Celebrating 50 Years of the Wilderness Act


Americans, we own 618 million acres of wildlands, stretching form the frigid inhospitable, for some, Alaskan tundra to the southern sandy balmy beaches, the western sage brush planes and what remains of the great north eastern forests. This land encompasses the painted canyons, the miles of turquoise and deep (navy) rivers, the towering sky clawing mountain peaks. These places are the heart of the American spirit, they are our backyard.

Though these places are protected, I keep reading stories about the encroachment of drilling, mining, and other developments intended to benefit our continual rapid urbanization. We keep demanding more from our resources. Yet, we have less and less of these resources to exploit. What bothers me is that I view our existence, individually and as a society, through the lens of a big interconnected web. The exploitation of one part will have ramifications on the whole system. This view, however, is not shared by policy makers, the folks in Washington and in state capitals who are selling off leases and chipping away at these protected places. Their actions speaks to the opposite of my worldview, the perception that either the short term benefits are worth the longer term costs, or that the resources are infinite, ever lasting, renewable. Which would be funny, because maybe the dinosaurs thought that too. If they were capable of existing like us, then they might think their world would last forever. I am sure they never saw themselves becoming the black muck we drill up, process, and use as fuel today.

In California’s [Dead] Badlands

When I hear the Badlands, I think ‘Badlands in South Dakota’ because of Badlands National Park. Apparently, thats not the case. The “badlands” describes a very specific geographic and natural environment, not limited to the South Dakota/Montana region of the Untied States. In fact, California has its own badland(s) spread throughout the state.

I happen to live fairly close [big whoopee for living in the desert!] to some of them a few of them: Anza-Borrega National Park, Death Valley National Park, and there are areas within the vastness of Joshua Tree National Park that also contain environments that qualify as being “badlands.” The closest one is Red Rock Canyon California State Park. These badlands are barren and they look inhospitable; a wilderness without the prospect of life.

Its a bit deja vu when you come out to Red Rock, many a movie has incorporated the landscape from here to represent a plethora of set needs. Much like Vasquez Rocks, its a place that inspired Hollywood imaginations. What first drew people out here was gold, the fever spread far and wide bringing hundreds of prospectors out to the canyons, much of the land being acquired by Rudolph Hagen, who named the booming community he established in its confines, Ricardo.

Day Hikers Guide to California State Parks, states that Red Rock became a state recreation area in 1969 after extensive surveys showed the off-road vehicles had caused severe damage to the dramatic hills and canyon walls. In 1982 the recreation area was upgraded to state park to further protect the fossils records and wildlife.

Red Rock Canyon California State Park

A Patriot Protects the Wilderness

The past year of adventuring in California’s high desert, I’ve learned that nothing seems to be “without life.” In fact any place that “seems to be without life” is usually teeming with it. Its incredible. It seems even in the craziest of places, life springs into existence and finds a way to survive, and so to is there great multitude of life to be found if you just look hard enough in the badlands.

Thats the problem with wilderness, it all looks out of our control and insanely unmanageable. We have tried to control nature and perfect it, to make it less primordial. Chaos, and associated terms come to mind, when justifying this attitude toward nature.

Yet when the millions and millions of organisms interact together with one another, somehow they create this amazing magical environment where the chaos gets lost, and an order takes hold. In this order we sense that there is some organizing methodology, some guiding principle. How can this be unmanageable and chaos then?

To appreciate this, an by extension wilderness, you have to get intimate with it. You have to immerse yourself, and when you spend all your time wining and dining and making capital the focus of your concerns, its hard to see life and wonder in the wilderness. Its easy to assign it away to corporate interests.

To love a place you must know it first. To know a place you must get out into the place to discover it. Without loving and discovering it you can’t have a desire to protect it. To be a patriotic American, you have to be attached to its land and its wilderness because thats where the spirit of America derives it meaning.

The Wilderness Act was passed September 3, 1964. This year marked the 50th anniversary of its passage and the edification of American resolve to protect 9 million acres of wilderness. The Act defined wilderness as:

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.

In its present day make up, there are 110 million acres of federally owned wilderness areas, constituting some 700 sites. Its purpose was to make these lands free of manmade changes and preserve it as “wild” as it was when the Act came into existence.

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