From wild to windshield wilderness

  Dear HCN,
The article on the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act (HCN, 3/3/03: The Wild Card) gave readers the impression that, until recently, conservationists always advocated multi-area wilderness legislative packages, that the supposed slowdown in wilderness designation is something new, and that compromises of the Wilderness Act have been routine (and desirable) since 1964. Such a view is misleading at best, downright inaccurate at worst, and is not what I have experienced over the past 25 years of wilderness advocacy.

There have always been slow periods in wilderness designation. Between 1965 and 1974, about 2 million acres were added to the system. Between 1993 and 2002, about 14 million acres were added.

In his book, The Politics of Wilderness Preservation, Craig Allin notes with regard to the forest service’s RARE II wilderness recommendations, "Preservationists preferred an area by area approach ..." Multi-area wilderness bills have been as much a result of industry wanting a final solution to the wilderness question as they were visionary wilderness proposals from conservationists.

Since about 1980, there has been an increasing number of weakening exceptions in wilderness legislation, and that trend has accelerated in the past decade, with some conservationists supporting those exceptions. Recent language in bills that promote motorized vehicle use for wildlife management purposes and for access to inholdings are examples of the problem. While many bills have not followed that negative trend, it seems our generation may see the transition from wild wilderness to windshield wilderness.

I fear the greatest threat to wilderness today may be from the conservation movement itself. Recently, our movement has been seduced by the lust for the appearance of success at the expense of wilderness.

Gary Macfarlane
Troy, Idaho
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