A long-term vision
I wonder what John Muir, founding father of our National Park system in the 1880s, or President Benjamin Harrison’s authorization of the White River National Forest in 1902 would have to say about the current debate in our valley over the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal. Around the turn of the 19th century, critics came very close to preventing the National Parks and the White River National Forest from becoming a reality by claiming that these proposals were too big, too bold, had never been done before and with no demonstrated need. Critics further argued that these lands should be privatized to enable full commercial development rather than given national protection. Now, a century later, we can look back and see how myopic critics of these bold and visionary efforts really were.
It is easy to lose track of how delicate many parts of our public lands are and how well intended users can actually be the land’s worse enemy by contributing to their deteriorating condition through overuse. As the population of our state increases and Colorado’s appeal to national and international tourism continues to grow, overuse pressures on our public lands have grown dramatically.
Over the past few years, commercial drilling and exploration by the oil and gas industry has shown that the Forest Service and the BLM have failed to protect our public lands from commercial development. This assault on our public lands by extractive industries is nothing short of a land grab, dramatizing the need for a higher level of protection for many of the more vulnerable and accessible lands that are not currently designated as Wilderness.
The Hidden Gems proposal to expand the designated Wilderness of the White River National Forest by 400,000 acres will provide the protections needed to deal with the realities and pressures of the 21st century and beyond. How will this proposal be seen decades from now when future generations look back and judge what we did, or failed to do, to protect our national treasures for them to enjoy? The choice must look beyond the needs of a few who would like instant gratification versus the greater need which calls for the preservation of these fragile lands decades and centuries into the future. It’s not hard to guess what John Muir or President Harrison would recommend if they could be here to join in this debate!
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