Ken Neubecker: Wilderness a last refuge |

Ken Neubecker: Wilderness a last refuge

Ken Neubecker

Listening to the detractors of wilderness proposals like Hidden Gems makes me wonder that the pioneers ever made it off the East Coast without the aid of ATVs, SUVs, pickups or other forms of mechanized travel. My ancestors seemed to do just fine without any of that.

Wilderness hardly precludes public access or use. Studies by the Forest Service and others show that wilderness is good for the local economy, not bad as some would have you believe. It sustains an economic base far longer than resource extraction does. And Wilderness is a small fraction of all the public and private lands we hold.

But there are other values that wilderness supports beyond the narrow and otherwise very-well supplied needs for recreation and human uses. Wilderness is the last refuge of wildlife, where habitat is intact and undisturbed. Wildlife need protected and undisturbed winter range and calving areas, something hard to come by in the high terrain most existing wilderness covers.

In the face of constantly increasing pressure and demands from human development, we need more wilderness, not less. We need large landscapes where nature is in charge, not us. The current bark beetle outbreak is as much a result of our “management” as anything else. Fire, even large-scale fire, is a part of the ecology. It is catastrophic only from our limited perspective. Look at Yellowstone.

The Hidden Gems proposal may have minor flaws, but we need as much intact wild land as we can protect. Wilderness is as much a part of our history as railroad beds, mill sites and old mines. Wilderness is where we find connection to the real world, to the natural community of which we are a part. It’s the greatest single gift we can leave those who will call us ancestor.

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