Thursday, January 26, 2017

Backcountry: For The Forest

I’ve become very wary of posting my opinions, particularly those relating to politics, and the environment, on THE social media outlet (you know the one I mean), not because I can’t deal with constructive criticism, but because for some of my supposed friends, particularly long-time friends who have known my political views since we were in high school, have spewed some pretty virulent attacks on me in recent days, and upped their game to “destructive criticism”.

The new president of this country is going to change things up quite a bit. Nobody is denying that on either side of the fence. While I am a social and fiscal conservative, when it comes to the backcountry, I am probably best described by the line from the song “Smokey the Bear”; “But don’t you harm the trees, for he’s a Ranger in his heart.” I have also heard it said, “You can take the Ranger out of the forest, but you can’t take the forest out of the Ranger.” It was for this reason that I continue to staunchly oppose the Minnesota DNR’s Division of Ecological Services plans to turn Sand Dunes State Forest, where I used to work, into an Oak Savanna Prairie by removing thousands of red and white pine trees.

As I have written here, and other places, one of my conservation heroes is the first Chief of the US Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot. In addition to being the first Chief of the Forest Service, Pinchot also served as two-term governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and president of Penn State University, where my father went to college. He was, along with Carl Schenk, the first to bring the science of forestry to the United States in the late 1800s, and his oft-quoted philosophy of “The Greatest Good” (“Where conflicting interests must be reconciled, the question shall always be answered from the standpoint of the greatest good for the greatest number, in the long run.”) has guided me not just in my conservation efforts, but in many of the other things I do as well.

Forestry is a very adaptive process. No one procedure, technique, or application is going to work for every piece of forest land. This applies, among other things, to the differentiation between, “wilderness” and “backcountry”. Last year in this space, I wrote a piece on how I believe that mountain bikes could or should be allowed in certain wilderness areas, with certain reservations. It was the single most read post I have published in the 11 years that I have been doing this blog, with over 1000 hits. What I said in that post reflects my “greatest good” philosophy. It doesn’t fit in every place, or apply to every wilderness area.

I came to a couple of realizations last week while visiting the Chequamegon National Forest in Northwest Wisconsin. I braved some very icy road conditions off of the major highways, to try my hand at a little stream fishing just north of the Porcupine Lake Wilderness Area, northeast of Cable. In fact, I parked in the parking area for people visiting the Wilderness, crossed the road and fished and took pictures of 18 Mile Creek in what, back in New York, we would have simply called “Wild Forest”. The US Forest Service, like most government agencies, loves to put big titles on things, so the area is known as the “18 Mile Creek Semi- Primitive, Non-Motorized Management Area”, which is a step down from true wilderness. The biggest difference between a “semi-primitive, non-motorized, management area” and a “wilderness” area is that you can use mechanize transport, i.e. mountain bikes in the semi-primitive area. I mean it is just on the other side of the road from the wilderness, the terrain is the same, the forest is the same, and the river runs through it.
The realizations I came to are these; First of all, I am totally sick of all the politics and the mean-spirited, no, scratch that, downright nasty things that people are saying to each other in the aftermath of the presidential election. The other thing that I realize is that at my age, other than casting my vote and on occasion writing my representatives in Congress, who probably won’t listen to me anyhow, because I don’t have the dollars to back me up, there’s not a lot that I can really do. What I can do is continue to be a good steward of, and advocate for the Backcountry.

Whether you call it backcountry, wild forest, semi-primitive non-motorized management area, or wilderness, America as a nation is blessed with an abundance of wild places, and there are those, unfortunately primarily on the Republican side of the aisle, who would sell those off to the highest bidder. I am a member, in fact a Minnesota board member and Habitat Watch Volunteer with an organization called Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and we’re the ones along with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Trout Unlimited (of which I’m also a member), and a new organization made up of many of the major manufacturers and distributors of outdoor recreational equipment called the Outdoor Industry Association are pressing back. The threats to our public lands are very real, and those in Congress who are inclined to believe that the new administration will back them up when they tried to sell our public lands may be surprised when they realize that President Trump has pledged publicly, to “Uphold the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt.” That legacy is our public lands.

Public lands are our American heritage. The only thing that politicians recognize more than $$ is the power of the ballot. Not only do we need to vote, but we need to let our representatives at both the state and federal level, know that we vote, and how we vote. That we vote in support of keeping public lands in public hands.

The other thing that came to me while standing along that creekside in northern Wisconsin was this; I am going to learn that creek, and 20 Mile Creek which is adjacent to it, and I am going to learn them so well that by the end of the season I will be able to serve as a backcountry guide again.

And we’ll do it on fat bikes!

Proceeding on…