I maintain many designated areas in the United States no longer meet the definition of the 1964 Wilderness Act and must be delegislated if the impacts of industrial recreation are not controlled to maintain an untrammeled state. These controls can only the placed by the Federal government from the consent of the governed, a difficult task as both capitalism and anarchistic freedom, collectively known as ‘Natural Rights,’ colludes with the myth of environmental education’s role in self control.
A recent spate of Instagram is ruining the outdoors pieces have a central theme that geotagging locations increases visitation and natural/cultural resource impacts. The counter from the aggrieved ‘influencers’ who work alongside the Outdoor Industry Association (and who describe themselves as public lands advocates) has been that white men are gatekeeping, recreation is inherently a virtue and all we need is more infrastructure and education to accommodate more people, a failed refrain with no mention whatsoever of the Rights of Nature to exist unmolested.
The Wilderness Act was passed
“to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition…” describing its primary characteristic, “as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain…retaining its primeval character and influence….”
Saylan and Blumstein destroy the environmental education myth in The Failure of Environmental Education (And How We Can Fix It), maintaining we have created environmentally parroting kids whose actions do not transcend to adulthood, climate change (and now, extinction) an indication of the failure. Like the recent IPCC extinction report, they maintain a central change in lifestyles and systems that includes a transformation of environmental education system will be required to address our issues of planetary survival for all species.
While oil, gas, mining, grazing, industrial agriculture, urbanization and consumption are the traditional threats indoctrinated into modern environmentalism, today an equal threat is the crush of the recreation industry whose money has filtered into the fabric of almost every environmental organization today, an industry that funds environmental education programs to indoctrinate that getting outdoors on public lands regardless the reason is inherently a virtue.
It does not matter the activity be it tearing it up with ATVs, hunting grizzly in the name of conservation or simply walking, humans have an individual and collective impact. Regardless of the sliding scale of educated Leave No Trace ethic, consider the carbon associated with purchasing products and driving to a hike, the bubble of ½ mile surrounding a loner in a Wilderness Area where wildlife flee; a constant stream of humanity means they leave for good. When the mass migrates diurnally and overnights 6+ months straight, the area is both human trammeled and has permanent habitation.
Natural rights in political thought means humans are above nature and have a property right to it, including any labor and fruits from using it. Central to capitalism, the fruits include resources extraction, factory farms, real estate and industrial recreation. It is indoctrinated early as earthly anarchistic freedom. And, it is used by Cliven Bundy theoconstitutionalists to justify their stance on public lands, Instagram influencers when they ask for more infrastructure as they geotag, and enviro.orgs when they accept Outdoor Alliance or Patagonia tainted grants. They all lay natural rights claims to public lands, truly a tragedy for the commons.
Even Ralph Nader in a recent piece speaking of children’s moral authority over our state of global environmental affairs describes Patagonia’s corporate, politically influential, taxpayer subsidized model (think impacts to nature and pit toilets) of natural rights in action as ‘sterling,’ forgetting the goal is to sell products whose in and outputs are harmful to the rights of nature, to our survival.
Aside from all remaining public lands, many wilderness areas are anecdotally trammeled as the feds do not systematically perform visitor counts investing instead in limited research, one using geotags to develop a model for them to extrapolate visitor counts, finding correlation. Officially, the most used wilderness area in the U.S. is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which has had a permit (carrying capacity) system to maintain it’s ‘untrammeled’ state since its passage in 1978.
Anecdotally (perhaps many readers will agree), most wilderness areas in Colorado (home of the OIA), southern Utah’s red rock country, the Pacific Crest from California to Washington and back round to the crest of Montana are impacted beyond their legislative intent precisely because the BWCWA model was not copied for each and every one, current modern population, industry and technological pressures overwhelming the carrying capacity timid, Chamber of Commerce captured, federal land managers who are increasingly also pressured by formal State Recreation Offices (and resultant Democrat or Republican political delegations, as it does not matter) headed by former OIA staff as part of their official industry strategy.
Nor do you hear calls for carrying capacities and quotas from even those whose primary nonprofit missions are to to promote and maintain wilderness, from the corporate Wilderness Society that has founder Bob Marshall rolling in his grave to the grass roots Wilderness Watch who believes the Act is the “gold standard for the world,” instead all believing recreation a bridge to supporting public lands and Wilderness, dismissing the hoards.
However, we do hear calls for permitting systems from these Instagram influencers – in order to protect their experience from the hoards – and not a word about doing so for nature. No matter, as it is a start, and however unlikely maybe their modern influence will extend to the outdoor industry and wilderness will be given a political chance in snowball hell.
The crisis on public lands, exacerbated by Instagram, remains the same as it was in 1964, of “increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization.” Beyond untrammeled, the Wilderness Act intent was to protect the rights of nature from the natural rights of men and women of all race and creed, in the end “retaining its primeval character and influence.”
OIA statistics indicate 290 million people recreate in the American West and are 32 million cattle to share the land, including Bundy’s in Wilderness and 1.7 million oil and gas wells in the U.S. to support them all. It is both trammeled and increasingly less primeval and the only new infrastructure we legally need on public lands are gates placed to keep humans of all kind out during the 6th mass extinction and state of climate crisis. We need to transform what we believe benign, inherently good, the UN report on the extinction crisis imploring, “By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”
A first step, we must redefine natural rights to include the rights of nature.
Further, we must view wilderness Areas as a legal means to create and maintain preserves for carbon sequestration and species survival, only one of many other urgent steps for ‘saving’ the planet.
If wilderness areas (and all public lands) are today nothing more than corporate subsidies and individual anarchistic playgrounds no longer meeting their legislative intent, we must stop deluding ourselves and treat them like any other vandalized throughout history and delegislate.
To keep it real so that all humans may take virtuous Instagram advantage of the burgeoning business of industrial extinction tourism.
A response from George Nickas…
Chris Zinda complains that Wilderness Watch doesn’t support “carrying capacities and quotas” to limit the number of humans in Wilderness. News to us. Wilderness Watch has consistently supported quotas and limits and has filed lawsuits to enforce them. Where Zinda gets his information or draws his conclusions is beyond me, as he presents not an ounce of evidence for his unsupportable claims. Too bad, his article otherwise makes a good point, but now I’m left wondering how much of it is made up?