The national wilderness preservation system would be strengthened-

Taking a long trip into the backcountry during winter doesn’t appeal to some people. That’s understandable. But I enjoy it, and it’s something I try to do a few times a year. Winter backpacking is very different, and more challenging, compared to strapping on the pack during other seasons.

For one it’s darn cold, with many trips never getting above freezing, day or night. Two, there’s usually lots of snow on the ground, which means you’re probably wearing snowshoes, and, perhaps, breaking trail too. Three, your pack is heavier because of all the extra warm gear you are carrying, including more food because you need to consume a lot of calories each day. Four, you have to work harder in just about everything you do, from setting up your shelter and trying to stay warm to melting water and attempting to stay hydrated. Five, there’s not a lot of daylight, so you have to stay motivated and keep moving if you want to cover some miles. Lastly, not too many people want to spend 5-6 days in the cold, blowing snow of the northern Rockies in January! But find someone to share the workload if you can!

My recent trip into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness was with a friend, and, perhaps more importantly, an individual with a skill set that I could trust and depend on. Once the weather report showed a high-pressure system moving across the region, Russell and I finalized our plans and set out for the trailhead. We felt confident we could cover 50 miles before the next weather front moved in.

The daily routine of building the morning fire, boiling water, drying gear, packing up, snowshoeing 10-16 miles, and then searching for a place to dig out the next snow cave was in some ways more mentally challenging than physical. But the white silence of the forest was peaceful, views of the snow-covered mountain peaks were tantalizing, and the cold, crisp air was exhilarating. With each arduous step, the wilderness boundary drew nearer.

You know the feeling. As you travel down the trail, through the forest, around the next bend or over the saddle, your heart pounds like a kid at Christmas. You anxiously await the sign that reads “…Wilderness, “…National Forest.” Yes, you say to yourself. Hope for humanity. Escape from the madness. Refuge for the plants and animals. Nature’s Bill of Rights at last. Leave me here and let me die with my true friends! And down the trail you continue.

Prior to our trip departure, Russell and I learned about the intent of the Idaho Fish & Game Department to land helicopters, and harass and collar elk, in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. We were angry, concerned, disappointed, and flabbergasted by the fact that the Forest Service gave the green light to land machines in the Wilderness, up to 120 times over a 3-month period. Of course, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 time or 12 times, but 120 times was mind-blowing. Who the hell is running the Forest Service? Didn’t they, along with millions of Americans, just celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act not too long ago? Looks like that was lip service!

And what about the people running the Idaho Fish & Game Department? Why do they still have authority over wildlife management on federal public lands? Why are their intensive and intrusive management plans being permitted in federally designated Wilderness? When is that going to change? Why is the Forest Service continually shining the shoes of the state hook and bullet departments? Who is really administering the Wilderness?

As Russell and I descended in elevation on the third day, the sun shined warmly, the skies stretched a bright blue, and the mighty Salmon River came within view. We peered though the binoculars, and combed the south-facing slopes for herds of elk. Dozens of ungulates lay basking on the hills, while those closer leaped and bound to a more secure place. We also observed whitetail and mule deer (strangely enough together) and lots of wolf tracks. Far off in the distance, we saw what looked like two golden eagles circling a spot on the hill, as if a kill had recently occurred.

Despite seeing a number of horses by the river late that afternoon (why are horses running freely on the national forest in winter, particularly in crucial winter-range habitat?), not a human was in sight, and the frozen riverbank was ours to explore and make home. We rested and dreamily watched small pieces of ice float downstream along the sides of the quiet, rolling river.

Later that evening, after a hot meal, warm fire, and the usual time-to-get hydrated routine, we dozed peacefully under a star-studded sky when suddenly we were awoken by the yips, screams, and howls of coyotes. After shaking our heads no, those are not wolves, we gleefully listened to the songs (and celebrations?) of a dozen coyotes not far from our tarp. They yipped for 3-4 minutes but it felt like a lot longer than that. The sweet music of the Wilderness had finally reached us!

When day broke and our bags were packed, Russell and I contemplated where the Idaho Fish & Game helicopters could be. Were they invading to the south along Big Creek? Were they harassing and stressing dozens of cows and calves to the east? The mere thought of these non-conforming, highly mechanized machines flying and landing wherever they want in the Wilderness made us sick to our stomachs. We both wanted to know how can the uses of helicopters, net-guns, tranquilizers, and GPS-collars be the minimal tool(s) needed to administer the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness? None of it made any sense. Little did we know that wolves were being collared too.

Which leads me to my final thoughts. What good is a National Wilderness Preservation System if the federal officials charged with administering the system, and individual areas, continues to approve projects that are incompatible with the Wilderness Act? Why are the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service repeatedly rubber-stamping proposals that harm Wilderness? How is the collaring of wildlife in federally designated wilderness representative of a self-willed landscape? Explain to me how helicopters, net-guns, and radio-collars enhance or preserve wilderness character?

This tragedy (“accident”) should serve as a lightning rod to spark a discussion, better yet, a movement, to do two things: create an independent federal department solely charged with stewardship of the wilderness system, and pressure Congress to pass legislation that forbids all state fish and game agencies from conducting any operations inside federally designated Wilderness.

To hell with the Forest Service and the other federal agencies, which continue to trammel the Wilderness and our natural heritage. We cannot keep leaving it to the attorneys to defend the Wilderness Act. We must do something bold. The status quo is badly broken and only getting worse. Ed Abbey is rolling in his grave and still screaming, “The Idea of wilderness needs no defense, just defenders.” This message needs to reach every living room in America.


About The Author

Brett Haverstick

Brett Haverstick is the Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group in Moscow, Idaho. He has a Masters of Natural Resources from the University of Idaho.

89 Responses to How about a new agency to administer our Wilderness?

  1. Ken Watts says:

    Maybe you have not noticed that the Federal Government is bankrupt. Over $18 trillion in debt. They cannot fund the existing agencies. Maybe they could institute a use fee for entry into the wilderness. For people who use wilderness, that fee would likely be over $1000 per day per person.

    • Sounds like a bad idea. Wilderness areas should not be run like a private business with entrance fees. Maybe the budget problem is how the money is being spent, not how much money there is to spend.

      • Mary Ann High says:

        Great piece Brett. I share your frustrations and completely agree on Forest Service mismanagement of Wilderness. As you know, the FS has long abdicated their Wilderness management responsibilities to the recreation and hunting industries, including IDFG. That is who they serve, rather than Wilderness itself. That’s why the FS supports game farming activities, including intensive predator killing, which is absolutely counter to natural processes, a foundational tenet of the Wilderness Act. Of course the WA allows hunting, but profit centric enterprise was never supposed to dominate Wilderness management as it does now. But as in most all of our government now, money drowns out everything else. So I believe, in this current environment, if an additional agency to manage Wilderness were created, it would also be corrupted. We all know about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service- an agency whose primary mandate is to conserve fish and wildlife and protect endangered species. And yet the current director, Dan Ashe, is an industry lackey that does their bidding instead of his job. So even being an agency with a single focus of conservation does not ensure integrity or accountability. The corruption in our government is rampant and systemic. As a recent Princeton study finds, we no longer are a democracy, but rather a plutocracy or oligarchy. I think the only way we can address this situation and all the others, is to free our government from the stranglehold of money and greed. A long and hard battle, but imperative- and one I believe we the people are finally ready for. And then yes, let’s rescue Wilderness from the FS- way past time for a new home!

        • Hi MaryAnn your comments are spot on. Perhaps, a new department solely focused on administering wilderness would not work due to the reasons you provided. There is a much deeper problem. Another way to go about the situation is to amend the Wilderness Act to forbid hunting. Talk about an uphill battle, though. Appreciate you taking the time to read the essay and reply.

          • Mary Ann High says:

            And thank you Brett for sharing your perspectives, passion, and posing these important questions. About the hunting- short of eliminating it- a big battle as you say, we could certainly demand more closely managing in the spirit of the WA by stopping the intensive predator killing to facilitate game farming in Wilderness. Hunting is one thing, but these extreme assaults on predators in the name of elk tags could not be further from the intent of the WA. And of course trophy hunting is also not compatible with the intent of the WA. So there are things that could be done to improve the current situation, and there is certainly justification in the WA to do it. High time the FS was held accountable for abdicating their authorities to the State.

            • That’s right Mary Ann. The FS has final say in all decisions regarding “stewardship” of the Wilderness. While the Fish & Game Departments may get more of the attention (particularly in this case involving the Frank Church) it’s the federal agencies “abdicating their authorities” to the state that leads to things like this in the first place. As you suggest, we must hold the federal agencies accountable. The buck stops with them; or more times then not the buck isn’t stopping with them. And since the FS is a lost agency, the best solution may be passing legislation that keeps the fish and game departments out of Wilderness. Do what the FS can’t seem to do.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Ken Watts,

      Your comment is based on the idea that the federal government is bankrupt. This is a partisan fantasy that I have heard for over 40 years.

      The credit of the Unites States is very strong. For evidence, the U.S. government can borrow money at an interest rate near zero. It also easily makes its payments on the national debt without breaking a sweat. Existing agencies have weak budgets because the congressional majority votes for weak budgets. Poor performance due to lack of funds is used to make a political talking point. Hey,”let’s privatize it.”

      In addition, I believe that the right to visit public lands is a fundamental right, implied by the 9th Amendment.

      • This resonates with me Ralph. I’ve always felt that charging entrance fees to our national parks is wrong, too. There are other ways to pay for the maintenance and administration of these areas. The problem has been allocation–for a very long time.

    • Outdoorfunnut says:

      Ken, The welfare hikers that use the wilderness areas would probably need to fork out some big dollars if they had to pay for their privileges themselves. The Federal Government is not bankrupt because of the National debt. It is bankrupt because of the unfunded liabilities which are more and more now coming due. FDR would have been higher on my “good president list” had he forced beneficiaries to pay for it themselves and not future generations. Social Security and Medicare benefits now ramping for baby boomers were not paid for by the baby boomers (myself included) but put squarely on the backs of those just born and those now entering the workforce. Anyone that downplays discussions of a bankrupt Federal government by only discussing the actual negative overspending (which has been about $35000 PER PERSON in the last 7 years) is misleading and hoodwinking that audience.

      The only political group that wants to even discuss those facts are conservatives!

    • One of the core problems with the present ideology (management) of what we humans consider “wilderness” is that we have to “use it.” Wildlife does not know a human-designated boundaries: this a a purely Humanist concept.So is the ESA, and other human concepts. Perhaps, those of us who really care about the survival of remaining wild places and wild animals, should consider just leaving these places alone–for the wild animals–unless we have to monitor them for species’ & habitat survival, against hunting/trapping and grazing. Perhaps we all need to start shedding the LL Bean & REI mentality of be able to be every place, just because it’s there. It would mean a complete turnaround for our species. We seem to damage or destroy every place we set go. The wild places need the absence of Homo sapiens.

  2. rork says:

    My limited understanding is that when Wildernesses get legislated, some compromises are made in order to pass the bill. New bills could be passed to alter the rules. Fine with me, but my good representatives in the House may not agree.
    I’m very unsure about not allowing “any operations” either. Wilderness can be an outstanding place to do research, but it’s a pain, cause of all the rules you (usually) have to follow. I’ve been to the Frank three times, and each time, met exactly 1 other party during 8-10 days travel. Scientists, every time. (Of course we try to go to the most difficult spots – who needs trails.) Maybe not the IDFG though. The fish people had hired packers to take them in on horses and get them out later. For example, it’s kinda nice to know how the bull trout are doing in places where it’s essentially unfished by humans, or how fast the absence of salmon is reducing nutrients or altering plant communities. I am not saying I would have let them use choppers to collar elk, but maybe they said yes to not seem like they were punishing IDFG – don’t need to make enemies with people who you wish would cooperate.

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      I agree, but then ID F & G captured the 4 wolves, and the Forest Service has issued what amounts to a severe warning — one more of those and you are done with helicopters.

      • rork says:

        I almost hesitate to say, but I would initially have said one of those and you are done, but after thinking harder, sadly see how there are difficulties. It’s tough keeping your wits when dealing with outlaws.

        • Thanks rork for reading the blog. The main idea behind penning this piece is to start a discussion or plant a seed in peoples minds that the status quo is broken and we need to adjust things if we really want to have wild wilderness. While I can respect scientific research, it should not trump wilderness character, nor does it need to be so invasive that it trammels the land or the wildlife within.

          You referenced two research scenarios and my question is why can’t we assess the nutrients/or lack of salmon nutrients in a an ecosystem or place outside wilderness. Same with bull trout populations. My guess is that you may be trying to establish a baseline(s) in an area less impacted or constrained by “man”. But when research (elk collaring, etc.) trammels that same landscape that you are trying to establish a baseline in for your studies, the whole thing is wrong. I’m not of the belief that we need to study things to death, either. Mystery is good, too. That’s part of the wilderness experience.

          • rork says:

            I was in no way saying the landscape should be trammeled to do that research. I said I was against them using choppers. Without those, collaring elk gets rather harder, perhaps so much so, that they wouldn’t bother.
            I generally have been vocal in wanting access to be harder – buy out of airstrips and inholdings, closing of roads, less trail work in some places (I realize good trails reduce impact in high-use areas). To show my radical stripes, my “modest proposal” is to not allow any animals other than humans (so no horses, lama, dog). No pack animals would be a giant blow to guides, elk hunters, trappers, in places like the Frank or Bob, and I don’t fantasize I’ll ever get that wish.

            • Agreed rork. Removing landing strips, buying out inholdings, letting some trails grow over would help keep wilderness wild. I’m an advocate for shutting down the “research station” known as Taylor Ranch in the Frank also. These installations or structures particularly give students a false impression of what wilderness is.
              The “next generation” is growing up less and less with a true understanding of what wilderness is and what it isn’t.

          • Ida Lupines says:

            I’m not of the belief that we need to study things to death, either. Mystery is good, too. That’s part of the wilderness experience.

            Me neither – totally agree!

            • rork says:

              My experience is that knowing a bit more about a thing means you have many times more questions and wonder than before. I don’t think we are running out of mystery. We are expanding it, like gold to airy thinness beat.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                Against my better judgment, I’m taking the baited treble hook – but that’s just it, isn’t it – it’s not all about us, our wonder, our questions, a one-sided thing. If we cause the ruin of or destruction to the thing we are studying, perhaps it is best to leave well enough alone? Like development of ever more weaponry.

                • rork says:

                  I am not advocating ruin or destruction, or weapons. It’s not about us when I wanna know about bull trout, it can be instrumental for their survival.

                • Ida Lupines says:

                  I think the point was we shouldn’t study something to death – not that we shouldn’t study at all! Like in medicine, the motto should be – first, do no harm.

  3. Nancy says:

    Nice article Brett but I often wonder if we humans are even capable of setting aside (and funding) wilderness areas just for the benefit of wildlife to exist without our constant interference, however light it might be, like your back packing trip?

    IMHO, what’s left of true wilderness areas ought to be off limits entirely, to mankind, before we ruin those areas too.

    • birdpond says:

      Absolutely. We NEED places like that.

    • Marc Bedner says:

      Nancy, you have identified the problem. The Wilderness Act was designed by hunter-conservationists following in the footsteps of Aldo Leopold, who believed that the only true wilderness experience involved killing animals who live there. I share your doubts that most humans can appreciate the need for human-free areas. But is it asking too much to establish a few wildlife refuges that are refuges for wildlife, and not for hunters? Can’t we learn anything from the Bundy experience?

    • That’s a fascinating article Nancy. Thank you for sharing. Amazing how resilient some species are. I am an advocate for establishing a tiered-program withing the National Wilderness Preservation System. Perhaps, it is too late for this? but it would designate certain wilderness areas as non-human zones (would need to name it differently to make it sound positive not negative) and other areas as we have them today. There may be a third tier in this model but I’m not sure what that would be. I think Russia has protected places where humans are forbidden except for (you guessed it) scientific research.

      • rork says:

        “who believed that the only true wilderness experience involved killing animals who live there”
        Not my take. I was reading him as an advocate about how we mostly have to turn from that to observing – if you know enough to understand what you are actually seeing, that’s enough. If the only people you can get on board with the wilderness are hunters, the wilderness is doomed (unless they are incredibly rich and run the show, also not his preference).

    • Nancy, you are right on! The problem with public lands is that every kind of human activity is now pushed on these last remaining places for wildlife. More of us must be willing to sacrifice that trip into that “special place” and leave it to hell alone. As human population continues to explode exponentially, the trend now is for humans to get to those “last frontiers.” And, with the human intrusions, comes the destructiveness, whether on purpose–or not. There are some places that we simply should leave alone for the other animals. They are not even safe on so-called “Wildlife Refuges” with all the hunting/trapping and grazing going on.
      Humanism is the cause, because humans (for the most part) want everything for their perceived needs and wants.
      And, the Earth and her non-humans are dying because of it.

        • Ida Lupines says:

          What an exciting article! I can see there’s still hope yet. We know that the West is beautiful, but there are other parts of this country that have beautiful, iconic forests too.

        • Thank you, Nancy. You have made an excellent point. This Humanist idea that we humans should be stepping on every corner of this planet, at the expense of the last of the wild flora and fauna, is part of our problem as members of Homo sapiens. There is so little left, that this species hasn’t trampled to death.

          Even Yellowstone, as marvelous as it is, should have the MAJORITY of the areas completely Off Limits to Humans. Let the Grizzly, wolf, wolverine, coyote, and other non-humans have some peace and quiet, for Gaia’s sake–finally.
          As nature defender, the late Walkin’Jim Stolz sang “there’s a place I may never go, but I know it’s there wild and free, and that’s all I have to know.” I urge people to listen to his music–it provides a great Solace in these times.

    • Thank you, Nancy. You have made an excellent point. This Humanist idea that we humans should be stepping on every corner of this planet, at the expense of the last of the wild flora and fauna, is part of our problem as members of Homo sapiens. There is so little left, that this species hasn’t trampled to death.

      Even Yellowstone, as marvelous as it is, should have the MAJORITY of the areas completely Off Limits to Humans. Let the Grizzly, wolf, wolverine, coyote, and other non-humans have some peace and quiet, for Gaia’s sake–finally.
      As nature defender, the late Walkin’Jim Stolz sang “there’s a place I may never go, but I know it’s there wild and free, and that’s all I have to know.” I urge people to listen to his music–it provides a great Solace in these times.

  4. Joanne Favazza says:

    Love this, Brett. Thanks so much for saying what needs to be said.

    “To hell with the Forest Service and the other federal agencies, which continue to trammel the Wilderness and our natural heritage. We cannot keep leaving it to the attorneys to defend the Wilderness Act. We must do something bold. The status quo is badly broken and only getting worse. Ed Abbey is rolling in his grave and still screaming, ‘The Idea of wilderness needs no defense, just defenders.’ This message needs to reach every living room in America.”

    • I have a reputation for saying or doing what’s on my mind. Thanks for the support Joanne. We need to do something different.

      • Joanne Favazza says:

        Absolutely Brett. Totally agree.

      • Right, Brett. The old ways are not working, and The Wild Places and Wild Lives don’t have a whole lot of time to wait. It will call for a very brave, strong, long & uncompromising series of campaigns/actions.
        Facebook is great for some things, but it is not activism.
        Every time we humans compromise regarding what is happening in The Wild, the wild lives always lose.

    • Larry says:

      It is a little uncomfortable to hear wilderness/wildlife/ecosystem advocates be so critical of land management agencies. After all they take it on one side from Bundy type wackos and then have to take it on the other side from those of us dedicated to support land health. Land management agencies are not composed of cast off loggers or cow welfare types. They are for the most part dedicated college educated scientist minded advocates of land health also. Some of the things the agencies allow or do are mandated by law made by stupid politicians that wouldn’t know a bull trout from a goldfish. Also be aware that being too strict on permits without much cause can bring on more of those laws by stupid politicians. Just sayin’.

      • Ralph Maughan says:


        I agree.

        I think folks need to say positive things about the land management agencies when they can. Many government employees have scientific training, and special or general expertise. They are the kind of people that wingers hate, anti-intellectuals that they are. As persons, government employees who work for these agencies truly deserve support and protection. There have been too many threats and attempts to hurt them from extremists.

        I have a son-in-law who is a fish and game conservation officer (not in Idaho). He deals with a lot of dangerous and criminal people, often alone in the woods.

      • Kathleen says:

        I agree with this also. Blanket statements are particularly unfair–I’ve heard blanket statements to the effect that the entire BLM should be dismantled (this was from some uninformed person blaming the BLM for the Yellowstone bison slaughter!), that the entire USFWS is corrupt, etc. etc. This simply isn’t true–there are dedicated public servants protecting the resource (as they say) for all of us, in every agency. That said, there are also those occasional managers who go along to get along, who are more interested in advancing their careers than making unpopular but necessary decisions, who brought different loyalties to the position, etc. They can’t be too surprised when lawsuits come their way, but what a waste of time, effort, and taxpayer dollars.

        • Larry says:


          In a perfect world (such as a Bernie Sanders/Raúl Grijalva administration) a Bureau of Wilderness might work but I think it would be like 6 families trying to build one house. By the time all the wailing and dicing was finished we would have wilderness none of us would recognize because the repubs would insist it be delegated to state control or privatized. I’ve heard of people getting bit when they kicked a sleeping dog.

          • Larry says:

            You have stimulated my mind even though I am not high on the Bureau of Wilderness idea, I would rather see a mandate that all states add a “Climate Change Course” to their curriculum for all students. Education is really the answer. Many will never experience wilderness but if they are taught the value of wilderness many more will support it. Right now so many kids come out of school with zilch understanding of an ecosystem. I guess administrations don’t think it is important, after all it’s only what makes the earth habitable.

            • birdpond says:

              And don’t forget a course on the human-driven, cataclysmic loss of biodiversity. That is a big one, the elephant in the room that no one seems to be talking about. We’ve already lost at least half of all species, and at some time soon we will reach a tipping point. Why isn’t this being discussed? These wilderness areas must be preserved as bio/ecological reservoirs, and we need many more of them (not just here but globally),and they need to be larger and more congruent/interconnected. I don’t care how we get there as long as we do.

              I would support a Sanders/Grijalva ticket, by the way. We can dream.

            • Yvette says:

              I just saw a ‘news’ headline on a facebook feed that said, Ted Cruz’s father believes Obamacare is secret plan to bring ISIS terrorists to the U.S. as doctors.

              The neighbors that flank me are: Next door: far right-wing with a gun obsession (nice educated people and quite private but they do have a tendency toward the militia mindset); the people int he house that is behind mine are far right wing and they are strongly anti-Muslim. Their saving grace is they are animal lovers. Also quite friendly. Other neighbors across the street are Ron Paul supporters. All of these neighbors are ready and willing to help me and other neighbors with anything. Nice good people with wacky beliefs.

              One day this past week I was in a lead base paint course. The instructor has taught these courses for many years. He visited more than he taught and he got off on global warming, as he called it. He sounded like a broken record of Jim Inhofe. Several of my co-workers were in agreement with him, or at least gave him credence. He even made a reference to Adam and Eve, which sounded like he believed they existed and that is where we humans originated. (I did not ask him and mostly avoided engagement on his ‘global warming’ rant since it’s waste of my energy to engage with with them).

              This is the majority of what I’m surrounded by in the state of Oklahoma. It’s not that people aren’t educated, but somewhere along the way most everything has become linked to politics. People state their opinions as fact and believe that opinion should have equal weight as published research.

              A course on climate change in the schools is needed. I agree with you and I agree with Birdpond’s comment on teaching ecology. I’ve long thought that we need to start teaching age appropriate ecological principles starting at the pre-school age. Unfortunately, in states like mine, there is a sizable number of people who are far more focused on getting creationism incorporated into the official science agenda. The starting pay for teachers in OK is 33K and that might be the full package with benefits. OK can’t fill the vacant teaching positions and retention is difficult.

              I wish we could get a strong science program in the schools with ecology starting early and climate change being incorporated in to the science classes. I don’t know what it’s like in the liberal states (do we have any left in America or are we all falling down the fascist rabbit hole?) but where I’m at it’s a fight to simply keep religion out of the science classes.

              I’d love to teach high school science classes (I actually love teenagers) but; 1) they won’t pay above poverty wages; and 2) there is not enough money out there to pay me to put up with the fights over how to teach and what to teach.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                I’m beginning to wonder – out here it is not wanting to pay for anything. People tend to close their minds when tightening belts. In Boston, there was a budget meeting protest where, placards expressed worry that not art and music programs are threatened, which is bad enough, but science! A lot of this is because of Federal funding cuts too.

                Our infrastructure and subway system are badly in need of upgrading, but nobody wants to pay an increase in fares. (I’m sure our old city has lead pipes too somewhere.)

                It seems to be this way all across the country – too many people, not enough money – or the money only in the hands of a few.

                I shudder to think what will happen if a GOP candidate wins the presidency.

                • Ida Lupines says:

                  Bernie Sanders’ new ad is great – ‘All come to look for America’ (where is it? Going down the fascist rabbit hole, I think you are right, Yvette).

                  I’d love Bernie Sanders to win, but I wonder if he’s had enough time for the voters to get to know him, especially minority voters?

                  But how about a Hillary/Bernie ticket? I must admit I feel it’s time we had a woman president too.

                • Larry says:

                  There are many Democratic ticket combos I would celebrate but it comes down to a combo that will win. Every time we have right wingers in power we come closer to losing our public lands. That issue alone should be the bottom line. My perfect ticket will never happen; Bernie/Raul Grijalva and Bobby Kennedy Jr as Sec Interior. But we must keep our public lands.

                • Ida Lupines says:

                  Larry, I’ve always thought Raul Grijalva would make the best Secretary of the Interior. Here’s hoping!

      • While we can defend those individuals in these agencies (if they are trying to do the right thing), that is one thing.
        But, we have to remember that the way these federal and state “management” agencies are set up is one of the biggest detriments to saving The Wild. If we find this “uncomfortable” we must realize that it is time for massive changes.
        Canadian Naturalist, author, the late John A. Livingston, wrote about the Fallacy of Wildlife Management. He was criticized and isolated, but the trend today is toward totally re-thinking the Humanist concepts towards The Wild and the whole idea of human “management” which has largely been an abysmal failure. Today, we witness increasing slaughter of native wild animals, with more human “activities” on what have been wild public lands. Efforts are afoot to allow more hunting, trapping and grazing on these fragile western lands–all at the expense of wild lives.
        If the Bundy Bunch (along with southern NM ranchers) have taught us anything, it is that we need to recognize that yes, wild lives have enemies, and they are human: increasing numbers of us now believe that remaining public lands should be OFF Limits to grazing, hunting/trapping. Period.
        When we are brave enough to draw the line in the sand, we will know who our real “defenders of the wild” are.

        • Larry Keeney says:

          Good response, let me be clear which is difficult to be sometimes for me. I fumble a lot with writing.
          I am: (1)for leaving wild, wild (no H. sapiens)
          (2)science educated wildland managers have to constantly guard against the political doctrine of using nature to our pleasure. (3)Most science educated wildlanders do a good job of staying pure. (4) I strongly caution against slamming agencies by inference that the employee executes detrimental programs against science based management.

          That said, if an employee(s) planned something like radio tracking wolves in the Frank for the purpose of killing packs; where are the subordinates with ethics and standards? There are exceptions to rule 3 unfortunately.

          Remember also that Congress has tried their best to handcuff science management techniques by requiring managers to do things they know are not pure.

  5. Yvette says:

    Brett, first of all, marvelous writing. I enjoyed your style and the voice in your writing.

    I’m not in the group that thinks humans should be excluded from some regions when the only reason is to protect it. I’m happy for you and your friend are able to experience wilderness, and I support the limited use of wilderness. Keep doing it.

    I don’t have a strong opinion on the use of helicopters in wilderness. I might support it if it were truly limited to a few scientists. If we could trust whoever is the decision maker on that use I might support it. My confidence and trust with federal and state agencies toward wildlife and wilderness protection is low. I do not support the IDFG going in because they are untrustworthy. They are liars, their agenda is to work for whatever they think is advantageous for sport hunters and to hell with everyone else.

    • Thank you for the compliments and taking the time to read the blog Yvette. The concept of having protected areas that exclude humans will most likely never be accepted in this country, whether it be in a federally designated wilderness area or national park. I don’t know the history behind creating the US Fish & Wildlife Service refuge system but I’ve always wondered if that was the original idea or goal and then it got politicized. Of course, protected areas need to be vast in size for species to adapt, travel, etc. The refuge system or areas seem to be rather small in size in the lower 48, too and they allow all sorts of hunting, fishing, etc. so I’m not sure how they are a refuge from anything.

  6. Bill Zager says:

    Mr. Haverstick, I think you have absolutely identified and described a serious problem, and with that part of your writing I couldn’t agree more. But really, another agency is your answer? It surely would be subject to the same political influences that prevent the existing agencies from doing their jobs. So while I think you have identified a problem, it is back to the drawing board for a solution.

    • Hey Bill I think your opinion is a very fair one. I will not argue with this. Perhaps, it is not the solution. Perhaps, it would have good intentions but not productive results. But at least it got you to think about the current situation. Not that you already don’t but it is stimulating conversation. Thank you for reading the post.

  7. Ida Lupines says:

    How do we change our cultural ‘values’? Somehow, people need to value wild places and wildlife for reasons other than our so-called ‘rights’ to them and to exploiting them, so that we don’t see it as “humans keep out” – and acknowledge their right to exist, free from interference from us, of any kind.

    Not all cultures are like the dominant one, founded upon conquering, destroying and exploiting – and forcing everyone to be like them or face the consequences. Thank goodness we did and do have a few visionary souls who see the value of wild places beyond ourselves.

    • Yvette says:

      Excellent point, Ida. Like many other people, it’s one I’ve thought of often. The next question I asked myself is how do I contribute to getting more people to ‘buy into’ valuing our natural world. How do we get more ‘boots on the trail and in the mud’?

      Those of us who do value and revere wildlife, non-human relations, wilderness and the natural world are those who had exposure to it. Sometimes that exposure was fishing or hunting, but in some way we had a lot of unimpeded exposure to the natural world, both the good and the bad. (if you’ve never been covered by hundreds of seed ticks that left itchy bites all over you for a month, or had poison ivy rash all over your arms—–you’ve not lived right).

      The more urbanized our society becomes the more people lose the deep connection with the natural world. If a parent does not or is unable to get their kid completely out of the city I think they will be less likely to value the natural world. How do we value something we don’t know? They may even fear it. And the kids from the income challenged families? Ida, I’ve met adults in my area who never left our city and rarely got outside of the neighborhood. Can you imagine what exposing kids from this background to rivers and wetlands, hiking trails and camping, could do for them? Even something as simple as planting a neighborhood garden, or even, a rain garden could have a positive effect. They experience. They learn. They value. Then they buy into protecting it.

      The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. ~ e.e. cummings

      (and thanks to that friendly and wonderful small town Texas English teacher who introduced me to e.e. cummings. It was a short exposure but a lasting memory)

      • Ida Lupines says:

        Yes. 🙂

        Most children you see just love nature and wildlife. Talk about wonder and mystery!

        But something happens along the way to derail it. Mother Nature needs better marketing to compete with technological gadgets. 😉

        • birdpond says:

          Children need to be taught now to relate to nature, how to value it. If the parents hunt or trap or see nature as just a commodity, or that animals have no feelings, are just automatons,or are a danger, they will instill these mindsets in their children. Remember, most kids are eager to please their parents. Or just never question this early learning, never get to see the other side, are made to believe that animals/nature are here to be used. It’s hard to fight this conditioning but early positive experiences AND REINFORCEMENT BY RESPECTED ADULTS AND ROLE MODELS/PEERS is crucial to developing a sense of interconnectedness and empathy. Thoughts?

          • Outdoorfunnut says:

            Are you thinking that parents that hunt and trap should have their children removed from such an environment so that superior intellects such as your self can take care and properly nurture them? Kinda like what they did with Native Americans years ago.

            • birdpond says:

              Whoa, what is that about?

              I was raised by a man who hunted. He would also (when I was pre-kindergarten) take any butterflies I caught, stick a long pin through them (the were still very much alive) and poke the ‘specimen’ into a sheet of cardboard, so I could have a ‘butterfly’ collection. Those unfortunate creatures fluttered in sad circles, fading, getting tattered, and suffering (as science now confirms) for who-knows-how-long before finally going still. But he said they were just animals and didn’t feel pain or have minds like we did. So it was OK.

              He also insisted that the lame bird we found could be carried by the feet (it was a bluejay) because birds ‘had no nerves in their legs’ and felt nothing in their feet. (The bird ended up with a broken leg during this lesson). If I had had access to anyone back then, a relative, friend, teacher, neighbor, who could have gently shown me that it is not right to impale live butterflies on a board, or break the legs of songbirds to prove they ‘don’t feel pain like people do’, I would have spent fewer years behaving in ways I now deeply regret.

              That’s all I’m saying. Children are naturally attracted to nature and animals, but how they end up understanding and relating to them is still being formed. That’s what nurturing, teaching and guiding is all about, whether in the family unit, in school, peer groups or church.

              I did not single you or anyone else out – Not all hunters see nature as just a commodity. Some do. Do you identify as one of those who do? How was I to know? There was no need to make a personal attack on me.

              As a post-script, in the end, the man who raised me seemed to conclude that what he’d done regarding nature and animals wasn’t right, and deeply regretted it. He never hunted again. I wish he was still alive so we could take a walk through the woods and just enjoy watching all the life around us.

              • Nancy says:

                +10 Birdpond

                • birdpond says:

                  This is important information to have – I will be saving that link for use in the future. Thank you, Nancy.

                • Ida Lupines says:

                  How awful! I cannot bear abuse of those who cannot defend themselves. 🙁

                • rork says:

                  You’ll notice public health efforts to reduce child abuse have not focused on hunting. Maybe cause some people take it seriously enough.

                • Outdoorfunnut says:

                  “facts” I’m sure they racked the stats over the coals and looked with some pretty fine magnified glasses in order to come up with that one….. and your source “animals 24-7” Thank you for the entertainment!

                  The most crime ridden places in America are inner city areas that have absolutely NOTHING to do with hunting!

                • Nancy says:

                  “The agency defines animal cruelty as ‘Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment”

                  Course, there are those grey areas/exceptions, when it comes to defining “any animal”

                  “This definition does not include proper maintenance of animals for show or sport; use of animals for food, lawful hunting, fishing or trapping.”

                  Unfortunately, a convenient way to exclude some of the more heinous ways to abuse “any animals”…. like puppy mills, the countless, recorded abuses to animals destined for human consumption (slaughterhouses) the use of hounds to terrorize & kill wild animals, the suffering of wild animals trapped (for days at a time) sport hunting, the list does go on and on, ODFN.


                  “People who have been hunting all their lives with no compunction to consider the exchange they make and the gravity of the trade, I don’t know where to put them. I just remind myself there are too many mule deer for the earth to handle, and before my inner dialogue says we took their space, not the other way around, I try to change the channel.”
                  ― Liz Stephens, The Days Are Gods

            • Hunting and trapping is the “sport” of cowards, and I am sure those animal killers will certainly “teach” their spawn the same behavior. Luckily, some of them may see through the lies and repel the animal serial killing their parents do.

    • That gets to the root of the situation or problem Ida. I believe those were the intentions of Howard Zahniser and others when drafting the Wilderness Act. From a social dimensions perspective Wilderness should be about humility, wonder, sacrifice, and restraint, among others.

  8. Kelly Thompson says:

    Great article Brett Thoroughly enjoyed reading this and very well written and informative You have made some really great points and given us a good deal to think about Thank you, I am sharing this

    • Thank you Kelly for reading the essay and considering its importance. It’s not a silver bullet by any means, but at least it may start a discussion among some on what do we want the future of the National Wilderness Preservation System to look like. The threats to wild wilderness are real and increasing at a pace never before seen. These threats are coming from industry, state agencies, federal agencies and some within the conservation movement. The deck is stacked right now and wilderness is losing.

  9. Kathleen says:

    While I share your outrage and frustration, from my perspective, another bureaucratic agency isn’t needed. What IS needed is quite simple: consistent wilderness management across the four wilderness managing agencies (they all operate under their own policies now) and managers who actually *care* about wilderness and are dedicated enough to the ideals of the Wilderness Act to simply *follow the law*!!!

    The status quo has indeed been challenged and many of the systemic problems laid out–by a fed, speaking to feds–at the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. It was posted in a different thread last year, but since it’s so relevant to this topic:

    • Hi Kathleen another department, bureaucracy may not be the answer. Agency interpretation of the Wilderness Act and the discretion to form their own management guidelines is a problem. I guess my thought is that “another bureaucracy” could eliminate the situation you speak of because it could streamline how wilderness is administered. Of course that may be simplifying things a bit.

      I think the term wilderness management is a problem in its own right. The name gives the average person an impression that we are in control of wilderness or that we need to manage it. That’s part of the whole problem-wilderness is supposed to be a self-willed landscape free of human manipulation and control.

      I agree. We badly need more wilderness rangers on the ground. With agency funding hacked to pieces, fewer staff are spending time in wilderness and that land ethic is eroding as a result. Wilderness character is also suffering because fewer staff equates to having to cover/monitor larger and larger areas which leads to staff having less of an understanding of what’s taking place on the ground in wilderness.

      Thanks for sharing the link to Chris Barns talk. I was there for that.

      • Kathleen says:

        Regarding the oxymoronic nature of the term “wilderness management”–I definitely get your point. It’s just a matter of fact, though, that if land is designated as wilderness under The Act and people are free to access it (which The Act states is our right: “…these (areas) shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness…”) then that land is going to need to be managed because human impacts aren’t benign.

        My husband and I served as volunteer Wilderness Information Specialists for the Forest Svc. in the Weminuche Wilderness (San Juan Mtns., southwest CO) in the ’90s–particularly in the Chicago Basin area. The basin is a spectacular and extremely popular area that was literally hammered by steady, heavy use. It was our job to meet backpackers and offer Leave No Trace info, deconstruct fire rings, pack out litter, stuff like that. Much as we (wilderness people) love the ideal of a self-willed landscape, without management, places like Chicago Basin become sacrifice areas. I guess the “management” in a case like this is meant to exert some control over the users more so than control over the land. And of course, this is a very different issue than illegal incursions into designated Wilderness to manipulate predator/prey relationships for the benefit of hunters and to the detriment of naturalness and wilderness character!

        • Brett Haverstick says:

          Hi Kathleen agreed. Any “management” that takes place in Wilderness should be about managing people.

          While we may not be able to regulate human enjoyment of the Wilderness, agencies are sometimes doing a poor job of allowing overuse of certain places or campsites, particularly those in the sub-alpine zone. Between having too many trails to get to that particular destination and/or allowing high-density of stock use these places are getting pounded. You reference all this of course. I see it alot in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

          What a cool volunteer thing you did with the FS. Sometimes I wish I had a job where I got into the field much more. But as you know from this essay I get out a ton on my free time (and a little with my job).

    • Perhaps we need to “manage the managers.” This might just be the solution to keep humans busy–and leave the wild lands for the wild lives, free from hunting, trapping and grazing by humans. Now, isn’t this a radical idea, eh?

  10. Cecil Andrus tried to get the USFS transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Interior when he was the Secretary of the Interior Department. I think that that would be a good first step.
    The Ag department is too interested in “harvesting” trees and wildlife. Putting the BLM and USFS under one department would simplify land management issues such as grazing and wilderness.

    • Brett Haverstick says:

      I agree Larry. If the FS was moved to the Dept. of Interior then all big 4 federal land agencies would at least be under the same roof. I like to think that could affect the politics of the FS but maybe it wouldn’t. Corporate control would still occur but maybe less since the Dept. of Interior has a different history, mission and leadership.

      It seems many of the posts in response to my essay calling for a new department that administers wilderness is not in favor of such and that is understandable. We could at least work to try and get legislation passed that forbids fish and game departments from conducting operations in the wilderness and we could work to try and get the FS under the Dept. of Interior umbrella. Monumental efforts in their own right. The combination could relieve alot of the political pressure that the FS currently faces.

      • Larry Keeney says:

        That is a much more realistic approach in my view. I was optimistic back when the push was to move FS to Interior but that’s been out of the headlines for many years now. I think it would be an avenue to improvement for the reasons you state. That said I think the wheels would just spin if it is tried during a repub Congress. Should wait until a Democratic Congress and emphasize the uniformity for climate control actions/measurements.

        • Thanks Larry. Something certainly needs to be done to address the status quo. If another department to administer wilderness proved to be ineffective, or is not worth pursuing, then passing legislation to restrict fish and game departments from doing anything in the wilderness is sorely needed. But the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act right now is looking to do just the opposite. For the time being we can do nothing but defend the wilderness (we have been since 1964 and beyond) but the time is coming when we must go on the offensive and strengthen the wilderness act and the national wilderness preservation system. Climate change is one of many reasons to get something done.

          • I agree, Brett, and so glad you mentioned the increasing factor of Climate Change in all of this: wild species are already being affected by this human-caused phenomenon: with ocean current changes and temperatures, soil and atmospheric changes, permanent drought (as here in The West), along with bird and other wild migration patterns disrupted. Water is becoming increasingly scarce for wild species, since humans are now scrambling for whatever is left.
            And, not much mention about human population and its role in all of this. We are reviewing a new publication from Dave Foreman, with Laura Carroll, titled,”Man Swarm–How Overpopulation is Killing the Wild World.” Highly recommended reading!


  11. Joanne Gura says:

    Did you happen to read The Rogue Agency in Harpers Magazine, by Christopher Ketcham? The byline is A USDA program that tortures dogs and kill endangered species. All about the work of the Wildlife Services and their long history of caring for cattle and sheep…needs to be read by everyone. Thank you for caring, please let us know anything we can do to help…there are many of us who still think that this planet was not just made for man, and want it to go back to a more even playing field. A great piece.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Joanne Gura,

      Yes I did read it and a lot more from Chris Ketcham. He is a terrific new voice in news reporting about Western issues, and not from the ranching perspective.

      • The Wildlife Killing Machine: Currently known as Wild Life Services (no service to wildlife!),formerly Animal Damage Control by 1931. Before this, the Federal involvement in wildlife slaughter began in 1890,when the Federal Gov. created the “USDA’s Biological Survey”: this is when killing wild animals got really serious. By 1907 private & government (largely one entity in the West) were killing thousands of native animals, but it was mostly unorganized and sporadic.
        Then things changed. By 1914 the Predatory Animal & Rodent Control became an autonomous part of the Biological Survey. Around WWI Congress took wildlife killing more seriously, and it began appropriating $$$ for this killing machine.
        Decades later, Dick Randall, a former wildlife killer for Animal Damage Control, who quit the agency and became a whistle blower & champion for wildlife: he witnessed the torture and death of coyote pups, burned out of dens, and other very terrible atrocious acts of sadism and torture upon millions of innocent beings.
        I met Dick Randall, in the mid 90’s before he died. He was a different man. His whole mission was to expose this terrible killing machine, now called Wildlife Services.
        Anyone who is truly interested in knowing how this Wild Life Killing Machine started and is continuing today, should read: “Waste of the West: Public Lands Ranching” by Lynn Jacobs. I think it is the most comprehensive book on the organized devastation of The West, by the Livestock Industry, paid for by taxpayers. It can still be found at:

  12. Moran, Alan says:

    You think radio-collars aren’t beneficial on preserving wildlife? The fact is there’s numerous benefits that came from collaring wildlife. One being that when randomly selecting the animals in a certain species to collar allows us to track their movements and lets us know how the general population is behaving/fairing. If any eradict behavior occurs, wildlife managers and policy makers use this info as a warning sign and are able to quickly assess the situation.
    Please respond.

    • Wildlife collaring is another justification for the wildlife “managers” to manage, which is part of the problem. There have been numerous reports of collared wolves having been tracked down by anti-wolf folk, like hunter/ranchers, so collaring can be a big negative for wildlife. I worked in Upper UP Michigan on a Bald Eagle project, where radio packs were attached to the eagles, on their backs. In this particular case, they were closely monitored, and if there was a problem they were removed, but at great stress to the birds. Ultimately, radio collaring in this case did not stop the population decline, which was due to eagle chicks not hatching–due to continued logging of remaining mixed forests turned into industrial forests. Eagles do not do well in such cases.

      If we humans had enough brains to leave the last natural, wild areas alone, free from hunting, trapping, ranching, and other human activities, most wild animals would be able to survive much better than at the present time.
      But, humans believe they have to be everywhere, stomping around (if not doing worse things), just to prove they can be there. Some of us now believe that wild places should be left alone, and humans should not be allowed everywhere. Period. As soon as we intrude into any wild area, it soon is no longer wild, and the wildlife and their habitat is ruined, because humans always manipulate and destroy.

      Preserving wildlife does not depend upon more human manipulation, like collaring. In fact, it is the opposite. Wildlife are not doing better, more are dying everyday.

      Perhaps non-humans would do better if Homo sapiens were collared.

      Frankly, I would love to see humans radio collared.


January 2016


‎"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