Does protecting wilderness make it less “wild”?

Photo from by Gary Perkin

I have something I wanted to get off my chest this morning. I know this is a complex issue and I know people have written volumes about the subject, so this won’t be anything new. But anyway, it feels good to talk about.

This weekend I went out to a protected “wilderness” area near my home that is managed by the BLM. I started going there years ago before it was a protected area and simply a “Wilderness Study Area.”

It was largely unknown at that time and it took some effort to get there. When I went in those days, I could hike around a bit, throw down a sleeping bag and feel completely isolated in the middle of the desert.

Recently, this area finally received permanent protection and is a designated wilderness. This protects it from mining, drilling, etc. It also means there are no mechanized vehicles allowed.

However, the character of the place has definitely changed. The area has received some fame since its designation, and is now talked about in national publications as a fantastic place to take your mountain bike.

I went there seeking solitude this weekend. It’s been about two years since I’ve visited this area. There were about 10 cars parked at a new trailhead. I walked about 20 minutes up the trail before a wave of mountain bikers blasted by me.

I then saw about a half dozen hikers in the distance. Dogs, cell phones. Ugh….

For me, wilderness is in part about isolation and escape from the hustle and bustle of the world. This “wilderness” now seemed more like an extension of the city, more like a big public park.

I found a secluded spot after about an hour to look at the sky and enjoy the silence. But to me, something wild has definitely been lost. It looks like I will have to go further and deeper to find true wilderness now. I’ll probably go back to the list of BLM “wilderness study areas” to find something new.

While I’m happy there is a new “wilderness” that has been protected from the pressures of development, I think it has lost something.

What do you think? Does protecting wilderness sometimes make it less “wild?”

Vanessa Williams March 6, 2007 at 9:52 am

Yes, because of the subsequent PR and publicity that follows. Suddenly a local gem becomes a national treasure. There is a park here in Pennsylvania, that almost became a national park, but state officials say it was the best thing to never happen to it. Looking at the problems Yosemite and Yellowstone has had to face, you don’t wonder why.

kswanson56 March 7, 2007 at 9:46 am

Thanks for the comment Vanessa! My next question is, what is the alternative? I don’t think there are any easy answers, and I know that if my city was not experiencing major urban sprawl, this area would not see half the visitors it’s getting. So looking at the big picture, a lot of this is linked to the overall population explosion in the West (and other parts of the U.S.)….

Tom April 16, 2007 at 5:40 pm

Only about 5% of the land in the US is protected as wilderness. I suggest we protect more so that people have more lands to choose from. Therefore the few we currently have do not become saturated with visitors and dogs and bikes and cell phones and everything else the average joe and jane brings outdoors.

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