“Land of No Use,” a new ski film by a group of Montana athletes and filmmakers, takes viewers into the backcountry to explore Montana’s wilderness areas. PERC research fellows Holly Fretwell and Shawn Regan appear in the film to help outline the challenges of public land management.
There are many good reasons to love wilderness, writes Shawn Regan at The Hill.
The Wilderness Act, which passed 50 years ago this year, describes several of them: outstanding opportunities for solitude, primitive and unconfined recreation experiences, and the preservation of special places “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.”
As a former wilderness ranger, these values resonate with me. More than 100 million acres of land have been designated as “wilderness” since 1964, and in my view they include some of the most spectacular landscapes imaginable.
How much is enough?
There are 3.4 million acres of designated wilderness area in Montana. “How much is enough?” asks Mark Hoffman, whose family earns a living making custom snowmobiles. His customers now enjoy riding in much of the acreage being considered for new wilderness area designation, which would prohibit the use of motorized vehicles. “We’re not trying to expand our riding areas. We’re trying to maintain the riding areas we already have. There’s a lot of wilderness that exists already.”
Just as nature is always changing, human demands are always changing. Can we balance the conflicting and everchanging demands humans place on public lands?
What is the nature of the conflict?
“In designating the first wilderness areas,” Shawn explains in the film, “the U.S. Forest Service was careful to recommend areas that did not have much resource development potential. Most existing wilderness areas are remote and inaccessible, are often at high elevations, and are often characterized as ‘rock and ice’ areas. Some of the proposals we see now for new wilderness area designation are in areas that have resources that could be developed and so as a result, there’s really fierce, hard-fought political battles.”
Some of Montana’s Wilderness Study Areas, managed by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, have allowed different uses for decades. Official wilderness area designation would prohibit motorized vehicles and mountain bikes on lands where people have now engaged in these activities for at least a generation.
Is no use good use?
As an avid outdoor enthusiast, the public lands debate is more than an academic interest for Holly Fretwell. “My family and I hike, bike, fish, and ski on Montana’s federal lands,” she explains, “but access is being reduced as new set-asides are created and there are increasing use restrictions. I think that is the pristine part of federal land protection.”
As she has written in her “Public Lands” series, multiple use was once the guiding principle for public land management.
Multiple use as the guiding principle for public land management is a genuine effort to meet the widely divergent demands of the American public.This concept is as valid today as it was nearly forty years ago when it was first introduced to federal land management. The difficulty arises in determining what the best uses are across such a vast and varied landscape.
Some land is certainly better left “untrammeled by man.” Other areas, however, require hands-on management to treat existing problems or to address future conditions resulting from fire, disease, insects, or human use that could threaten the integrity of the forest.