Letter to the Editor - Wilderness

Dear friends,

Wilderness (with a capitol ‘w’) proposals have been brought to our attention during the past few weeks here in the Valley.  I hope you are educating yourselves and understand the opportunity that is present for us to make an incredible impact on our environment, our culture and our selves by encouraging Congress to pass the Hidden Gems Wilderness bill. 

We are defined by our landscapes – it’s our clean water, clean air, recreation opportunities, our wildlife, our mountains, and our rivers who make us who we are -  we are all part of our ecological  and land community.  As members of the land community we are charged with being stewards of it and protecting it from future degradation. People in our valley appreciate having public land to play in more than most people in the country.  Hikers, bikers, para gliders, skiers (alpine, Nordic, backcountry, etc.), river runners, fishermen, hunters, snowmobilers, dirt bikers, ATV drivers, horseback riders, and the list goes on.  I would venture to guess that all these people find joy in beautiful scenery, enjoy viewing wildlife, appreciate clean water and rivers, and find peace in quiet backcountry settings. 

With this said, we are loving our public lands to death.  It is unintentional and not even recognized by most.  With increased high impact recreational uses of our public lands we are tearing them up quickly. Our passions and our culture include being out, climbing mountains, exploring rivers, riding horses, traveling fast through wild places on wheels of bicycles, motor bikes, and other ATVs, skiing in the most remote places, and generally being adventurous people.  We all need to step back for a moment and look at what we’re really doing. How big or small are our impacts on the landscape?

As we visit areas that are species rich, valuable habitat, and watersheds for our drinking water, we should be considering the amount of impacts our recreational pursuits are making on the land.  We are unintentionally depleting our culture as we continually deplete our landscape of its ecological integrity.  We must protect our land as Wilderness as a mechanism to protect our culture, health and integrity.

The Hidden Gems campaign is pushing to protect lower elevation lands that have been thoroughly inventoried and determined to be of Wilderness quality.  In this day and age of development, road building, oil and gas exploration and production, and ATV use it is difficult to find public lands that hold wilderness qualities that would ever allow them to be considered in a Wilderness proposal.  The Hidden Gems lands have been deemed valuable for their habitat, species richness, wilderness character, water quality, air quality, and general ecological integrity.  They are places we have not completely loved to death, yet.  These lands still have a chance to remain wild forever.  Without Wilderness protection, they are not protected from being completely depleted of their wild character.

Please take the time to educate yourself on Wilderness policy, public lands designation, and appropriate travel in all the different types of areas. Then, I encourage you to look carefully at the Hidden Gems maps and identify any specific trails you have issue with and talk about them specifically mile by mile with the Hidden Gems campaign staff or volunteers. There is room in this proposal to make adjustments for the good of our community.  This Roaring Fork Valley is known for fighting for the integrity of our open spaces and public landscapes; let us continue to fight for our wildlands as a community united to protect our land and ultimately our culture.

Sarah R. Johnson

Carbondale, CO


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