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Current News & Issues: Wilderness


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The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express for July 16, 2004.


Frankenstein wilderness?

With his proposal for a White Clouds Wilderness Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson has created a blueprint for a new Frankenstein that could threaten all of the nationís wilderness areas.

His plan is a three-headed monster, a creature energized by hope, but deformed by committee engineering.

His call for three separate wilderness areas, each surrounded by roads or trails for all terrain vehicles, bears no resemblance to the primitive places described in the 1964 Wilderness Act.

The act calls for wilderness areas to be "untrammeled by man" and of "primeval character." Simpsonís proposal would ensure that trammeling is the rule, not the exception, in the White Clouds.

The act says wilderness is an area that "generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of manís work substantially unnoticeable. Wilderness also "has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation."

Thatís hardly what Simpsonís proposal provides. While slicing and dicing the area with motorized trails, it also calls for opening the pristine Champion Lakes and Washington Basin to ATVs. Places where the deer and antelope now play could instead become inhabited by hordes of noisy machines that can inflict great damage.

Simpsonís plan is an Orwellian attempt to make wilderness synonymous with machines. Thatís like trying to make English gardens synonymous with the Los Angeles Freeway.

When Congress approved the Wilderness Act, it wanted to secure wilderness areas "to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify, all areas within the United States and its possessions."

Simpsonís plan does just what Congress wanted to prevent.

The White Clouds could become a national magnet for motorized recreation, which would destroy the very solitude the Wilderness Act should protect. The Forest Service and the BLM donít have enough money or people to police trails today, let alone enough to handle an area that could attract thousands of dirt bikes and four-wheelers.

The price of this folly would be to open the nationís door to more legislative shenanigans. There would be nothing to prevent putting the Indianapolis 500 Speedway around an area and then claiming it to be wilderness.

Definitional problems aside, the real mystery to be pondered at the end of the day is why anyoneóeven people who worship at the altar of the god of the combustion engineówould willingly give over one of the last sacred wild places in America to industrial tyranny and destruction.

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