Editor’s note: Submitted for publication today by NWAF! Coalition member Robin Stanley. Comments welcome, as always.
William the Conquer kicked the peasants off his land so he could have a private hunting reserve for himself and his guests. Unlike William the Conquer, our government has only kicked the handicapped, the poor, the children and the elderly off of the government land and instead has reserved it for the wealthy and the healthy.
I liken those responsible for establishing wilderness and roadless areas to the king’s men who banned the peasants from the king’s private hunting reserve. In this case, however, the peasants are those who are not healthy enough or wealthy enough to access the wilderness or the roadless areas. Instead these areas are reserved for those strong enough to carry their supplies on their back or those affluent enough to own or rent horses or livestock to carry them into the wilderness or roadless areas. Furthermore you need to be able to take enough time off to walk, hike, or ride into the motorless or roadless areas. How many people have been able to spend the night in a wilderness or roadless area? The number is very few. That is not to say there should not be any wilderness or roadless areas. What I am saying is that our society should be careful in how much of our national forests should access be denied to a large portion of our society consisting of the less fortunate, the handicapped and aged population.
Some of our nation’s most prized positions are our national parks. Imagine what Yosemite, or Glacier, or Yellowstone parks would be like without roads. How many Americans would ever have been able to witness Old Faithful, or the Going to the Sun Highway if the roadless mentality were applied a hundred years ago to preserve our national park system. But because most Americans can afford cars, if not horses, access to the parks, because of the roads, made those parks available to virtually all American, handicapped, middle and lower incomes, and elderly included.
So why are wilderness areas so popular with the general public? It is because the idea of “Wilderness” sounds good to so many people. They have embraced the idea without knowing about the unintended consequences of becoming the “King’s Forests”. But in reality, it becomes a land of no use except for the affluent and healthy who only use a tiny portion of the wilderness area. Instead it is allowed to burn, destroying old growth forests, destroying wild life habitat, and watersheds. But it sounds good, “A Wilderness or Roadless area.” Most citizens are clueless and are unaware of the restrictions on national forests. Most citizens do not want to see the wilderness areas burnt up in forest fires destroying the timber, the watersheds, the wildlife habitat and even wildlife. Most citizens would not agree to allowing wildfires to kill the baby rabbits, cub bears, and fawns. They have been sold a big lie and are clueless to what wilderness and roadless areas really are.
Back in the mid ’70s I had a colleague who worked for the Forest Service. He reported there was a study done on the Bob Marshal Wilderness area either in the late ’60s or early ’70s. The survey showed that the average, I said average, income of those visiting the park at that time was $25,000. That was in the ’70s when the starting salary for teacher was $6,000. Has there been any recent studies done to assess the average income of those using Wilderness areas lately? I doubt it. This is not information many people would not wants the public to know. It would confirm that the Wilderness areas are reserved for the wealthy and the healthy.
A second issue I have is that Congress put the brakes on Teddy Roosevelt with the creation of national forests, and Congress put the brakes on runaway Wildlerness Areas so that only Congress can create a wilderness area. Please be reminded that ‘Congress, is the “Voice of the People.”’ So much for that. Now when the Forest Service wants, but cannot get, a wilderness area designation, they declare it a Wilderness Management Area. That’s the same thing as a wilderness area, but doesn’t have the official designation by Congress. In other words, a de facto wilderness area is created without Congressional approval. Now add in the roadless areas which have many of the same characteristics as a Wilderness Area and we have a huge “take away” from the general public.
So to the wilderness/roadless people I ask the following questions. Why should the elderly, handicapped and less fortunate people be denied access to the any portion of our national forest? The second question, how much is enough wildlerness/roadless area? And lastly, what is wrong with roads and access for the general public, elderly, handicapped and less fortunate, if the roads are built to appropriate standards?