would apparently be in Wilderness, either in North Cascades National Park or in surrounding national forests, despite the fact that 60 percent of the project area is outside of Wilderness. The plan proposes anywhere from 50 to 400 helicopter landings and twice that many flights (though the DEIS is somewhat inconsistent on the exact numbers) to move up to 160 bears, again all or mostly all within Wilderness despite more of the project area being outside of Wilderness. The extensive use of helicopters would continue indefinitely for monitoring bear movement and numbers.

 

The essential irony is that agencies recognize the best place to release bears is in the exceedingly rare wildness of the North Cascades. The best grizzly habitat is synonymous with Wilderness: space to roam, isolation, denning sites, safety from human-caused mortality, and distance from human conflicts and garbage. But the agency’s proposed methods of re-establishing grizzlies diminish all these advantages.

 

Wilderness Watch supports the recovery of grizzly bears and other native species where suitable habitat exists. The rugged North Cascades are historic grizzly bear habitat, and there are likely a few currently living on the U.S. side of border now, with a grizzly bear photographed there in 2010.

 

But recovery efforts must also meet the letter and spirit of the Wilderness Act. This means restoring the area’s grizzly population without the use of motor vehicles and equipment, without endless landings of helicopters in Wilderness, without trammeling or manipulating the landscape or its wildlife. However suitable the habitat in the North Cascades is, we take issue with the methods proposed—the reintroduction plan is extremely intrusive, relies on activities prohibited by the Wilderness Act, and would come at a significant cost to Wilderness. What is good for Wilderness is good for bears, and those conditions are worth protecting.

 

It is precisely this type of heavy-handed manipulation of Wilderness that Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser warned against, even when done for seemingly good reasons. In 1963, for example, the secretary of interior’s wildlife advisory board of ecologists led by Zahniser’s friend A. Starker Leopold recommended extensive manipulation of the National Parks and their wildlife (and the wilderness in the Parks). The Leopold Report called for manipulating parks and wildlife to re-create a representation of “the condition that prevailed when the area was first visited by the white man.” The report also stated, “Management may at times call for the use of the tractor, chainsaw, rifle, or flame-thrower but the signs and sounds of such activity should be hidden from visitors insofar as possible.”

 

Zahniser penned his classic rebuttal to this proposal. While some projects may have merit, he wrote, “it is certainly in contrast with the wilderness philosophy of protecting areas at their boundaries and trying to let natural forces operate within the wilderness untrammeled by man.” He continued, “Those who have advocated the preservation of wilderness by protecting at the boundaries the areas within which the natural community would be untrammeled by man have often been confronted with practical difficulties—the smallness of even the most extensive areas, for example. The ‘realism’ of their advocacy has been questioned.” But nonetheless, Zahniser urged us, when it came to Wilderness, to be “Guardians, Not Gardeners.” In the case of the North Cascades grizzly project, Zahniser would urge us to guard the Wildernesses of the North Cascades from manipulation, and to not manipulate (or “garden”) them for our own purposes, even for something as worthwhile as grizzly recovery.

 

If the Park Service adopts a translocation plan, it must be in line with the letter and spirit of the Wilderness Act. Monitoring should take place in a way that’s respectful to Wilderness and bears, including using hair snags, camera traps, scat collection, and on-the-ground sightings to know whether the bears are thriving. It’s wrong to rely on intrusive helicopter use, radio-collaring and ongoing handling and tranquilizing of the bears.

 

The DEIS entirely lacks a natural recovery option. The best way to meet the goal of a viable grizzly population in the North Cascades would be to allow for and boldly promote the natural recovery of grizzlies. This is a very different approach than the “no action” option in the DEIS, which is to “do nothing.” A natural recovery alternative would require working with British Columbia to protect grizzlies over a larger land base and would provide for connectivity between populations in the U.S. and Canada using protected habitat corridors. It would also include other measures to ensure that grizzlies are not killed by humans, regardless of what side of the border they are on and whether they are in national parks, Wilderness, or other public or private lands. It will take longer and require more patience than the instant gratification of capturing and releasing dozens of bears, but it would ultimately create a more durable population sharing the landscape with a human population that is more likely to respect the bears that make it back to the North Cascades on their own.

 

Let’s have the NPS look at this alternative that is both good for grizzlies and good for Wilderness.


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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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The Not So Good Public Lands Omnibus Bill

george nickas 200x150

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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It’s time to change how we administer Wilderness and strengthen the National Wilderness Preservation System

Brett HaverstickBy Brett Haverstick

 

Taking a long trip into the backcountry during winter doesn’t appeal to some people. That’s understandable. But I enjoy it, and it’s something I try to do a few times a year. Winter backpacking is very different, and more challenging, compared to strapping on the pack during other seasons.

 

For one it’s darn cold, with many trips never getting above freezing, day or night. Two, there’s usually lots of snow on the ground, which means you’re probably wearing snowshoes, and, perhaps, breaking trail too. Three, your pack is heavier because of all the extra warm gear you are carrying, including more food because you need to consume a lot of calories each day. Four, you have to work harder in just about everything you do, from setting up your shelter and trying to stay warm to melting water and attempting to stay hydrated. Five, there’s not a lot of daylight, so you have to stay motivated and keep moving if you want to cover some miles. Lastly, not too many people want to spend 5-6 days in the cold, blowing snow of the northern Rockies in January! But find someone to share the workload if you can!

 

My recent trip into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness was with a friend, and, perhaps more importantly, an individual with a skill set that I could trust and depend on. Once the weather report showed a high-pressure system moving across the region, Russell and I finalized our plans and set out for the trailhead. We felt confident we could cover 50 miles before the next weather front moved in.

 

brett haverstick 1    brett haverstick 2

 

For two and a half days, we trudged across the frozen ridge, one foot after the other, breaking snow almost the entire time. Occasionally, we would hear the call of the raven or the knock of the woodpecker, but for the most part we walked in silence and deep in thought. Accompanying us the whole time was a set of moose tracks, with deer and elk tracks scattered about. It appeared snowshoe hare were in the area too. Blood on the trail indicated that a mountain lion, or another carnivore, might have wounded one of the ungulates.


The daily routine of building the morning fire, boiling water, drying gear, packing up, snowshoeing 10-16 miles, and then searching for a place to dig out the next snow cave was in some ways more mentally challenging than physical. But the white silence of the forest was peaceful, views of the snow-covered mountain peaks were tantalizing, and the cold, crisp air was exhilarating. With each arduous step, the wilderness boundary drew nearer.


You know the feeling. As one travels down the trail, through the forest, around the next bend or over the saddle, your heart pounds like a kid at Christmas. You anxiously await the sign that reads “…Wilderness, “…National Forest.” Yes, you say to yourself. Hope for humanity. Escape from the madness. Refuge for the plants and animals. Nature’s Bill of Rights at last. Leave me here and let me die with my true friends! And down the trail you continue.


Prior to our trip departure, Russell and I learned about the intent of the Idaho Fish & Game Department to land helicopters, and harass and collar elk, in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. We were angry, concerned, disappointed, and flabbergasted by the fact that the Forest Service gave the green light to land machines in the Wilderness, up to 120 times over a 3-month period. Of course, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 time or 12 times, but 120 times was mind-blowing. Who the hell is running the Forest Service? Didn’t they, along with millions of Americans, just celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act not too long ago? Looks like that was lip service!


And what about the people running the Idaho Fish & Game Department? Why do they still have authority over wildlife management on federal public lands? Why are their intensive and intrusive management plans being permitted in federally designated Wilderness? When is that going to change? Why is the Forest Service continually shining the shoes of the state hook and bullet departments? Who is really administering the Wilderness?


As Russell and I descended in elevation on the third day, the sun shined warmly, the skies stretched a bright blue, and the mighty Salmon River came within view. We peered though the binoculars, and combed the south-facing slopes for herds of elk. Dozens of ungulates lay basking on the hills, while those closer leaped and bound to a more secure place. We also observed whitetail and mule deer (strangely enough together) and lots of wolf tracks. Far off in the distance, we saw what looked like two golden eagles circling a spot on the hill, as if a kill had recently occurred.


Despite seeing a number of horses by the river late that afternoon (why are horses running freely on the national forest in winter, particularly in crucial winter-range habitat?), not a human was in sight, and the frozen riverbank was ours to explore and make home. We rested and dreamily watched small pieces of ice float downstream along the sides of the quiet, rolling river.


Later that evening, after a hot meal, warm fire, and the usual time-to-get hydrated routine, we dozed peacefully under a star-studded sky when suddenly we were awoken by the yips, screams, and howls of coyotes. After shaking our heads no, those are not wolves, we gleefully listened to the songs (and celebrations?) of a dozen coyotes not far from our tarp. They yipped for 3-4 minutes but it felt like a lot longer than that. The sweet music of the Wilderness had finally reached us!

When day broke and our bags were packed, Russell and I contemplated where the Idaho Fish & Game helicopters could be. Were they invading to the south along Big Creek? Were they harassing and stressing dozens of cows and calves to the east? The mere thought of these non-conforming, highly mechanized machines flying and landing wherever they want in the Wilderness made us sick to our stomachs. We both wanted to know how can the uses of helicopters, net-guns, tranquilizers, and GPS-collars be the minimal tool(s) needed to administer the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness? None of it made any sense. Little did we know that wolves were being collared too.


Which leads me to my final thoughts. What good is a National Wilderness Preservation System if the federal officials charged with administering the system, and individual areas, continues to approve projects that are incompatible with the Wilderness Act? Why are the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service repeatedly rubber-stamping proposals that harm Wilderness? How is the collaring of wildlife in federally designated wilderness representative of a self-willed landscape? Explain to me how helicopters, net-guns, and radio-collars enhance or preserve wilderness character?

This tragedy (“accident”) should serve as a lightning rod to spark a discussion, better yet, a movement, to do two things: create an independent federal department solely charged with stewardship of the wilderness system, and pressure Congress to pass legislation that forbids all state fish and game agencies from conducting any operations inside federally designated Wilderness.


To hell with the Forest Service and the other federal agencies, which continue to trammel the Wilderness and our natural heritage. We cannot keep leaving it to the attorneys to defend the Wilderness Act. We must do something bold. The status quo is badly broken and only getting worse. Ed Abbey is rolling in his grave and still screaming, “The Idea of wilderness needs no defense, just defenders.” This message needs to reach every living room in America.


Brett Haverstick is the Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group based in Moscow, Idaho. He has a B.S. in Parks & Recreation Management from Northern Arizona University and a Master’s degree in Natural Resources from the University of Idaho. He has been a member of Wilderness Watch since 2007. The views expressed are his own.

Recent Comments
Guest — Jeff Vollmer
I'm gonna have to try me some winter backpacking. I think a hammock would be the way to go. Thanks for the story.
Tuesday, 12 July 2016 20:29
Guest — Bob Brister
Wolf advocates failed to hold Obama responsible for his administration's war on wolves. Why shouldn't he screw us when we fail to ... Read More
Wednesday, 22 June 2016 15:15
Guest — Jim glover
Good on ya Brett!!
Tuesday, 15 March 2016 17:41
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Wolves and Isle Royale: Manipulated Zoo or Wild Wilderness?

by Kevin Proescholdt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The whole debate really comes down to this basic question:

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

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

kevin proescholdtKevin Proescholdt is conservation director for Wilderness Watch. Kevin guided canoe trips in Minnesota's million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) for 10 years, and has visited designated and undesignated Wildernesses throughout the U.S. and Canada. He helped pass the 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act through Congress, directed the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness for 16 years, and co-authored the 1995 book, Troubled Waters: The Fight for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. For the eight years prior to joining the Wilderness Watch staff, Kevin directed the national Izaak Walton League's Wilderness and Public Lands Program. Kevin has been active with Wilderness Watch since 1989, joined the board of directors in 2003, and served two years as president of the board. He has written extensively on the Boundary Waters, and wilderness policy and history.
Recent Comments
Guest — Diane Brodak
One man I would not listen to is Dave Mech. Ask him what became of his beloved wolves when he was done with them. They were left ... Read More
Friday, 15 November 2013 12:00
Guest — Marilyn M Cooper
Without a top predator, isle Royale will live on all right, but it won't be a beautiful wilderness. I was in Yellowstone before th... Read More
Thursday, 14 November 2013 23:11
Guest — wildernesswatch
Thanks for your post, Marilyn. Wilderness is not supposed to be "beautiful" according to our current human tastes, but it is to b... Read More
Tuesday, 19 November 2013 07:38
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Bill Worf, Wilderness Champion, Has Died at 85

billworf 12 30 1112/21/11

Dear Friends,

It is with great sadness that Wilderness Watch announces the death of Bill Worf, our founder, long-time board member, president emeritus, and inspirational leader.  He was 85.  Bill died of natural causes at his home in Missoula, Montana.

Bill dedicated his life to making certain the ideals expressed in the Wilderness Act would live on in the National Wilderness Preservation System.  No one alive, then or now, worked as hard or with such great principle toward that goal.

Bill was raised on a homestead in Rosebud County, Montana, during the Great Depression where he learned the lessons of hard work and perseverance that were hallmarks of his life.  He joined the Marines at 17, and soon found himself in the thick of combat in the invasion of Iwo Jima. After the war, he returned home, married Eva Jean Batey, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry from the University of Montana, and started a storied 32-year-career with the U.S. Forest Service.

Bill began his 50-year affair with wilderness in 1961 when he was appointed forest supervisor overseeing the Bridger Wilderness in the Wind River Range in Wyoming.  In typical fashion, Bill jumped into wilderness stewardship with a fervor that attracted the attention of all around him.  He initiated the first wilderness management program and hired the first wilderness rangers.  He became an outspoken proponent for the wilderness bill at a time when the Forest Service was lukewarm to the legislation.  His advocacy for wilderness led the Chief of the Forest Service to select Bill as one of a small group to write the regulations and policies for implementing the Wilderness Act of 1964 shortly after it passed.  Bill was then asked to lead the agency's wilderness program in the Washington Office, which he did for many years before getting his feet back on the ground in the regional office in Missoula, Montana.

Like many of his peers, Bill initially saw wilderness as a recreation resource.  He saw his duties as a manager primarily to promote it as a backcountry playground.  He often told the story of standing on the shore of Island Lake, gazing out at hordes of tents surrounding that wilderness gem.  "We were making use of the country, and it made my Forest Service-heart swell with pride," Bill would recall with a laugh.  But a pack trip with the Wilderness Act's author, Howard Zahniser, started an evolution in Bill's understanding. Wilderness stewardship was about much more than recreation.  His understanding continued to grow as he worked with congressional leaders and their staffs while writing the policies to implement that visionary law. As Bill often noted, "Those of us writing the policies had to forget much of what we knew about wilderness management in order to understand the higher goals the Wilderness Act was trying to achieve."

Upon his retirement from the US Forest Service in 1981 and with the active support of Eva Jean, Bill vowed to dedicate his remaining years to working for sound stewardship and protection of Wilderness. In 1989, he and two colleagues founded Wilderness Watch, the only national citizens' organization dedicated solely to protecting designated wildernesses and wild rivers. As a measure of Bill's tremendous credibility, it wasn't long before former Secretary of Interior, Stewart Udall, and former Secretary of Agriculture, Orville Freeman, accepted Bill's invitation to join the Wilderness Watch Board of Directors.  Bill remained active with Wilderness Watch and wilderness issues until his death. "I shall not perish from this earth without doing everything within my realm to save its most precious non-human resource," he wrote.

Bill was the right person in the right place at the right time, and he made the most of it.  He inspired an entire generation of wilderness rangers and wilderness advocates and was a hero to many. All of us, but especially future generations of American citizens, are the fortunate recipients of Bill's dedication to the wilderness cause.

Bill Worf will be sorely missed, but his spirit lives on in all those who believe in the principled stewardship and defense of wilderness in America.

Bill's family has asked that donations be made to Wilderness Watch's Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 9175, Missoula, MT 59807.



Click here to read Bill's obituary.
Click here to view a WW video with Bill and to read his founder's message.

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Your vote will help gain a stronger Wilderness stewardship policy for wildlife refuge Wilderness

Arctic FWSIn 1999 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released a new draft policy for Wilderness stewardship in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The draft policy was a bold step forward for protecting Wilderness on National Wildlife Refuges. Public comments overwhelmingly supported the draft policy with the vast majority requesting the policy be further strengthened to protect Wilderness. But political hacks in the newly arriving Bush administration hijacked the policy, took its final development away from wilderness leaders in the FWS, and turned it over to State fish and game agency officials who were very antagonistic toward Wilderness protection. The resulting current policy is but a faint shadow of the bold policy developed more than a decade ago. Managers are given far too much leeway in approving projects that manipulate wilderness ecosystems—foregoing the Wilderness Act's basic tenet that Wilderness areas be "untrammeled by man"—and far too much leeway for casting aside the Act's prohibition on motor vehicle and motorized equipment use, structures and installations. Wilderness protection is treated as a secondary (or lesser) concern even in designated Wilderness.

With 20 million acres of Refuge lands already designated Wilderness, and tens-of-millions more that qualify for future designation, the need for a revised and strengthened wilderness stewardship policy is paramount. There’s an opportunity right now to show your support for such a policy. The FWS’ new vision initiative, called Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation, offers the chance for public participation by voting on this and other ideas and reviewing and commenting on the draft vision. 

To vote for a stronger FWS Wilderness stewardship policy:

1. Visit the website
2. Click Join the Conversation to create an account or login with your Facebook account
3. Look through the Draft Vision, or go to Your Bold Ideas
4. Use your 20 votes to vote for your favorite ideas (up to three votes/idea)

Ideas we feel are especially worthy of your votes:
1. Revise the Wilderness Stewardship policy*
*Please vote as soon as possible on this idea so that it will move to the front page of "Top Ideas," where people will see it and it'll garner more support.
2. Recognize that our National Wildlife Refuges are not state game production areas
3. Prevent wolf control on Alaska refuges
4. Make the communication of environmental sustainability a high priority for the NWRS and USFWS
5. Wilderness for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
It’s a good idea to comment on the Bold Ideas you support. You can also comment on all sections of the Draft Vision.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to speak up for Wilderness on our wildlife refuges!
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Missoula, MT 59807
P: 406-542-2048
E: wild@wildernesswatch.org

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2833 43rd Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55406

P: 612-201-9266

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Moscow, ID 83843

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