Aron Ralston: Wilderness is about landscapes, not ‘users’ |

Aron Ralston: Wilderness is about landscapes, not ‘users’

Aron Ralston

For the past five years, I have visited and re-visited the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal areas as a volunteer, monitoring their condition and introducing potential advocates to them. These are gold-medal quality public lands that deserve preservation with the gold-standard of Wilderness designation.

And yet, in the years it has taken to gather the support of myriad stakeholders, some of the Gems have been degraded into elimination. With deep sadness, I have witnessed firsthand the damages of clear-cut logging in the proposed Homestake Wilderness, natural gas drilling in what could have been the Clear Fork Wilderness, and pipeline construction in the potential East Willow Wilderness, all which have occurred within the last 12 months.

Nor will I forget the unfortunate abuses of motorized and mechanized recreation that I documented in the since-dropped Sloan Peak area: rutted meadows, de-vegetated slopes, scarred and gouged paths, eroded hillsides, and ruined federal property. When people tear down closures to drive on prohibited routes and create illegal new trails, they not only malign the land, they disqualify it from designation.

Thankfully, the remaining Hidden Gems are still untrammeled. Despite the tendency of the wilderness debate to center on user groups and their activities, the idea of wilderness designation for the Hidden Gems is not about recreation at all. It is about landscapes, the values they embody, and how we can best protect them.

Truth be known, we don’t protect wilderness – wilderness protects us. Wilderness protects clean air, clean water, and the viability of healthy, intact ecosystems in which our communities are based, and on which the quality of our lives depends.

Now, the Hidden Gems are depending on us. Rep. Jared Polis (CD2) is gathering input on the proposal. He’s got the economic, ecological and political studies that demonstrate that wilderness designation is the best tool to preserve the Hidden Gems. He needs to hear from people who support wilderness – both CD2 visitors and constituents alike. If we encourage him, he will introduce the Summit and Eagle County portions of the Hidden Gems proposal as a bill in Congress.

We are facing the last opportunity to steward these lands into the hands of future generations in their current pristine quality. Please visit Rep. Polis’ website at or write to and ask him to designate the Hidden Gems as Wilderness.

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