The importance of Wilderness
Listening to the detractors of Wilderness proposals like Hidden Gems makes me wonder that the pioneers ever made it off the East Coast without the aid of ATVs, SUVs, pickups or other forms of mechanized travel. My ancestors seemed to do just fine without any of that.
Wilderness hardly precludes public access or use. Many studies by the Forest Service and others also show that Wilderness is good for the local economy, not bad as some would have you believe. It supports and sustains an economic base far longer than traditional resource extraction does. And Wilderness is still a very small fraction of all the public and private lands we hold.
But there are other values that Wilderness supports beyond the narrow and otherwise very well-supplied needs for recreation and human uses. Wilderness is the last refuge of wildlife, where habitat is intact and undisturbed. Wildlife need protected and undisturbed winter range and calving areas, something hard to come by in the high terrain most existing Wilderness covers.
Wilderness is the source of our water supply. Roads and erosion caused by mechanized travel is the single greatest source of water pollution and environmental degradation in the backcountry. Roads are also the biggest vector for noxious weeds and other invasive species.
In the face of constantly increasing pressure and demands from human development we need more Wilderness, not less. We need large landscapes where nature is in charge, not us. The current bark beetle outbreak is as much a result of our “management” as anything else. Fire, even large-scale fire, is a part of the ecology. It is catastrophic only from our limited perspective. Look at Yellowstone.
The Hidden Gems proposal may have minor flaws, but we need as much intact wild land as we can protect. Wilderness is as much a part of our history as railroad beds, mill sites and old mines. Wilderness is where we find connection to the real world, to the natural community of which we are a part. It’s the greatest single gift we can leave those who will call us ancestors.
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