Written on July 30, 2003
With Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, preparing a proposal to designate 250,000 acres of wilderness in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains, north of Ketchum, many residents of Blaine and Custer counties are wondering how a federal wilderness designation might affect their use of the land.
Some revel in the possibility of seeing mechanized or natural-resource extraction uses being restricted in the largest, unprotected, national forest roadless area in the Lower 48 States. Others cringe at the notion of a potential increase in federal control over public lands in Idaho. And, at times, the debate is complicated by vastly varying opinions on what true "wilderness" is.
Still, the real implications of creating a designated wilderness area in the Boulder-White Clouds lie in the federal Wilderness Act of 1964, the guiding legislation that enabled the establishment of 106 million acres of protected wilderness in the United States.
The Wilderness Act describes wilderness 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 original legislation established 9.1 million acres of wilderness in a new land-management system. Eventually, an additional 97 million acres of lands were designated as wilderness in areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service.
In the Lower 48 States, approximately 48 million acres of land have been designated as wilderness, or approximately 2 percent of the total land area. The balance of wilderness lands are in Alaska.
The Wilderness Act does restrict the use of land, but at the same time generally allows for a multiplicity of activities, including hiking, camping, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and limited grazing.
Activities that are generally banned in wilderness include the use of all mechanized vehicles: motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles, as well as all bicycles and mountain bikes.
The act states "there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road... and, except as necessary... no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area."
The rules include a provision to allow certain barred activities to ensure the health and safety of people, generally to accommodate the use of helicopters in emergencies.
The law also makes provisions for "the control of fires, insects and diseases" within wilderness areas.