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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

As I clambered my way up the trail recently, I passed two languishing young women. One of them regarded her sandwich with distaste. “I am going to toss this. I know there is a squirrel who will appreciate it.”

I cautioned, “We ask people not to feed the wildlife.” As I walked off, one of them opined: “What does she know? She’s hiking in a skirt!”

My sartorial preferences in trail wear aside, there appears to be a prevalent attitude that “organic” litter is copacetic: It will either evaporate into biodegradable thin air or somehow be devoured.

Does it vanish? At an outdoor education center, we set up a few experiments. We built a cage of chicken wire wide enough to allow small animals ingress and egress, but small enough to keep items secure from wind. Therein we placed an apple core, a banana peel, orange peels, chewing gum and tissue paper. After six months, the orange peels had dried out; the banana peel was a distasteful black; and the tissue had collapsed into an inert mass. Nothing had rotted or been eaten.

What about interment? We commandeered a terrarium and entombed the same items—some in sand, some in organic soil. Six months later, everything was still recognizable.

Indeed, the venerable Leave No Trace organization has done experiments more sophisticated than mine. Banana peels can take up to two years to decompose, while orange peels can linger up to six months. In an arid environment, orange peels, rather like King Tut’s mummy, will last indefinitely. Citrus contains a natural insecticide: Even the ants won’t touch orange peels. And chewing gum contains rubber, so it won’t rot.

But will not the timid woodland creatures enjoy my discards? Certainly at any rest stop on the trail, one is likely to see obese rodents waddling up and professing hunger.

But think about it: Do we eat banana peels or orange peels? We do not. So why would a squirrel? An apple core is edible, certainly, but if it is not part of the animal’s daily diet, it can change the animal’s biome to the point where it can no longer digest its normal food. Anyone who has experienced so-called “traveler’s tummy” from a change in water or cuisine while vacationing can attest to this. Unless one is hiking through an apple orchard, apple cores are not a part of the local ecosystem.

Realistically, does a humble apple core really cause that much damage? Our national parks are enjoying a plethora of visitation. Grand Canyon welcomes 6 million people a year. It is estimated that 10 percent of visitors hike approximately a mile below the rim. Let us be generous and assume that 90 percent of these sightseers will carry out their trash. But that, for our purposes, presupposes that the remainder will toss, say, something like an apple core. That’s 60,000 apple cores. We would be knee-deep in the execrable things.

So-called “empty calories”—such as those that come from white bread, processed foods and sugar—are not good for us. Why should they be good for wildlife? Animals need some fat to survive winter, but excess adipose tissue is just as bad for them as it is for us. At Alaska’s Denali National Park, there are signs asking people not to feed the marmots so they don’t get too portly to escape from the grizzlies. (Meanwhile, of course, the grizzlies are watching, muttering, “Go ahead; feed them, already!”)

Desert animals have a special difficulty. Many of these critters have no ready source of water: They get moisture from the food they eat. They cannot flush salt from their bodies, and excess salt will kill them.

Animals habituated to human food and, by association, humans, quickly become nuisances. Bears are the extreme example: They will rip off a car door to get at food. Smaller animals tear into packs and tents. Rodents carry hantavirus, rabies and tetanus. The ticks and fleas that inhabit their fur transport Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, relapsing fever and plague. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want them cuddling up to me.

Animals that are fed by humans will not collect and store enough food for winter. When hiking season is over, and the tourists leave, they face starvation.

The bottom line is, before we got here, the faunae did just fine on nuts, berries and occasionally each other. They do not need us.

Would the two young women who were tossing that sandwich have done so in their own living room? Certainly not. Then again, considering what my son’s college dorm room looked like, perhaps I should not be so sure.

Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She hikes and works in the Grand Canyon.

Published in Community Voices

First came the bare human foot, somewhere in Africa. Then, in no particular order, came the moccasin, the shoe, the horse and saddle, boat and oar, the ski, the snowshoe—and so much more.

All of these came to the backcountry and helped to enrich our travels there. Sure, there’s been some grumbling about how some of the more recent inventions make modern life too easy, but over time, those tools and technologies have become accepted parts of our adventures in even the most remote places.

But … whoa! Along came the human-powered mountain bike, and although it’s quite similar to the contrivances that hardy souls have been pedaling and pushing through cities and the backcountry since the mid-19th century, some people now consider them to be so high-tech that they should be banned from wild landscapes.

Critics complain that nothing seems to say, “I can’t truly get away,” like the thought of encountering wheels on a trail. Ignoring the gears, cams, springs, levers, satellite communication tools and highly technological gadgets already filling their packs, these critics abhor the presence of bicycles in any federally designated wilderness.

It’s been suggested that the desire to allow bicycles in wilderness is an extremist campaign by a faction of off-road cyclists—people indifferent to the conservation goals of the 1964 Wilderness Act. But bicyclists treasure designated wilderness areas, which are already shared by a wide variety of recreationists, including through-hikers, day-trippers, hunters, equestrians, skiers, snowshoers, birdwatchers, climbers and boaters. And also, of course, cows.

Bills introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives have renewed the conversation about whether it’s high time to lift the Forest Service’s 1984 blanket ban on bicycles in federally managed wilderness. The bills would allow federal land agencies to continue to maintain complete closures to bicycles if they thought it necessary, but the decision-making authority would move from centralized control in Washington, D.C., to local supervisors of wilderness lands.

For evidence of the cyclists’ purported extremism, some critics look to the supposedly mainstream International Mountain Bicycling Association, which is on record as opposing bicycles in wilderness. But many members and IMBA-affiliated clubs have protested IMBA’s position, and some have even canceled their memberships. IMBA does good work on many fronts, but its stance on wilderness access is increasingly seen as a timid and misguided abandonment of backcountry cyclists and a denial of cyclists’ legitimate role in the conservation community.

One of IMBA’s top three affiliated clubs is just down the road from there: The San Diego Mountain Biking Association called IMBA’s board “tone-deaf to the community” before severing its IMBA affiliation in early 2018. Three years earlier, the independent, 6,000-member New England Mountain Bike Association was already pleading, unsuccessfully, for IMBA to support wilderness access for mountain bikes.

In 2016, IMBA surveyed its ranks and determined that 51 percent of members felt that including access for mountain bikes in wilderness was a “very important issue.” That result was significantly more pronounced in the Western states, where wilderness areas are concentrated. Also in 2016, one of off-road cycling’s best-known online communities, SingleTracks.com, surveyed its readers and found that 96.2 percent wanted some level of wilderness access.

It seems that the bid for wilderness access has reached the mainstream, and that the tension is less among mountain bikers and more between mountain bikers and the IMBA board of directors. Meanwhile, some cyclists continue to resist proposals for designating new wilderness, because they would be barred from riding in it. As a result, wilderness proposals sometimes get abandoned or scaled back.

Andy Kerr, former executive director at Oregon Wild, recently lamented, “There are millions of acres of qualifying roadless land that could go into the wilderness system, but the prior existing use of mountain bikes politically prevents it.” In the same post, Kerr recommends “allow(ing) mountain bikes into new wilderness areas with conditions.”

This conflict is unfortunate and unnecessary, given the largely shared vision and goals of conservationists, cyclists and other wilderness users. Shouldn’t agencies be free to at least consider bicycles?

The Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibited “mechanical transport,” but how that is defined has become ever more contested as we uncover the historical record. Moreover, bicycle opponents forget the Wilderness Act’s overarching goals, which remain the preservation of wild lands and the promotion within them of rugged, self-reliant recreation. An intrepid backcountry cyclist fits within these criteria perfectly.

It’s time to recognize that many Americans have chosen to add bicycles to their backcountry equipment and would sometimes like to use their bikes to experience the wilderness, while honoring the spirit and purpose of the Wilderness Act.

Daniel Greenstadt is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is an environmental industry consultant and lives in Portland, Ore.

Published in Community Voices

You may never have heard of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, but it is a place of global importance. At the very southwestern tip of the mainland, it is vital to the survival of virtually the world’s entire population of emperor geese and Pacific black brant, as well as other bird species from multiple continents. It’s also important habitat for caribou, brown bears and marine mammals.

But if the Trump administration gets its way, the roar of diesel engines will soon drift across this landscape as bulldozers scour a new road across the fragile tundra.

Development here would set a terrible precedent for all the places across America that Congress has designated as wilderness areas—the highest level of protection for public lands. If a road is built through Izembek, what would prevent acts of future destruction in our Joshua Tree National Park, Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park?

In January, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an agreement to transfer about 500 acres of high-value habitat within Izembek and its designated wilderness to the King Cove Corp., which has long sought to build a road connecting the communities of King Cove and Cold Bay. Zinke’s move dovetails with the Trump administration’s goal of selling off and giving away federal lands for development.

The for-profit King Cove Corp. was established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which allowed such corporations to select lands to be managed for the benefit of shareholders. The corporation has advocated for the road for decades because of its potential to boost commercial fishing and seafood processing. Last year, independent Alaska Gov. Bill Walker sent a letter to the Trump administration describing a purpose of the road as the “movement of goods and people between King Cove and Cold Bay.”

In recent years, however, the purported purpose of the road has changed: Proponents started selling it as a “lifesaving” measure for ambulances to drive the more than 40 miles from King Cove to the jet-capable runway in Cold Bay. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that, even in good weather, such a trip would take 90 minutes to two hours.

There are alternatives, but the King Cove Corp. and its supporters have rejected every single one of them. The corporation was given a taxpayer-funded, multi-million-dollar hovercraft that could successfully transport ambulances across the bay—less than 27 miles—in just minutes, but it chose to give it away to the nearby community of Akutan, which used it for a couple of years to transport mail and seafood workers. The corporation also was not interested in a proposal to start a marine ferry, something that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined would be more than 99 percent dependable.

King Cove will accept only a road, even though it would destroy wilderness on an isthmus containing a biologically rich lagoon. This was the first area in America to be recognized as a “wetlands of international importance” by the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for conserving wetlands.

The road would set a precedent that threatens all wilderness areas and undermines bedrock environmental and conservation laws, including the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Worst of all, the residents of King Cove would not be made any safer; the gravel road would be unreliable, given the fierce storms of winter.

In a 2013 letter to then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Pete Mjos, a longtime physician with the federal Indian Health Service and medical director for the Eastern Aleutian Tribes, wrote, “With all due respect to my many friends and former patients in King Cove, I submit that the proposed road is the Great Irony—that construction of this road to ostensibly save lives, and for health and safety, in reality poses grave dangers, and is a very real threat to life itself.”

This January, nine environmental and conservation groups, including The Wilderness Society, filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of Zinke’s land exchange with the King Cove Corp., arguing that it violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

These groups will not be silent as the Trump administration attempts to destroy wilderness and sell off our public lands for development. I hope all Americans support our efforts to preserve places like Izembek National Wildlife Refuge for future generations, and for all those species whose survival depends on wild places remaining wild.

Jamie Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is president of The Wilderness Society, which works to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness.

Published in Community Voices

Editor’s Note: On March 8, the Independent published an opinion piece titled “Community Voices: It’s a Terrible Waste of Time to Argue for Bikes in Wilderness.” Here’s a piece that takes the opposite viewpoint.

It hasn’t happened yet, but one day, bicycles and baby strollers will be welcome in wilderness.

That’s the goal of the nonprofit Sustainable Trails Coalition, which seeks to permit forms of human-powered trail travel—beyond walking—in wilderness areas.

Congress never prohibited biking or pushing a baby carriage in wilderness. Both are banned by outmoded decisions that federal agencies made in the 1970s and 1980s. Over time, those decisions became frozen into place by lethargy and inertia.

It is true that the Wilderness Act forbids “mechanical transport.” By this, however, Congress meant people being moved around by machines, not people moving themselves with mechanical assistance. Now that wilderness acreage is larger than California and Maryland combined—vastly larger than when the walk-only rules were imposed—there is a pressing need to restore Congress’ original vision.

In 1977, renowned conservationists Sen. Frank Church of Idaho and Arizona Rep. Morris Udall explained what they thought Congress’ intentions were. Church said, “Agencies are applying provisions of the Wilderness Act too strictly and thus misconstruing the intent of Congress as to how these areas should be managed.” Udall warned against “stringent ‘purity’ criteria” that have “led to public opposition to wilderness proposals based on what is, and what is not, perceived to be … permissible in wilderness areas.” As early as 1964, some Forest Service staff wanted to ban even rowboats.

The Sustainable Trails Coalition’s proposal is modest. It would not permit mountain biking or walking with a baby stroller everywhere. Instead, local land managers would be given the discretion to allow forms of human-powered travel where they believe it’s appropriate. The United States has 765 wilderness areas, each one managed by officials who know the terrain.

Opposition to the coalition’s proposed bill apparently rests partly on unjustified fears that federal employees can’t manage land. Another argument is that where bicycles go, motorcycles and ATVs will soon follow. But members of the coalition have talked with staffers at many congressional offices, and none of them show any interest in using our proposed bill as a stalking-horse for motorized uses that, unlike bicycles, have never been allowed in wilderness.

We suspect that our opponents’ real fear is not that reform will fail, but that it will succeed. If we cease limiting wilderness travel to methods available in biblical times and thereby achieve better-managed wilderness, the previous cries of “wolf” will look foolish.

Some opponents accuse us of being pawns of giant bicycle companies with large cash reserves and a thirst to get bicycles back into wilderness. But the coalition is a grassroots effort, funded by individuals and a few small businesses.

Opponents of biking in wilderness are like pen-and-ink types opposing manual typewriters: It might be comical if the effects weren’t so grave, disconnecting more people from the outdoors and increasing their indifference to conservation.

Some people also worry that bicycles would “shrink” wilderness, and argue that we already have enough places to ride. But backpacking technology allows for more invasive intrusions into wilderness than bicycles. Most bicyclists leave the wilderness at dusk and don’t camp.

As for the call for us to “go somewhere else,” we would never patronize these critics by saying they’re not welcome in wilderness unless they travel by bicycle. We prefer to bicycle, but we don’t insist that everyone else has to ride. Bicycling is clean and environmentally benign, and has that wonderful quality of “flow,” which the human psyche rejoices in experiencing. Mountain biking may be richer in flow than any other recreational endeavor—that’s one reason so many of us prize it.

There’s a grim backdrop to the struggle over wilderness that this quarrel only worsens. In the 52 years since Congress passed the Wilderness Act of 1964, national forest wilderness has fallen victim to a number of contradictions that have warped the original vision. Some areas are overrun and loved to death, like the Maroon Bells in Colorado. Others are no longer managed and seldom visited, and marijuana growers reportedly have filled the vacuum, as in California’s Yolla Bolly. Still others, including the Pasayten in Washington, are despoiled by pack outfitters, whose abuses are ignored by many wilderness activists and the government.

Fixing these problems will take a generation, lots of money and new leadership. Cyclists can’t do it alone, but we can help, if we’re accepted as partners, and not treated as interlopers into the wilderness private club.

The Sustainable Trails Coalition loves wilderness and thinks Congress got the law right in 1964. Now, we seek restoration of the original vision. There is nothing to fear about granting federal employees the discretionary authority the coalition proposes.

Ted Stroll is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an opinion service of High Country News. He is an attorney and president of the Sustainable Trails Coalition in California.

Published in Community Voices

Last month, California’s Mojave and Colorado Deserts, along with the neighboring San Bernardino Mountains, became home to three new national monuments—Castle Mountains, Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow—thanks to President Barack Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act.

Together, these new monuments protect 1.8 million acres of desert and mountains. These new monuments will help preserve the ecological integrity of a region under tremendous pressure from two of the country’s fastest-growing urban regions, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. By connecting existing protected areas, plants and animals will have a better chance to move to cooler and wetter climates as our deserts become hotter and drier due to climate change. These new monuments will help to ensure that California’s magnificent deserts and neighboring mountains are healthy and whole for years to come.

The monuments also protect a region that’s brimming with stories of the diverse people who’ve made their homes here.

Castle Mountains provides an important buffer between an old gold mining site and the Mojave National Preserve. Prospectors first flocked to the Castles in 1908. The boomtown of Hart grew from nothing to 1,500 people in just a few months. Today, the site is barely perceptible: One can find just a chimney, tin cans and memories. When Interstate 40 was completed in 1973, the busy roadside services of US Highway 66 in Mojave Trails disappeared overnight. Proprietors simply walked away from their cafes, service stations and motels. Now these remnants of history are slowly turning to dust, even as this lonely stretch of the “Mother Road” attracts tourists from all over the world. Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa in Sand to Snow host village sites that are thousands of years old. Numerous petroglyphs, pictographs and grinding stones found there offer a glimpse into the life of Native Americans before contact with the Spanish.

However, the creation of these new national monuments is just the beginning. As communities across the desert rightfully celebrate the designation of these monuments, the exciting work of making them more than lines on a map begins. Local elected officials, business leaders, tribes, recreational interests, conservation organizations and others should join together to ensure that adjacent communities such as Barstow, Needles, Morongo Valley and Desert Hot Springs, along with tribes such as the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the Fort Mojave tribe, receive the full economic, educational and recreational benefits of the newly protected public lands.

Advocates for the new monuments have long highlighted the economic benefits that conservation would provide, and there are numerous studies to support this. However, without proper signage, well-marked trail-heads, adequate parking areas, strategically located front-country campgrounds and good maps, it will be difficult to attract visitors. To realize true economic benefits, it will take infrastructure improvements, marketing and personnel. There must be a significant financial investment, through a public-private partnership.

The Bureau of Land Management, in particular, is going to need an official partner to raise funds for things like the construction of visitor centers, campgrounds, wayside exhibits and signs, as well as the less-exciting, but no-less-important expenses, including operating costs and funding for education and interpretive programs. This new partner organization could work with groups that have existing relationships with the BLM and the Forest Service, like the Mojave Desert Land Trust and The Wildlands Conservancy, in three areas: education, stewardship and recreation. Local schoolchildren need educational resources, and there should be interpretive programs for visitors and locals alike. Stewardship programs can connect people to their public lands, help to build and maintain infrastructure, restore damaged ecosystems, and advance knowledge through citizen-science projects. Finally, we must ensure that the multiple recreational activities permitted in these monuments are carried out responsibly, without damage to natural habitat and in respect of the sacred sites of local tribes, through programs that teach and promote responsible use of our shared natural resources.

Diversity is increasing in the desert, just as it is across the nation, but California’s deserts have always been diverse. Of course, Native Americans have been here for thousands of years. Even in small, isolated railroad and mining towns, residents came from remarkably diverse backgrounds. For example, during Amboy’s heyday in the 1930s and ’40s, along Route 66 in Mojave Trails, a Greek and a Chinese immigrant each owned and operated a café, motel, gas station and garage. Hopi and Navajo railroad workers lived in town and maintained the line. Mexican Americans made up the majority of students in the Amboy School. (To learn more about the history of the Mojave Desert’s mining and railroad communities check out Joe de Kehoe’s book The Silence and the Sun.)

Ensuring that we draw Southern California’s kaleidoscope of races and cultures to enjoy these new monuments is no simple task. It will require having a workforce that reflects diversity, and the creation of an environment for visitors where cultural differences are honored and embraced. To get there, we’ll need conservation leaders who reflect our diverse communities. Fortunately, there are numerous examples of training programs that draw participants from diverse and often underserved communities throughout the Southland. One example is the San Gabriel Mountains Forever’s Leadership Academy, a rigorous program that’s training a new generation of conservation advocates who better reflect the makeup of our nation.

If we want visitors to these new monuments to be as diverse as the communities near them, we have to roll out a multicultural welcome mat. We will have to address issues of access. There must be adequate and affordable transportation and a welcoming environment, including bilingual interpreters, campgrounds that can handle multi-generational visitors, bilingual signage and information, and gender-neutral restrooms to serve both families and the transgender community. Partnering with organizations like Outward Bound Adventures and the Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign, both of whom are already working in the Coachella Valley, could help break down barriers, economic and cultural, to greater visitation by people of color.

The secretary of the interior, whose department includes the BLM and National Park Service, agrees. Secretary Sally Jewell recently signed an order in honor of the memory of Doug Walker (a long-serving member of The Wilderness Society’s governing council) that will increase access to public lands by youth and young adults who are “disadvantaged and under-resourced.”

Finally, it all has to start by reaching out to diverse communities to ensure that there is maximum participation in the creation of the general management plans that will guide the three new national monuments. We also must include diverse user-groups: Equestrians, off-highway-vehicle users, hunters and conservationists all have interests that must be addressed. Sooner rather than later, listening sessions should be organized throughout the desert and mountain area—something both the BLM and U.S. Forest Service have expressed their determination to do.

All of this will take years to accomplish. However, I’m hopeful that when the first anniversary of these new monuments is marked in February 2017, all stakeholders will see that significant progress has been made. I’m also sure the future of these monuments will be inclusive, reflecting the very best tendencies of Southern California and the nation.

Mati Jatovsky is the California desert representative for The Wilderness Society and a former park ranger interpreter. He lives in Joshua Tree. 

Published in Community Voices

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 more than 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.

We should remember that the Wilderness Act grew from a half-century of public-lands battles, fought by America’s most influential conservation thinkers, including Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall, Olaus Murie, and the indefatigable Mardy Murie, among others. Theirs was a multigenerational struggle to safeguard a vestige of the nation’s public lands from the advances of population and technology.

The technology part is important. The framers of the Wilderness Act knew human ingenuity was not somehow petering out in 1964. In fact, they lived in an era of fantastic invention. Forms of transport being tested at the time included jetpacks, gliders, aerocycles and various new wagons, boats and bicycles.

That the law anticipated future invention is indisputable, but it benefits us much more to know why it does. The reason was most concisely expressed by the bill’s principal author, Howard Zahniser, who, in 1956 defined wilderness as a place where we stand without the “mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment.”

Zahniser was a Thoreauvian pacifist deeply troubled by the Holocaust and other horrific events during his lifetime. In wilderness, he saw a suite of biophysical and social values that carried the potential to make us better people. But to fulfill its promise in modern times, by offering an opportunity for raw challenge, humility and solitude, wilderness had to remain a place of human restraint. For eight years, Zahniser worked with Congress to ensure that the law enshrined that ideal, with clear limits on acceptable activities in wilderness.

Some pressing for bikes in wilderness conveniently ignore this central principle. Instead, they focus on issues of trail erosion or impacts to visitors and wildlife, where they front overly rosy claims. In diminishing the purpose of wilderness, they hawk a dumbed-down version of the public estate.

Similarly, it is unhealthy to conflate the ban on bikes with a ban on a certain group of people. That tactic may stir emotion, but it undermines serious public-lands discourse. Nevertheless, some are using the trick, including Bike Magazine editor Vernon Felton, whose recent video casts bikes in wilderness as a civil rights issue. That’s an affront to anyone who has worked for voting rights, fair housing, protection against hate crimes or other actual civil rights.

Felton and others also oversimplify prohibitions on bikes in wilderness study areas, calling them overreach by conservationists or the feds. But such bans are essential to the purpose of these study areas, which must be carefully managed to preserve their eligibility as wilderness pending congressional action.

Another claim is that banning bikes turns people against wilderness, or even broader conservation issues. But I think those misrepresenting the facts are the ones driving a wedge. Either way, diminished support for wilderness is not good news. But nor is it new. The historical trajectory toward better land stewardship has always been the fight of the few.

One last thing to consider is the issue’s scale. The wilderness system is limited to roughly 53 million acres outside of Alaska. Smaller than Colorado, that portion is scattered across 43 states. And while most of the land is in the West, most of it is also rugged and unbikable. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of acres remain open to biking.

Still, some will demand that bikes be permitted in wilderness. And they will join logging, mining, off-roading and other interests in whittling away at the boundaries of pending wilderness proposals. At a time when so many more serious issues confront our lands—climate change, ocean acidification, plastics pollution, sprawl and much more—it seems a misguided use of energy.

Tim Lydon is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an opinion service of High Country News, where this piece originally appeared.

Published in Community Voices

The Northern Rockies are America’s epic mountains, a bastion of grizzlies and other wildlife, and the awe-inspiring terrain that Lewis and Clark explored and chronicled two centuries ago. In Travels With Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck called Montana “a great splash of grandeur. The scale is huge but not overpowering. The land is rich with grass and color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda.”

It’s a landscape whose wild spirit draws backpackers, hunters and anglers—and that spirit appears on every page of Where Roads Will Never Reach: Wilderness and Its Visionaries in the Northern Rockies, Frederick Swanson’s history of wilderness-preservation in the region. The book is scrupulously footnoted, yet accessible to the general reader, with maps to show where the writer is taking us.

When you love a place, you want to save it—not just for yourself, but for others. You cherish memories of a backpacking trip into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area or a horse-packing trip into the great complex of the Bob Marshall, Great Bear and Scapegoat wilderness areas. We’re talking big landscapes here—more than 7.4 million acres preserved in 17 wilderness areas.

Such preservation does not come unbidden, like a wind across the plains. It reflects hard work by people who passionately love a favorite wild landscape. This is the story Swanson sets out to tell, by getting into the hearts of those people, interviewing many who were there at the creation.

Swanson begins with a full disclosure: “My heart is, and always has been with the preservationists.” I plead guilty here, too, for I had a role in some of the successes recorded in this book. But my role was minor; the preservation of wilderness areas requires—requires—that the local congressional delegation be behind any proposals for them to succeed. That can only happen when there is broad grassroots support.

And that, in turn, means support not so much from environmental groups, but from the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker—and the hardware dealer: Cecil Garland, for example, a thickly accented North Carolina native who owned a store in Lincoln, Mont. Hearing that the Forest Service planned to log his favorite hunting area, Garland just said, “Nope.” As the ink dried on the 1972 law establishing the 256,647-acre Scapegoat Wilderness, the regional forester groused: “Why should a sporting goods and hardware dealer in Lincoln, Mont., designate the boundaries? If lines are to be drawn, we should be drawing them.”

Wrong. The 1964 Wilderness Act, which chartered our national program of preserving the wildest, most natural portions of our national forest and other federal lands, gave that boundary-drawing authority to Congress. But it took devoted, hard-working volunteers to motivate their elected officials to push wilderness-protection bills through Congress, with the help of legislative giants like Sens. Frank Church, D-Idaho, and Lee Metcalf, D-Mont.

This is the heart of Swanson’s story, and here, he makes a unique contribution, by introducing us to unlikely heroes like Doris Milner, a housewife from Hamilton, Mont., who noticed trees marked for logging in the wild country where she and her family loved to camp. When asked why she got involved, she seemed puzzled by the question: “I just got mad!” And she got her senators involved. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the law, adding Milner’s magical place to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area.

Among those who worked with Sen. Church on the huge River of No Return Wilderness Area were his longtime Idaho camping cronies, led by Ted Trueblood, an editor ofField and Stream. Environment groups joined in and national lobbyists provided advice, but the real power lay with the Cecils, Dorises, and their like across the country.

Well into the 1970s, the leadership of the U.S. Forest Service was on the wrong side of the wilderness. In part, this reflects the agency’s deference to its corporate logging clientele, and in part, a strong dislike to giving up its discretion over the lands under its care—in this case, the decision regarding which should be protected as wilderness, and what boundaries might be folded back to accommodate roads into wild country.

But a balance has been struck in the Northern Rockies. Wilderness has done well, without destroying the region’s economy. After long struggles, a sustainable timber industry is emerging. “A century hence,” Swanson writes, “the Northern Rockies could be a place where generations of loggers still work in the woods, passing along their knowledge of good practices; where families can drive to and camp by peaceful lakes and clear, undammed streams; where agricultural lands fill verdant valleys.”

This review originally appeared in High Country News.

Where Roads Will Never Reach: Wilderness and Its Visionaries in the Northern Rockies

By Frederick H. Swanson

University of Utah

376 pages, $24.95

Published in Literature

At the age of 6, Bryce Andrews sat at his family’s kitchen table in Seattle, listening to rancher/artist Pat Zentz talk about building sculptures—and pulling spotted knapweed.

Art and agriculture went together, the boy assumed.

The next year, curators at the University of Washington’s art museum installed “The Myth of the West,” an exhibit his father organized. Young Andrews stood wide-eyed before Albert Bierstadt’s painting “Yellowstone Falls,” then turned and practiced his quick draw facing Warhol’s “Double Elvis.” That same year, his family visited the Zentz Ranch in Montana, in a pilgrimage that would become an annual event. Sixteen years later, Andrews himself began living the myth of the West, when he became an assistant livestock manager on a different ranch.

Andrews’ first book, his award-winning 2014 memoir, Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West, begins with his journey from the “damp claustrophobia” of Seattle to the 20,000-acre Sun Ranch in remote southwest Montana. “I had practiced this departure many times,” he notes. “I was headed away from my youth.” The Madison Valley opens before him, peaks rising like “glinting canine teeth,” the Madison River drawing “a golden line through the heart of the valley,” which is home to two small towns, Ennis and Cameron. Intrigued by the ranch owner’s mission to reconcile the needs of wildlife, livestock and the land, Andrews gives narrative weight to all the members of this community—not just people and cattle, but wolves and grizzlies as well. “One of our great failures,” he believes, “is that we do not allow animals to be individuals. When gritty struggles play out on the landscape, it matters which wolves, which people, and which cattle.”

But not everyone in the community views wolves as individuals, and gritty struggles soon erupt. “The choices made at Sun Ranch about living with wolves,” says Andrews, “boiled over onto the rest of the landscape. If one ranch has wolves, that policy impacts neighbors.”

The Sun Ranch was a transformative experience, a proving ground that began shaping a three-pronged life as writer, rancher and conservationist. Afterward, Andrews continued working at the confluence of agriculture and conservation, managing multiple ranches in Montana, co-founding the Oxbow Cattle Company (a grass-fed beef ranch near Missoula) and consulting on land stewardship. When not on horseback, he wrote; in 2014, he sold his half of the grass-fed beef operation to concentrate more fully on writing and consulting.

The co-existence of aesthetics and manual labor is a major theme in Andrews’ life. Figuring out how something works, whether a landscape or a novel, is a hands-on process.

“Right now, I’m framing my first gable roof over a little wood-fired pizza oven,” he says, “and writing a collection of linked short stories about drought, ranching, neighbors and the contemporary West.”

Drawn to places where people are practicing agriculture in the context of wilderness, he is fascinated by the delicate balance that lets people ranch and farm among wild creatures, in wild landscapes. He and his girlfriend recently spent a month in Costa Rica in the largest remnant of old-growth coastal rainforest north of the Amazon, working with scientists at a remote research station at Osa Conservation. The nonprofit group’s vision closely aligns with Andrews’ own: the desire to see communities thrive through increasing engagement with the natural world.

“The Osa Peninsula is as different from Montana as any place I could imagine, but it’s like you picked up the resource issues of Montana, and dropped them into a jungle,” he says. “We talked about cattle ranching, co-existing with jaguars, banana farming, oil-palm farming, water and subdivisions.”

All undeveloped land, he believes, is forgiving, resilient land. “A rancher can make a decision that turns out not to be the best, but if the ecosystem is intact, the land will recover. Spring will come around. The Montana landscape, like Costa Rica’s, is infinitely complex and interesting. I want my writing to be a little bit like that, too.”

Andrews also wants to move deeper into the world of art and community—not to join the ranks of the new agrarians, but to help inspire young people to be creative thinkers in the context of practical work.

“Perhaps someday,” he says, referring to an idea currently simmering on his back burner, “there’ll be a ranch-based apprenticeship program combining agriculture with a curriculum in ethics, aesthetics, science and writing.”

This piece originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Literature

The struggle to gain protection for critical land and water resources, wildlife, Native American cultural sites and spectacular landscapes within the California desert has gone on for more than a decade. With support from a wide group of constituents, including off-roaders, businesspeople, faith leaders, conservationists and veterans, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has developed strong, balanced legislation—but Congress has been either unwilling or unable to act.

Her latest proposal, the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act, hasn’t even been scheduled for a committee hearing, and no bill was introduced in the House. So, the senator pushed forward to safeguard our precious public lands by asking the president to use his powers under the Antiquities Act to declare three new desert national monuments—Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains.

The responses from editorial boards at The Desert Sun, The Press-Enterprise in Riverside and the Orange County Register were disappointing and perplexing. While editors acknowledged the need for protection of the California desert, they chose to advance arguments defying all logic. The Desert Sun applauded Feinstein’s conservation efforts and even said the proposed national monuments “would be great additions to the nation’s protected lands”—but then slammed the senator for turning to the Antiquities Act to accomplish this goal. Instead,Desert Sun editors argued that we should return to a dysfunctional Congress that is intent on blocking any public-lands legislation, no matter how broad and diverse its support in local communities.

In an editorial published by both The Press Enterprise and Orange County Register, Feinstein was accused of being eager to “cede congressional powers” to the executive branch because of her request that the president take action. That argument is certainly hard to swallow, given the senator has spent nearly 10 years trying to push desert-conservation legislation through Congress. The same editorial gave Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, a soapbox to spout misinformation about both the Antiquities Act and the nature of national monuments. As chair of the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands, McClintock has consistently blocked conservation efforts. He proposes that Feinstein and the president would be conspiring “to declare vast tracts of land off-use” if they proceed with the designation of the new national monuments. McClintock claims they would benefit an “elite few granted restricted use.” In reality, it would be mining, solar and wind projects that would restrict access to an “elite few,” while creating these monuments would benefit the greatest number of people by ensuring recreational access for equestrians, hikers, hunters, rock-hounders and off-roaders on designated routes.

Use of the Antiquities Act—which grants the president the authority to declare national monuments on lands controlled or owned by the federal government—has been used almost equally by Democrats and Republicans alike. One need look no further than Joshua Tree or Death Valley to see the success of national monuments in providing protection for natural resources and conserving sites with cultural, historic and scientific value, as the act prescribes. Both places were initially established as national monuments, the former by Republican Herbert Hoover, and the latter by Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Their elevation to national parks by Congress through the California Desert Protection Act only increased their value to the community.

The proposed Mojave Trails National Monument would connect Joshua Tree National Park to the Mojave National Preserve and protect significant wildlife corridors. This region includes the longest intact stretch of historic Route 66 and the best-preserved encampment from World War II’s desert training center, Iron Mountain. Important Native American trading routes and sacred trails crisscross the landscape.

Castle Mountains contains 36 species of rare plants, including some of the finest native desert grasslands in the entire California Desert. This is home to healthy populations of golden eagles, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bobcats. It’s also a target location for reintroduction of pronghorn, the world’s second-fastest terrestrial mammal. Beneath the shadow of Hart Peak are rich Native American archaeological sites and the historic gold mining ghost town of Hart.

For many Coachella Valley residents, the dramatic landscape of the proposed Sand to Snow National Monument is an everyday sight, including Southern California’s highest peak, Mount San Gorgonio, and its longest river, the Santa Ana. This area includes alpine peaks, forests, Joshua tree woodlands and two of California’s three deserts, the Colorado and the Mojave. Its mountains are the most botanically diverse in the contiguous United States. This is critical habitat for migrating birds, black bears and bighorn sheep, and it contains culturally significant Native American sites. For the 18 million people who live within a two-hour drive of this proposed monument, there are great opportunities to get outside and enjoy wide-open spaces.

We are fortunate here in the Coachella Valley to be surrounded by the wild beauty of the desert. It is the reason many of us came to live, raise families, start businesses and retire here. With public lands close by, both residents and visitors have the opportunity to connect with nature. I count myself among them. I have enjoyed exploring these natural areas as an avid hiker and camper, and I’ve visited remote sites accessible only by four-wheel drive. Protecting these landscapes preserves the quality of life that we enjoy. That’s why so many Coachella Valley businesses and organizations support the establishment of these monuments—using either legislation or presidential proclamation. This includes my own organization, Great Outdoors Palm Springs (GOPS), an all-volunteer group that educates, promotes and conducts camping and hiking activities for the Coachella Valley’s growing LGBTQ community.

While we remain committed to passing Sen. Feinstein’s California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act, we recognize the opportunity to protect some of the lands contained in that legislation now. So we also call on the president to designate three new desert national monuments, to ensure that the pristine public lands all around us remain for generations to come.

Scott Connelly is the vice president for outings of Great Outdoors Palm Springs.

Published in Community Voices

Some fear that we will saddle our children with trillions of dollars in federal debt. That would be too bad, but it would be a minor inconvenience compared to what our forefathers cursed us with: the 1866 federal law known as R.S. 2477. Like other such gifts—including the 1872 Mining Law—R.S. 2477 lays a heavy, destructive, expensive hand on the present.

The statute’s 19 words said that anyone could build a public “highway” across the West’s public land. That highway could not be extinguished by the later creation of a homestead, a national park or even a wilderness.

R.S. 2477 was repealed in 1976, but its highways—sometimes nothing more than rough trails made by cowboys herding cattle—are still being fought over in the West. That is especially true in Utah, where the state has launched 30 federal lawsuits to establish 36,000 miles of mechanized rights of way through existing wilderness, national parks and monuments, and wilderness study areas.

Into this expensive, litigious mess bravely comes the young historian Jedediah S. Rogers. With Roads in the Wilderness: Conflict in Canyon Country, Rogers attempts to connect two warring ways of life. He asks us to look at roads not only as physical structures, but as symbols of culture and history. In Rogers’ telling, the Mormons of southern Utah regard the primitive roads their ancestors pioneered as comparable to the naves of medieval cathedrals. To interfere with the public’s ability to travel them amounts to sacrilege. But to those who favor wilderness, the sacrilege is motorized travel through red-rock canyons and riparian areas.

Rogers humanizes the conflict over wilderness by portraying some of the people most involved. He is sympathetic both toward Edward Abbey, author of Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang, and toward nemesis, uranium miner and Lake Powell resort developer Calvin Black, immortalized by Abbey as the character “Bishop Love.”

Abbey hated roads—the better the road, the more he hated it—and the reservoir he called Lake Foul. Black appreciated Lake Powell because it also served as a highway, and so loved roads, writes Rogers, that he assumed the 1960s slogan “Black Is Beautiful” referred to pavement.

Given the area’s bitter history—which includes the Grand County commissioners repeatedly, and feloniously, sending bulldozers into Moab’s Negro Bill Canyon to “refresh” the disappearing road—what could bring the two sides to the table now?

Partly, it is the passing of generations; both Black and Abbey are gone, for example. And partly it is exhaustion from decades of expensive struggle. But it may also be fear of the future: Utah could win its R.S. 2477 cases, or President Barack Obama might unleash the 1906 Antiquities Act, as President Clinton did at Grand Staircase-Escalante, and create de facto wilderness. Or both events might happen, further complicating what is already a mess.

Rogers’ book is both perfectly timed and a sign of the times, appearing as Utah Congressman Rob Bishop seems to be progressing toward a compromise solution in Utah, with some public land being protected, and some now-protected land being opened to development.

Although the book is well-timed, it isn’t always well-written, and it lacks clear maps to illustrate chapters about the road wars in places like Arch Canyon and the Book Cliffs.

While Rogers lacks the partisan passion of an Abbey or Black, he has passions appropriate to this time: for compromise and the merging of interests. He believes that if the two sides were to bend a little, each would win more than they could by defeating the other in Congress or the White House or the courts.

He urges environmentalists to see desert homesteads, mine shafts, abandoned orchards and even roads as part of a landscape shaped by humans, but still dominated by nature. He quotes environmental historian Bill Cronon, who has written that the exclusion of man’s works from nature is dehumanizing.

And he asks southern Utah’s Mormon residents to acknowledge that the heroic pioneer days, when wagon trains were lowered to the Colorado River by rope down the Hole in the Rock notch, are over. We have blasted an interstate highway through the San Rafael Swell and turned parts of the Colorado, San Juan and Escalante rivers into ponds. Progress now, Rogers argues, is not demonstrated by how much more nature we can bulldoze, but by how much we can refrain from conquering: “In a country—a world—that is increasingly developed one acre at a time, we need these places to keep us rooted. The (Colorado Plateau) region is one of the few places where large tracts of wildlands exist.”

This review originally appeared in High Country News.

Roads in the Wilderness: Conflict in Canyon Country

By Jedediah S. Rogers

University of Utah

250 pages, $39.95 (hardcover), $24.95 (paperback)

Published in Literature