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Wilderness

By Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, and thought. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade around.

Frederick Jackson Turner
Speech at World’s Columbian Exposition
Chicago, Illinois
1893

Though not meant as a support for wilderness protection, Frederick Jackson Turner’s cogent thesis rings true into the 21st century. Regrettably, our American way of life is wrought with self indulgence, political correctness, mental and physical weakness and loss of traditional outdoor skills and values because of an over-reliance upon technology and machines. A return to our roots in the form of hunting and angling in wilderness can help us to reclaim the virtues that fashioned our nation.

Our way of life and the foundations of our republic were born in the wilderness that defined us. Our “can do” spirit and pioneering attitude as a nation can be credited to the remarkable wild country that we unfortunately, tamed and “civilized” in the past two centuries. We can never go back to the early days of the country in terms of the amount of wild country that existed, yet we can take care of and protect what remains.

Beyond the mental, physical and spiritual attributes of wilderness are the practical. We need water to survive. In wilderness we have natural and cost free storage reservoirs that provide us a reliable supply of water that can withstand drought. Winter carry over of snow pack will last much longer in wild country than it would in clear cuts and fragmented forests. This natural sponge pays for itself simply by providing us sustenance. Not only are wilderness areas natural savings accounts for water, they provide tremendous habitat for trout and anadramous fish. Deteriorating stocks of salmon and steelhead can make a stand in wilderness areas and can even outlast drought and over harvest if the fish are allowed to migrate to and from these natural nurseries. Some of the oldest trees on earth exist in protected wilderness; it is little wonder that the healthiest fish populations are inextricably tied to these forests.

Multiple species of flora and fauna reside and are protected in our wilderness system. Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery documented species of animals and vegetation that had never before been identified for science. We can do our children and grandchildren right by maintaining the balance of nature in these natural laboratories. The modern and industrial world has cluttered and expanded into the realm of such continent defining creatures as moose, elk, bison and the grizzly bear. Maintaining these islands of biodiversity and carrying on the traditions of hunting and angling into the future will require us to refrain from extending “progress” into the wilds of North America. Too much has already been lost and we must make a stand now if we want our children to enjoy the traditions that helped to define our youth.

Wilderness provides us the opportunity for self evaluation and reflection, peace, solitude, aptitude and spiritual well being. In his book, Photographing the Landscape, Colorado nature photographer, John Fielder, eloquently described the importance of wilderness:

The physical act of being in wilderness might not be as important as the mere knowledge that it exists…going there may be insignificant in comparison to the simple knowledge that we have a refuge from the pressures of human society.

In the age of excess, it is comforting to know what a hike, horseback trip or tracking a large bull elk through a snow storm will provide us. Having that tinge of uncertainty in our minds as we hunt, fish and hike in the habitat of creatures that are unpredictable helps us to maintain our primitive focus that is missing in the modern world. Hunting and angling in wilderness offers us a sense of renewal and helps us to provide a certain amount of nourishment for our families. Assuming responsibility for at least a small portion of the food that maintains us is both gratifying and healthy. We will be better for it if we can maintain the wild country that helped to shape our fledgling republic and toughened us for such critical 20th century tests as World War I and World War II. Had we not helped to win those two conflicts, our way of life and the wilderness that shaped us would have been in peril.

Wilderness and the public commons provide human beings the opportunity to be appreciative for our vast history and heritage. Few Americans have a private range or forest that they can hunt, fish, hike and build mental and physical fortitude through what is commonly called, “sweat equity.” Our children will be grateful for our efforts to protect wild country and the creatures that rely upon it for survival. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers believe that wilderness is a prerequisite for the health of human beings and therefore, will work to support wilderness bills and other protective measures that will assure us a natural and challenging lifestyle in this century and beyond.

© by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
used by permission of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

 

"Backcountry Hunters and Anglers seeks to ensure America's outdoor heritage in a natural setting, through education and work in behalf of clean water and wilderness."
  —   From Backcountry Hunters and Anglers mission statement at: www.backcountryhunters.org.


Guano Rim, Sheldon NWR, northwestern Nevada © Scott Smith


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