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How to save our wilderness in Montana

Hi guys. I currently am a board member for Montana Health Care Providers for Healthy Climate. As a nurse who works on climate change and human health I cannot help but notice how much my home, Montana, has changed over the past decade. Montana's population is growing fast and with that there has been a massive increase use in the wilderness. With so many people enjoying the outdoors comes the challenge of how to keep the wilderness, wilderness. How do we save our beautiful places from the destruction that comes with outdoor play? I would love to start a conversation on this and find ways that I can help through my organization and work. 

1 Reply

You are up against the essential paradox of wilderness - when it is crowded, it is no longer wilderness.  For me, and I think for many others, an essential attribute of wilderness is solitude.  Consider something like Half Dome in Yosemite.  It lies within a wilderness, but pictures of climbers in lock step on the ascending cables hardly conveys a wilderness experience.  

I am a retired NPS employee working on various projects of varying lengths in roughly twenty-eight parks (all in the West, thankfully).  Many times my preferred location for a weekend, either alone or with a good companion, was a much less frequented USFS wilderness.  My all time favorite is the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico.  I don't think I ever encountered another on the trails there in numerous trips, EXCEPT for the West Fork of the Gila, which is the Yosemite Valley of the Gila Wilderness.  Fair number of hikers there.

I think use tends to concentrate around easy access points - paved roads and the like with adjacent campgrounds, etc.  Maintain the roads, but keep them on the primitive side (unpaved) and locate amenities at a distance.  Encourage dispersed use.

Eventually what you see in really popular wild areas is a quota system and establishment of carrying capacity.  I doubt that anyone is wild about quotas.  They eventually lead to lotteries and yet another layer of bureaucracy.  I wonder if there are instances of "ticket scalping?"

There are no obvious answers, but encourage dispersed and less than peak season use, direct parties to lesser used sections of the wilderness, and search out de facto wild areas.  They do exist - San Miguel Island (Channel  Islands NP) is as wild and (now) undeveloped as they come, but it is unlikely to be a designated wilderness since the US Navy holds joint title with Interior and wilderness is incompatible with national defense.  Getting to the island is quite a feat, hence it will be wild for quite a while..

Of course, I don't believe Montana has many off shore islands, a pity....

Finally, strongly encourage a Leave No Trace ethic.  Wilderness use doesn't necessarily lead to destruction of natural values.  I am an experienced archaeologist and I am confident that people can make camp, leaving behind no clues for folks like me to ponder over....


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