Montana Jones

Montana n: A state of the northwest United States bordering on Canada. Admitted as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state in the union, it includes vast prairies and numerous majestic mountain ranges.
Syn: Treasure State, Big Sky Country, Last Best Place.

Jones n: slang. An addiction or very deep craving.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wilderness

What is up with the call for wilderness these days?

Business People Call for More Wilderness in Northwest Montana

I am having a lot of trouble with what Wilderness entails. I understand that a wilderness designation places special rules on what can and can't be done in a piece of land. But what exactly? And I am at least a little suspicious of the business people in the above article. Could they really be trying to preserve their McMansions by having the government lock down "their backyard"?

I have read the wilderness act itself, and find little guidance there about how wilderness has been practically managed. Here is my summary of the restrictions listed therein.

Except for measures necessary to meet minimum requirements for administration of the area, including emergencies, health and safety.

  • No commercial enterprise
  • No permanent road
  • No temporary road
  • No motor vehicles
  • No motorized equipment
  • No motorboats
  • No landing of aircraft
  • No mechanical transport
  • No structure or installation

There are some exceptions listed in the act pertaining to aircraft and motorboat use established prior to 1964. There is also a big section pertaining to mining and mineral rights in effect up through 1983.

Don't get me wrong. I am a big fan of the wild outdoors. I know that places like the Bob Marshal Wilderness have benefited from the wilderness designation. I know that our state has benefited from the wilderness areas we enjoy. But as a visitor to wild areas I also know a little human intervention solves problems.

  • Establishing campsites and trails outside of wildlife migration routes reduces human/animal conflict.
  • Maintaining trails with modern chainsaws and equipment is less expensive and results in better-maintained and safer trails.
  • Shelter cabins can save lives.
  • Signs, trail markers and cairns aid in navigation and help localize and reduce human impact.

In other words, Wilderness areas and wilderness recreation do not mix very well. Perhaps they were not meant to. I think it is important that tracts of land are preserved from recreational interests as well as from commercial interests; a wilderness designation does that. But we should be careful about which pieces of land get padlocked up from all human interactions. Preserving wild lands for recreation and human use is also important. I think case by case evaluations would be a better choice than a blanket "Wilderness Good" proclamation.

And what about Glacier National Park?

The park Superintendent wants Glacier to be a wilderness area. I am suspicious of this too. Park management is already required to manage areas eligible for wilderness status as though it is wilderness. The superintendent says that the wilderness designation will just make these management policies permanent.

But casting wilderness into law will also overlay another set of potentially conflicting laws and rules on the existing management. What happens when the Park Service Organic Act conflicts with the requirements of a wilderness area? What happens when the rules for preserving historic structures conflict with the rules for managing wilderness areas?

The Wilderness Act is also hostile to wilderness recreation, as we have seen above. The National Park Service mission includes both preservation and providing for enjoyment. Making a National Park a wilderness does a service to one part of that mission, but a disservice to the other.

The National Park Service Wilderness Management Policies do call for assessments and studies before the change can be made. Unfortunately, the same policies make no mention of public comment or input.

The policies also call for public education programs and states:

Education is among the most effective tools for dealing with wilderness use and management problems and should generally be applied before more restrictive management tools.

I think the best thing that can happen right now is education, debate and discussion. There are far too many questions unanswered at this time for me to think that slapping "wilderness" all over the map is a good idea. So for any of you congress people or lawmakers out there, please keep right on doing what you have been doing. Nothing! Make no votes for new wilderness until the debate has reached the public and we better understand what we are doing to the future of our lands.

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Comments:
You seem to have a confused concept of Wilderness. Wilderness recreation is recreation promoting self-challenge, and a Wilderness experience. It is not meant to promote a regular recreational experience which you seem to lament. In Wilderness, before you go you realize that your personal safety is dependent upon your individual skills and not safety nets set out by the managing agencies. Trails are maintained in a Wilderness to prevent the resource damage of random user developed trails. There are no permenant structures as you seem to prefer because in Wilderness a user should be prepared to take care of themselves. There are plenty of non-capital-W wild places where shelters are allowed, where trails are better maintained and with mechanized equipment, and navigation aids are allowed. But, it is important to realize that Wilderness promotes Wilderness recreation. Not developed recreation. To find that, one should recreate in places like the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area in Missoula, or roadless areas or most times National Parks and Monuments not designated as capital W Wilderness.
 
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