wilderness in Wilderness

The Bob is awesome. Video by Michael Reavis.

Anyone who’s been out in the woods a lot and has been paying attention should be aware of this problem; that even the quietest, most fleeting and “natural” of human travel in the wild has a significant impact on the plants and animals who live there full time.  And there is virtually no way, save perhaps the more abstract political/policy realms, in which that impact is anything other than negative.  This isn’t the space to debate the axiomatic, idiomatic importance of wilderness for the human soul, but it is the space to say out loud, repeatedly, that in the 21st century we humans inevitably do violence to parts of what we value when we go out to find it.  At the same time, folks like the Sustainable Trails Coalition point to considerable evidence that the architects of the Wilderness Act intended for people to not only be visitors to Wilderness, but to be catered to in the process.

So perhaps it is time to admit that the Wilderness Act needs revision.  I’ve never been in favor of stock in Wilderness, and I am no longer in favor of bicycles being admitted under certain circumstances.  Instead, lets make Wilderness wilderness and ban any substantive human presence: any buildings, any bridges, and any trail maintenance.  Shoulder areas around the areas of greatest biological integrity can have trails cut and faster-than-foot methods of travel allowed.  Many current roads can remain open, but allowed to fall into decay, and will become bicycle, stock and sub 30 mph ATV only by default.

There is precedent, in the form of the Bear Management Areas of Yellowstone and of Wildlife Management Areas nationally to name two examples, for humans being eliminated entirely from the landscape, at least on a seasonal basis.  I just don’t think it’s realistic to implement that on a grand scale, and have always been in favor of the most democratic way of capping visitation: making stuff hard to get to.  It has simply been too easy, in the midst of all the fighting over what was and was not included by the Wilderness Act, to not ask broader questions.  And as Casey said a few months ago, science and common sense are both telling us, ever more loudly, that the Wilderness Act asked the right questions, but didn’t think big enough.

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4 thoughts on “wilderness in Wilderness

  1. Met reavis last fall when I was doing BAER work on the bear creek fire. It’s a nice surprise to see he has an online presence in the form of incredible videos.

    As far as a totally wild federal wilderness I’d be in favor, though it unfortunately will never happen and would put a lot of us forest bums of out jobs…

    • In an ideal world current trail, fire, and LE resources would be concentrated into “perimeter”, non-wilderness areas, where they’d be less stretched and more effective.

      None of this is to take anything from the foot-bases trail crews in the Bob, who do phenomenal work.

  2. I am failing to get this: when human beings crossed Beringia into the Americas, what the hell did they do? Sit at home watching TV? No. Capitain Cook setting foot on Australia was not the first European looking at an untamed wilderness, he was the first European to look at a place immensely changed by human activities, which was still wild and dangerous enough to kill Joe Random European Colonist pretty swiftly, but not a pristine wilderness. Same for the Americas. Our rude forefather were fewer that’s for a fact. Did this mean they ranged over less land and left some places untouched? Maybe, but equally, maybe not. They hunted as hard as they could every day of the calendar, and burned and plowed and whatnot. This idea of wilderness devoid of people where the wild things frolic is anti-historical bullshit. Animals evolved alongside hunting and gathering people and I do fail how we can consider sneaking up on them anything but something they evolved for. Aside from that, I fully agree that making places harder to get to is something I agree with, though I also see how it is not necessarily always the right answer.

  3. If one were to redo the criteria Rationally, I think the only way of travel for humans would be using your own two feet. Simple. No mechanics. No livestock. No horses.
    Why horses? They extend the range of travel just as mountain bikes and do more damage per unit. Thus, it’s a no-go. The only reasons are historical – read romantic -, not rational. And no, I have never ridden a horse so I am biased.
    The desired effect would be that the wear on the land would be exponentially less as you go deeper into the area, leaving the center more or less untraveled.
    I do like mountain biking and think we should promote outdoor activities that will lead to more appreciation for nature, but I also dislike the criss-cross of singletracks due to cyclists and trail runners.

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