Wilderness should go far and wild
April 29, 2003
Two visions for wilderness in Colorado recently laid out by their proponents couldn’t be more different.
One is as big as the wilds that surround us. Proposed by citizen groups, it dreams of 770,000 acres of new wilderness being created in the White River National Forest and surrounding U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands.
The second is narrow in scope and narrow-minded. U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton has ruled out considering additional BLM lands for wilderness, beyond those already designated as such or deemed eligible for consideration under an inventory process completed in the early 1990s. She was urged to do so by U.S. senators, including Colorado’s Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
Although 770,000 new acres of wilderness may be idealistic, wilderness is what helps make the West the West, and we need more of it.
Anti-wilderness forces grouse that 107 million acres are already wilderness – almost twice that contemplated by the Wilderness Act of 1964. And this is a bad thing?
Wilderness opponents say it is, because it locks up lands from other activities such as energy development, mining and motorized travel.
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But plenty of public land already has been given over to resource development and other uses, and plenty is targeted for gas drilling by the Bush administration.
At the same time, the edges of civilization continue to push ever farther into the countryside. It’s no accident that with such pressures, conservationists have sought to set aside more wild places than Congress first had in mind.
To his credit, U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, has carried several wilderness bills over the years. But they always have been pretty safe, obvious choices. In that regard, more recent measures he has offered at Deep Creek and Red Table Mountain don’t go far enough, being less ambitious than many people have in mind.
McInnis should keep an open mind to citizens’ suggestions for carrying the wilderness concept further. And the Bush administration should reconsider its stance on BLM wilderness, which could impact wilderness ambitions as close by as the Roan Plateau.
Most wilderness so far is in higher-elevation, national forest land. Protecting more BLM lands diversifies the ecosystems being protected. A desert canyon can be just as worthy of wilderness protection as an alpine valley – despite what Norton and certain U.S. senators seem to believe.
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