Showing posts with label wilderness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wilderness. Show all posts

August 20, 2016

Why Mountain Bikes Don't Belong in Wilderness Areas

As its name suggests, the Wilderness Act of 1964 has been in effect for fifty years, long enough that most Americans have grown up with it.

From a campfire-argument point of view, I could say that our culture is weird if we have to draw lines around a small portion of the country — only 2.7 percent of the Lower 48 — and say, "In these places, natural processes are more important than the human ego."

In other words, plants and animals come ahead of human exploitation, whether that be for economic or recreational reasons.

(Like Gary Snyder, I define "natural" as those self-organizing processes not under the ego's control — including most of what your body is doing right now.)

On the ground, the "wilderness" designation usually means no engines, no wheels. If you want to do in, you walk, ride a horse (or other equine), paddle, or float. Some of these can even be done by people with disabilities!

Come now two senators from Utah, Orrin Hatch and  Mike Lee, who want to allow bicycles in wilderness areas.

Since I really doubt that either one of them lives for mountain biking, I suspect that this is just a thinly disguised attack on the very idea of designated wilderness. They don't care about bicyclists as such, they are thinking about oil wells etc.

As the "camel's nose under the tent," mountain bikers work pretty well, better than ATV riders, for example. After all, they are "using the quads God gave them," as a certain anti-ATV bumper stick says.

But they still don't belong in designated wilderness areas, not under the spirit of the Wilderness Act, which has pretty well proved its worth in fifty years.

Yes, bikes are quiet(er) than motor vehicles, but as they rush over the trail (go to get cool vid on that helmet-mounted GoPro camera, right?), they are still a disturbance.

Let's keep Wilderness Areas as they are, places where the needs of plants and wildlife come first. Sure, we can go there with respect, but our desires to put knobby tires everywhere in the name of recreation can be limited in these small slices of America.

If you think that mountain bikes are cuddly and harmless, you can make your case — but then you are opening the door for the next mechanical intrusion. And the next. And the next.

December 06, 2014

Brown's Canyon, Political Theatre, and the Changing Face of Conservation Rhetoric

I spent the afternoon in Salida at what was essentially a 500-person pep rally for the proposed Brown's Canyon National Monument in Chaffee County.

With me was fellow Backcountry Hunters  & Anglers member Paul Vertrees.

Like a few others, this "monument" would not involve the National Park Service but be managed by the agencies currently involved: the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

There are two stories here. One is political theatre and process, and one is about changes in conservation rhetoric.

1. Wilderness protection and national monument designation proposals for this stretch of the Arkansas River, where it runs through mostly public land away from any highways and railroads, have been floating around since the 1980s, at least.

Last year, as I blogged, Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) introduced a new bill to make this wilderness study area into a national monument that would still allow grazing, hunting, fishing etc.

Then came the 2014 elections. Udall, much to his surprise (I am guessing), lost his seat. Given Congress's preoccupations, his bill's chances don't look good, despite support from most of the Colorado delegation.

Hence Plan B: Have the president designate the national monument under the Teddy Roosevelt-era Antiquities Act. Such designation would be legal, constitutional, and has been upheld by the courts.

To make the case for that, Udall roped in our other senator, Michael Bennett, plus the chief of the U.S. Forest Service and the assistant directors of the BLM and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

They sat at a long table while listening to hours of testimony from local governments (the towns of Salida and Buena Vista, plus Chaffee and Saguache counties), business owners, conservationists, rafters, hunters, etc., 99.5 percent of whom said executive designation would be a Good Thing. Which brings me to . . . .

2. Last year I briefly mentioned the new "veterans for wilderness" movement, as shown in this Wilderness Society article, "Veterans want to protect the public lands that help them heal." We heard testimony from, for example, the Veterans Expeditions group, which takes vets rafting and camping in the canyon.

This year they were jointed by T-shirted members and former members of a group called (if I have it right) Hispanic Access Foundation, which takes kids from metro Denver on outdoor trips, including rafting Brown's Canyon.

They spoke of seeing starry skies for the first time in their lives, of being out of the city for the first time in their lives, and some hope was expressed by adults that some of these kids might seek careers in natural-resources management.

Who could argue with that? Well, possibly the staffer from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), who claimed that an executive proclamation would be a "top-down" action foisted on an unknowing population.

Let's see, I attended my first public hearing on this matter in Buena Vista when Senator Ken Salazar hosted it, and he left office in 2009 . . . and that was just one of several.

I hope that what he heard from local government and business types, in particular, might persuade him otherwise, but you never know.

Meantime, we await the judgment of our performance from the critics who matter.

October 01, 2014

No, You Won't Be Charged to Take Photos of Your Wilderness Hike

Lots of hysteria recently around an admittedly poorly present U. S. Forest Service announcement on fees for commercial photographers in wilderness areas. Typical was this from the Outdoor Wire's Jim Shepherd:
It may sound far-fetched, but a program like this could mean a wilderness visitor who snapped a photo using a smartphone and later posted it on a personal blog could be considered a "media outlet" and face a $1000 fine.
It not only may sound far-fetched, it is far-fetched. As this headline reads, "No, the Forest Service is Not Planning to Charge You $1500 to Photograph the Wilderness."
Put away the pitchforks, folks. After reading some of the recent horribly misleading media coverage of a proposal by the US Forest Service, you might think that members of the media (down to – and yes, including! – us lowly bloggers) are about to be banned from all National Forest lands. You might even be forgiven for thinking wildlife, landscape, or casual photographers selling their prints online or at a local art show or gallery are about to be hit with an onerous fine.
I checked with semi-pro photographer Jackson Frishman, who does lots of photography in designated wilderness areas. His response, via email
I'm guessing the FS is mainly viewing it as a way to keep productions out of wilderness that don't really need to be there (e.g., the Lone Ranger 2 doesn't need scenes filmed inside the wilderness boundary, find a non-wilderness location instead), but I'd question whether that's actually a common enough problem to merit a solution, given the existing rules of wilderness and the logistical needs of major productions. I could see those guidelines being used to harass investigative journalism critical of FS policy (though to be fair, such a situation might also be pretty much non-existent in practice).
Read the Forest Service's "we didn't mean it like that" news release here.

What we have here is just fed-bashing from the usual suspects. Given that it is an election year — and we have a Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate who wants to see public lands handed over to the state or privatized (Colorado, that can barely fund its state parks, is going to take over, e.g., Rocky Mountain National Park??) — I can't help but see a connection.

March 12, 2014

Backcountry Rendezvous Comes to Denver!

In just ten days I will be traveling to Denver for the annual rendezvous of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a conservation group that while still pretty new, punches above its weight.

Let me pass the mike to outdoor/nature writer David Petersen, who was present at the creation:
"What hunting desperately needs," one of us opined, "is a national grass-roots sportsman's group comprising outdoorsmen and women who are sufficiently enlightened to put ecological integrity above all else, including our own self-interests." 
Indeed, what we were daydreaming about was a nonprofit organization built firmly upon Aldo Leopold's "land ethic." By "land," Leopold meant what we know today as the ecology -- including wildlife, fish and their habitats. "A thing is right," Leopold's land ethic proposed, "when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
You may not realize how revolutionary a statement that is. There are other good conservation groups that put ecological integrity first yet are still comfortable with hunting or fishing—I think Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited rank highly. TU in particular works to protect aquatic ecosystems that just happen to have Salmonids in them, which means most higher-elevation Colorado waters.

BHA's focus is protecting "backcountry" (not just designated draw-a-line-around-it wilderness areas) from disruptive motorized travel and anything else that negatively affects what lives there. And yes, these just happen to be good places to hunt and fish in traditional ways.

Dave continues,
And that's the briefest possible overview of how BHA came to be and who we are. Now let's fast-forward to March 21-23 -- next week! -- and the Red Lion Hotel Denver Southeast, where a now mature BHA with members in every state and several foreign countries, and 17 active chapters in the U.S. and Canada, is holding its third annual rendezvous and 10th birthday celebration. . . .
If you can't afford to spend the entire weekend with BHA members from all over America, you're most welcome to drop by on Friday evening, March 21, for kick-off events including a reception, vendor booths and displays, opening remarks by BHA Executive Director Land Tawney, dinner, and a get-acquainted "backcountry bash" featuring live bluegrass music.
 Here is a full schedule of events and registration information.

December 05, 2013

Browns Canyon and a New Spin on Wilderness Advocacy

Senator Udall outlines his bill.
Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) stood up in front of a group of mostly Chaffee County folks on Tuesday to announce that his bill to create the Browns* Canyon National Monument soon start its perilous journey downstream through the dark canyon that is Congress.

As snow swirled outside the venue, the reception area at Noah's Ark Whitewater Rafting, no doubt some of those present were mentally calculating what percentage of a decent snowpack had accrued thus far in the season.

This proposal has been a long time coming. I remember seeing Browns Canyon from a raft for the first time in 1986 or '87 — and that trip was a junket organized for some conservation group (Trout Unlimited?) connected either with Browns Canyon or the proposed Arkansas River state park. And I can recommend testifying at a public meeting in Buena Vista six (?) years ago before Ken Salazar when he was in the Senate. And there has been a lot more done along the way.

Part of the proposed national monument — to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, not the Park Service — has been a BLM wilderness study area (WSA) since the 1980s, at least.

Like a lot of the BLM WSA's, it is a not a high-altitude alpine forest-and-snow area, but would protect lower elevation forest (important big game habitat) and riparian areas. It had a road into it to an old mining camp. And lots of people wanted a say for or against the proposal: recreational gold miners, hunters, dirt bikers, four-wheelers, cattlemen, commercial rafters, private rafters, anglers . . . and one group that surprised me, but whose inclusion makes perfect sense.

Over the years, compromises were made, and the original proposal shrank down to about 10,000 acres.

Udall praised the effort as "emblematic" of how a public lands bill should be crafted, from the bottom up and as a "common sense proposal" that would "protect all existing legal uses."

Then came brief statements from supporters. There was the motel owner-real estate agent from Buena Vista, who said that a designated national monument would bring more visitors. I suspect that he is right. The vice president of the commercial rafters association made a similar point, noting that whitewater rafting on the Arkansas is a $54 million industry.

Another outfitter, Bill Dvorack (holder of Colorado outfitting license #1) spoke about protecting wildlife habitat. Bill Sustrich of Salida, at 87 years probably the oldest life member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, talked about ATVers ruining elk hunting.

Interestingly, there was another speaker from a nonprofit group helping veterans reintegrate into society. He identified himself as a former Army sniper in Iraq, and talked about the part that public lands recreation played in his own de-stressing from his war experience.

That rang a bell — I remembered outdoor writer and vet Galen Geer writing an article about how hunting did something similar for him after his tours in Vietnam. His article seemed to stand alone at the time (the late 1980s or early 1990s), but now people are organizing such outdoor experiences.

* About a century ago, the US Board of Geographic Names or some such agency decided that the possessive apostrophe was too complicated for them.

July 04, 2013

Should Volunteers Patrol the Backcountry?

M. John Fayhee, former editor of Mountain Gazette, and Alan Stark square off, with Fayhee taking the "It's not wilderness if someone's helping you get out of trouble" side, while Stark thinks that it is good to have someone out there being quasi-official and helpful.

Stark writes it, so he gives himself the last word:
Big Brother ruining people’s wilderness experience?

Nope. Volunteers watching our for people who might get in trouble.

But I also admit that the presence of an official person does impact your enjoyment of the backcountry. In point of fact that person is there to watch you and that fact alone is annoying to folks like Fayhee, maybe you, too.
Early commenters, however, are more on Fayhee's side, such as this:
If I want to climb a fourteener in the nude on a cloudy July afternoon, then I don’t want your volly buddies harshing my mellow. Seriously, stay in Boulder, and focus on your community, leave your advice in the city, and enjoy the Wilderness however you see fit.

February 01, 2013

'Maybe Teens Aren't Interested in Nature Because We're Selling Them Too Much Freedom to Consume'

Ryan Jordan of Backpacking Light, who is also a Scout leader in Montana, narrates a brief video on "boys in the wild."

In the film, and in a short article he speculates about why some boys are energized by wilderness backpacking while others are discouraged "that the mountain is so steep."

Facebook's Colorado Mountain Men group.

Meanwhile, I am looking at their gear and thinking how much lighter and better it is than when I was 14 going on multi-night backpack trips with Troop 97, Fort Collins.

October 01, 2012

"Roadless Rule" Upheld

The Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court's decision in favor of the "so-called roadless rule, which prevents road construction and timber harvesting on 58.5 [some sources say 50] million acres of National Forest System lands."

According to the Salt Lake Tribune,
The state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association said closing so much forest land to development has had serious consequences for residents of Western states and the logging, mining and drilling industries.
Supporters of the rule said the nation’s forests need protection from development to preserve pristine areas that provide wildlife and natural resource habitat for hunting, fishing and recreation.
I feel like this particular controversy has been ongoing through my entire adult life—and there is probably more to come.

May 21, 2012

Presidential Politics and Brown's Canyon on the Arkansas

I read various articles on politics saying that Colorado is "in play" for the 2012 presidential election, like some extra effort will be made for our nine electoral votes, which went for Obama in 2008 but which might be pried loose by Gov. Romney this November.

That connects with a long-standing effort to create a national monument on the Arkansas River in Chaffee County: the Brown's Canyon National Monument—or whatever it would be called. (Unlike the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, my keyboard has a working apostrophe.)

This is the one reach of the river that flows through roadless public lands (BLM and Forest Service on both sides). It's a wildly popular (i.e., often crowded) rafting/kayaking piece of water. About 20,000 acres would be designated.

And at least some outfitters that I have talked to would love to be able to advertise a trip through a designated monument/wilderness area.

Colorado Senator Mark Udall has been conducting hearings in the area and making supportive noises. Ken Salazar did too, when he was senator. This issue has a history.

The monument would still be administered by the Forest Service and BLM somehow, I am told, not by the National Park Service.

There has been opposition from the drive-everywhere motorized-recreationists, but with whitewater rafting a big economic contributor to Chaffee County, the pro-monument people can point to economic benefits.

But Congressman Doug Lamborn, in whose district the proposed monument lies, is not on board with this or any other new national monument or wilderness area. He is more in the "Drill, baby, drill" camp.

So Congressional approval is unlikely. But the president has the power to create a monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906. President Clinton used that power toward the end of his final term. So did President Bush in 2006.

In Clinton's case, creating monuments in Utah did not win him mass approval there, but it played well elsewhere.  

Likewise, President Obama has already used that power.

At the White House, I am sure that they see "environmentalists" as one undifferentiated mass, more likely to vote Democratic. They have already tried to keep that mass of voters on their side with the no-but-yes dance over the Keystone Pipeline—thus alienating workers who might build it. (So much for the Democrats as the workingman's party.)

Since Colorado is "in play" (and the Keystone Pipeline would not run through this state), how about another high-visibility monument designation to make Colorado environmentalists feel good about the current incumbent, who is lagging in some polls?

October 27, 2011

Supporting San Juan Wilderness Act

Click to embiggen
Newspaper ad sponsored by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and other pro-hunting, pro-wilderness advocates after introduction of the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act last month. Now to see if my congressman, Scott Tipton, can get behind it too.

October 22, 2011

Federal Appellate Court Upholds the 2001 Roadless Rule

Doesn't enough of Wyoming look like this already? (Source: The Wilderness Society)
A federal appellate court has upheld the 2001 Roadless Rule on national forests in a case brought by the state of Wyoming.

The state tried to argue that by protecting roadless areas — which is a Good Thing for animals like elk — the Forest Service was creating "wilderness."

And "wilderness," in the legal sense, must be created by Congress, not the executive branch.

But the judges disagreed:
In a 120-page decision, the court said that full wilderness protection was far deeper than the mere banning of roads in certain places and that the Forest Service had broad jurisdiction in setting the balance of uses on the lands that it manages.

“The Forest Service did not usurp Congressional authority because the roadless rule did not establish de facto wilderness,” the court said in a decision written by Judge Jerome A. Holmes, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush.
This was the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver—the Ninth Circuit had reached a similar conclusion two years ago.

I am no legal scholar, but I think that as long as the different federal appellate courts agree, the Supreme Court is less likely to be interested in such a case. Qualified legal experts are welcome to enlighten me. But Wyoming could always try another appeal.

August 07, 2011

Scott Tipton—Not a Teddy Roosevelt Republican

Much to my disappointment, my Congressman, Scott Tipton, has co-sponsored "Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act," which is basically a way to destroy the roadless designations on public lands that the majority of Coloradans have been supporting since the Clinton Administration.

David Lien of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers lays out the issues in this letter to the Glenwood Springs newspaper, invoking the best Republican president ever*, Theodore Roosevelt:
Roosevelt would be turning over in his grave today at the prospect of HR 1581, which if implemented would open some 60 million acres of these backcountry lands to road construction, motorized recreation, mining, and oil and gas extraction.

Here in Colorado, 12 of the 15 most hunted game management units (the most productive ones) have over 100,000 acres of roadless backcountry. More than 70 percent of Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat is in roadless areas.

Build roads in these areas, and the elk migrations are hindered, the mule deer populations suffer, and the trout spawning habitat is negatively impacted. That means fewer hunting and fishing opportunities.

We understand the need for mining, oil development and other resource extraction activities on some federal lands, and even recognize the attraction (to some) of motorized recreation far from the glare of civilization. But when our forefathers landed on our shores in the 17th Century, 100 percent of the land was wilderness. Today, that figure has dwindled to less than 3 percent in the lower 48 states, and HR 1581 threatens what little remains.

When Teddy Roosevelt became president, one of his first acts was to begin planning a national conservation policy. Roosevelt implanted the idea of conservation into our culture and enriched our future prospects with 230 million acres of designated public forests, wildlife refuges, parks, national monuments, and game ranges.
* Some might say that honor should go to Abe Lincoln, but the Republic Party was still newly hatched in 1860 and had not yet coalesced across a broad range of issues other than abolishing slavery and preserving the Union. By Roosevelt's time it had.

May 30, 2011

Reindeer, UV Light, and Marketing

Results of a study that show Arctic reindeer can see into the ultraviolet spectrum have been getting some attention.
The frozen wastes of the Arctic reflect around 90 per cent of the UV light that hits them; snow-free land typically reflects only a few per cent. So [Glen] Jeffery and colleagues wondered whether reindeers had adapted to their UV-rich world.
Fair enough. I had understood that birds, too, could see more UV than we do. Consequently, what looks like dull plumage in a bird species may actually be more vivid in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum.

What puzzles me is that two decades ago I was introduced to products like U-V-Killer, marketed to hunters. There is a spray to make your clothing non-UV-reflective as well as a detergent for washing hunting clothes—virtually all commercial laundry detergents contain optical brighteners that cause clothes to reflect more at that end of the visible spectrum, thus seeming brighter. (Notice how the chemical brightens under ultraviolet illumination in the photo.)

The pitch is that you want hunting clothes to reflect less ultraviolet light, so you use the special detergents and sprays.

Therefore, is this reindeer research really nothing new? Just another example of gee-whiz science reporting?

January 11, 2011

Cryptoforests, Wolves, and Feral Landscapes

At Bldgblog, a discussion with links on "cryptoforests" in urban landscapes.
Cryptoforesty, as Wilfried describes it in that post, emphasizes "the psychological effects of a forest" rather than the forest's pure ecological function; indeed, he writes, "The point is not that wolfs and bears are needed to fulfill ecological functions that are now null and void, the point is that a forest with such animals fuels the imagination and adds zest to life, even to those who would never visit such a 'full' forest." And, thus, he quips, "If the forest is empty," devoid of its animal sentience, "so is the mind."
And an interesting map of the distribution of European wolves, who are coming back.

January 10, 2011

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Gets Some Ink

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a conservation group for those of us who sometimes feel too "green" among the hook-and-bullet crowd, yet simultaneously are too "blaze orange" for some enviros.

Though not yet large in numbers, BHA has been in the news quite a bit lately. Some samples:
To learn more about the group, you may download the Fall 2010 Backcountry Hunters & Anglers newsletter too (PDF, 3.4 megabytes).

April 11, 2009

Another Wildlife-related Festival: Plover in Karval

Maybe "festival" is too strong a word. But you have to start somewhere.

The town of Karval will host its Third Annual Mountain Plover Festival, April 24-26. This year's event adds new bird watching sites, a photography contest, and an extra day of activities including a Friday night stargazing trip. Karval is a farming hamlet, population "about 35," in southern Lincoln County. Registration deadline is April 15.

Despite their name, mountain plovers do not breed in the mountains, instead, they prefer shortgrass prairies. The eastern plains of Colorado are the primary breeding grounds for the mountain plover and more than half of the world's population nests in the state. Mountain plovers, are a considered a species of "special concern" in Colorado because of declining numbers.

"The Mountain Plover Festival is a great way for people to experience the small town atmosphere of a rural community while watching birds and learning about the culture and history of Colorado's eastern plains," said John Koshak, a watchable wildlife coordinator with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

I once thought that some kind of corner in becoming rooted in place would be turned when we started having festivals more rooted in natural cycles.

And I don't care if someone at the Chamber of Commerce came up with the idea (see, for instance, Pueblo's Chile & Frijoles Festival) -- the message is bigger than that.

First came the Monte Vista Crane Festival, followed by Lamar's Goose Festival.

It's a trend, and a good one.

Mountain plover photo courtesy of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

February 24, 2009

Blog Stew with Golluming

¶ On wilderness bills, jobs, and whether we "need" wilderness, from New West Network.

¶ Of dogs, "to gollum."

¶ Colorado's share of this year's Pittman-Robertson wildlife funds can be determined if you start here. Since the Colorado Division of Wildlife receives no state tax revenue, these federal excise-tax funds are a major source of money.

¶ Some people think that the Obama administration might be receptive to ending the USDA's predator-killing service.

July 21, 2008

Blog Stew with Kenaf and Squirrels

¶ I thought that every rural deputy sheriff could recognize marijuana plants -- but evidently not in Mississippi.

¶ Squirrels: Are you with them or against them?

If suburbanites painted murals on their walls like those on the Lascaux caves, you would see plenty of squirrels.

¶ I wonder how the sleepovers with sheep are going? The reader comments on this one are amusing.

¶ Ken Salazar will push the Brown's Canyon Wilderness Area bill. The Backcountry Hunters & Anglers have been active in support of it.

¶: Die, tamarisk, die. Some good reports from the Grand Junction area. (Via Coyote Gulch.)

¶ The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States spend most of their donations on further fund-raising. You were surprised?