Tag Archives: wilderness

Timothy Egan: The last best empty place in America

Three Types of Public Lands
Three types of public lands: Flathead National Forest is in the foreground, left and right; Montana’s Coal Creek State Forest, including Cyclone Lake, is in the middle distance; Glacier National Park stretches across the background.

Timothy Egan, a frequent op-ed contributor to the New York Times, wrote this punchy tribute to public lands . . .

At dawn the woodpeckers start in, hammering heads against tree trunks, and you wonder if there’s a better way for a bird to make a living. Oh, the avian migraines. Twilight lingers till nearly 11 p.m.; if there’s a decent moon, you can fish in the silver light of Montana’s longest days.

When the sun is high, you swing from a rope tied to a cedar tree and drop into the great grip of the Kootenai River current, then swim back to the raft, to float and cast a fly line and look at ospreys and take in the grandeur of this land — your land, my land, an immense national forest.

Teddy Roosevelt left his initials on the outside wall of the community hall of Troy, a little shrug of a town along the river. But he left much more than that here in the far corner of northwest Montana and all over the West: an endowment to every American, rich and poor alike, their inheritance of public land.

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George Wuerthner: Wildlands are of global significance

Here’s an excellent guest column in the Flathead Beacon by George Wuerthner discussing the importance of reserving wilderness areas and listing several in this corner of Montana still in need of protection . . .

The announcement by Montana Sen. Jon Tester that he would be introducing legislation to protect approximately 80,000 acres in the Blackfoot Clearwater area adjacent to the Bob Marshall Wilderness is to be commended. I have personally hiked all the areas included in this legislation and can attest to its important to the ecological integrity of the larger Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

The Monture drainage with its wonderful larch forests that glow golden in the autumn, and the North Fork of the Blackfoot with its deep emerald pools holding exceptional bull trout and cutthroat trout populations are both critical gateways to the larger Bob Marshall complex.

The Grizzly Basin portion of the Swan is the critical scenic backdrop to the Seeley-Swan highway and the West Fork of the Clearwater segment is a needed wildlands connection corridor between the Mission Mountains and Swan Range.

What Tester, and those supporting the legislation, recognize is that Montana’s wildlands are of global significance. These patches of self-willed landscapes are critical to ensuring the continued survival of many wildlife species, carbon storage, watershed protection, and the source for inspiration.

Read more . . .

Frank Vitale: Bikes don’t belong in wilderness areas

NFPA member Frank Vitale’s op-ed in the Flathead Beacon has some pointed comments about mountain bikes in wilderness areas . . .

Mountain bikes should never be permitted in wilderness. Consider this potential scenario: A packstring is slowly making its way down through Gateway Gorge, coming off the bench from Sabido Cabin deep in the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The trail is steep, rocky and narrow and it’s a long way down to the creek bottom.

The wreck took place about half way through the gorge. Half the packstring went off the edge. Two mules went down in the bottom, floundering and flopping around with broken legs; packs and gear strewn all over; pack boxes smashed to bits. The packer luckily stayed on his mount and tried to keep the rest of the string together. It started almost instantly, with no time for the packer to even know what was happening as two mountain bikers came down from the top, hell-bent for leather, and came up from behind the packstring.

Could this really happen? You bet. This could have been a U.S. Forest Service packer, an outfitter, or a group of family and friends out on a week-long pack trip in the wilderness. Somebody could have been killed. Continue reading Frank Vitale: Bikes don’t belong in wilderness areas

116 conservation organizations, including NFPA, sign letter opposing bikes in wilderness

Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone
Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone

The NFPA joined a large group of other conservation organizations in signing on to a letter to congress opposing any change to the Wilderness Act that would permit bicycles in wilderness areas . . .

A legal change to allow bikes in federal wilderness hasn’t been introduced in Congress yet, but the issue already has advocates riled and rolling.

Last week, a coalition of conservation groups published a letter asking congressional delegations to “reject calls to amend the Wilderness Act to allow for the use of mountain bikes in designated Wilderness.” The coalition included Montana-based Wilderness Watch, Bitterroot Backcountry Horsemen of Montana and North Fork Preservation Association, among others.

They aimed their concern at proposed legislation drafted by a national mountain-biking group called Sustainable Trails Coalition, which also claims members in Montana. STC President Ted Stroll said the bill would move the decision about allowing bicycles in wilderness or proposed wilderness areas to the local forest supervisor level, instead of the national agency headquarters. It would also allow federal land managers to use mechanized and wheeled tools to maintain trails in federal wilderness.

Read more . . .

Letter: Keep bikes out of wilderness (PDF, 102KB)

Tim Lydon: Stop trying to make biking in wilderness happen. It’s not going to happen.

Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone
Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone

A pointed, well-written op-ed from the High Country News. Recommended reading . . .

I shouldn’t be writing this, and you shouldn’t be reading it. Far more pressing issues face our public lands. But a vocal minority is drudging up the long-resolved question of mountain biking in wilderness. They have even drafted a bill for somebody to introduce in Congress — the Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act — that would open wilderness to biking. That means we have to pause and rehash the facts.

First, no legal argument supports biking in wilderness. Unambiguously, the 1964 Wilderness Act states there shall be no “form of mechanical transport” in wilderness areas. The discussion should end there, but a few claim that “mechanical transport” somehow does not include bicycles. They allege that the law unintentionally excluded an activity that emerged after it was enacted. Or they tout an early Forest Service misinterpretation of the law, which initially allowed bicycles in wilderness but was corrected over 30 years ago.

The arguments have no legal merit. Worse, they ignore the historical context and foresight of the Wilderness Act, one of our foundational environmental laws. In doing so, they distract people from truly understanding our public lands. That’s not good for people or the land.

Read more . . .

Mountain bikers want wilderness access

Some mountain bikers want to be able to ride in wilderness areas . . .

No mechanical transport in the wilderness — not even a wheelbarrow.

A ban on wheels in the wilderness has long stood as a principle of the Wilderness Act, but one mountain bike advocacy group is gaining attention for its effort to change the hard and fast rule that impacts millions of acres of forest in Northwest Montana.

The Colorado-based Sustainable Trails Coalition is peddling the Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act of 2016. The bill aims to undo the 1984 blanket ban on bicycles in the wilderness and give local land managers more flexibility in deciding whether treaded tires should be allowed on some wilderness trails.

Read more . . .

Molly Absalon: What is sacred to some is just fun for others

Hiking in GNP

Debo Powers passed along the following op-ed saying, “This is a beautiful article about wilderness written by a mountain biker who has realized that some places need to remain wild.”

Excellent essay. Recommended reading . . .

I grew up in the era of nature writers. In college I took a class called “Wilderness and the American Mind.” Most of my early exposure to wild lands took place on long, grueling backpacking trips during which we trudged for hours under heavy loads to reach magical places far from the madding crowd.

Wilderness served as my church. I found solace and inspiration sitting by an alpine lake, listening to the gentle lap of water on the rocks, watching the sky shift from cornflower blue to pink to purple as the sun sank behind the peaks.

But my relationship with wilderness shifted as my life changed. I found it harder to make the extended trips necessary to reach truly wild places. I grew weary of carrying heavy packs and opted instead for light, fast trips. My mountain bike became my preferred mode of transportation. That or a packraft. Somehow, without me noticing it, I began to view wild places as a place for recreation, a playground rather than a church.

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Edward Monnig: Wilderness and Collaboration

Hiking in GNP

Here’s an outstanding op-ed posted yesterday to the Flathead Beacon web site. Recommended reading . . .

In preface to commenting on Stewart Brandborg’s opinion piece on wilderness issues (Dec. 16 Beacon: “Today’s Wilderness Challenge”), I would like to acknowledge with gratitude the service that he and others like Howard Zahniser, Mardy and Olaus Murie, and Aldo Leopold rendered in establishing the framework of our National Wilderness Preservation System. These men and women fought for decades to establish a legacy that benefits all Americans from active users to passive appreciators. Nonetheless, I must offer an alternative perspective to Stewart’s injunction to “resist the fuzzy, fuzzy Neverland of collaboration” when addressing critical wilderness issues.

The Wilderness Preservation System certainly made my career with the U.S. Forest Service immeasurably more rewarding. In my final career assignment, I was supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, a forest of 6.3 million acres, including 1.2 million acres of congressionally-designated wilderness. In addition, the H-T has about 3 million acres of roadless areas, de-facto wilderness as it were, that was the subject of intense battles to determine what part should be formally included by Congress in the Wilderness Preservation System.

Managing wilderness is also challenging and much more than a passive exercise in “let it be.” Stewardship of designated wilderness areas is bound by the mandates of the 1964 Wilderness Act. And therein lie many of our management challenges. The introductory section of the 1964 Wilderness Act is inspiring and oft-quoted: “an enduring resource of wilderness…where earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man…” But as a counterpoint to these two paragraphs of poetic vision the Wilderness Act concludes with two pages of exceptions allowing various non-wilderness practices to continue. A cynic might say “Yeah right, untrammeled by man except for multiple airstrips, irrigation reservoirs and ditches, livestock grazing, mineral exploration and mining” – all allowed under the 1964 Act.

Continue reading Edward Monnig: Wilderness and Collaboration

Carol Edwards: A personal letter to Flathead planners

A very timely missive from Carol “Kelly” Edwards, a longtime NFPA member . . .

To the Flathead Forest and Watershed Planners,

My plea, as a local resident and land owner in the Flathead watershed area is that you protect, increase, and  safeguard wilderness within your management area.  By wilderness, I mean strongly regulated, pristine wilderness. Walk in only. At your own risk. No motors. No machines. No logging. No mining. No drilling.  Just the creatures that live there naturally, in the forests that grow there, with water sources running free and clean, accessible only to those who are willing to enter those places on those terms.

Over the last 200+ years on this continent we have taken everything we could get from the natural world in trade for economic growth.  Well, as the song goes… “…This is the end, my friend.”  At this point it is either work to save the little bit of it that remains, or just dig it up, chop it down, pollute the rest of it.

Somewhere along the way we have to open our eyes, look around and realize that we’re in trouble if we continue the way we’ve done before. Sustainable is not just a nonsense word that radicals throw around.  It means something that can be continued……like life on earth, for example.

I think we’d all like that, and it’s time that people in your position, with your responsibility to the environment, helped us out in that direction.

Sincerely,
Carol Edwards
10641 North Fork Rd.
Polebridge, MT 59928

What’s wilderness worth? Montanans explore spiritual significance of wild places

Rob Chaney of the Missoulian posted an ambitious thought piece . . .

You’ve talked your friend/spouse/child into shouldering a heavy pack, enduring a painful blister, incurring dozens of mosquito bites, foregoing a soft bed and questioning his/her self respect and your good/evil intentions.

All for a turn in the trail that explains everything. An “ah-ha” moment of revelation. An encounter with God, some would say.

Can a wilderness waterfall or wandering grizzly bear really deliver all that meaning? Or is it just a fantasy humans impose on dirt that might hide gold and trees that might become houses in a place that Great-Grandma can’t reach anymore?

Read more . . .