Why Wilderness doesn’t work anymore
September 28, 2010
As an environmentalist, avid human-powered outdoorsman, and active volunteer in local and regional land management, I am compelled to speak out against the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal “offered” by the Wilderness Workshop (WW).
• What angers me most about the Gems is how WW’s process has polarized our community. Mountain bikers are the most politically – and ethically – aligned user group, outside hikers, with the wilderness. That mountain bikers have been misrepresented and alienated by the WW shows the heart of the matter – it’s not about preservation, it’s about getting bikes off the trails.
• Many of the trails claimed to be built illegally actually were not. WW chooses not to recognize that over-land travel is not restricted on many public lands, so people do and trails are created; not illegally, but not within a public process because no process exists for those designations.
• I support preservation of “middle-elevation” ecosystems. I also think it’s important, from a global perspective, to concentrate recreation near urban centers like Aspen and Carbondale to moderate green-house gas emissions caused by driving to the hinterlands to recreate. Areas like North Thompson Creek and Smuggler provide close-in riding that folks don’t have to drive to.
• To compare mountain bikers to motorcycles, from an environmental perspective, is madness, and if you believe it, kindly excuse yourself from the debate.
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• If Wilderness is to promote and protect biodiversity, grazing should be outlawed in the Wilderness. I know it’s politically expedient to align with ranchers, but grazing, by definition, eats biodiversity.
• Cattle and horses cause more resource damage than mountain bikes. If you don’t believe me, hike Red Hill and hike any trail where horses and cattle travel.
• There are countless third-party studies about the impacts of mountain bikes on wildlife and resources compared to cattle, horses, motorcycles and even hikers. Read them at http://www.imba.com/resources/research/trail-science/environmental-impacts-mountain-biking-science-review-and-best-practices.
• I want to puke to think that one way to connect to the wild is any more valid than another. If the point of preservation is to foster stewardship, we need a balanced approach for ALL users and not exclude anyone. If we give everyone the chance to see what you and I sometimes take for granted, maybe they will begin to see our larger world differently, and start to live more sustainably. Obviously, there needs to be limits and some uses have more destructive potential than others, but if the goal is “Preservation for Future Generations,” I would ask why and then connect the dots.
• And, ah, WW’s last gasp of an excuse – “Don’t you have enough?” More than 35 percent of the WRNF is already designated as Wilderness, more than any other forest in the state. Don’t you have enough?
• There are several “companion designations” with just as much power as Wilderness designation, along with proven management tools, that will provide the preservation needed and leave a little bike trail to be built by future generations.