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Montana's place in "Big W"


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As debate over Sen. Jon Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act continues, acclaimed environmental author Rod Nash–set to speak on the definition of wilderness in Hamilton Sept. 19–sits more or less in the bleachers, not fully engaged in the discussion. Yet he offers helpful insight on Montana's place in the broader context of "Big W."

"Wilderness and national parks aren't about beauty in the sense that a garden is or a park is," Nash says from his home in Crested Butte, Colo., which he's quick to mention lies within eight miles of five wilderness areas. "They're about wildness, they're about self-willed places and self-willed processes and species that should be left alone by human beings out of the interest of sharing the planet with other inhabitants of spaceship Earth."

Nash's credentials lend him a certain authority on matters of the wild. Outside magazine hailed his 1967 book Wilderness and the American Mind as one of the "ten books that changed our world." The avid outdoorsman is also an active member of the advisory board for nonprofit Wilderness Watch.

While avoiding specifics, Nash did speak generally about the Tester bill, mentioning the historic weight of vague and misleading language. Sloppy phrasing, Nash says, can undermine the proposal's goals.

"If language creates some loopholes that people think permit them to go in and do some things in [wilderness], it violates the basic concept of wilderness, which is to leave the land self-willed," Nash says.

As for logging mandates requiring the harvest of 70,000 designated acres over a decade, Nash says such language is "rare" in wilderness legislation, especially if drafters seek to "toe the line" from the 1964 Wilderness Act.

As the debate continues, Nash boils his advice for Montana's wilderness legislation down to one word: restraint.

"Have the courage to say that there should be places in Montana that are not about us, that are not about our economy, that are not about our recreation, that are not about our pleasure, that are not about our scenic values," he says. "Have the courage to back off and let some parts of the wild world be unmodified and do their own thing."



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