Wasatch Environmental Update; Is Wilderness Outdated?

Wasatch Env Update img

Wasatch Environmental Update for September 02, 2014

By John Worlock, Member, SOC Board of Directors

“Is Wilderness Outdated?”

For all of its four decades, Save Our Canyons has campaigned for the designation of Wilderness in the Central Wasatch Range, and has celebrated the establishment of Wilderness Areas elsewhere in Utah and, for that matter, throughout the nation. Our current campaign produced a bill called the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act, which would augment the existing three Central Wasatch Wilderness Areas by some 20 thousand acres of precious wild backcountry in the Tri-Canyon Area.

We used the word “precious” judiciously in the previous sentence, as it is our belief that wild and undeveloped acres are important not only as places for quiet recreation but also as repositories of indigenous wildlife. Perhaps most importantly, Wilderness can function as a place of solitude and reflection and even renewal for our humanity. It can do so even if we don’t or can’t go there: we benefit from simply knowing that Wilderness exists.

Since we have this almost religious fervor about true Wilderness, we are disturbed by a recent OpEd in the New York Times, entitled “Rethinking the Wild,” and subtitled “The Wilderness Act is Facing a Midlife Crisis.”

Ever since its passage fifty years ago, the Wilderness Act has had its enemies. But the new Midlife Crisis is not the result of pressure for energy and other commercial development. The new enemy is, in fact, all of us: It is the threat of Global Warming.

Wilderness Areas are mandated to be left almost totally unmanaged – allowed, instead, to thrive, each in its own way, just as they have been doing since before the advent of humans beings. But there is a growing understanding that as the climate changes, the flora and fauna of our wildernesses may need more than benevolent neglect in order to survive.

There are proposals for watering California’s giant Sequoias, and even actively assisting (or resisting) the natural migration of other species of trees. Joshua Trees, for example, may need help with transplantation or even genetic manipulation to survive the century.

We can even imagine colonies of high-altitude pikas being airlifted to higher terrain as their habitat warms. These images give us plenty of food for thought during this 50th anniversary year of the Wilderness Act.

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