Wilderness

Montana's place in "Big W"

| September 17, 2009

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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For those readers interested in a detailed analysis of Sen. Tester's bill from one of the nation's leading experts on natural resource policy and law, I'd highly recommend they check out Dr. Martin Nie's piece at Headwaters News titled, "Questions, opportunities presented by Montana Sen. Jon Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act."

It's available at: http://www.headwatersnews.org/p.ForestJobs…

It would certainly be nice if Sen. Tester and supporters of his bill would address these important questions, which have actually been asked (yet ignored) for months.

As Dr. Nie says in his conclusion, "The above questions are not driven by politics. Nor are they asked with the purpose of trying to defeat the Senator's bill or to criticize his courageous entry into Montana wilderness politics. They are meant instead to get the public thinking about the big picture and how the parts are going to fit or not fit together. The stakes are high. If the FJRA becomes law, place-based proposals throughout the West will take a big step forward. The FJRA would be the first one out of the gate, setting precedent for others, and this is reason enough why it must be scrutinized so carefully."

Thanks.

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Posted by Matthew Koehler on 10/08/2009 at 10:11 AM
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