A whistlestop tour of five wildland gems brings a clear message: if we want their values to last, we can't just leave them alone.
Close your eyes and imagine you have just shucked your backpack at a particularly scenic spot in your favorite Wilderness. Now, stretch your imagination and go forward 25 years. What special thoughts and memories and experiences about that special place might you have added in those 25 years? What might be the values-a quarter-century from today-of that Wilderness to you and to society? How can we protect those values by managing Wilderness over the next 25 years?
In a world that becomes more urbanized and developed each day, many conflicts will threaten Wilderness over the coming years. There will be pressures from global atmosphere and social changes, air pollution, unnaturally controlled fires, too many visitors, and more. Yet the Wilderness Act calls for these lands to be "affected primrily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable. "
The challenge will be to actively care for and protect the resource and the wilderness experience. Four federal agencies are responsible for meeting that challenge on public lands- Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service-with help from you, the public.
Let's take another flight of imagination" across the nation. We'll stop at five of the 474 units of the National Wilderness Preservation System, peer closely at the situation there as it exists today, predict what it might be like in the year 2014, and talk about how to handle the conflict that's most pressing in each of those areas.
Great Gulf, New Hampshire
Island Amid the Resorts
These wild 5,552 acres are situated in a deep glacial valley. Mature northern hardwood forests and scattered large virgin spruce stands grace the slopes. Streams run clear from the headwaters, cascading down through the narrow, steep-sided Gulf.
TODAY: Designated under the 1964 Wilderness Act, Great Gulf is now an island amid the resorts and recreation areas in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. Second-home developments are replacing the private or industrial forests that have stood for centuries.
IN 25 YEARS: Development and environmental changes will dramatically alter the landscape throughout the world. Natural forests will be lost to agriculture and buildings and roads. The Great Gulf Wilderness will stand out in New England as an area without roads, houses, and other marks of civilization.
Gulf and the other 90.8 million acres of Wilderness in the U.S. stand as yardsticks for measuring the imprints of man's work and impact on the land. In 100 or 1,000 years, the baseline information for each Wilderness may be invaluable as a benchmark for global climate change, loss of biodiversity, and yet-to-be-identified environmental impacts. Wilderness areas will be reservoirs of gene pools.
Managers and scientists need to make a commitment to the scientific and social values of these natural places. Critical ecosystems within the National Wilderness Preservation System must be characterized, so they may serve as a baseline for future changes. Monitoring programs need to begin or be continued, so that natural processes within Wilderness can be contrasted with the impact of development on land outside it.
Dome Land, California
This area's granite domes are unique geological formations. Semiarid desert at low elevations gives way to Jeffrey and ponderosa pine, fir, and oak at the higher elevations. The six tributary streams of the Kern River draw wildlife, livestock, and wilderness visitors to their banks.
TODAY: Air pollutants from motor vehicles, agriculture, and industrial development build up in the wide San Joaquin valley. Weather patterns push the air masses east, up over the Sierra Nevada and the Dome Land Wilderness. Ozone, sulfur dioxide, and other pollutants reach that wild ecosystem in high concentrations, and are captured and deposited in acid rain and snow.
IN 25 YEARS: Pollutants from unrestricted growth and industrial development in the San Joaquin valley may greatly alter the ecosystems in Dome Land and.16 other Wilderness areas that form a nearly complete chain along the Sierra ridge. Some flora and fauna that are sensitive to sulfur dioxide or oxidants or other chemicals may disappear completely. Other species may take their place, or the more resistant ecotypes may prevail.
ACTION NEEDED: Only one tool currently exists for protecting Wilderness from air pollution. The Clean Air Act protects "Class 1" areas, including 88 National Forest and 24 National Park Wilderness Areas that were established in 1977 or earlier. Land managers must advise the states about whether new, large air-pollution sources will adversely impact air-quality-related values in Wildernesses.
In the future, land managers may need to be fiercely protective of the wilderness resource. There need to be air-quality monitoring programs that evaluate changes in Wilderness resources caused by air pollution, and perhaps greater legislative protection.
Bob Marshall Complex, Montana
The three Wildernesses in Montana's vast Bob Marshall/great Bear/ Scapegoat complex in Montana cover more than 1.5 million acres on broth sides of the Continental Divide. Majestic peaks, deep glacial valleys, clear streams, alpine lakes, and large meadows are breathtaking. Tall ponderosa and whitebark pine and subalpine fir grace the mountainsides. Moose, elk, deer, grizzly and black bears, mountain sheep, and mountain goats roam widely.
THE QUARTZ HILL "CONFLICT"'
All of the eloquent statements about capital "W" Wilderness --". . . man's imprint substantially unnoticeable," ". . . unimpaired for future use, - " irreplaceable jewels " -seem even less than platitudes when you face the reality of the Quartz Hill Mine Development project in Alaska.
Quartz Hill is the core of a 152,000acre tract of nonwilderness almost exactly in the middle of aptly named Misty Fjords National Monument, at 2.3 million acres the second largest Wilderness in the National Forest System. Misty Fjords is a peerless land of almost mystical grandeur-1/2 place where drifting, shifting cloud and mist occasionally relent to tease the onlooker with glimpses of soaring peaks plummeting into deep Fjords, seldom-visited lakes, and whitewater cataracts.
In this magnificent place, U. S. Borax and Chemical Corp. is completing plans to mine one of the world's largest known deposits of molybdenum, a metallic element used to harden steel. Consider these mine features:
Open pit measuring two miles by 1.3 miles, 1,800 feet deep. Irreversible topographic impacts.
* Daily ore production: 80,000 tons. Project life: 50 years. Workforce: 900 people, commuting from Ketchikan.
* Slurry and tailings to be transported 10 miles or more to Wilson Arm and dumped into the 800-foot-deep water, eventually reducing that depth to 300 feet, degrading water quality.
* Daily blasting would disturb wildlife and human visitors.
* Entry of large ore-carrying ships would further degrade water quality and the wilderness quality of the area.
The Forest Service is charged by law with administering mining claims on its lands. The agency recently issued a Record of Decision approving the mine operating plan as described in the "preferred alternative" of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, In the ROD the Ketchikan Area Forest Supervisor calls Quartz Hill "an environmentally sound project. "
The accompanying article describes conflicts occurring in Wilderness areas across the nation. The Quartz Hill mine isn't a conflict-it's a desecration, a national disgrace in the making.
The best way to visualize what it will do to Misty Fjords is to fly over the 70-year-old Climax molybdenum mine high in the Colorado Rockies, and talk to the people of nearby Leadville. They'll tell you about the 2,000-acre plain of tailings, the water-treatment plant that's too small to handle the spring runoff, the cadmium, lead, and cyanide in the stream water, the visual insults of the overall operation.
Quartz Hill should never happen. This is one place where we must draw a clear line, make an unequivocal decision not to sell out our national heritage for short-term gain.-BILL ROONEY
TODAY: Fire has a natural role in these ecosystems. Large fires sweep through these forests regularly, as they have throughout history, creating mosaic patterns, with young stands among old stands. Yet fire has no respect for our boundary lines. That was the dilemma forest managers faced last summer, when naturally ignited fires threatened homes, towns, and commercial timber outside the Bob Marshall-great Bear-Scapegoat Wilderness. Fires were allowed to burn under the conditions in the area's prescribed fire plan.
IN 25 YEARS: There are pressures being exerted even today to eliminate fire as a legitimate tool for land managers. If we couldn't wield approved plans to allow, for example, lightning-caused fires to play, as nearly as possible, their natural ecological role, there would be dramatic changes in the landscape. Fuels on the forest floor-dead and downed trees, vegetation, etc.-would build up as lightning-caused fires were suppressed. Under extreme weather conditions, vast areas would burn in conflagrations similar to last summer's blazes in Yellowstone National Park, fueled by 100 years of fire suppression.
ACTION NEEDED: Fire is an essential management tool. Today fires are allowed to burn under certain conditions, if prescribed in an approved fire-management plan for a given Wilderness. Land managers must continue to have that option. At the same time, managers must find ways to reduce the risks and consequences of wildfire to resources and property outside Wilderness boundaries. In reaching those goals, crews can still use the minimum tools necessary, protect natural and cultural features, and minimize the lasting evidence of fire-fighting actions.
Twin Peaks, Utah
Twin Peaks near Salt Lake City is typical of many Wildernesses near large population centers. Terrain is steep and rugged, with many exposed rock faces and cliffs. There is vivid contrast between north-facing and south-facing slopes, with vegetation ranging from scrub oak and aspen to Douglas-fir and subalpine fir. Heavy snowpack feeds small lakes and streams, and provides water for Salt Lake City dwellers.
TODAY: Subdivision backyards line the entire western boundary. Neighbors hike and jog into Twin Peaks as if it were a neighborhood park. There is trespass by bicycles and off-road vehicles. The trails are eroding. State highways along the northern and southern edges bring vacationers to ski resorts at the eastern edge. The sights and sounds of civilization encroach on this wilderness. In general, it is being "loved to death."
IN 25 YEARS: It is very likely that in the year 2014 the demand for this Wilderness will far exceed its ability to provide solitude and a quality experience to all visitors. The greater numbers of people living in the Salt Lake City area will be eager to escape the city environment. The heavy use may damage trails, scar popular camping sites, and damage vegetation.
ACTION NEEDED: Managers will have to make difficult choices as they act to protect this wilderness resource. Their main options will be to regulate the use, continuously rehabilitate overused areas, provide alternate scenic or challenging areas outside the Wilderness, or change visitor patterns by education. Regulation should be used as a last resort, since it restricts the freedom inherent in wilderness experiences.
Wildernesses are special places, places to experience solitude and unconfined recreation and natural surroundings. Each visitor has a special responsibility to act in a way that does not influence the wilderness experience of other visitors and does not degrade the resource. More wilderness education is needed to impart this message. If people know clearly what is required of them in the wilderness, there is a chance they will behave appropriately. Resource managers and the public alike need to understand and practice how to "leave no trace" as a visitor who does not remain."
Indian Peaks, Colorado
Too Many People
Our last stop is this 73,000-acre wildland featuring vast sweeps of alpine tundra, cirque basins with remnant glaciers, and nearly 50 lakes in the shadow of the Continental Divide. Wildlife include elk, mule deer, black bears, snowshoe rabbits, bald eagles, bobcats, mountain lions, and coyotes. Streams have native cutthroat, rainbow, brook, and brown trout.
TODAY: This is the most frequently visited Wilderness in the Rocky Mountain states, with 100,000 recreation-visitor-days of use each year. About three million people live within a 90-minute drive of the eastern boundary. On a typical summer day, several hundred visitors start their hikes from Brainard Lake trailhead, many of them walking only a three-mile loop. Visitors who reach the more remote areas seek solitude and natural surroundings, a contrast from their busy lives.
IN 25 YEARS: Increasing use may diminish solitude and natural surroundings. Solitude will be interrupted visually by aircraft, brightly colored camping equipment, large groups, and more numerous trail users. Visitors will also be disturbed by noise from adjacent land-use activities. The Wilderness experience will be further diminished by seeing washed-out trails, gully erosion, large areas of bare ground, and litter.
ACTION NEEDED: Both solitude and natural surroundings require special attention from managers. They must somehow fairly balance the desires of individual visitors, impacts of visitors on each other, and the need to protect the wilderness resource. Hanggliders, bicycles, and the landing of helicopters and aircraft are today prohibited in Wilderness. Competitive events are not allowed, and group size is limited to 10 or 15 in most Wildernesses.
In the next 25 years, Wilderness visitors may have to be dispersed more widely, into more remote areas. Campsites may be limited around a few lakes. Only the necessary administrative cabins and structures will be kept, and crews will continue to use primitive tools for trail maintenance and other work.
What a journey! I wish you could have visited each of these special places personally-in small groups, of course! There could easily have been another dozen stops, to portray other conflicts and challenges in Wilderness management. I didn't even mention water rights, access to private and state land within Wilderness, insect and disease control, mining, grazing, wildlife and fish management, and cultural resources.
Over the next 25 years, Wilderness will be more important as a haven from the stresses of our busy lives. And it is very likely to come under closer public scrutiny as deepening environmental impacts threaten and other wild lands-those without the capital "W" protection of federally designated Wilderness-are tamed and developed.
We cannot protect these irreplaceable 90.8 million acres and their priceless values simply by leaving them alone. Management is our hope for the future, our hope for leaving Wilderness "unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness." AF
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|Title Annotation:||managing wilderness areas|
|Author:||Fege, Anne S.|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1989|
|Previous Article:||The Pinchot paper caper.|
|Next Article:||The "other" wilderness.|