A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his 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. -- The Wilderness Act of 1964.
Before most of us were born and today's technology was unimagined, visionaries like Aldo Leopold were alarmed by the pace at which the American landscape was being altered and tamed (i.e. trammeled) by human enterprise. In 1935, they foresaw a future of more people, roads, developments and mechanized travel throughout the world. Having experienced nature on its own terms, they wanted to protect a few remnant wild lands for all future generations to enjoy the experience of awe and humility they inspire. Much of the spectacular Grand Canyon, a seventh wonder of the world, is such a place.
By 1964, Americans had finally embraced our hard-won National Park System created in 1916. Its original stately lodges and railways were part of a marketing scheme to sell Americans on this new idea. Sell it they did, so much so that national parks throughout the world have been modeled on this "best idea America ever had." Just as it faced denigrators in its infancy, so too has the National Wilderness Preservation System. Howard Zahniser, who conceived of a system of wilderness areas, drafted the Act and its prose-like preamble. He and others worked tirelessly from 1955 to 1964 to pass the law. Since then, others have fought to include areas representative of most ecosystems, including biologically rich swamps and wetlands of National Wildlife Refuges, and orphaned national lands left over from western settlement -- places like Paria Canyon that people now clamor to visit.
Wilderness opponents who say they're being "locked out" or the Act "mandates virtually no human presence" are choosing to ignore its admonition that wilderness areas "shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness ..." (Sec. 2 [a]). Often opposition is driven by a profit motive. It is mines, resorts, and other commercial enterprises that "lock out" most ordinary citizens.
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Management of Grand Canyon's recommended wilderness -- as wilderness -- until designated or released by Congress is hardly capricious. The issue has been debated since the National Park Service (NPS), Interior secretaries, and presidents failed to achieve the Act's mandate to send wilderness recommendations to Congress within 10 years. After legal opinions and lawsuits, NPS and other Interior agencies determined they are bound, as the Forest Service was, to manage qualifying de facto wilderness with the same force and effect as if they were designated by the original Act (Sec. 3 [a]). Further, Sec. 3 [c] states that national park roadless areas should be maintained under statutory authority.
Grand Canyon National Park forwarded its wilderness recommendation, developed through a lengthy public process, to the Secretary of the Interior in 1980. It reaffirmed the recommendation in 1993 with boundary modifications and updated it again in 2010. Now, the long-overdue public process to update the 1988 Backcountry Management Plan included an open house in Flagstaff recently. The park seeks public comments on the scope of a plan until June 27th. Find more information at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grca and submit your thoughts. The park will consider and incorporate comments into a range alternatives in a draft Environmental Impact Statement that will be open for comments in 2012. Meanwhile, Grand Canyon National Park will appropriately follow NPS Management Policy prohibiting it "from taking any action that would diminish wilderness eligibility."
Alicyn Gitlin represents the Sierra Club -- Grand Canyon Chapter; Kim Crumbo represents the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council; Liz Boussard is a public land and wilderness policy consultant.