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Is “wild” too mild?

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What’s in a name? It’s a tough question if you’re asking anyone familiar with the Kootenai National Forest’s new draft management plan.

Bob Castaneda, supervisor of the Kootenai National Forest, decided Oct. 17 to change all Kootenai lands formerly designated as “recommended wilderness” to “wild lands.” The change affects 124,000 acres.

According to Castaneda, there is no difference between “recommended wilderness” and “wild lands.”

He says recommended wilderness, wild lands and federally recognized wilderness all prohibit use of motorized vehicles, logging, most chainsaw use and other high-impact activities.

He says he changed the name to alleviate tension between environmental and multiple-use groups over the phrase “recommended wilderness.”

“It’s still a gain for wilderness values,” Castaneda says, noting that the new management plan protects an additional 50,000 acres in the same manner as recommended wilderness.

But not everyone thinks the name change is so benign, and the Montana Wilderness Association (MWA) is calling it a sham.

“What he has done is put up another obstacle to creating wilderness,” says Cesar Hernandez, a field representative for the MWA.

Fred Hodgeboom, president of Montanans for Multiple Use, agrees with Hernandez, but sees that as a positive development.

“We think it was an excellent decision,” Hodgeboom says.

In areas federally recognized as wilderness, logging is prohibited by law, whereas in recommended wilderness or wild land areas, the prohibition is only a guideline.

Hernandez says that effectively de-recommending wilderness gives Congress, the only body that can designate wilderness, one less reason to recognize it.

Gail Kimbell, supervisor for the Forest Service’s northern region, which includes all of Montana, disagrees with Hernandez’ assessment, noting that Congress has historically granted wilderness protection to lands originally administered under a variety of designations.

The Kootenai Forest’s new management plan will go into a 90-day public comment period starting in February 2006.

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