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Monday, October 20, 2014

50 Years of Wilderness

Recently I took a PC block course entitled Topics in ADV: 50 Years of Wilderness: Place, Process, and Protection. When the course began I wasn't entirely sure of what Wilderness or wilderness meant (and I'm still working on it). And I have to tell you, it's not a fluffy topic, Wilderness. It's political. It's philosophical. It's closer to home than most people realize. 

Atop Escudilla Mountain

So before I go on, I'm going to cue you in on the brief history of the Wilderness Act.

The act was signed into federal law on September 3rd, 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and written by Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society. It went through nearly 60 different drafts over a period of 8 years and was a direct response to the visible loss of our American Beauty. At the moment of its signing, 9.1 million acres of land became federally protected. Today there are 109.5 million acres of Wilderness from coast to coast in our country. It's uniquely American...and I'm not one to be patriotic, but I am proud of the thinkers who endowed our future with the federal designation of wild places. 

...but what is Wilderness?
by the Wilderness Act's definition:
"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

Escalante, Utah

Pretty poetic stuff, right? In more simple words, a place that might be considered for Wilderness designation must be free of human impact. The word "untrammeled" should receive particular poetic attention, I think. Something that is untrammeled is something free to act and express its truest form. The writer (Zahniser) wanted us to understand that Wilderness should be as free as we feel when we enter it. Because of this language in the act, agencies now question,  "Well, do we manage it for a changing climate...or do we leave it? Is Wilderness still free from man? Can it be?"  ...And that is where Wilderness gets political and philosophical. Do we manage Wilderness to protect it from human impact? Or do we let it do its thing? There's no right or wrong. I for one don't have the answers (yet), I'm still discovering where I fall on the spectrum of wilderness management.  

Instructor Doug Hulmes at 12,000 ft.
Aside from the politics which reign over Wilderness issues, our instructors wanted us to understand what sense of place we felt in these wild places, to understand why we felt it, and in the context of wilderness"Where is the nearest wilderness to you? Why do you seek out wilderness? What do you connect to? Landscape? What about the landscape?" They wanted us to understand that wilderness is a people's thing. It's for us (and more than often created by us). It should be protected by us. It's our future. It's our personal piggy bank of natural splendor,  it's our wealth. 

 I encourage readers to explore their Wilderness areas. Realize the beauty in an untrammeled land! Ask yourself the questions our instructors asked us and participate in the designation of new Wilderness Areas! You can get involved with groups like the Arizona Wilderness Coalition and the Sierra Club!

Please, watch our final class project! 50 Years of Wilderness (a movie)

by Audria Dennen
All photos belong to Audria Dennen

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