Wilderness is Multiple Use

By Bill Schneider

Have you ever heard somebody say they prefer “multiple use” over Wilderness? I have what seems like a thousand times, and every time I hear it, I say to myself, wrong! (...)


So, it seems like a good time to say it out loud because the words, “multiple use” have been lost in the Wilderness.

In the common vernacular, especially among those who favor commercial uses of public lands, “multiple use” means development instead of protection. What they really mean when then say, “muliple use” is “logging use” or “commercial use” or “motorized recreation use” or most appropriate, perhaps, “single use.” But in reality, congressionally mandated Wilderness, as designated under the provisos of the Wilderness Act of 1964, is much closer to being multiple use management than mining, logging and other commercial uses of public land.

The Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act of 1960 brought the words into common usage. Officially and ironically, the Act lists the five multiple uses as outdoor recreation (listed first, but no hidden message in that, right?), range (i.e. livestock grazing), timber, watershed, and “wildlife and fish purposes.”

(Actually, the five muliple uses are listed alphabetically, but the bill’s drafters had to abandon the common usage of “fish and wildlife” and go to “wildlife and fish” so it wouldn’t be listed first. There’s definitely a message behind that one.)

Legally, Wilderness allows all of these uses except timber. Any grazing allotments in place before designation remain active unless purchased or retired, and as a result, some designated Wilderness areas currently have livestock grazing within their boundaries. Even mining is legally allowed in Wilderness if the leases were in place before designation, although enviros commonly oppose any proposal to do so, and end up defeating or delaying most Wilderness mines.

The Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act is a long, complicated piece of legislation open to interpretation, but right on the first page, it prominently states: “Multiple use means the management of all the various renewable resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people.”

I interpret that definition as our roadless lands could all be designated as Wilderness to “meet the needs of the American people"--and fit into the definition of “multiple use.” This law doesn’t list mining as one of the “multiple uses,” nor does mining meet the definition because gold, silver, copper, coal, et al are not renewable resources. So, let’s be clear on this one. Mining is single use.

Compare Wilderness, which allows four out of the five defined muliple uses and protects three of them (fish and wildlife, outdoor recreation and watershed) to a large mining development or mountainside being clear cut, both considered “multiple use” by its supporters. But where is the “multiple use”? Where is the fish and wildlife, outdoor recreation, livestock grazing or watershed protection? All are gone at least during active development if not long into the future in the case of mining. Ever see cows grazing on an active mining site? No hiking or even ATVing there. No wildlife or hunting or fish or fishing. And watershed protection? Ever see the water flowing out of an active mine--or sadly, many abandoned decades ago? Or taste it? Likewise, how many streams have been silted up for years in the wake of poorly planned timber cutting?

Timber development, incidentally, can be managed correctly to preserve watershed and wildlife values and still be good hunting or hiking land after the cutting stops if roads are retired, even opened to livestock grazing again, but how often does this really happen? Not enough, I’m sure.

The words, “multiple use” have been lowered to a political catch phrase. Ever hear a politician say he or she favors “muliple use” instead of Wilderness? Politicos should be honest and say they want commercial use of public lands and stop trying to fool us by using “muliple use” because it sounds so wide-reaching politically while hiding the true intent. If they really wanted more multiple use, they would support Wilderness designation.

The worshippers of “multiple use” pretend to represent a broad range of interests when they are, in reality, supporting special, single use or abuse of public land we all own. Contrarily, whether or not we choose to admit it, Wilderness supporters represent the majority of us, even those who never go there. We marvel at the scenery; drink the pure water; breath the invisible air; enjoy the wildlife; or just feel good about a small part of the country remaining untamed.

So, please stop the multiple misuses of the words.

Footnote: A reader sent in this comment, something I should have included in the column. The Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act explicitly addresses wilderness in the last sentence of Section 2 (16 USC 529) in these words: “The establishment and maintenance of areas of wilderness are consistent with the purposes and provisions of this Act.”


Originally published on NewWest.Net where Bill Schneider writes a weekly column called Wild Bill.

You can also see readers' comments and other information by clicking this direct link to the original article on the New West website.

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