Wilderness Strategy Questioned

Current Creek, Owyhee Canyonlands © Brian Ertz
Current Creek, Owyhee Canyonlands © Brian Ertz

Wilderness ought be worth fighting for

George Wuerthner questions the quid pro quo strategy that a small number of groups have claimed necessary to promote wilderness designation – some even going so far as to nearly become cheerleaders for the very industries that threaten the wild.

Wilderness Strategy Questioned – Is the future of Wilderness simply more of the past? NewWest.net

“Compromise is often necessary, but it ought not to originate with environmental leaders. Our role is to hold fast to what we believe is right, to fight for it, to find allies, and to adduce all possible arguments for our cause.“‘– David Brower

When I think of wilderness, I imagine a place untrammeled by man.  But when looking at a quid pro quo “W“ilderness bill such as the Owyhee Initiative – it quickly becomes very unclear.  The “pros” and “cons” are measured as apples to oranges – is the release of existing protection for ‘X’ acres of existing quality habitat for wildlife worth gaining ‘Y’ miles of mystical/beautiful canyons even as they aren’t likely to be harmed anyway ?  Is ‘X’ acres of “W“ilderness worth release of so many more to its antithesis – logging, grazing, development, etc. ?  Who knows ?

That’s not a clear way of communicating an advocacy.  George’s article is good because it calls for honesty.





  1. Mike Avatar

    New West has been cranking out these wilderness topics. I think they realize it gets the most reaction/hits.

    More wilderness discussion is always a good thing.

    BTW Brian, did you get my email last night? If not, please shoot me a mail back at webmaster@wilderness-sportsman.com

  2. JB Avatar

    I missed this before, thanks for posting.

    Compromising the safeguards put into place to keep wilderness “wild” is truly problematic; the result is a condition in which the land does not meet the definition of wilderness as specified in the Act. Thus, the lands become wilderness in name only. Seems a waste of money if all we’re doing is changing the name on the sign.

    Because the wilderness designation offers land and the resources contained therein the most protection from human development and activity, I would rather see it used to protect and restore at-risk or sensitive ecosystems than used to designate a place that is unlikely to face development pressure in the future due to its remoteness.

  3. JimT Avatar

    Not sure these days if we can really predict what the likely development pressures are for ‘remote areas’ given climate change. 10 years ago, who would have thought that the Arctic area would face the kind of development pressures they are facing now in terms of competing national claims; we would have thought wilderness protection for those areas a bit unnecessary. I guess my default position is to protect as much as we can, either through designation or withdrawals, using whatever legal mechanisms we can. I don’t think we will ever get as much true wilderness designations as I would like to be honest; just won’t sit with the powers that be in the West for a few more generations. Seems like we again think we humans are entitled to have access to everything; that our presence and some sort of benefit to us must be part of any preservation effort. We have forgotten, I think, the intrinsic value of wilderness for its own sake. Every once in awhile, I pull out a tape of Stegner reading his Wilderness Letter…gives me chills…

  4. Salle Avatar

    “Seems like we again think we humans are entitled to have access to everything; that our presence and some sort of benefit to us must be part of any preservation effort. We have forgotten, I think, the intrinsic value of wilderness for its own sake.”


    I agree. Guess that’s the “98kazillion$$question” that we also seem to be too sensitive to address. Heaven forbid we should take a hard look in the mirror sans the rose colored lenses and accept the warts and hairs that show our self absorbed maladies, then do some serious cleaning up of our collective act. I think any hope for the environment will require just that though.

  5. JB Avatar

    Romantic ideals aside, I think it is safe to say that we’ve never protected any natural resources because of their “intrinsic” or “inherent” value. We protect wilderness, wildlife, or any other type of natural resources for the same reason we exploit them–because of their value to society to meet some perceived need/desire.

    I would argue that most people (improperly) use the terms “intrinsic” and “inherent” value to indicate non-consumptive uses (i.e. using wilderness for restorative purposes or wildlife for aesthetic purposes, as opposed to traditional, extractive purposes). The preservation v. use (or intrinsic value v. instrumental value) debates that result present a false dichotomy. In truth we debate what uses are appropriate (e.g. wildlife viewing v. hunting) and who (e.g. tourists v. hunters) should be able to accrue value/benefits from natural resources via their use. The romantic notion of intrinsic value might help with fund-raising, but it does not present an honest picture of the reason we choose to protect (or not) natural resources from certain uses.

  6. Ryan Avatar


    The wilderness areas are a sensitive subject. I personally love spending time in roadless areas that allow for no motor vehicle access. At the same time, i cringe at the thought of wild lands being completely in acessabile to any visitation at all or uses. So where does the line get drawn. Several areas of wilderness I have visited are well less than desireable and were made into wilderness just as a feel good I think. Where as truly critical habitat remains without that designation. Also what protections will be enacted to protect those critical areas non native wildlife etc?

  7. JimT Avatar

    JB, I have to say, you don’t speak for me and alot of my friends who have worked on various wilderness issues and bills for decades now. I think Stegner had it exactly right, and it is the subsequent watering down of that standard that shames us. I think wilderness is just that…and I don’t need to see it or visit it to feel comforted by its existence and wildness and lack of human intrusion. As a species, we tend to be in conflict with the natural, non human end of thing most of the time with our activities and decisions. I think having places where no one goes…it may be what it takes for ecosystems and their inhabitants to survive the next hundred years of stress from climate change. What is it about humans that we assume we are entitled to do whatever we want simply because we can?

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Brian Ertz