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AH, WILDERNESS: OPPOSING VIEWS
Your Nature Editor, John O'Reilly, has done an excellent piece of reporting as regards the recent North American Wildlife Conference held in New York City. However, the emotional pleading on behalf of increased wilderness areas within the United States contained within the article does not appear to be based on a thorough study of the problem.
A nationwide controversy exists over the provisions of Senate Bill 1123, recently introduced by Senator Humphrey of Minnesota and others. In effect this bill would initially "lock up" as wilderness 55 million acres of the public domain. Ninety percent of this land is in the western states. Wilderness proponents will have us believe that there is very little wilderness left in the U.S. and, further, that we are in extreme danger of losing what we presently have. This is a gross misrepresentation advanced by those who would like to see more of the country's public domain placed in a "bureaucratic icebox" for use at some unspecified future time....
Federal wilderness lands in California are used by fewer than 200,000 people annually, whereas the insignificant—by comparison—amount of land held by the state is utilized by more than 15 million people annually.
Lands to be beneficial must be put to multiple uses. Granted we need wilderness areas, but caution should be exercised to see that areas preserved—inviolate—are truly outstanding examples of wilderness. The western economy, faced with supporting a soaring population, cannot continue to grow in the face of indiscriminate and greedy withdrawals of public lands to serve a single purpose—wilderness.
Mr. David Brower, the peripatetic head of California's Sierra Club, complains bitterly about rising population figures in the West and California in particular. Perhaps this is why 55 major western chambers of commerce, farm bureaus, irrigation districts, women's clubs, boards of supervisors, state legislatures, and the Forest Service oppose his views, as well as the provisions of S. 1123. If Mr. Brower has developed a sure-fire method of controlling population growth, he may find himself a wealthy man, as well as engaged in an additional and even more lurid controversy....
If the "Park Avenue conservationists" persist in their attempts to "lock up" the lands of the West (through the enactment of S. 1123) they will have to answer to the nation's motoring public, whose enjoyment of wilderness areas will be limited by the restrictions against roads, and to the senior citizens, who possess a mature appreciation of beauty but who nevertheless lack the stamina to hike or pack into these roadless wilderness areas.
About 30-odd years ago a friend of mine, Vernon D. Wood, and I became the nucleus of a group which we called The Go Places and See Things Club. It had a rather transient membership consisting of several famed movie stars between pictures, a Kansas City millionaire, a couple of rockhounds and visiting firemen. All of them had one notion in mind: to get away from the hassle of business and enjoy for a weekend, a week or a month the favors the Creator had bestowed upon this portion of the country. We hunted out lost canyons, remote villages, roads that threatened to scrape the bottom out of the ancient Franklin we used as our medium of transportation. We carried with us bed sacks, a grill, an emergency water and gas supply, and shopped for chow at the farms and ranches we ran across. We met all sorts of weather conditions head on, and survived laughing. We met interesting people, far removed from those we ran across in the daily rat race—people who enjoyed meeting us and welcomed us in, and who enjoyed sitting under a tree or alongside a river and gabbing.
We have wandered the mountains, the desert, and have spent some time out among the Indian folk, who are a most remarkable segment of humanity. We have seen sights which, if an artist painted them, would result in his being called a liar.