Details, details: Who gets to do what in a wilderness area?

Published July 1, 2000

Should BLM lands be inventoried?

More than 100 organizations–including conservation groups, sportsmen’s clubs, and religious associations–have asked the Clinton-Gore administration to inventory the 160 million acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for possible wilderness status.

The groups also urge Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, whose department oversees the BLM, to close areas to mining, grazing, oil drilling, and off-road vehicle use until all the inventories are completed.

Michael Gaulding, director of communications for the Interior Department, considered it unlikely the department would begin such an effort. “To undertake a comprehensive effort to re-inventory more than 200 million acres of BLM land would divert our attention from some important conservation efforts the secretary has long had underway. In addition, we would barely begin the undertaking before this administration leaves office.”

Any discussion of converting BLM lands to “roadless” or “wilderness” would face even more opposition in the western states than the Forest Service’s plan has, given the acreage controlled by BLM in those states. In Nevada, for example, BLM controls 47 million acres, while the Forest Service has only 6 million.

Grant Gerber, an Elko, Nevada lawyer who has been fighting the Forest Service over a washed-out road in a forest campground there, said, “Our sources in Washington say [the Clinton-Gore administration is] trying to figure out how to get [the inventory] going on the BLM so that in the event Gore isn’t elected, they can get it done before Clinton is out of office.”

Roads may be bad, but skiing’s OK

The U.S. Forest Service is proposing to allow a privately owned ski resort to expand in a roadless area of Klamath National Forest near Ashland, Oregon. With Forest Service approval, the resort would build 13 new ski runs, a new chairlift, a lodge, and a bigger parking lot.

Environmentalist critics of the expansion say it would negatively affect a wildlife corridor between the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains and endanger some threatened plant species, including the horkelia lichen and Mount Ashland lupine. The proposed area of expansion is also home to 400-year-old Shasta red fir forests.

Forest Service names climbing committee

The U.S. Forest Service has formed a committee to develop a formal policy on rock climbing in “wilderness” areas of the National Forests. The committee is comprised of Forest Service employees, representatives of the climbing and recreation industry, and environmentalists.

“This whole issue is about bolts,” said Sam Davidson of the Access Fund, an advocate of climbers’ rights. “Non-climbers have trouble accepting the idea that climbers are drilling holes in the rock. The hole is about the size of the tip of a pinky finger.”

Jay Watson, of the Wilderness Society, appeared to support climbers’ access. “I recognize wilderness core values and their integrity has to be maintained, but I don’t believe the Wilderness Act was written to disenfranchise people from a wilderness experience.” He added, “the Wilderness Society recognized climbing as a long-standing tradition in wilderness, yet we recognize that climbing can have, like many recreational uses, an impact.” But, he said, other threats, such as grazing, cause more damage to wilderness areas.

The Forest Service’s committee plans to hold four meetings in Denver to try and reach a compromise. The dates of the meetings will be listed in the Federal Register.