Does volunteerism threaten Idaho wilderness values?

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.


"Manage wilderness".

Seems like an oxymoron.

alter egos

[Nickas} said,... “the government needs to be involved in management"

The government?
Oooooh "the government" is the ONLY solution to our problems.

Like somehow "the government" is different than "the people" volunteering to do the work which Nickas is unfavorable toward.


There are lifetime politicians (not good) and there are lifetime 'environmentalists' (not good) and they are both bad for comparable reasons.

Look at the Wilderness Watch's site listing their accomplishments- almost all their accomplishments involve lawsuits. That's some "environmental" work for ya.

The Forest Service submits

The Forest Service submits budget requests for most of what volunteers now do. Some gets funded, most does not. It will get worse as congress tries to reduce the deficit by cutting the fifteen percent of the budget that is discretionary. It reminds me of the Idaho legislature: reduce funding so that local districts can pick up the state's responsibility by passing levies. No, the volunteer programs aren't preventing proper funding of FS fucntions, congress would do it regardless.

Wilderness Is

A Human Family Value. Good for the wilderness volunteers. I hope they hear a lobo lullaby each night around the campfire.

Just a few points in response

People who hate wilderness as a concept? It must suck to be them.

George Nickas might take a management tack, whether or not he's tactful.

The FS is not in danger of relying on volunteers to perform management work, let alone grunt work. Having done some of that in Arizona, Oregon and Utah, I can tell you it's healthy, fun, gives a great appreciation (and a direct sense of ownership) for the places, and it can be a little bit useful. But groups of volunteers are not a replacement for employees.

And a question. You wrote "But they are more skeptical about leaving the public good to government than perhaps even I am." I have a vague sense you're saying something, I'm just not sure what it is.

Government can't be trusted with the public good? That would be an argument for volunteers, right? But the "perhaps" is a bit strange. You don't need to second-guess yourself, Rocky. Just tell us how you feel.

Those who were here before us

had no concept of wilderness. They lived in all of it. Wilderness is a racist European-American construct that imagines that no one managed the land before we showed up.

And yes, it does suck to be them.

Truth is hard to come by

I have no idea what you mean but PJ probably does.


If you could handle the truth, you wouldn't be spoiling our social hour right now.

Wilderness Concept

The problem with locking up the land and expecting Nature to take care of it excludes the fact that Humans were living here for thousands of years and shaped their environment thru hunting and fire.