July 2014 - 50 Years of Wilderness

Jul 31, 2014

Here we go again off into the wild blue yonder.

We are flying north again working on keeping a bunch of lands wild but the blue yonder unfortunately quickly turns to brown, due to a multitude of fires burning in Washington and Oregon. Distances appear to collapse when you are in the air, and just as our visibility was greatly reduced by the smoke, so the number of untrammeled landscapes in the west appears to be disappearing almost as quickly.

Our latest series of flights focused on Wilderness and land protections, and that is the theme this summer as it is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The US led the world in preserving some of a country's last remaining wild places. Thanks to the wisdom and foresight of people like Howard Zahniser and Bob Marshall, these public lands, lands owned by all Americans, are preserved and protected for current and future generations.

This anniversary is indeed something to celebrate as our wildness shrinks, and our disparate political way of looking at all issues, including the environment, grows. As many of you know, I have been doing my conservation flying for quite some time, and even I realize that the word 'compromise' is essential. Wilderness bills need to be accompanied by other land use protections to allow for a divided politic to accomplish something.

Yes, 'accomplish something' are the key words, as I have witnessed an amazing amount of hard work and compromise to assimilate ideas from different stakeholders into land protection proposals. The most diverse constituencies are included on our flights and in the decision making of these proposals: ranchers, mountain bikers, hunters, outfitters, anglers, scientists, environmentalists. Whether the landscapes are up north in the Rocky Mountain Front, hopefully to be preserved by the Heritage Act, or down here in Durango with the Hermosa Creek Bill, there has been buy-in from all these different factions who have spent countless hours working on compromise.

The frightening thing is that even with all this hard work and consensus, the current political climate will not allow these bills to be brought to a vote, and there are forces still at work to be as divisive as possible. Indeed, as I recently read in an op-ed piece (and I paraphrase), we are too busy trying to bury the future with the past and divide people. This is the rhetoric of the past that is impeding us in trying to create any new wilderness. I prefer to write about burying the past with the future, and actually bringing stakeholders together with mindful compromise and inclusion. When ranchers will not lend their support to a Monument bill for the Boulder-White Clouds Mountains near Hailey, Idaho, because they believe they will lose their grazing permits, it is because of a concentrated effort of obstructionists to divide, rather than educating the ranchers that the truth is in fact that their grazing rights will not be affected.

It is the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act and as we celebrate around the nation, we need to be proud of using the big "W" word and continue to work on consensus, inclusion and factual information, so that this remarkable landscape that is America continues to set the world standard for a healthy environment and a sustainable future.

Bruce Gordon