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Know the West

Wilderness needs strong advocates

  Dear HCN,

I would like to respond on behalf of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness to the Steve Hinchman interview Ed Marston did for the July 31 edition.

I know Steve and respect and admire the work he has done on the West Slope. Recently, as executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, I had several opportunities to talk with Steve about things relevant to that part of our world. I am not surprised by his take on wilderness, and his thoughts are not "new." In the several years I've been at this work, I have heard these discouraged, slightly embittered views, generally from young men and women, like Steve, who are tired of fighting this good fight. I think he is wise to move on, and I wish him well.

This supreme, oftentimes tiresome and mean-spirited effort to protect America's wild lands, including wilderness, is about the land, not the people. Obviously not every activist will agree or, if they do, wouldn't say it. But the Great Old Broads for Wilderness know our time on the Earth is almost over. We know how fleeting is a single human lifetime and how vulnerable and unique the wild is, with its once-only "life" time.

"Life carries on ... and on ... and on ... and on," as Peter Gabriel's song says. Every single person complaining about this year's bad hunting season, or next year's drought, will be dead in less than 100 years.

I recall a stupid question I put to poet Simon Ortiz and his wise, perfect answer. I asked him if he missed Acoma, where he is from. He said, "Every place is Acoma." We are not different from place, from the wild places or wilderness. We are only a part of place, an integral part of it, unique only in our power to destroy it.

Powerful we may be, but we are not as clever by half as we think we are. We're mistake-making humans. We make bad decisions because we want our personal glory, good feeling, and happiness to grow and last. We want to pass all that on to our actual children (as opposed to those of others', or other generations, out there, yet unborn).

But it would be a sad, very sad, day when wildness and wilderness are just "nostalgia." Perhaps Steve's frustration stems in some part from our collective desire to protect and our individual inability to do so. We do not know all the answers.

I have heard of an Indian tribe that once killed all predators, destroying the tribe's ability to exist in that system. Realizing what they had done, the tribe moved to another, fully intact system. (They could do that in those far past days.) Thereafter, when they met at council to make any decision, someone asked, "Who speaks for the wolf?"

In our decisions about the use of our public lands, we hear from people about people's needs. The land-management agencies represent people, being more responsive to congressional or local political pressure than to the laws.

But, who speaks for the wolf?

The Great Old Broads for Wilderness will continue to seek maximum acres of designated wilderness and work for protection of roadless areas and for whatever other protection for the rest of it that can legally be provided. This we do, not for us to use, but for the land itself. We humans can "deal," as my granddaughter would say. We can decide to change our lifestyles and shift our priorities, and still have full and happy lives. We die and our progeny march off in their own direction. Nature doesn't "decide." It is. It simply is. It has no progeny. Once wilderness is all gone, it is gone.

Susan Tixier
Escalante, Utah