Wasatch Environmental Update for March 6, 2016
By John Worlock, Member of the Board of Directors of Save Our Canyons
“Transition from small w to large W Wilderness”
As good environmentalists, we should perhaps be up at the state capitol campaigning to convince our legislators of the rightness of our quest for clean air, clean water, and plenty of open and wild space for our recreation and our emotional survival. But that wouldn’t be fun, so we’ve stayed home to think clean thoughts. We’ve been studying wilderness, especially designated, capital W, Wilderness.
In 1919, a young landscape architect, Arthur Carhart, was sent to survey for a road and several homesites around Trappers Lake in Colorado’s White River National Forest, He completed the survey, but came back to recommend that no development should be permitted, suggesting that the best use of the lake and its surroundings was for wilderness recreation. Surprisingly, his supervisor agreed, and soon Trappers Lake was designated as an undeveloped and roadless area, marking the first application of the concept of wilderness preservation in Forest Service history, and probably in World history.
This idea soon got legs when Aldo Leopold, a forest ranger from New Mexico, visited Carhart in Colorado. Carhart later wrote to Leopold, pointing out the limits to nature’s blessings: (quote) “there is a limit to the number of lakes in existence, there are limits to the mountainous areas of the world and there are portions of natural scenic beauty which are God-made and of a right should be the property of all people.”
Stimulated by Carhart’s vision, Leopold returned to New Mexico to champion the creation, in 1924, of the Gila Wilderness Reserve, the first so designated, with a capital W.
Leopold went on to become an influential teacher and writer, developing the idea of the importance of complexity in the web of life on the land. He wrote “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.” He heralded the transition from seeing wilderness as territory to be conquered and subdued, to seeing Wilderness as a treasure to be understood and protected.
Decades later, this germ of an idea finally bore fruit in the Wilderness Act of 1964, creating the National Wilderness Preservation System, now protecting nearly a million acres, within Utah alone.
Come outside and enjoy your local, homegrown, capital W Wilderness!