Thursday, May 26, 2016

To the Selway

It's a glorious day. A cool September has given way to a warm October. The long ride down the bustling Bitterroot Valley has transitioned ever so slowly. The pavement ended near the top of the pass, then the last electric line, then the final motorized access at a place called Paradise. There's a specialness attached to these trips for me. This one even more so.

The Selway River is iconic for good reason. During it's peak floating season it is the most difficult permit to get in the country. Tucked into a grove of trees along the river sits two sticks telling those looking to float just how much water is in the river. This is measured in feet. If you're lucky enough to pull a permit during that peak season, you're not out of the woods yet, as some will have to cancel their once-in-a-lifetime floats because this stick says there's a dangerously high amount of water. Right now though, those sticks are playing tricks on me. They're telling me that there is a negative amount of water in the river. That's fucked up, but funny.

Wilderness is not necessarily wilderness. Point of interest: most in the northern Rockies have rich human history, and continue to. The Selway is dotted with private and government inholdings, airstrips, and the like. Miners, homesteaders, and those who wanted to get away from it all have been here for a long time.

I danced around the darkness. There's no doubt I could have call the West Fork Ranger Station, and found out that the faucet was running backwards, but then again, I could have stayed home and rode my trainer too. Instead, I'm walking through a river dragging my boat. Next, I'm getting stuck between rocks in no-name rapids. Next, I'm discovering my drybag is not dry. Next, I'm trying to stay warm at night.

The trips we won't remember are the trips we won't remember.

This could never be one of those.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Questions Wilderness Advocates Are Not Answering

Rarely do I get that feeling of oh-shit-this-is-going-to-change-everything from an article I read, but one year ago there it was, in front of me, in the NYT, and it was damning. So damning, I had to reread it 4 or 5 times to make sure that my mind wasn't playing tricks on me.

Before I throw out the link to the article, a caveat: If you care about roaming around wild places, this article may be the toughest text you'll ever introduce your morals to. Here it is.

I don't want to sugar-coat anything, but when it first came out, this article hit me really hard. Up until that point I'd been human-powering myself around the Northern Rockies for the better part of a decade, never knowing how much impact I could be having on the wildlife and land. Instead of peaceful and creative, my trips looked blatantly selfish and harmful. Where did I go wrong? Where had I mislead myself? And most importantly, why is not one person talking about these issues now?

While I still grapple with those first two questions, it's the third that feels most relevant today. Especially, as the 64ers entrench themselves in a resurgent battle against the bicycle. Until the above article was published, those dogmatic advocates of the 1964 Wilderness Act could hold onto the last best myth for keeping bicycles out: their prefered methods of mechanized and non-mechanized travel were less impactful for the wildlife, and thus the land, than others. If they now choose to acknowledge the hundreds of studies this article references, that hypothesis does not hold. In fact, it may actually be the quietest activities - ones that the Wilderness establishment continues to champion - that puts more stress on wild places:
The uncomfortable fact is, we’re all complicit. In a not-yet-published review of 218 studies about recreation’s impacts on wildlife, researchers found more evidence of impacts by hikers, backcountry skiers and their like than by the gas-powered contingent.
Cross-country skiers on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, for instance, can be more disturbing to moose than noisy snowmobiles, one recent study found. Grant Harris, a biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the main author of the study, explained that snowmobiles, while a noisy intrusion, announced their presence and then quickly departed. But cross-country skiers can sneak up on an animal without warning and then linger. Worse, animals “don’t know where the skiers are going to pop up next,” leaving them on edge.
For years most Wilderness organizations have been using a fear-based, slippery-slope approach as the guiding-light reason to not open up the Wilderness Act to amendment, but in doing so could they actually be harming the land and wildlife by not advocating to limit the human-wildlife interface much more?

So, with all this in mind, if you are a Wilderness advocate who believes that the methods of mechanized and non-mechanized travel allowed by the 1964 Wilderness Act are as impactful as these studies suggest, should you not be advocating for humans to have a much-reduced presence in federally designated Wilderness? Or, total removal? If not, does it create an apparent advocacy stance to exclude forms of human-powered travel, not because of scientific conclusive harm, but rather faith-based opinions which value one experience over another?

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Boulder & White Cloud Bonanza

The politics of this situation in Idaho have gone completely bonkers. In January, Wilderness was not a thought in anyone's mind. As we sit in July, it only has two more hurdles - a vote on the Senate floor + a president's signature - to become law.

Kudos to Rep. Mike Simpson. He saw what concessions he had to make to get his 10-year-old Wilderness bill to this stage. Highlights include: playing-off a rural hatred towards the president, as BO in the only one who has the power to declare National Monument status; give ranchers what they want - mainly grazing rights, and a decent federal land transfer to local jurisdictions; give federal money to local infrastructure and programs; and last, make concession to motorized user groups.

What are we left with is 3 disjointed Wilderness areas that look like complete shit, on paper. Although, maybe that's just the cartographer in me. It is sad that the National Monument proposal, which will be enacted by the end of this year if the big "W" does not go through, is almost dead. The Monument would have protected more land - almost double that of the Wilderness - including the entire East Fork of the Salmon River drainage. This is the area most folks talk about when they speak of "the last, big underprotected expance in the lower 48 states". What is still being lost in the discussion is that the area is already protected, hence the "underprotected". Yes, I originally opposed the National Monument for this reason.

So, what else is going on? Well, there was a broad coalition who came together to support the National Monument proposal. Being that we mapped the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route, Adventure Cycling Association joined in this effort - albeit at a miniscule level. It was a pleasure to see the Idaho Conservation League, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, etc., working with Outdoor Alliance, IMBA, and us here in Missoula. Optimism was high, and it seemed a new dawn was near. Even Outdoor Idaho featured a discussion on riding the White Clouds in their 50 Years of Wilderness episode.

Of course, when the Wilderness got a head-of-steam in congress, the Idaho Conservation League, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society jumped ship. Now, they will tell you that they still support the Monument, but they have the liberty to support both. They are all non-profits, and non-profits are first-and-foremost about making money. Most do this by presenting to folks like you what they've already accomplished, and letting you know how much more could be accomplished with a monetary donation. Presenting a new Wilderness to their constituents sounds way better than a National Monument. They don't have to mention this Wilderness would protect a whole bunch less, and be worse for the land.

Where does that leave mountain bikers, environmental scientists, and folks who genuinely see what's really going on? Absolutely stunned. It's easy to see how contemporary politicians and Wilderness advocates desire this to be their lasting legacy, but it's shameful at what watered-down cost they are willing to go.

On the playlist: Watkins Family Hour - Brokedown Palace