Wild Olympics Part II: Wilderness vows made, not kept
By Martha M. Ireland – Column for June 1, 2012 – Peninsula Daily News
Posted June 10, 2012
Part II of II.
THE BENEFITS OF an enduring resource of untrammeled wilderness were promised by passage of the federal Wilderness Act in 1964.
The Act has delivered 110 million acres of designated Wilderness nationally.
Of those, 962,249 acres—more than 1,500 square miles—are on the Olympic Peninsula, in five designations. Wilderness makes up 95 percent of Olympic National Park. The Brothers, Buckhorn, Mount Skokomish and Colonel Bob Wildernesses all abut the park but are in Olympic National Forest.
[One square mile is equal to 640 acres.]
The Park boundary drawn in 1938 has kept its promise to protect and preserve the most scenic and fragile areas of the Olympic Mountains.
The four Wilderness areas added in 1984 preserve mountain peaks outside the park.
Surrounding federal land that did not make the cut for preservation was designated as working forest, to be managed to produce timber and support for local schools and roads forever. That promise was largely derailed by the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.
With the push to designate everything as Wilderness, other promises are also at risk.
Various designations are available, including backcountry and roadless, but Wilderness— with a capital “W”—is the most restrictive classification.
Designating all wild areas as Wilderness is like setting aside “90 percent of the land for one percent of the people,” warned the late Ken Wilcox, a founder of Backcountry Horsemen of Washington and brother of Port Angeles retiree Lorraine Wilcox Ross.
“A rabid segment of our population has been using every means at their disposal to get every acre of unroaded land designated as Wilderness,” Wilcox wrote in newsletters, which Ross compiled into a book after his death.
Common Sense Environmentalist – Ken Wilcox – A Burr Under Bureaucratic Saddles,” airs his view that Wilderness is not always the best option for people or for the environment.
For example, even outhouses, which would help protect the environment, are prohibited in Wilderness areas.
While working in the 1970s to 1990s to develop facilities that would support low-impact horse camping, Wilcox discovered “restrictions that Wilderness designations placed on hunting and other forms of recreation.”
Testifying before Congress, he supported a “spectrum of alternative land use designations [reflecting] the public’s tastes for widely diverse kinds of primitive settings.”
Hunters and fishermen who favored Wilderness designation, thinking it would protect and expand their recreational opportunities, were getting snookered, Wilcox warned. After designations were through, established hunting camps were removed, no matter how historical, and all wheeled conveyances were strictly banned, including single-wheel pack-out carts.
“If Wilderness is the only primitive setting offered in the land-use spectrum, it will be forced to accommodate all roadless activities including uses more appropriately carried out elsewhere,” Wilcox testified.
A mix of designations would give users more options and dispersal space so they are not crowded together in ways that threaten the environment, he advised
Most distressing, Wilderness managers clearly favored leaving trails unmarked or poorly marked. Wilcox and his Backcountry Horsemen were ordered not to put up signs that would have reduced hazards for horsemen, hikers and the environment by keeping visitors on approved paths. Keeping the view free of manmade signs trumped reducing incidence of people getting lost and injured on unsafe routes.
Descriptions online at www.wilderness.net confirm that attitude prevails to this day.
Most of the Mount Skokomish Wilderness “is wild and ruggedly free, penetrated only by four short and wondrously neglected trails,” the site boasts.
“Enjoy challenging recreational activities…and extraordinary opportunities for solitude,” it promises. It gives instructions in “leave no trace” camping on trails that are unmarked traces.
Disabled and physically unfit people can view these wildernesses only from the windows of an airplane, yet a few purists object to over-flights, wanting silence with their solitude.
Promises of expanding recreational opportunities echo as hollowly as timber harvest promises—promises made but not kept.
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