Misunderstanding Wilderness Areas

4:58 p.m. on June 6, 2019 (EDT)
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On some other forums dealing with forestry, I exchange ideas on a broad range of topics.  This week there is a post about the proposed action to allow the USFS to use chainsaws in the Weminuche Wilderness area in SW CO.  I am trying to have a discussion with 95 other people that all think that forests in wilderness areas need to managed.  They want to log them, and thin them, and cut firewood and replant them.

I assume that these are mostly outdoor people, but they can't seem to get the idea that wilderness areas have no roads, ....on purpose. 

Nearly all wilderness areas in the West and Alaska have never been logged because they occur at the upper elevations, are too remote and have marginal timber lands. 

Backcountry users of wilderness areas like the group here, understand the benefits of remote country and solidtude.  Much of the public apparently has no experience and no idea about what being is a wilderness area is like.

Is this something you run into talking with friends and family or the lay public?  This has really caught me by surprise.  The Wilderness Act has been around since 1964.  The first primitve areas were created around 1949.  What gives?  Help me out TS members. 

6:29 p.m. on June 6, 2019 (EDT)
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I know that some if my friends (and people on these boards) are surprised when I tell them that we are not allowed to use chain saws when we do trailwork in wilderness areas...

Wilderness means no motors.

7:18 p.m. on June 6, 2019 (EDT)
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I think when talking policy we have to ask what the objectives are.  So when the wilderness designation mandates no motors, wheeled apparatus, and other policies, then I am compelled to ask why are these restrictions in place?  I state this because sometimes I think the policies are counterproductive, when they impose needless, additional cost.  For example: large trees blocking trails currently are dealt with using cross saws, requiring significant time, effort effort, and perhaps greater danger for maintenance crews.  Why not permit such work to be conducted with chain saws and a portable winch, it doesn't change the outcome in the least bit.  Likewise transporting tools and materials overland must currently be done by human and animal effort; while not by power mule?  If the answer is conserving the peace and quiet, then why is the use of helicopters and explosives which are manifold more loud accepted? 

Ed

7:28 p.m. on June 6, 2019 (EDT)
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Anyone ever read the Wilderness Act or excerpts from it?

The basic premise from the beginning has been to set aside places "where man's activities are unnoticeable and there are opportunities for solitude."  That means no chain saws, no wheels, no mountain bikes in a lot of places.  It suits me just fine. 

My longest and most far reaching wilderness trips have all involved riding and pack animals.  Usually mules, but once only horses.  You cannot tell if its 2019 or 1919 or 1850.  My most profound life experiences.  Only working in a bush Alaska and a few river trips like the Grand Canyon are in the same league.  All have involved wilderness. 

9:52 a.m. on June 7, 2019 (EDT)
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I hve been thinking about this topic a lot lately.  It is surprising and disappointing that so many people do not seem to get the concept.  I would venture to say that wilderness experiences have been the most profound and influential experiences of my life.   I bet there are plenty of people here that feel the same way. 

4:08 p.m. on June 7, 2019 (EDT)
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There was a term I learned in business school - satisficing - strategically applied compromises that facilitated gathering support for one's cause and attaining its general objective.  If one objective of the Wilderness Act was a place where man's activities are unnoticeable, then carving trails into that land tract are the result of satisficing.  

I wouldn't call driving mule or horse pack trains loaded with clients or trail maintenance equipment low impact, they definitely leave evidence in more ways than one.  There was talk in the Sierra Club, back in the 1980s, of promoting legislation that would prohibit equestrian activities in the Sierra.  I considered this policy a huge mistake, given one of the biggest advocates for set asides, expansion of park lands and wilderness was  California Senator Al Cranston, who liked to vacation with his family on horse pack trips in the mountains.  Gotta know which side to butter one's bread...  This and other counter productive objectives compelled me to cancel my SC membership.  Sometimes we let perfect get in the way of good enough.

If the Wilderness Act is about an experience where man's activities are unnoticeable, why are there trails, and helicopters used to ferry trail crews about on their assignments?  These machines can be heard almost daily, across vast distances, definitely more obtrusive than a chain saw.  And I personally would prefer the passing of a power mule to tromping around fresh horse apples, or worse, horse apple stew made into such by rain, that subsequently finds it way into the stream at a trail crossing.  But I am mindful which side to butter my bread...  In that vein there are plenty of citizens who lament to cost of maintaining parks, and the trails are part of this budget.  Hence I wonder why helicopters, but not power saw and power mules.  Their efficiency would stretch the butter others provide for our bread...

Ed

4:17 p.m. on June 7, 2019 (EDT)
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Animals trails were there before humans made trails.  The first trails in wilderness were made on wet days just by leading a pack string over the ground in the same place a few times. 

I have only rarely seen a helicopter in a wilderness area on a S&R mission. 

Horse manure does not bother me any more than bear scat, coyote scat or elk scat. 

Equine travel is quiet, and dependable.  It is how backcountry infrastructure got built, how we have faught fires, and how people have travelled in large wilderness areas for hundreds of years. 

5:58 a.m. on June 8, 2019 (EDT)
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It seems every time I am on a multi-day trip that travels east over the Sierra crest there are helicopters, mostly transporting trail crews or re-provisioning a ranger camp.  I have only seen two, maybe three copter rescue missions.  But frankly the jet overflights by the military are more numerous and much louder.

If the horse and mule manure was a volume on par with other creatures' poop found on the trail, I'd give it little notice.  But it is usually abundant on trails served by outfitters - and aromatic at that, enough to cover the smell of napalm in the morning...  Sometimes if you close your eyes you'd think you were in a corral.  I know horse lovers are accustomed to this smell and some even fond of it - much like dirt bike riders like the roar of their machines.  But I ride neither dirt bike nor horse, so have little fondness of either.  Both make the presence man quite noticeable, IMO. So I guess the Wilderness Act permitting equestrian access falls short in that regard.  While horses are permitted, by law, it is a law drafted with certain arbitrary considerations.  Some restrictions, such as precluding use of technologies to increase safety and lower the costs associated with infrastructure maintenance seem counterproductive.  In the end politicians are left to decide these bread and butter issues. 

Lastly I would not use old fashioned practices to legitimize current practices.  Most human trails in the mountains out west do not follow game trails.  And the Native American trails they sometimes trace were not engineered to current standards before the Lone Ranger came along.  As for the tradition of horses and wilderness travel: those same early day campers let their stock graze on the native vegetation, cooked over large bonfires of native wood, and tossed their cans and trash into the bushes.  While most of this has been addressed in current policies, even contemporary regulations regarding equestrian use in the backcountry make it a practice that falls significantly short of LNT principles.  Senator Cranston would have it no other way, such is the compromises struck to get others to agree to these undeveloped set asides.

Ed

9:43 a.m. on June 8, 2019 (EDT)
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Where are you running into helicopters Ed?  I would have a discussion with the FS about it. 

Modern horse regs require outfitters to pack feed, bring weed free hay and tie animals on a high line.  They pack out all their trash.  They are required to scatter horse manure after using camp sites and many other things.  The rules are written into their permits which they pay for each year.  Horses and mules still provide transport for men, supplies and materials all over North America for things like building bridges, stocking fish, fighting fires and lots of other things.  I love em.  

7:08 p.m. on June 8, 2019 (EDT)
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Some recent experience. We were tasked with excavating, and removing, an 800 pound mammoth skull from a proposed wilderness area (Santa Rosa Island, CA).  We used a helicopter and a big one at that.  But first there was a permit process in which we laid out all the alternatives.  It was easy to demonstrate that a helo long line was the least intrusive and disruptive.  At least in NPS areas, one does this process routinely.

The paperwork was worth it.  We recovered an unusual and different critter that we will be examining for a long time.  Environmental disruption was minimal, and transitory (just passing noise).

Santa Rosa Island is a proposed Wilderness, and rightly so.  I have been intrigued at the internal adjustments i must make, after driving all over the island for twenty five years, to dial back my procedures and adjust to the new situation.  And I am a personal fan of wilderness areas - my fave is the Gila Wilderness in New mexico, where I have recreated many times over the years.

If we were starting from scratch, establishing the rules for WAs and disregarding historical precedent, which would we exclude, if any, horses or helicopters - neither, or both??

Should be a lively discussion!

9:29 a.m. on June 9, 2019 (EDT)
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Ed, I've only seen choppers used for rescue, never trailwork in the wilderness...but I've also crossed a bridge that I was sure didn't get there on the backs of mules...

One note about trails--creating or maintaining a single trail to access a wilderness area reduces the chances if numerous use trails that have a far larger impact on the wilderness.  Look at what fishermen have done around lakes and streams when there is no existing trail.  ( On the other hand, they create numerous use trails even when there IS an existing trail...but still...

11:30 a.m. on June 9, 2019 (EDT)
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I am positive the forest service knows of the copter flights - they are the ones conducting them! 

OK a specific example of helicopters in the wilderness for trail crews:

Horse Heaven is just east of Tully Hole where the McGee Pass trail meets the JMT.  There was a well established, temporary, crew camp in Horse Heaven.  As we hiked up trail a copter flew over head and landed close to the camp, stayed about fifteen minutes before departing.  We camped at nearby Tully Lake.  The copters came back two days later, and repeated the routine.  Found out from one of the crew these were routine staff rotation/re-provisioning sorties.  I have seen similar activity while on the Middle Fork Kings River; the Crabtree Meadows Ranger Station, West of Mt Whitney, and in the Kern River Gorge in the vicinity of the Rock Creek confluence; each a situation where copters flew in and out of a specific location several times in a few days.

I see too way many copter overflights for these to be SAR.  It is policy to evacuate minor injuries by horse - my understanding is it is a condition to operating as an outfitter to provide this service.  If there were so many severe injuries I am sure I would have crossed paths more often with runners sent to summon help, but that has occurred only a couple of times. 

---------------

Another example of arbitrary application of Wilderness Act policy:  Trail signs.  Back in the day you had to know how to orient on a map, because of the lack of signage, but nowadays every junction is signed, often including un-mapped "fisherman" trails.

I thought situating those solar composting privies at popular venues was a smart idea, it would reduce the volume of souls left in turd cemeteries.  But the purists had them removed, declaring the out buildings violated "the regs".  But they are OK with the signs...

Ed

11:46 a.m. on June 9, 2019 (EDT)
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Hi Ed.  I see no helicopters at all further north toward Carson Pass and Lake Tahoe.  The USFS made a commitment several years ago to use more pack animals for support and less helicopter time as a cost cutting measure.  In your area there must be some left over contract or something.  I think it is worth to mention your experiences to the USFS and let them know that helicopters are not compatible with wilderness. 

Up in our country and in Oregon, there are fewer and fewer signs all the time.  Most of them are wood and in disrepair.  I do not see any new signs at all. 

9:16 p.m. on June 9, 2019 (EDT)
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Actually my argument was we should avail to technology to maintain infrastructure.  It saves money and is safer.  I was just pointing out that people have agendas that drive policy formation that are often at odds with the concepts behind the Wilderness Act.  Some think the whooping noise of rotor blades from across the canyon is too intrusive, while most are aggravated over marching along manure pocked trails and stream crossings fouled with horse turddles.  Certainly if we accept pony poop adorning miles of trail we can accommodate the few minutes it takes for a chopper to shuttle trail crews and equipment.

Ed

9:48 p.m. on June 9, 2019 (EDT)
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hikermor said:

"..If we were starting from scratch, establishing the rules for WAs and disregarding historical precedent, which would we exclude, if any, horses or helicopters - neither, or both??

Should be a lively discussion!"

I think both have their place.  Equestrian access enlarges the fan base of the wilderness.  As I mentioned, the Senator Cranston's of the world are an ally we pedestrian outdoorsmen should accommodate.   So I tolerate my boots smelling like I just mucked out a barn, though I do wish there was a way to keep poop out of the streams.

I also think power mules, chain saws and explosives have their place in safe, economical trail management.  When I travel areas where these technologies are utilized I find these are infrequent intrusions, and usually little more than a far off background noise, certainly less obtrusive than commercial air traffic overflights.

I think solar composting privies should be situated on venues where the number of visitors creates an environmental issue.

I wish there were bear cables or lockers in more locations.  Bear canisters are not cheap or particularly light weight.  I know how to hang my stuff without these aids, but I am thinking about the bear's welfare, given others lack the skill or are just too lazy or cheap to bother.

I wish we had more ski huts, too, but then we'd have to also accommodate the unicorn enthusiasts and other special interest groups...

Ed

 

12:48 a.m. on June 10, 2019 (EDT)
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I think all man made stuff should be kept out of wilderness areas.  That is the whole point of the legislation.   I do not really even like trail maintenance. 

7:25 a.m. on June 10, 2019 (EDT)
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this topic always have those who oppose new technology for trail maintenance and those that  would like it utilized... I do trail maintenance every other month or special call for help....I am ok with what tools were allowed...But yes I would like to use a chain saw at times LOL

9:19 a.m. on June 11, 2019 (EDT)
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We used to carry an axe on the first pack mule.  Back country animals are very adept at jumping logs.  We usually could go over, sometimes around.  Once in awhile we would just stop and chop one out of the way.  I really like traveling in country with  no signs of man at all.  No signs, no campfire rings, no human tracks, no trash, no nothin. 

10:01 a.m. on June 11, 2019 (EDT)
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I remember using cross-cut saws to fight fires in the Frank Church Wilderness in college.  Talk about a way to get REALLY strong while accomplishing NOTHING.

It was hard enough to teach the city kids on my crew to stop cutting their chaps and boots with a chainsaw. 

I think technology needs to be managed in wilderness, not necessarily completely excluded.  I don't think my solar powered UV water purifying bottle rips any rifts in the space time continuum.  The wilderness didn't seem to suffer. 

The USFS has a limited budget and I think they can do more with their $$ if they're allowed to use the occasional heli or chainsaw.

2:02 p.m. on June 11, 2019 (EDT)
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They can do a lot more with their budget by using pack animals and forgetting about helicopters altogether.   I am surprised that so many TS members think tech is ok in wilderness areas.  Good to know. 

10:42 a.m. on June 12, 2019 (EDT)
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Last year when I was doing trail work in a wilderness area, the ranger and I dropped a tree across a rushing stream to create a bridge.  We were quite proud of the result, although at least two of our team of six refused to cross the bridge, preferring to slog and wade across the stream.  They though wading seemed safer.  Go figure. 

BTW, this was in mid-summer.  Earlier in the year I think that they would have had no option but to take the bridge/tree.  And yes, the tree was cut with a crosscut saw. 

1:31 p.m. on June 12, 2019 (EDT)
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"all man made stu should be kept out o wilderness areas"  Would that include man mae stuf like Clovis points (stone arrow points about 11,000 years old/ and other archaeological materials.  What about shoes and boots or clothing in general?  GPS receivers?  radios?  These are all man made.

There are probably some people who would see these exclusions are a bot too much.

What i we had an electric, relatively quiet, chainsaw.  Might not make as much noise as an axe (another man made object)

2:08 p.m. on June 12, 2019 (EDT)
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i agree with your original premise. many people, even people who like hiking or otherwise being outdoors, don't really understand what a real wilderness area is.  

Personally, I think there should be reasonable exceptions for firefighting and search/rescue. if there is a reason to create a firebreak in a wilderness area, firefighters should use chainsaws, and air tankers, should be allowed. Same for helicopters when searching for or rescuing people. I suspect without knowing that there are permitting processes for that if circumstances warrant it.

i think composting toilets are fine if properly maintained; we have them in the white mountains, and they are a big advance over finding someone's poophole with your foot in a pair of flip flops.  

4:20 p.m. on June 12, 2019 (EDT)
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Good discussion! I like to keep the wilderness management scale in mind. Five general catagories by which federal wilderness can be divided, such that some areas can remain without signage or much "assistance" at all, while others can be managed for more easily-facilitated recreation.

Within this scale, long-term data allows our land management agencies to move wilderness areas within the scale as feedback is acquired. In the end, it seems to me that the whole process actually allows more land certain wilderness protections, as it concurrently expands the traditional definition of wilderness.

So, you know, hooray for a system that generally works to allow land to become wilderness as it begins to display a degree of untrammeled-ness, and then increase in protection as it can. A system that propogates wilderness. Good shit.

5:37 p.m. on June 12, 2019 (EDT)
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pillowthread said:

"..I like to keep the wilderness management scale in mind..."

Agreed.  Vince, are are sounding wise beyond your years!  Sometimes relaxing more stringent guidelines lessens the impact caused by unmitigated human activity (e.g solar composting toilets in popular areas).  Sometime imposing more stringent policies also achieves the same objective (e.g. permit quotas, campfire restrictions).  The question is what is feasible, and where within feasibility do we wish to strike a balance.

An old salt once shared one of the most wise pieces of advice I've heard.  It applies to everything, from economic policy to environmental policy.  It is not a matter of whether you regulate, more or less; it is a matter if current regulations achieve the intended goal. Modify or retire those that no longer serve current objectives, meanwhile implementing new polices as necessary that move us in the intended direction.  Therefore no policy is chiseled in stone, no doctrine absolute.  The world is dynamic.  Adapting to what currently surrounds us, while being mindful of the future is the path to the future.

Ed

2:58 p.m. on June 13, 2019 (EDT)
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I remember when the term "wilderness management" was brand new and very controversial.  That was in about 1975.

The best management for wilderness areas is the least management. 

4:55 p.m. on June 13, 2019 (EDT)
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ppine said:

"..The best management for wilderness areas is the least management."

As a doctrine, perhaps.  But that has become unsustainable in many areas, ergo the Wilderness Act.  The Wilderness Act itself is rather compact.  But it delegates broad authority to federal, state, and local agencies that have withstanding administrative control over any given parcel designated as wilderness.  One doesn't have to dig too deep to appreciate  least is a relative, almost absurd term under this pretense.

I believe the best management are policies that preserve the highest quality of the wilderness, sustainable under the circumstances and pressures the land is subjected to, such as use visitation volumes, mitigation of the affects of upstream/outside influences, etc.  Indeed § 4,3,b of The Wilderness Act states in part: "Except as otherwise provided in this Act, each agency administering any area designated as wilderness shall be responsible for preserving the wilderness character of the area and shall so administer such area for such other purposes for which it may have been established as also to preserve its wilderness character..."  Thus even the Wilderness Act acknowledges there are degrees of wilderness; that predecessor entitlements may supersede certain aspects of the Wilderness Act, that certain contrivances may be necessary to preserve the overall quality of designated land tracts - that its intention is to conserve the natural character of the land as is practical, all things considered. 

 If no additional regulations are needed to sustain the character of the land, as is the case regarding vast tracts of Alaska, then so be it.  But there is nothing minimal about the regs covering Sierra wilderness, all wilderness areas in So Cal, and most likely many other regions of the US that are highly impacted by human activities occurring in designated, protected wilderness.

Ed 

6:28 p.m. on June 13, 2019 (EDT)
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Wilderness is a Federal designation.  There can be many agencies involved in management, but mostly all are USFS and BLM.

Most wilderness areas are protected by their remoteness.  There are some places like So California, and popular parts of the Sierras like JMT that require permits and have rules about where fires are allowed and designated campsites.  Most wilderness areas have no such rules in the West at least.  In places like Alaska there are barely any "rules."

9:39 a.m. on June 14, 2019 (EDT)
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The reality is that in most large wilderness areas, you are on your own.  You do the right and moral thing as much as possible.  There is an old saying among hunters.  "People reveal their character when no one is watching."

That includes things like observing wildlife without interacting with them.  Observe from afar so they are not aware of your presence.  Camping in places where no one has camped before.  It is LNT taken to the next level. 

11:40 a.m. on June 14, 2019 (EDT)
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Has anyone ever done a river trip on a National Wild and Scenic River?

I was skeptical until a trip throough the Grand Canyon.  The beaches were perfectly clean.

For my 65th birthday we floated a river in Oregon that was Wild and Scenic.  That means that fires must be in a pan.  Ashes are to be collected or scattered.  We carried a protable latrine.  The campsites were perfect.  No campfire rings.  No sanitation problems.  Absoultey the most beautiful ppines one could imagine.  Wildlife was every where.  Beaver, mink and otters.  Bald eagels too numerous to count.  Fawns in camp, herds of elk swimming across the river and bighorn sheep every day.  A managment system that works. 

2:10 a.m. on July 2, 2019 (EDT)
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For decades the Sierra Club had donkey trips.  Many had over 100 people at a time.  The Sierra High Camps are all still supported by pack animals. 

1:32 p.m. on July 7, 2019 (EDT)
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A lot to think about, thanks you to everyone for opening my eyes. 

November 16, 2019
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