Forest Service must fulfill its duty to protect wilderness

Hikers in the Nez Perce National Forest. Courtesy USFS.

Today, The Wilderness Society delivered a letter to the Chief of the United States Forest Service (USFS), Tom Tidwell, urging him to refrain from authorizing any activities that compromise the values of Forest Service Recommended Wilderness Areas. These places are so wild that the Forest Service has recommended to Congress that they be protected in perpetuity as wilderness. And, as the letter states, “current Forest Service Manual direction already requires that the Forest Service manage recommended Wilderness so as not to reduce wilderness potential or compromise wilderness values.”

Wilderness areas are popular among hunters, backpackers, anglers, and other quiet recreationists seeking backcountry solitude. Forest policy should keep intrusive development and activities in-check to ensure that these unprotected wilderness lands remain pristine while Congress deliberates over official wilderness designation. To do otherwise and allow them to be damaged would be irresponsible.

On Earth Day, I said on the Huffington Post, “Americans don’t just find solace and peace in wilderness; they can also find solutions. Our forests store carbon, one of the main greenhouse gases, and by protecting wilderness, we can mitigate the effects of climate change. Communities across the country are finding that when they take steps to protect areas from the effects of climate change, this work can protect and create American jobs on American lands.”

To that end, in the letter I urged Chief Tidwell to provide “immediate guidance nationwide establishing a uniform approach that makes clear that that agency recommended wilderness areas are to be managed for wilderness compatible uses…” which means that these areas should be set aside for more primitive forms of recreation including hiking and horseback riding .

The Wilderness Society’s involvement and collaboration on this issue with the USFS is not new: We have sent letters and on-the-ground-investigations demonstrating that destructive and expanded use of motorized and mechanized vehicles reduces an area’s wilderness designation potential and values.

We here at The Wilderness Society appreciate the careful balance that is needed to nurture wilderness protection, smart development and recreation. However, allowing unsound policies to steer designation of our potential wilderness areas will lead to a situation where everyone loses. The Forest Service should not deny future generations the full, unspoiled benefits of treasured lands that are our birthright as Americans.

photo: Hikers in the Nez Perce National Forest. Courtesy USFS.

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