For many, wilderness designation - the promise that no roads and no permanent structures will mar a sensitive area - is an environmental dream come true. But 12 miles within southwestern Oregon's Kalmiopsis Wilderness, a man with old mining claims wants to improve a road and build a resort. He's calling it "reasonable access," a right granted mineral claim-holders under the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Carl Alleman has held eight mining
claims in the Kalmiopsis since 1982. On three of the parcels, he
owns the land as well as whatever minerals lie beneath it. On those
60 acres, Alleman and partner Loy Martindale say they plan to build
a destination resort catering to the handicapped, a group Alleman
says is usually "lopped out of the wilderness."
Up until last year, under an informal agreement
with the Forest Service, Alleman was allowed two trips to his
claims a week. The agency balked a year ago when it discovered that
Alleman was making more trips and planning to build the resort.
They locked the gate at the area's Onion Camp entrance and now
Alleman must apply for a special-use permit to drive the 12 miles
to his claims.
Alleman says he purposely had some
people illegally drive around the gate to "bring this thing to a
head. It's not a mining claim any longer," he argues. "It is
private property." Alleman is quick to point out how much money he
could make by mining or logging the area, but he says he has no
plans to do either.
In the past, Alleman has had
other ideas for the land. In 1994, he offered to sell the claims,
for which he originally paid $150, back to the public for $850,000.
According to Barbara Ullian of the Siskiyou Project, a local
environmental group, the claims have been assessed at $78,000, but
Kalmiopsis district ranger Mary Zuschlag could not confirm
Critics say Alleman's offer to sell is
tantamount to blackmail. "They're holding a gun to the head of the
American government and saying "Meet our demands or we're going to
ruin your wilderness," " says George Nickas of Wilderness Watch.
"How much damage is the Forest Service going to allow to the
wilderness when there are private inholdings?"
Opponents to Alleman's plans say the resort will
disturb hikers and habitat by bringing busloads of tourists,
glaring nighttime lighting and inappropriate buildings into the
wilderness. Allowing Alleman access through a walking trail would
be more appropriate to a roadless area, says Ullian, especially
since car tires help spread a fatal root disease that is already
threatening rare Port Orford cedars found within the Kalmiopsis.
Ranger Zuschlag says that while it will be hard
to take away access Alleman has had for 15 years, the Forest
Service sincerely wants to protect the wilderness, perhaps through
a land exchange. She cautions, though, that such a process could be
lengthy and expensive, a cost Alleman would have to support. Says
Zuschlag, "It would be great if that land could be purchased, but
we cannot pay more than the appraisal."
Sarah Dry is an HCN