Most everyone I have talked to likes the work of the Selway-Bitterroot-Frank Church Foundation that I wrote about in today’s Idaho Statesman.
But not everyone likes what it represents. Some people hate wilderness as a concept so anything that promotes wilderness is inherently bad.
Another group worries that the work of Rob Mason and the foundation encourages the Forest Service and other federal agencies that manage wilderness to ignore their responsibility to manage these areas that now make up nearly 20 percent of federal public lands. George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, which advocates for management under the strict dictates of the 1964 Wilderness Act takes this tact. His group grew out of the concern that most preservationists were focused on adding new areas to the Wilderness system and the conditions of existing Wilderness and rivers were being ignored.
But while The Selway-Bitterroot-Church Foundation is focused on the same thing Nickas worries it will become a crutch for the government.
He argues that the Forest Service developed and supported the professional corps of foresters and engineers needed to carry out its traditional task of managing forests. But it spends only 1 percent of its budget on wilderness management and relies on volunteers like the people Mason’s group leads, to manage wilderness.
“My concern with a lot of these efforts is they are doing the work these agencies should be doing,” Nickas told me Tuesday.
He views this effort as a part of the political trend to privatize everything from campgrounds to Social Security and Medicare. Wilderness, he said, is a public good and “the government needs to be involved in management.”
But how involved?
I know many conservative and libertarian people who share my wilderness values. But they are more skeptical about leaving the public good to government than perhaps even I am.
And they have taught me there are alternatives to the federal government protecting the public good and wilderness values such as the natural area trusts. But inherently the government must set the standards for protecting wilderness on public lands even if others carry out the work.
Mason’s group allows these folks to meet on middle ground to protect and improve access to wilderness without promoting more government. But often there is little middle ground on public lands and it takes hard work to hold it.