CODY ENTERPRISE 10-25-17 Make Voice Heard on Public Lands

Oct 25, 2017

By Emily Reed

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I often hear people describe the American West as wild – but to what extent does that term meet its definition in today’s world?

The untamed backcountry of the West has slowly and steadily been sought out for recreation in all capacities, the mentality has fostered people to interact with the natural world as a secondary thought to their sport and recreational activities. The labels that we apply to our landscape have shifted in their meaning; a place only touched by the footprints of man once considered wild and free, is now in contact with rubber tires and two-track roads muddling the landscape, and yet we still refer to it as a wild space.

The increasing desire to use motorized and mechanical avenues to experience our outward environment has resulted in a surge of legal and illegal land-use of pristine and wild areas. The constant hum of an engine echoing across the sagebrush plains, traveling through gulches, valleys, and up the high alpine vistas, surrounds our landscape in the summer and winter seasons.

Quiet recreation is scarce throughout the West and rarely enforced. Wyoming’s Wilderness Study Areas (WSA’s) are a prime example of this, these places have been restricted to non-motorized use but many counties in the state have grandfathered in the acceptance of motorized use within the boundaries.

Wyoming has implemented a public land initiative (WPLI) focused on the designation for their WSA’s in a localized, ground-up approach. This new process is paving the way for conservation legislation models in the state and across the west.

The initiative has coined the term “collaborative effort” as the driving force behind the WPLI. Each county has a committee comprised of a diverse set of shareholders and stakeholders all working towards a set of recommendations for each WSA’s management plan. These proposals will then be sent to the County Commissioner Association and written into a congressional bill.

Wyoming holds conservative values across the state, and there is strong pushback for placing more restrictions on land-use. To some, placing more limitation on the land is an outrage to the core values of our ‘“Public Lands.”

The phrase, “If we can’t use it, why should we protect it?” is often used in these public land conversations; but these restrictions are not about locking up these wild places, it’s about preserving the spirit of our natural world, putting the landscape before ourselves, and the physiological comfort that wild spaces are intentionally protected and will be for years to come.

We need to take into consideration that “collaborative processes,” although it has a nice ring to it and evokes a warm-fuzzy feeling about politics and legislation, the structure clashes with how our environment functions at a system level.

Our human nature has driven us to form these processes to please our social edifice, rather than being driven by the methodology of the natural world. The ecological effects that administrative boundaries have are not to be dismissed. Take Yellowstone Park for example, the land bordering the park is considered some of the most significant areas for wildlife, often referred to as the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

What happens on the edges outside of the boundary, has a direct effect on the health of the ecosystem within the park. For smaller areas of designation, we tend to carve out lines on a map that are jagged and zig-zagged to allow specificity for multi-use. We are left with irregular shapes scattered across a map and boundaries that don’t have built in buffer zones for the biological community.

We must take into consideration that just because we can draw a line on a map and manage that area in a specific way, does not mean that the area inside will be exclusively protected from harmful human-caused effects.

These spaces hold the power of a medicinal antidote to societies fast-paced and stimulating constructs; they manifest a cultural practice of human-powered adventure in its purest form, a form of our heritage that is in dire need of re-awakening in today’s modern world.

We cannot rely on our national parks and small areas of national forest solely for the preservation of ecological justification, primitive recreation opportunities, and a space for our well-being to thrive.

As the state of Wyoming moves forward in the WPLI process, I urge you to go to these wild places, to make comments on the drafts released by all the counties involved – this is your public land and you have a voice.

But I ask you, are you, capable of disconnecting from your human nature, to ensure the preservation of pristine landscapes and their inhabitants for the future?

(Emily Reed is a junior at the University of Wyoming studying English, and Environment and Natural Resources. She graduated from Cody High School in 2015.)