“Voluntary adherence to an ethical code elevates the self-respect of the sportsman, but it should not be forgotten that voluntary disregard of the code degenerates and depraves him. Our tools for the pursuit of wildlife improve faster than we do, and sportsmanship is a voluntary limitation in the use of these armaments. It is aimed to augment the role of skill and shrink the role of gadgets in the pursuit of wild things.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac 197 (Ballantine Books 1970) (1966).

Aldo Leopold’s admonishment was aimed at hunters, but the same basic premise can be applied to all recreational pursuits. Technological advances and gadgets improve faster than we do and it is the voluntary limit on these gadgets, and mechanization that enhances wildlands experiences, and also limits our ecological “footprint” upon the land and wildlife.

We have seen a growing “attack” on our wildlands from recreationists, propelled by new technological advances that increase mobility, ease access and allow people to reach more formerly remote places every year.

For years the traditional opponents of wilderness and parks were primarily the extractive industries: logging, ranching, mining, oil and gas drilling and so on.  At least on public lands, many of these threats to designation of new wilderness, particularly logging, have declined in importance. Not that logging has been terminated, but the timber industry has largely accepted that it will not be able to log the last roadless lands. Mining has largely identified the major ore deposits and these, for the most part, have already been developed to some degree or at least have valid claims on them such that the areas of most interest to mineral development outside of proposed wilderness and parks. Oil and gas is a growing threat, especially in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana where the most energy reserves are found.

These industries are still a threat to public lands in general, but they are often not the major obstacle to new wilderness proposals as in the past.

Even the Off Road Vehicle (ORV) crowd has largely accepted the limits on motorized access that characterized proposed wilderness.

Today the major threat to new wilderness designation protection comes not from industry, but from recreationalists, primarily mountain bikers, but also others who are more interested in their sport than preserving the values of wildness. For example, ice climbers and backcountry skiers who insist on riding snowmobiles in roadless areas to reach frozen waterfalls and fresh untracked slopes. Or the kayakers and pack rafters who want to paddle streams in parks like Yellowstone.

Many of the proponents of these activities put their recreational pursuit ahead of wildlands protection. If they can’t ride their bike someplace, get to a mountain to ski or ice climb without a machine, or whatever, they will oppose the strict protection that may come with Wilderness or Park designation. Mountain bikers will often oppose a specific wilderness proposal if a favorite trail is included in the boundaries.

This selfish attitude is exemplified by quote from one mountain biker reacting to wilderness proposal in Utah, who wrote on a blog “Unfortunately conservationists have become exclusionary to everything but their pet pursuit (usually hiking) so I cannot team up with this group, no matter how bad the enemy may be (tar sand drilling for example). I’d rather be able to bike past an oil rig than not be able to bike in a place at all.”

The point being that destruction of the landscape, impacts to wildlife, and scenery are less important than whether one can ride their bike someplace. That kind of self-indulgent attitude appears to be more common among mountain bikers than any other group I’ve encountered in four decades of wilderness advocacy.

I hasten to add not everyone who rides a mountain bike, kayaks, ice climbs, skis etc. is antithetical to wilderness protection. I ride a mountain bike myself, as do most of my friends who are wilderness advocates. However, we recognize that our first obligation is to protect the wilderness values inherent in wild country. Too much access by any means, erodes many of these values.

It is not that any particular recreation is in itself “bad”, rather it is a matter of where, when and how that recreation occurs.  While it might be appropriate or at least acceptable to ride a mountain bike on trails in second growth forests, it might not be acceptable to ride in an alpine basin.

While human recreationists can modify their behavior and location for their chosen activity, most wildlife and plants cannot. In any discussion of where it is appropriate to recreate, we need to ask what may be harmed, and are there alternatives where the activity would have fewer impacts.

The fact that some activities like hiking and in particular, horse use, can damage trails or disturb wildlife does not mean that any new recreation use should be accommodated. One of the major differences between hikers and bikers is the amount of terrain that can be covered in a reasonable day’s outing. Unless a trail is extremely rocky and challenging, a mountain biker can cover 2-4 times the distance in a single day as a strong hiker. Lands that are now essentially “refugia” for sensitive wildlife (like grizzly bears) because most hikes will never reach them in a day’s outing become accessible to a mountain biker. This is essentially the same problem as with motorized access whether we are discussing dirt bikes, ATVs or snowmobiles. All these mechanical means of transportation allow greater access.

Greater access means any of the impacts that may be characteristic of all recreationists can be expanded and amplified. For instance, hikers can sometimes move weeds into backcountry areas encased in mud that may be stuck in the soles of their boots. Similarly a mountain bike tire can move weeds as well. However, given the greater distances traveled by a mountain bike means weed sources may be transported much further into a natural area.

A common attribute of many of those who challenge restrictions on access is they tend to be adrenaline fueled activities.  These folks have many of the same values and aggressive attributes as many who ride ATVs and other motorized vehicles.

Some mountain bikers and others who seeks to eliminate barriers to their activities have a perverse set of values, arguing for “Civil Disobedience” by purposefully violating trail closures or prohibitions against specific recreational activities like kayaking some streams in Yellowstone. For instance, the prohibition of mountain bikes in wilderness (all wheeled vehicles are prohibited in wilderness by law) is sometimes challenged by biking activists who ride in designated wilderness as a form of “protest.” It is indeed, strange that these folks would cite Martin Luther King and Gandhi as their models for action, as if their “right” to ride someplace is somehow equivalent to protesting against racial injustices.

Another massive problem with mountain bikers in particular, is the practice of simply riding any and all trails and the creation of new trails, often without any prior approval or public discussion. Mountain biking is not necessarily compatible with heavily used hiking trails, and it may also cause problems with wildlife if new trails are established in previously trailless areas. Unfortunately the common agency response is to legalize any illegal trail construction.

What is needed is a new approach to all trails on public lands with a “closed” to mountain bikers unless otherwise authorized after public review and environmental analysis much in the same way that ORV use is now regulated. Without a closed unless specifically opened clause, mountain bikers can claim ignorance—“I didn’t know this trail was closed to bikes” excuse.

The growing problem of recreational impacts, is of course, a reflection of growing population and technological innovation working side by side to extend the human footprint. The purpose of wilderness is to put limits on that human footprint. Wilderness is about restraint. It teaches us humility, responsibility and self-discipline. These values are desperately needed in today’s world.

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About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

41 Responses to Recreationists–the latest threat to wildlands

  1. avatar rork says:

    I don’t like people using horses or other livestock either, cause of some of the reasons given: travel farther, with more stuff, more damage, better trails that let others penetrate easier. I’d like more wilderness closed to them. (Not everywhere.)

    • avatar WM says:

      rork,

      Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was known to ride into designated Wilderness on a horse quite frequently, especially when in his late 60’s and beyond. Often he rode with friends, associates or those in political circles who he wanted to experience “wilderness.”

      I tend to believe wilderness ought to be [somewhat] accessible to those who are not particularly mobile due to disability, and importantly now to the aging baby boomers at the leading edge of the wilderness movement, and who want to continue to support it.

      I do, however, share the concern that technology is making some things far too easy for some who would exploit it to get into wilderness faster and with less effort, utilizing wheels or other mechanical advantage.

      • avatar rork says:

        Douglas, schmouglas.
        We disagree about access. I will continue to support wilderness even when I will never, ever, be able to see my favorite spots again, which is coming soon.
        Horses make things too easy – it’s not even your own power.

        • avatar Ida Lupine says:

          So will I, rork.

          For those who may have their horizons changed, especially for young people, it’s important to get out there. But I’d hate to see it turned into casinos, shopping and restaurants. Go to Vegas for that.

        • avatar WM says:

          Horses, of course, were/are an allowed use in most designated Wilderness, from the very start of the wilderness movement, and this is reflected in the laws creating them (can’t pull a wheeled cart with a horse, but probably a travois is permissible as long as it doesn’t disturb the ground too much).

          How do you feel about poop bins being removed with jet helicopters from high use areas in designated Wilderness, or a rescue aided by helicopter or wheeled device? How about the use of cell phones by civilians, government radio repeater towers?

          • avatar rork says:

            I’m ok with some intrusions if the intention is to limit damage, and I’m not saying it’s all simple or that I know best about the details for every rule, and I’m not saying no horses everywhere. Choices are really tough. Trail construction is a great example for me – if they are just to make the going easier (like some Idaho horse folks want for the Frank Church), do not make or clear or improve them. Result: defacto increase in the size of the place.

            “From the very start” stuff is about what is, not what should be (and I am aware). I appreciate your usual concentration about first understanding how it is and how it got that way, before going on to discussing what should be – I highly value that in fact.

        • avatar Louise Kane says:

          well we agree on this Rork. I think there is nothing worse than seeing a disabled ramp or wheelchair access or some foreign contraption to allow people with disabilities into areas that they just can’t get into otherwise. Before anyone gets up in arms I say that as a person with MS. I can still get anywhere I want but there may come a time that I won’t be able to and I’ll be happier knowing that places exist without access by horse, motorized equipment, wheelchairs or atvs. Some places are sacred and the less tracks the better.

          • avatar Barb Rupers says:

            Agreed. I had my last of about 10 trips into the Frank Church Wilderness in 2006 during a river float trip with brother and friends; I do not lament not being able to go now only glad that I had several opportunities before; back before a designated number of days, assigned campsites, ash pans, portable potties, and dishwater strainers were required so that it was hardly a wilderness experience as it had been in my early days of rivering in Idaho. The fishing then was good and one could watch sockeye on their redds in the rivers. Never saw or heard any of those elusive “native” wolves in the area that many now claim to have seen. The same is true for the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness.

            When we first started floating the SF Flathead in the Bob Marshall Wilderness it was a hike in – hike out event. There were no or at least very few commercial guides. We rented or brought our own horses to pack the boats in and out, we walked, the trails were good, the fishing exceptional, the scenery spectacular. More people with leisure time liked to escape to such wonderful places and the business of guiding increased, trails became rutted from horse traffic, the fishing decreased in quantity and quality, at least the scenery was still spectacular.

  2. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    ^^Watch out Westerners, this man is headed to the Rockies next.

    I don’t mind horses, the are lovely to encounter. The thing about hiking and horseback riding it that it is slow-going, and that minimizes any impact. No need for speed. Like putting in a tramway in the Grand Canyon to get you to the bottom in 10 minutes because ‘today’s people are on a tight schedule and don’t have the extra time to spend going down the traditional ways!’ The traditional ways are the charm of going.

    Wilderness is about restraint. It teaches us humility, responsibility and self-discipline. These values are desperately needed in today’s world.

    Well said.

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      I paraphrased that quote and here is where it comes from:

      What would this development seem like from inside the Grand Canyon? At Mile 62, several days into a river trip, it would be like encountering Las Vegas-style entertainment and crowds of people. Developers say visitors need this choice because so many are unable to hike or ride a mule down to the river. They also argue that tourists these days are in a hurry and need the convenience and speed of flying to the reservation, and then riding a tram down to the river and back.”

      Let’s Not Bring Las Vegas to Grand Canyon!

    • avatar Taz Alago says:

      Horses are lovely to encounter, but the trail erosion on well-used trails is dramatic and nearly all the trashed campsites in Wilderness Areas I have seen are from horsebackers. When mountain bikers argue that if they are banned, then horses ought to be also, I can’t disagree.

    • avatar Mak says:

      Ida, you may or may not have encountered the massive ruts made by horse packing outfits and individuals in Wilderness areas.
      Wild horses do not live in the mountains – they are a large plains social mammal.

      I have attempted to informally evaluate the effects of the passage of a single horse and a single mountain bike, in redwood/temperate rainforest/riparian, and of a single mt. bike in those steep areas (I was roundly cursed by a mt biker after mildly stating that it caused erosion, as the wolf and I walked up a rut trail, one of many up to almost a meter deep in forest of the above type.) Artificial structures have been built by those in that sport, chopping regenerating trees as wildly as if they hated the forest.

      An estimation:
      1 mt. bike 1 time equals from about 25 foot travelers on gentle slope or flat, 50x on steeper.
      The half-ton horses had a slightly greater effect.

      Worse, in vegetated dunelands, one horse in rainy season spring, when young plants are mere sprouts, destroys succession for that year. Similarly riparian areas.

      This means that every trail previously created by these means, is perpetuated. Mt bikers then abandon the monstrous ruts making new erodes through formerly plant and duff-protected steeps.

      Salmon streams silt up. (you may not be familiar with two salmon as long as your leg spawning in streams so small that 1/4 to 1/3 of their bodies are above the surface. this means TINY streams).

      Crossings by these two transport methods silt and finish off any redds right there.

      ATV/ORV crossings are worse – oddly, a SINGLE orv can be less damaging to primary successional plants than a single horse or bike. Probably weight diffusion. Yet, ORVs are more destructive to mature primary successional plants – REALLY bad.

      The bank erosion in all 3 cases is heavy, profound as a common cattle entry.

      The problem is that the proprietary (selfish) users of these RETURN the following year. Word of mouth seems to have happened, preventing those who have grown out of the practice, from being the last, in many secret illegal places.

      In the West, the rhetoric against wilderness used by real estate and industry and jobs, is “locked up.” I repeat myself for you all: “CONTROL the rhetoric.”

      The ESA must be defended at all costs, as its use has now been recognized, and both political parties are willing to erode it. This defense must be unequivocal, which will require increased valuation by Indian nations, the very same bikers, climbers, and others who so wish to open wild rivers and lands to their machines.

      Those of us who live more in the wild, have seen the consistent erosion over the last half century or more, than those who remain prefession/academic/ wage/toy, or other focus (I have skied, and fought against Mineral King and every further expansion, Snowboarded and fought against snowmobile use, biked and fight against their use off dirt roads, worked on a ranch and fought against horse, cattle, sheep domestication and use, driven a 4×4 and WALKED, parking vehicle where legality ends. In my ideal world nothing but backcountry skiing/boarding should exist. I have climbed with some great climbers, but have deconstructed climber’s road-bashing, trailmaking/marking. I have also actively trapped a few ORVs, and I highly recommend the Field guide to monkeywrenching for this purpose wherever they make inroads illegally.

      None of these machine activities should be extended beyond what already exists, and many, many roads MUST be decommissioned by BLM and FS.

      Private logging company lands are inadvertently made safer for the wolf by the orv people causing landowners to close and call aw enforcement against them, but we are still losing local populations to habitat fragmentation.
      LIVE your ideal world
      The law is a social construct, and it may be necessary to follow the tree-sitters: when the law is ethically wrong, take steps personally against those who are unethically personally destroying habitat and life.

      Only when you personally establish and publicly succeed in promoting the ethic toward which Leopold the wolf-killer reached, in the larger society, will law change.

      • avatar Mak says:

        And I haven’t even touched guns and hunting season:
        ORV use has caused an explosion of poaching.
        Back in Northern WI and parts of Canada, ORV legal use for hunting is isolating and fragmenting species and habitat (in some areas, ungulates are in excess due to the loss of large predators). Fragmentation occurs even through the noise.

        A momentary digression for Griz:
        NO firearmcarriage has made a difference in backcountry Grizzly/human conflicts. The stats (I am SORRY I do not have them available, but they are easily found)show that carrying a gun is the same as carrying dirt under your fingernails.

        Mexican Spice – Peper Spray, is the only deterrence shown to be effective.

        I had noted a few years past the push by hunting mags to get daughters/children hunting – Sport hunting differs from subsistence hunting, and because it now has technology and law (silencers, internet availability of baiting scents, a massive lobby controlling many state wildlife commissions, the oRVs; much more),
        it has increased vastly the effect on species populations.

        Here in Wildlife news, we see some considered positions, but with every local population loss, habitat and gene flow are diminished. Human communications power among hunters is far too great.

        Not all of you know, but many do, that radio-colared wolves were targeted by wolf haters, who actualy posted radio frequencies (yes, they buy the tech easily) on the internet. Thus the wolves dispersing or merely moving with prey, out of Yellowstone, were detected and shot, as were wolves elsewhere. The USFWS knew this and countered in ways they could, but it is still an illustration of the faiure of ethics in sport hunters.

        Enough.

  3. avatar Treed Murray says:

    You hit the whole problem with mountain biking right on the nail, George, when you stated about MTBers’ “ride and build first, ask permission later” ruse that always seems to end up with land managers legalizing the MTB trails — believing naively that this will stop further illegal trail building and riding.

    When will these agencies ever learn to stop buying the MTBers’ “Brooklyn Bridge”? And when will they start to stand their ground against the whiney mountain bikers who balk at any closure of their trails?

  4. avatar Kayla says:

    Now am hearing more and more that those that threaten the wild country and the environmentalists are those that recreate in them. Now personally I have been backpacking into the deep wilds all my life. And anymore it seems is how few I see back in the deep wilds. And if I do see anyone, it is usually the older folks who like me have been going in all of our lives. The majority of the younger people do not go back into the deep wilds. Also have talked to some who work for years in an outdoor shop here in Jackson. And they say that the number one selling pack anymore is a daypack. It is interesting to me anymore how soooo many people are actually over addicted to our modern techno world and how few actually do indeed go back into the deep wilds. I personally wish there were more people who went into the deep wilds and had that deep heart connection to everything wild. Do personally think that people will NOT really protect that which they love. And if they just love everything techno and don’t really know about the earth and the wild place, then would they in the future want to keep protecting those places.

    Now I hear so much of how we need to protect places from the recreationalist. But what is the opposite of this. It is to confine us Human Two Leggeds in our big megacities where we are nothing more then a consumer for the military industrial complex. And then everything one does in the wilds would be outlawed or one would need to have a permit for it. I have to have my hikes in thew wilds. And this offends me in that some think that the goal of my life should be nothing but confined to some city where I am nothing but a consumer for the military industrial complex. If this is the goal of some environmentalists, then they are my enemy for do seriously think that each of us need time in the wilds to connect to the earth and have some time alone with the Creator. Also if we are confined just to the cities and such, then how much can the Elites what and monitor each and every one of us in our day to day lives. Personally do think that the Hunter-Gatherers around the worldf had it right. And we humans took a wrong fork in the road some years ago towards developing so called civilization.

    Now interestingly thru the years in wandering in the wilds, how much as of late have I been seriously criticized by some environmentalists for doing so. Here are some of the ways in which have been criticized …

    1.) Going into Wilderness Areas which they thought shold be off limits
    2.) Going off trail in Wilderness Areas
    3.) Going into any area in which there are any endangered species or plants
    4.) Using any edible or medicinal plants for my well being for one is killing plants
    5.) Living my life with going into the wilds – shame – should go to the city and devote my life in helping people.
    6.) Being in the wilderness more then several weeks in a given year – need to be in a city working and helping people.
    7.) And more

    Do think the time is coming whereby taking a simple walk into the woods will be against the law. For in the wilds one learns to face what life brings, one connects to the Mother Earth and all of life, and the Elites cannot monitor us. And Shame on us for going somewhere where we are not being a consumer for the military industrial complex. In my opinion we all need to take time getting in the wilds having that heart felt time with our Mother Earth!

    Just my opinion! Wishing Everyone the Best!

    • avatar kmatjhwy says:

      Now just to say that I was rushed when I made this comment for reasons soooo am sorry for the incorrect grammar and such in the article!

      Now I just hope and pray that the upcoming generations with being so divorced from the Mother Earth and the good wild country for everything techno will just as much try to preserve the remaining wilds as the previous generations.

      Who really needs all of these techno gadgets and stuff. And personally I despise Developers and such! They need a good walk into the wilds to see what live is all about.

      Wishing Everyone the Best!

    • avatar skyrim says:

      Thanks LEW for your insightful thoughts here. I am grateful for free spirits like you who can share your experience’s with us who are not so bold and brave.

  5. avatar kmatjhwy says:

    Now sorry about some of the grammer mistakes but I am at the public library and did not have time to proof read my comment before my time ran out.

    Now in that first sentence wanted to say … that those that threaten the wild country and the environment are those that recreate in them.

    Ansd the second thing is that I did not make clear. If someone is only in the techno world and does not have a heartfelt appreciation for the environement and the wild earth. Then will this person really protect the environment. Since most people will only protect that which he loves and if one is not connected deeply with the earth in a deep loving way … then do think those people will not in truth stand with protecting the wild earth. Since most people will only protect that which they love – and most people are divorced from the deep wild earth.

    Again sorry for the grammer mistakes for my time ran out and I could not proof read the article. But again do think we all need that heartfelt deep connection to anything wild and so many of us modern humans have become so divorced from anything wild.

    Wishing Everyone the Best!

    • avatar Leslie says:

      Kayla, I think you see so few people in the backcountry because you hike in grizzly bear country. Over here in Sunlight, I never, and I say really never!, see people hiking even on day hikes. Yes, locals come here to recreate on the weekends but most use ATV’s on the roads or stick around the campgrounds. There are some horse people, but a lot of the trails are poor due to downed trees or unmaintained. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve run into horse people even. Also, the Absarokas are very rugged country and not suitable for off-trail horse riding.

      But over in the Beartooths or the Winds where I like to backpack as well, there are tons of people, young and old in the backcountry, backpacking and fishing.

      I just came back from the IGBC 2-day meeting in Cody and saw the 2014 expansion maps. Grizzly bears are finally expanding into the beartooths and a few have made their way even to South Pass. Soon there will be less hikers there too. And that is not a bad thing, at all.

      • avatar JB says:

        Leslie–

        Did they provide abstracts for the conference? I’d be curious to have a bit more detailed update on what’s new with GBs.

        • avatar Leslie says:

          JB, that I do not know about. This was the first time they held the conference in Cody and the first time I went to one.

          The science they presented was that the GYE is full and Grizzly bears are expanding even beyond the DMA. Yet the population has remained fairly flat since 2001. Their explanation is that the young bear population is decreasing as the DMA since 2001, and using their methodologies they found no ‘doughnut hole’, in other words the population wasn’t expanding out in order to find food, etc., but was stable inside the recovery zone.

          As far as comments at the end from the public, several people each day commented that there was no mention nor plan of connectivity out of the GYE to populations north and that the GYE grizzly population is an island population. Of course, there were the usual–population full and time to delist comments too. There was also statements from the Shoshone and Cheyenne tribes that they are formally against delisting.

          The subcommittee science presentations by Frank van Manen and Mark Haroldson were definitely geared toward a conclusion of delisting. Their population update was 750 bears in the ecosystem.

          • avatar Ed Loosli says:

            Leslie: Thanks for your observations…
            When asked about the lack of “connectivity” of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population with other grizzly populations, what were the speaker’s replies?

  6. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    Kayla, I agree totally in your observations, especially how you see so few people when you get into the back country and that the more people use these areas, the more likely they will advocate for their protection.

    In addition, I would rather encounter mountain bikes and horses while hiking if it means these areas will be protected from development than if left unprotected. Also, there are numerous trails that are maintained by OHV organizations on federal land (due to lack of trail maintenance funds) that would otherwise be very difficult to hike (high number of windfalls). Many times I never hear or see an ATV or off road motorcycle and when I do I just give them a nod knowing they are just enjoying the outdoors in a different way than I do.

  7. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    That’s just it – someone like Kayla isn’t someone I would worry about, and medicinal plants seems like an awesome thing. Who would question that?\

    What I see is that not everyone loves the wilderness, and some just want to go out there for their own recreation and nothing more – they aren’t interested in protecting it or being careful about other inhabitants who live there. The wilderness is not for everyone, and not everyone can have their view changed by going there. What I am afraid of is developers changing wilderness to civilize it for those who would ordinarly have no inclination to enjoy it. Who needs another boring restaurant and shopping when you are at the Grand Canyon, for God’s sake! I never even had a telephone, and I never missed it, hiking out West was so incredible.

  8. avatar Nancy says:

    “Wilderness contributes to the ecologic, economic and social health and well being of our citizens, our country and our world”

    Our citizens, our country, our world. Sadly no mention of WHO we share that world with….

    http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/WhatIsWilderness

    “There’s no place on Earth entirely free of human impact, but in wilderness areas anthropogenic activities aren’t the dominating forces”

    Yet.

  9. avatar Garry Rogers says:

    The Wilderness Act permits livestock grazing, mineral prospecting, water utilization, transmission corridors, road construction, and of course, recreation in wilderness areas. Restrictions presently limit these impacts. However, the force of continued growth and development could dilute the restrictions. When our government turns to wilderness, we must be prepared to argue that the Act needs to be strengthened, never the opposite.

  10. avatar Ed Loosli says:

    George Wuerthner:
    Thank you so much for your wise words: “What is needed is a new approach to all trails on public lands with a “closed” to mountain bikers unless otherwise authorized after public review and environmental analysis much in the same way that ORV use is now regulated…Wilderness is about restraint.”

  11. I would take this further. I would like to see large swaths of wilderness be off limits to all humans so that areas exist with as little human impact as possible. That is the type of restraint I would support.
    Thanks for the article. It was wonderful reading.

    • avatar Barb Rupers says:

      kathryn bricker
      I have felt that way for many years, as have others who have traveled with me in wilderness areas.

      While volunteering for work on the then newly created Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument there were areas designated to the use of only scientific researchers. Should not some areas exclude them also?

  12. avatar Dan Lynch says:

    George W. does not say it, but I am guessing that he has had some personal encounters with mountain bikers that prompted this essay?

    I have yet to encounter a mountain biker in the wilderness or even on National Forest or BLM or State land. On the other hand, cows and ORVs and snow machines are common on public lands. ORVs have a much greater impact (and are far more annoying) than mountain bikes, in my neck of the woods, anyway.

    I accept that all human activity has an environmental impact. Even Native Americans had an environmental impact. It’s not realistic to advocate for “zero impact.”

    I sympathize with the Finnish tradition of “every man’s right” to walk, ride bikes, ride horses, or ski on any land (public or private). Yes, there is some impact from non-motorized travel but it is trivial compared to motorized travel. Let’s keep our priorities straight.

  13. avatar Louise Kane says:

    http://act.rootsaction.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=11214

    a tourist town on the grand canyon speaking of recreation threatening wilderness

    how about another Disney world here?
    unreal

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      Where they are going to get the water to support all of this is a mystery.

  14. avatar Roy says:

    The oldtimers knew that to protect wilderness you had to have people using it. Clearly people today don’t understand that fundamental truth.

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      I don’t thing the ‘oldtimers’ had any concept of the kinds of modern equipment and sheer onslaught of humanity that would be descending on wilderness in the future!!!

      Someone mentioned collecting medicinal plants – most people wouldn’t have a problem with that except for the fact that people tend to be greedy and take everything in sight – whether medicinal plants, chanterelles or harvesting(!) blueberries – take a little, but don’t cart away the entire blueberry bush(es). Someone posted a link to a story about someone who did just that.

      I was hiking near a beach last summer and I saw something curious – a couple of people hauling beach stones back and forth to their truck, load after load. Finally curiosity got the better of me, and I asked ‘What’re ya buildin’ sumthin’?’ The man said yes, he was building a fireplace enclosure for his wood stove. What if everybody did that? Am I wrong to think this is too much? What if everybody did that?

      I think it is wrong to keep spreading the mythology that everyone who goes out into the outdoors and wilderness is forever changed by it (for the better) and will love and protect it. It isn’t true. If it were, we wouldn’t be in the predicament we are today, with wildlife and wilderness constantly under threat. You will get some people who will, but many others will have a one-sided relationship with wilderness, taking it for all they can get. We shouldn’t just ‘use’ it, but care for it and protect it not just for ourselves, but for wildlife to live.

  15. avatar Helen McGinnis says:

    I agree with Roy. For much of my life, solo trips into wilderness areas defined my being. There is a feeling you get on such trips that can’t be described if you haven’t done it. I generally stayed on trails, used a little stove and rarely built campfires, and left no trash. I would be a different person without my wilderness experiences. I almost certainly would not be committed to rewilding today without them.

  16. avatar Joanne Favazza says:

    Industrialized humans have long needed a massive dose of humility and restraint. Thanks for another great essay, George. Wildlife and wild places, under constant threat by this culture’s arrogance, selfishness, and greed, thank you too.

  17. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    Interesting article about mountain bikers from HCN:

    http://www.hcn.org/issues/47.12/illegal-mountain-bike-trails-and-a-forest-service-crackdown-divide-an-arizona-town

    Are these the conscientious bikers who care about our wildlands as much as anybody? I’m shocked, I tell ya.

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Quote

‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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