By Larry Tobin
Tomahawk Leader Publisher
There have been some pretty radical schemes concocted over the years in the name of environmentalism. A few have even advocated violence like some of the efforts of groups like Greenpeace. Undoubtedly the most bizarre concept I've heard of yet, however, is a movement called The Wildlands Project.
This effort is headquartered in Richmond, Vermont, but it has groups from all over North America working on individual projects that blend in with the ultimate goal. It's well organized and well funded ($1.4-million in contributions in 2000 alone). The Ted Turner Foundation is one of the largest monetary supporters.
The project's goal: to turn 50% of the North American Continent into wilderness within 100 years!
That is, to gradually remove people and raw material production from the rural United States with no definite stopping point. In the groups' own words, the Wildlands Project calls for reserves established to protect wild habitat, biodiversity, ecological integrity, ecological services, and evolutionary processes.
"We reject the notion that wilderness is merely remote, scenic terrain suitable for backpacking. Rather we see wilderness as the home for unfettered life, free from human technological and industrial intervention."
In their view, to function properly, nature needs vast landscapes without roads, dams, motorized vehicles, power lines, airplane over-flights, and other artifacts of civilization.
One such project currently underway in the Wildlands goal includes all of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, as well as virtually all of Wisconsin and Minnesota north of I-94.
You may see this all as insane and not at all possible. Yet, if you look at some of the efforts being undertaken, they've already scored some successes.
For one thing, these groups rely on naivete and lack of education on the part of large population groups. They use the term "wilderness" loosely to include all national forests, parks, and existing true wilderness. People think closing roads in national forests is protecting wilderness. It's not! It's closing access to large tracts of resources that were created and intended to be managed for public use and benefit. That's why they're under the supervision of the Dept. of Agriculture, not the Park Service.
This notion is perpetrated - unwittingly or otherwise - by our mass media. Check the headline in a recent issue of USA Today: "Snowmobiles may be limited in parks." The story - a full third of a page or more - was entirely about national forests. Not once in the body text was the word "park" ever mentioned. Yet, when the misrepresentation in the headline was pointed out, USA Today editors refused to acknowledge the error.
The Wildlands Project is also getting support - again, unwittingly or not - from the U.S. Forest Service. Throughout the West, huge areas of national forest are being increasingly closed down to human activity, whether designated as roadless, shutting off snowmobile use, and ending ATV access. Such closures have already taken effect or are proposed for the Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Helena, and other national forests in Montana alone.
One thing people need to understand is that parks, national forests, and wilderness are three separate entities. We have parks like Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, and the like. Certain opportunities like hunting and off-roading are restricted in those areas.
National forests, as noted earlier, were created under the direction of the Dept. of Agriculture to manage a continuing supply of lumber and other resources, including recrreational opportunities.
Then, there are wilderness areas. These restrict many human activities. You cannot take any motorized vehicle into a wilderness area. In fact, you can't even take a chainsaw to use for cutting firewood for your own campfire. You can, however, hunt and fish in wilderness areas. Under plans for the Wildlands Project, though, even those activities would be denied.
We have lots of wilderness land already designated. For example, of the Gallatin National Forest's 1.9-million acres, 900 thousand acres are already designated as the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area. That's nearly half of one national forest. We have wilderness areas all over the West, in Alaska, and even places like Northern Minnesota.
Yet currently under proposal by the U.S. Forest Service are plans to remove nearly all of the remaining portions of many of our national forests from snowmobile and ATV travel. Much of these areas has already been declared roadless. You can be assured that, once these people are successful in the West, places like the Nicolet and Chequamegon National Forests will be next.
The Wildlands Project organizers received a great boost in the late 1990s when then-President Clinton issued his roadless directive. Then Clinton proposed to breach dams on the Columbia River, and he closed off huge areas to public access by manipulating them into "national monuments" in ways that the law never intended.
You may think this is all frivolous and impossible for any group to accomplish, but all you need is to consider what they're accomplishing already. Their goal is half the North American Continent turned to wilderness in the next 100 years. That may not be realized but, even if they're 10% successful, think of the havoc that could impose on civilization as we know it.
And, if you think I'm exaggerating or blowing their goals out of proportion, all you have to do is go to their website: http://www.twp.org
. There are also links to dozens of other websites for each portion of the project, as well as other organizations involved. At one website, you can even see how much money has been donated and for what specific purpose.