Wilderness in 2014

One of the most romantic environmental laws of all time turns 50 in 2014. That’s the Wilderness Act, a law so beautifully written it could appear in a book of essays. I mean, let’s talk about the definition of wilderness itself: “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.” Right?

Wilderness areas face very different challenges today than they did 50 years ago. Technology threatens to alter our experience of remoteness and self-reliance, airplanes are a near constant presence, and of course, climate change means the footprint of man is ubiquitous. To get a sense of the status of the wilderness experience in 2014, I interviewed Troy Hall, a professor and head of the department of conservation social sciences at University of Idaho. Here’s a bit of what she had to say. For more, read the full interview here.

On finding solitude in crowded wilderness areas: “People are really adaptable. Even where they run into a lot of people they often will say, “it was busy on the trail but when I got to a lake I could find a beautiful area where I was by myself.””

On attracting a more diverse crowd to wilderness areas: “Wilderness and things like watershed protection, clean air and wildlife habitat are extremely well-supported across demographic groups in society. So even demographic groups that don’t visit wilderness tend to place very high value on it.”

Enjoying the Hoover Wilderness in California.

Enjoying the Hoover Wilderness in California.

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The economics of coal hit home

When I learned that the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public power company, was going to close down a number of its coal plants, it seemed like a big deal to people here in the North Fork Valley. That’s because our local coal mines have sold lots of coal to TVA for years. So I blogged about it for High Country News and made a radio piece for KVNF, my local public radio station. In conclusion: decisions made far away affect us even here, a small town where the Rockies meet the desert, where it’s easy to think you’ve escaped the outside world.

Taken from my back yard. Coal mine scar up left on the mesa, orchards in the foreground.

Taken from my back yard. Coal mine scar up left on the mesa, orchards in the foreground.

Guns and cactus don’t mix

While researching this story on target shooting in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert National Monument, I came across a lot of YouTube videos of guys blasting saguaros, barrel cactus and prickly pear with shotguns. It happens more than it should, as does illegal dumping and vandalism at popular shooting areas. In 2011, Bureau of Land Management staff decided to close the monument to protect it from the worst impacts of shooting, but then politics got in the way. My latest for High Country News.

Saguaros outside of Tucson, AZ.

Saguaros outside of Tucson, AZ.