What will decision mean for wilderness?

Monday, November 25, 2019


I left my bioregion of origin about a half century ago, it being overrun by people and their machines. Loss of the natural world saddened me, I felt unsafe, I couldn’t breathe. Every part of me felt the brunt of the environmental impact.

Photos of the mountains and rivers of the northern Rockies beckoned me to the largest remaining intact bioregion in the lower 48. Grateful beyond words for the beauty and health of this home, I volunteer time to public lands advocacy. Decades of effort have led me to believe that Wilderness designation is the best use of roadless lands.

I am soon retiring from business after a 35-year career providing commercial wilderness backpacking trips to the general public. Over the years, in people of all ages, I’ve noticed a common reaction to wilderness: awe and wonder and joy. Wild places evoke wild response. After a week in the wild, many clients report that it was the best week of their lives! And the wildness of place is what made it so. And they mistakenly believe that all public lands are protected.

Spoiled by our great fortune to be in this special place on the planet, let’s not allow our provincialism to blind us to the fact that this is it, the last of it. By our very proximity we are positioned as protectors, able to make a meaningful difference in bioregional health. I don’t have to tell you what’s at stake. The Custer-Gallatin Forest Plan Revision decision is due out soon. Will it value the ecosystem services jobs our public lands are currently doing or will it erode their wildness even more, with the added burden of even more development and mechanized thrill craft?

Marilyn Olsen