Lessons on land
I was recently hiking with a very intelligent young lady from Washington, D.C. She’s a government attorney who went to Dartmouth, so you can imagine my surprise when she asked, “How much land does the Park Service have around Aspen, and where are the Park Service headquarters?”I patiently explained, “We are walking on National Forest Service lands, and we do not have a National Park anywhere near Aspen.”She then asked me to explain the difference. At the same time we were passing a wilderness area boundary sign, and she wanted to know what that meant, too.I proceeded to tell her about the four major land-management agencies, which are the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. Together, these agencies manage a combined 727 million acres that is owned by all Americans.I went on to explain to her that we were in the White River National Forest, and that within the National Forest Service’s lands there are wilderness areas that receive even more protection. In these pristine wilderness areas, visitors are allowed to travel only on their feet – even mountain bikes are forbidden on the trails.She was surprised to learn that a Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, was the person responsible for creating the U.S. Forest Service and that the more protected wilderness areas were legislated by Congress just within the last 40 years.I encouraged her to read a Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold to understand better the vision behind creating protected wilderness areas in our National Forest.I realized I was on a roll and I had a captive audience, so I just kept going. I told her that most wilderness areas around Aspen did include some forest and streams, but that the vast majority of the acres consisted of rock and ice, or high alpine tundra that naturally supports some wildlife part of the year, but not year around.An example is that the community of Aspen is a prime black bear habitat. Black bears don’t thrive at higher elevations. In fact, they love the ecotones between scrub oak and aspen forests. That’s where their traditional food sources – berries, nuts, and grasses – are located.She was surprised to learn that the amount of private land in our valley is really quite small compared to the public lands, and that our tax dollars helped to care and manage these public lands. When I explained that our current political administration keeps making monetary cutbacks to the U.S. Forest Service, making it impossible for Forest Service officials to supply the manpower needed to take care of the thousands of acres entrusted to them, she completely understood.In a somewhat cynical tone, she said, “Well, we do have the worldwide fight against terrorism to maintain.”She then asked about the backcountry huts and whether they sit on private lands, as well as who takes care of them.I told her the 10th Mountain Huts are located on National Forest Service lands, and that the majority are pretty close to wilderness area boundaries. The huts are not in wilderness areas, since permanent structures can not be built on those lands.As far as who cares for the huts, I wanted to say Scott, Ted and Carol – all longtime employees of the 10th Mountain Hut Association. Instead, I told her about the association being set up as a nonprofit by a local architect, Fritz Benedict, and former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, and that the huts were maintained by association volunteers.Finally nearing the end of our hike, she asked what she could do to help protect public lands and help to create more wilderness areas. See Rash on following page I think she already knew my answer would be to really know who you vote for in the future, and their commitment to saving and protecting our public lands. When it comes to protecting the environment, many politicians don’t seem understand the importance of our natural resources. Lastly, I explained one of the simplest ways of protecting our wilderness areas is by knowing and practicing “Leave No Trace” principles, something she had never heard of before.So I told her about planning ahead and preparing, leaving what you find, being considerate of other visitors, traveling and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly, minimizing campfire Impacts and respecting wildlife. She appreciated how, if every visitor practiced these seven principles, our public lands could be in a lot better shape. Ron appreciates the value of public lands because mountain guiding is his livelihood. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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