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Is *Wilderness* Stealing Our Heritage?
by Del Albright, BlueRibbon Ambassador

Being a full time land use/access advocate, I hear a lot of opinions about the management of public lands, many of them spot on; some of them a bit out there. But this one really made me step back and think. Is the designation of Wilderness areas stealing our heritage?

The original Wilderness Act of 1964 was not bad legislation. In fact, most organized recreation groups supported the idea of setting aside pristine, *untouched* landscapes and leaving them non-accessible by motors and mountain bikes. We need places untouched by man, unmarked by the scars of development.

President Teddy Roosevelt started the first official beginning of "preserving" scenic wonders on a national level; but have we now gone too far?

I have heard accounts of official agency personnel setting fire to historical buildings and mining camps, just because these treasures all of a sudden were behind some line created on a map that said they were now in Wilderness areas and needed to be removed so there would be no trace of man.

I have personally seen the results of agency *rehabilitation* of mining camps, historical buildings, and historic roads -- rehabilitation being the removal thereof. I have interviewed youth work crews hiking into new Wilderness areas, under orders from the park agency personnel, with the job of *removing any trace of man.* Doubly unfortunate is that these same areas harbored hundreds of miles of roads and historic mining camps that were thought to be of value just the year before a new Wilderness designation.

I have lost track of the number of cabins and homesteads I have personally visited that are no longer accessible by vehicle -- and many of which were *obliterated.* In so many cases, Wilderness designation has meant historical destruction.

One park ranger type official tried to tell me that in his area, buildings just fall down from lack of maintenance and attention, once they are in Wilderness areas. I understood that, but he didn't have an answer for me when I asked him how the material (wood and artifacts) all disappeared also, and how the area where the building stood now has planted vegetation (rehabilitation?) and no sign of occupation or use.

How about the fact that we're not supposed to use motors or mechanized equipment to fight wildfires in some Wilderness areas? In the 1964 Wilderness areas, this is not a big deal. Here we're talking high country -- high mountains, pristine places where there are no subdivisions nearby. But new Wilderness can be in your back yard today.

The old guidelines of *no trace of mankind; pristine; untouched* are meaningless in today's application of Wilderness. So when a large conflagration starts tearing up the countryside (in Wilderness), we're not supposed to drive fire engines into the brush and timbered areas where the fire is burning. We're not supposed to crank up chainsaws to fight the fire. We're not supposed to fly helicopters into or around the Wilderness area as that constitutes using motorized equipment.

Helicopters routinely fly into a world famous Wilderness area, named after a world famous environmentalist, to service man-made bathrooms (contact me if you'd like to read the documentation on this). It's OK to fly and land a copter into Wilderness to service a bathroom, but we can't fight fire with one?

You will find plenty of folks who will justify flying a helicopter into one Wilderness area to service a bathroom, just as you will find plenty of folks who would march in protest against flying helicopters to fight fire in an Oregon Wilderness area. Does this seem arbitrary and capricious to you?

In reality, even the 1964 Wilderness Act left room for maneuvering and in the opinion of some folks, manipulation. Existing and previous uses can be accommodated in today’s Wilderness areas, depending on the slant of the current management. So yes, we can leave old historic mining buildings in one Wilderness, and tear them down in another.

At some point, we have to ask ourselves the real purpose behind new Wilderness areas. Who is getting something out of this? Because when they steal my heritage, take down the homestead that maybe your family once lived in, try to remove roads, trails and all traces of our historical presence, it just begs the question of who is benefiting

Further, you have to ask, who is the goose and who is the gander here? Do we manage Wilderness based on convenience? Do we manage Wilderness based on one ranger's bias? What gives?

Allow me to add to add one last twist; our country has millions of acres of Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) that are under consideration for Wilderness designation. Some WSA's have been around for over ten years. Some have already been converted to Wilderness. Few have gone away.

I urge you to keep a careful eye on WSA's in your area. It matters not that a WSA has roads. It matters not that your great grand parents might have had a homestead there. I suggest you talk to your elected representatives about WSA's in your area. They are prime targets for future Wilderness designations.

I believe that people like Teddy Roosevelt, most of our US Congress folks, and many of our country's leaders were well-intentioned in the creation of some of our parks, preserves and 1964 Wilderness areas. But somewhere along the way, *special interest groups* and a few people in powerful positions, have twisted the usage constraints of our public lands into something ugly.

It is time to speak out against this outrage. It is time to stand up for our heritage. It is time to hold accountable those that promote their own agenda under the guise of saving our heritage while tearing down the remnants of our past. It's your time. Get connected with the process and your elected officials, and be sure that Wilderness is where it belongs. Don't sit by while someone steals your heritage or endangers the safety of your home.


Del Albright, internationally published columnist, BlueRibbon Coalition Ambassador and Environmental Affairs Coordinator for CA4WDC, has authored volumes over the last 20 years on land use, outdoor recreation, and access. Contact BRC at 800.258.3742 or; or visit Del's web site at Del is partially sponsored by the Off Road Business Association (

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