Wilderness is more than a playground for bikers

The following opinion piece was written by Howie Wolke. Wolke is a former Jackson resident who now lives north of Gardiner, Mont. Along with his wife, Marilyn Olsen, he runs Big Wild Adventures. He has been guiding in the Greater Yellowstone and elsewhere in western North America since the mid-1970s.

Wilderness is more than a playground for bikers
By Howie Wolke

Whenever I begin to think that the Forest Service is becoming more conservation-minded, count on it to provide a reality check.Begin with the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s logging proposal, allegedly to reduce forest flammability, that’s partially within the Palisades Wilderness Study Area. That’s a claim, by the way, refuted by most scientists. Also, the Forest Service has recently cut mountain bike trails through the same WSA.

Unfortunately this disregard for laws designed to maintain the option for future wilderness designations is systemic, not local. For example, near my home the Forest Service was recently court-ordered to curtail illegal vehicle abuse in the Gallatin Range WSA. The agency had violated the 1977 Montana Wilderness Study Areas Act.

And east of Togwotee Pass, instead of clamping down on illegal mountain bike use in the DuNoir area, the feds plan to designate a bike route through the heart of this exceptionally wild and beautiful place. Yet the 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act designated the DuNoir a Special Management Unit, and its language clearly forbids all vehicles.

Arguably no roadless area anywhere deserves wilderness protection more than the magnificent DuNoir. The scenery is stunning, and its deeply wooded basins and sprawling tundra provide habitat for a plethora of wild creatures, including wilderness-dependent species such as grizzly, lynx and wolverine. (To prove the point, in 2012 I watched a wolverine scale a cliff near the DuNoirs’ Bonneville Pass.)

Allowing bikes a slippery slope

Oddly, in their land management planning process, which is nearly final, the Shoshone National Forest has failed to recommend wilderness designation for a single acre of unprotected Shoshone roadless lands, including the DuNoir. So other world-class Shoshone wildlands such as the Francs Peak, Wood River and Trout Creek Roadless Areas will also remain vulnerable to mechanized vehicular abuse and resource extraction.

Wisely, the 1964 Wilderness Act, our national wilderness law for public lands, forbids resource extraction and “mechanized,” not just motorized, travel.

When mechanized mountain bikers demand access to proposed and even designated wilderness, they fail to understand that if we allow this, then owners of who-knows-what future contraptions will certainly demand equal treatment. So will snow machine and ATV owners.

To loosen wildland restrictions starts us down a steep slippery slope. And mountain bikers are not traditional users, like hikers or horse-packers. These machines didn’t even exist until the early ’80’s. By allowing them to proliferate in roadless areas the Forest Service nourishes yet another anti-wilderness constituency. A cynic might suggest that’s no accident.

The infusion of former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson into the DuNoir equation is a recent twist. His son-in-law is a vocal mountain bike advocate who runs a Cody-area bike club. Simpson now advocates biking in the DuNoir and claims that maintaining future wilderness options for the DuNoir was not a goal of the 1984 legislation. But that’s misleading. I worked on that bill and maintaining the wilderness option was important.

Backcountry biking damages the resource. Bikers simply don’t stay on trails. Often they veer off trail just to keep from crashing.

Last year I sent the district ranger photos of recent mountain bike damage to vegetation at Kissinger Lakes, in the DuNoir, but the problem persists.

Due to the speed factor, mountain bikes startle wildlife more than hikers or horseback riders. Their speed also renders remote areas more accessible, thus reducing solitude for the many in favor of the few.

Like trail runners with ear pods, mountain bikers “troll for grizzlies,” as demonstrated by the 2004 mauling of a DuNoir mountain biker. And speaking of danger, the steep unstable Pinnacles Trail above the Brooks Lake Road (along the proposed route) is a future disaster. One day when bikers speed around a corner smack dab into a pack string where there’s no place to go except down the steep scree, it will happen.

Let’s face it: Mountain bikers don’t wear all that protective gear because they’re always in control.

At this point in our history, public land decisions should be about wildness and what’s best for the land and wildlife. Recreation can adapt.

Our public lands are not outdoor gymnasiums; nor are they pies to be divvied up among user groups, “interested publics” or local “stakeholders” to use a bit of bureaucratese.

As a backpacking trip outfitter, I’ve been guiding throughout the West and in the DuNoir since the late ’70s. When these lycra-clad speedsters zip past our groups, ripping up native vegetation and spooking critters, it diminishes the clients’ hard-earned wilderness experience.

But that’s not why the DuNoir — and other qualifying wildlands — should be designated wilderness. It’s because wilderness designation is best for the land.

Wilderness about humility

Wilderness is about humility, a statement that humans don’t know it all and never will. It takes us beyond “self,” and I think that’s a good thing. More than any other landscape, in wilderness we are part of something much greater than our civilization and ourselves.

Perhaps above all, wilderness is a statement that nonhuman life and wild landscapes have intrinsic value, independent of their benefits to humans. That’s why most remaining roadless areas should be designated Wilderness. And it’s why the Forest Service and some politicians are so wrongheaded, stuck in an outmoded and myopic worldview regarding the DuNoir, the Palisades, Francs Peak, the Gallatin Range and so many other fragile wildlands throughout the United States.

Could You Participate in Gallatin Collaborative’s 3 Day, 27 Hour Workshop on Thurs, Fri, Sat?

We’ve had many discussions and debates on this blog over the past few years about the roll of collaboration in federal public lands policy and management. For example, last week we shared an opinion piece from the Swan View Coalition (Montana) offering up that organization’s perspective on how some of the collaborative processes in their neck of the woods are playing out.  Keith Hammer wrote:

Swan View Coalition will always follow the legally required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public involvement process and will participate in optional collaborative processes as time and funds allow. We appreciate both as avenues to better understand all interests and issues.

For my money, one of the more interesting dynamics of all this “collaboration” springing up regarding public lands management is the tremendous amount of time, resources and funding needed for an individual, organization or private business to fully participate in the plethora of optional collaborative processes.  Off the top of my head I can think of at least 10 different optional collaborative processes taking place across the state of Montana (Size: 147,164 sq miles) that deal directly with US Forest Service management.

Complicating the issue – at least here in Montana – is the fact that some of those able to participate in the more controversial optional collaborative processes in Montana aggressively and endlessly take to the media to publicly criticize those individuals and groups that lack the time, resources and funding to participate in these optional collaborative processes.  Of course, ironically some of these collaborators don’t actually fully participate in the legally required NEPA public involvement process.  Unfortunately such facts don’t stop some of these folks from intentionally confusing the public by making it seem that those who fully participate in the legally required NEPA public involvement process aren’t participating in any public process.

In March of 2012 I shared a new, extensive report from Caitlin Burke, Ph.D., with the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University, who wanted to know about the factors that affect state and local environmental groups’ participation in collaboration, and how that affects representation, diversity, and inclusion in collaborative processes.

Burke set out by collecting data from eleven western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming), conducting a survey of 101 environmental groups that addressed forest-related issues and operated in the study area.  The survey gathered information about the organizations and their attitudes and behaviors toward collaboration to test relationships between organizational characteristics and strategy choice.  Here’s what Burke found:

“The results show that large, more professionalized organizations and those with multiple values use a collaborating strategy; small, less professionalized organizations and those with a single environmental value use a confronting strategy. In other words, collaboration is not representative of all environmental groups – smaller groups and more ideological groups are not involved. This research serves as a caution to those who would use, or advocate the use of, collaboration – its use must be carefully considered and its process carefully designed to ensure the most balanced representation possible.”

“If smaller, more ideological environmental groups are not involved in collaborative decision-making, then collaboration is not representative of all affected interests and collaborative decisions do not reflect the concerns of all stakeholders.”

Now, while Burke’s research was limited to environmental groups that addressed forest-related issues, it’s not a stretch to assume that these same time, resource and money constraints impact the ability of other individuals, smaller organizations of all kinds and private businesses to fully participate in these numerous, optional collaborative processes. For example, while it’s likely that a timber mill with 150 employees could afford to send a representative to an all day, mid-week optional collaborative meeting, it’s less likely that a logging contractor with 5 employees could afford the same luxury for an optional process.  The same goes for a working family with kids, or a college student with 18 credits and a part time job.

So, the reality is that most of the time these optional collaborative processes are made up almost entirely of paid Forest Service staff, paid environmentalists from well-funded, politically-connected organizations, paid logging industry representatives (who also happen to be very politically connected) and retirees (which often times, based on observations, are recently retired from the Forest Service or the logging industry).

So, if that’s the case, as Dr. Burke pointed out, such forms of “collaboration [are] not representative of all affected interests and collaborative decisions do not reflect the concerns of all stakeholders.”  I’d even go a step further and question how such a dynamic and make-up in some of these “collaborations” is really much different from the concept of the “King’s Forest” that existed throughout much of Europe at one time, and which was subsequently entirely rejected by early Americans going back to the late 1700s.

What got me re-thinking about these dynamics this morning was the following announcement from the “Gallatin Community Collaborative,” which was established in May of 2012 around management issues in the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area on the Gallatin National Forest, Montana.

The announcement raises a number of questions.  Would you be able to participate in 27 hours worth of optional collaborative process meetings over 3 straight days (including 9 hours on Thursday and 9 hours on Friday)?  How about other working people, or college students, who aren’t paid to sit around the table?  And if you can’t manage to set aside 18 hours over two entire mid-week days and 9 hours on a Saturday to travel to Bozeman, MT to participate in an optional collaborative process in an attempt to come to some agreements on how to manage a Wilderness Study Area that equally belongs to all Americans, how would you feel if some of those paid to be at the table publicly criticize the inability of others to participate in such a laborious optional collaborative process?

As more and more optional collaborative processes spring up around the country concerning the management of America’s federal public lands hopefully others will rise up and ask similar questions.

Dear friends interested in the Gallatin Collaborative:

First, to those of you who participated in the initial workshops for the Gallatin Community Collaborative (GCC) earlier in October, thank you for the time and energy that you invested in those workshops.

In those five community workshops, held in Big Sky, Bozeman, Livingston, and Emigrant, participants respectfully listened to each other to develop an initial list of unresolved issues, identified concerns, began the development of a common vision, and began exploring steps to accomplish that vision. During the next several months, we will work together toward successfully resolving many of those issues. A report will be forthcoming from these first workshops and will be posted mid-November on the GCC website.

We have a few things to share coming out of that October workshop:

NOVEMBER WORKSHOP: As our next step, the Collaborative will undertake a three-day workshop, bringing the interested parties from the various communities together, to begin resolving issues related to community empowerment and begin building community capacity to resolve the numerous issues identified in the first workshops. The dates and locations of this workshop are:

Nov. 21 (Thursday), 8am – 5pm in Bozeman at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds, Bldg. 4*

Nov. 22 (Friday), 8am – 5pm in Bozeman at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds, Bldg. 4

Nov. 23 (Saturday), 8am – 5pm in Bozeman at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds, Bldg. 4

Continental breakfast and lunch will be provided each day of the workshop.

The workshop is designed as a 3-day workshop, in which participants would ideally come for the full three days. We recognize that this is a significant time commitment for participants, and we hope that participants are able to be present for the full period of time. This is a complex issue and very important to the wider community. Many of you have already spent substantial time over numerous years. It requires a different approach to successfully resolve. Two hours here, four hours there… hasn’t been sufficient in the past. People will need to decide what works best for them in terms of participation. We hope you will give as much time as you can to this workshop; we’d like to make sure we invest the time to get this issue resolved successfully.

While participating for all three days is important, we understand that may not be feasible for everyone. You will be welcome at whatever sessions you can attend, but you may need to rely on other participants to bring you along and update you on what you may have missed.

Since we want to ensure as much opportunity as possible to provide your input into the process and to build on what we learned from the October workshops, we will provide another chance to engage for those of you who cannot attend the three-day workshop, bringing the Collaborative discussion into more Gallatin Range communities: we are adding a few evening meetings earlier in the week. These meetings will take place at the following locations and times:

Nov. 18 (Monday) from 6-9pm in West Yellowstone at the Holiday Inn (315 Yellowstone Ave.)

Nov. 19 (Tuesday) from 6-9pm in Gardiner at the Best Western Plus (905 Scott St. W.)

Nov. 20 (Wednesday) from 6-9pm in Livingston at the Best Western Yellowstone Inn (1515 W. Park St.)

Refreshments will not be provided at these meetings; please bring what you need to be comfortable.

If you plan to participate in the workshop or evening meetings, please register using this link on the Gallatin Collaborative website.

We will have a second three-day workshop in January or February, addressing issues around the themes of change and/or scarcity, depending on what we learn in November. We will be able to announce those dates at the November workshops.

ROLE OF THE US FOREST SERVICE: A number of you asked questions about the role of the US Forest Service in the Collaborative process, given that the government shutdown was underway during the October workshops. The Forest Service will be participating in the November workshop and is looking forward to getting back on track with this group. For more on the Gallatin NF’s role in this process, see the Collaborative website.

SUPPORTING THE GCC: Finally, a foundation supporting the work of the Collaborative has provided a “challenge grant,” offering to match dollar-for-dollar each dollar raised from local individuals and organizations by the end of 2013, up to a total of $7,000. This support will help the Collaborative by providing needed funds for meeting space, meals and refreshments, and other costs. We still have $4,000 to go to achieve this match, so if you’re interested in helping to support the Collaborative, please send a check to our fiscal sponsor: Park County Community Foundation, PO Box 2199; Livingston, MT 59047 and please note “GCC” in the memo line of your check. Thanks so much for your support.

Thank you again for your time and interest in this important process,

Jeff Goebel, Facilitator
For the Exploratory Committee of the Gallatin Collaborative

UPDATE: The following information was just sent to me from Travis Stills….thanks Travis.

From: Federal Advisory Committees: An Overview, Wendy R. Ginsberg, Analyst in American National Government, April 16, 2009, Congressional Research Service,  7-5700, www.crs.gov, R40520

According to GSA’s FACA Database, in 2008, the federal government spent more than $344 million on FACA committees — including operation of advisory bodies, compensation of members and staff, and reimbursement of travel and per diem expenses. According to GSA, $39.8 million was spent on committee member pay (both federal and non-federal members) and $166.2 million was spent on staff. An additional $14 million was spent on consultants to FACA committees.

UPDATE 2:  Another 3 days worth of meetings, covering 24 hours, was just announced by the Gallatin Collaborative.  I hear Bozeman, MT is really easy (and cheap) to drive into or fly into during January.

Dear Friends,

On behalf of Jeff Goebel, the GCC Exploratory Committee wants to sincerely honor and thank you for your hard work and participation in the recent 3-day workshop at the County Fairgrounds.

It was a powerful and insightful time together. As you all know, this is a marathon not a sprint, but significant progress is being made. The issues we covered and questions answered are not what many of us expected, but they are equally as important as any of the traditional on-the-ground concerns. We are off to a great start.

The entire group of October Collective Statements, along with updated FAQs and materials from the November workshop,  will be posted on the GCC website at www.gallatincollaborative.org before the next scheduled sessions beginning January 9.  Below are the details on the January GCC workshop. Please forward this to anyone interested in the process, and encourage them to attend any or all of these meetings.

The purposes of the January meetings will be to explore the change that is desired for the communities surrounding the Gallatin Range, design the operating structure of the Gallatin Community Collaborative, and develop new and more effective ways of valuing the people involved in the region.

Thursday, January 9 – 1:00pm to 9:00pm

Friday, January 10 – 1:00pm to 9:00pm

Saturday, January 11 – 9:00am to 5:00pm

Best Western
1515 W Park St

Livingston, MT

Food and refreshments will be served.
RSVP at www.gallatincollaborative.org

If any of you are interested or planning on practicing the consensus building skills Jeff has been sharing with our community and you are looking for support or have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Exploratory Committee at info@gallatincollaborative.org. Be sure to include this email in your Contact list to avoid it getting sent to the junk folder.

May you all have an enjoyable and safe Holiday season and we look forward to working with you all again soon.

With Respect & Gratitude,

Jeff Goebel