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A Proposal for Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of The Wilderness Act

A guest commentary by Nevada member Rob Mrowka

September 3 will mark the 40th anniversary of the landmark Wilderness Act of 1964, and the establishment of the National Wilderness Preservation system. It is difficult to imagine life today without these pristine areas to which we can flee and renew our spirit, body and mind.

We are indebted to the courage and vision of Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society, Senator Hubert Humphrey, Representative John Saylor, and President Lyndon Johnson for their perseverance and will in enacting this legislation.

The National Wilderness Preservation System built upon the Forest Service's Primitive Area designations, begun by Aldo Leopold, and wild lands in the National Park and Wildlife Refuge Systems. Later, in 1976 with the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, Bureau of Land Management lands were added to the System.

Without the National Wilderness Preservation System, given the current political climate, it is not far fetched to envision a world where wild lands are relegated to only those high, craggy, inaccessible areas lacking any conceivable commodity value. Witness the Bush Administration's Forest Service reversal of ecosystem management, responsible stewardship and respect for the people's land.

In typical Administration ill-intent, double-speak and deception, recent years have seen the ecologically sensitive and progressive policies of the Clinton Administration, and the Forest Service under Chief Mike Dombeck, systematically overturned.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was abandoned and left undefended in the Courts, threatening lands invaluable for their intrinsic, watershed, recreational and plant and wildlife habitat connectivity and values open to road building, extractive industry and development. Foregone were the promise and opportunities provided by a new land use classification in between Wilderness and full multiple use that addressed the growing demands and sentiments of the American public for wild open space. Over 500 public meetings were held and almost two million public comments were received in support of the Rule, yet it was arrogantly shoved aside.

The committee of scientist-based revision of the National Forest Management Act regulations that incorporated greater science, public involvement, ecosystem management and conservation biology principles into the forest plan development process were scrapped by Chief Dale Bosworth, and replaced by Agency internally-developed proposed regulations that strove to streamline the process by watering down science and public involvement, and discarded the ecological foundation for planning. Participants invited to a high level science workshop last year severely criticized the proposed approaches for ensuring species viability and ecosystem sustainability.

Continuing on with the theme of politicizing and weakening the scientific support for management, the Bush Administration recently proposed to manipulate the scientific peer-review process by requiring panels to be hand selected by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Such a change would infuse White House politics into science and stifle and mute sound scientific peer debate. Predictably, the proposed regulations are supported by the extractive and exploitive industries.

In January Pacific Southwest Regional Forester, Jack Blackwell, set aside years of scientific study that led to the Sierra Nevada Framework for the ecological restoration of the Sierra Nevada national forests, and in its place pandered to timber special interests by authorized a tripling of logging, the harvesting of exceptionally large-diametered trees, and the loosening of habitat protections for rare species such as the fishers, California spotted owls and other species living in mature forests.

The list of other ill-conceived policies and acts is large and growing by the week.

The Wilderness Preservation System is a wonderful and remarkable legacy that we are leaving to the generations that will follow us.

However, as stewards and people interested in our environment and the precious natural resources of our land, we cannot simply be content with the accomplishments of the past. Under the present nefarious Administration the threats to that which we cherish and love are great.

What better way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act than with a resounding defeat of George W. Bush and the removal of his puppet administrators who have assisted him in overturning the great strides made by the previous administration, and put us on the path to environmental ruin?

Rob Mrowka resigned from a 27 year Forest Service career in January 2003. Rob has held positions in the national and Intermountain Regional Offices, as well as serving for over five years as Forest Supervisor on the Fishlake National Forest. He now lives and works as an environmental planner in Clark County, Nevada.

The views expressed by the contributor are his own.

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