Wilderness is the key

  Dear HCN,

Perhaps after losing one too many a battle, Steve Hinchman has lost his will to fight for what "should be," and now advocates for what he thinks "can be," given political realities and resistance from local communities (HCN, 7/31/00: Rural Green: A new shade of activism).

Where would we be today if the early conservationists threw in the towel when they felt resistance from logging, ranching and mining communities? What would the West look like today if sound science had not driven us to better manage our forests, protect endangered species and set aside vast tracts of lands as wilderness amid the clamor of naysayers that believed we were locking up the land and driving away jobs?

Wilderness remains one of the most significant tools that conservationists have to protect wildlands. By calling modern wilderness campaigns "irrelevant," Mr. Hinchman ignores history, while undermining the validity and dedication of the new generation of wilderness advocates that has sprung up around him.

Modern wilderness advocates are working to protect networks of wildlands - places with biological integrity and global ecological significance. Conservation biologists agree that wilderness protection is the keystone to any comprehensive plan to protect vast tracts of land. We must protect the core wilderness areas and work with local landowners to buffer and connect those places.

Wilderness remains the greatest protection we have against poaching, erosion, invasive weeds, catastrophic fires, sprawl, mining, clear-cuts and the fast-buck mentality that has defaced the West for generations.

While there is certainly common ground between conservationists and local communities that must be explored, removing wilderness from the equation is not one of them. To say that its time has come and gone ignores past successes and the potential for unprecedented protection in the future.

Mr. Hinchman's interview is provocative. But his disregard of what has driven and continues to drive the conservation movement gives one pause. We must continue to work together to preserve the biological and cultural fabric that holds this landscape together.

Edward Sullivan
Albuquerque, New Mexico

The writer is executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

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