Senator Udall’s Alpine Recreation Enhancement Act (We Wish)

Post by blogger | March 28, 2013      

Sometime in September of last year, the Waterhole Ski Hut was extirpated from Olympic National Park with no public notification or public process. More here.

It often appears our own governments are waging a schizophrenic war on recreation such as backcountry skiing. Drive your gigantic motorhome in our national parks, pumping pollution along the way like a gas laced coal mine — wonderful. Build and use a minimalist ski hut? NO! It must be removed!

Senator Udall during his days as Colorado Outward Bound staff.

Senator Udall during his days as Colorado Outward Bound staff. He knows outdoor recreation as well as anyone and is an experienced alpinist. (Photo sourced from internet.)

Here in Colorado, due to a number of factors it is difficult to build backcountry recreation (ski, hiking, mountain biking, mountaineering) huts on public land. Nearby land owners complain (OMG, parking! people!), wildlife biologists find lynx tracks, and so on.

(Credit for actually getting a hut done here in Colorado goes to Alfred Braun huts for their new Opa’s Hut.)

Beyond the road blocks mentioned above, in my view the biggest (and possibly least admitted to) problem with hut building is you can’t put them in legal Wildernesss where literally thousands of excellent hut sites would otherwise exist.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love our existing legal Wilderness. But I happen to feel we have enough “big-W” here in Colorado. The limiting of recreation opportunities such as huts is the main reason I’m opposed to any new Wilderness in our state, and instead feel our non-Wilderness public backcountry land can be managed for conservation and recreation with a variety of other legislative tools. Once those tools are exhausted, then it’s time to pull out the big W gun in the name of conservation. But only then.

Nonetheless, for many people the concept of creating more legal Wilderness is understandably attractive (it just seems, so, “right”). Thus, every few years here in Colorado we get another politician working with heavily funded environmental groups to designate more land as legal Wilderness.

One recent Colorado Wilderness proposal is senator Mark Udall’s “Central Mountains Outdoor Heritage Act” (birthed from the controversial “Hidden Gems Wilderness” proposal that’s been sucking energy and money in our area for what seems like a hundred years.) Article about Udall’s legislation. Another more recent and serious attempt at Wilderness designation in Colorado is Udall’s San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act (defunct link removed 2015).

When I’ve recently spoken with other recreation advocates who feel more Wilderness is inappropriate, a common thread is “when will these Wilderness proposals stop, so we can quit fighting and work with other folks to improve conservation oriented recreation management — or even help take better care of our existing and wonderful legal Wilderness?” Sadly, instead, we’re stuck in the trenches trying to intercept political footballs such as Udall’s proposals. It’s like a horror movie in which we’re condemned to a hellish cycle of flashing from one alternate universe to the next — with each one nearly the same as the last. I lost count a long time ago of how many public meetings I’ve been to regarding new Wilderness proposals. Make it stop!

Senator Mark Udall is a climber and backcountry skier who was with Colorado Outward Bound for 20 years, and also served on the board of 10th Mountain Huts (I met with Mark recently in a focus group scenario, and also know him personally from early days at Outward Bound). While I like Mark and have immense respect for him, what’s disappointing is while the man is is incredibly smart and well spoken, he doesn’t appear to acknowledge how important the use of NON-Wilderness backcountry is to the recreation industry in Colorado (due to road access, huts, mountain biking, ATV use and a long list of those sorts of things, detailed below).

(To be fair, Udall did author and accomplish the passage of his “Ski Area Recreational…Enhancement Act” which helps resorts add off-season recreation to their roster. But that’s just ski resorts — they’re fun but really only a part of the entire mountain recreation picture I’m discussing here. Also, it should be noted that Udall is also proposing the use of Special Management Areas (SMAs) which can be used for conservation purposes without the broad and difficult to fine-tune restrictions of legal Wilderness. If Udall’s proposal was all SMA based that would be a different story — it’s the big-W part that’s the problem.)

In public meetings Mark hooks on a sophomoric talking point about how making more legal Wilderness will be this amazing economic engine for our state. I’ll say it: that is total B.S. — I’ve studied on this issue for hours (if not years) and can’t see how Mark’s Wilderness proposals could ever add one red cent to our state economy (other than the money environmental groups spend on promoting and legislating them.)

Instead, Mark, couldn’t you just shelve this resource sucking Wilderness fight and work on some sort of legislation to help with things that matter to our overall outdoor recreation picture (the real “economic engine” of outdoor recreation) and require NON Wilderness land management? Here is a list:

– Trailhead parking improvements.

– More trailheads.

– Smoothing way for public backcountry hut building through funding and favorable legislation.

– Road improvements and additions to distribute access instead of concentrating it. Important road improvements include additional turn-outs on single-lane highcountry roads, while keeping the rough 4×4 character of many such roads.

– Acknowledgement and support of the fact that our Colorado highcountry 4×4 vehicular trails are a heritage resource rather than a nuisance.

– Control and accommodation of ATVs (easily the biggest and fastest growing segment of spendy economically beneficial outdoor recreation, no Wilderness required.)

– Oversight of ski resorts expanding to backcountry terrain.

– Management and preservation of existing Wilderness including better boundary signs, law enforcement, and removal of all permanent human improvements such as signs and bridges.

– Enforcement of the law in regards to motorized trespass in legal Wilderness.

– Snow plowing and summer maintenance of backcountry access roads.

– Oversight and opening of gated roads that could provide better recreation access.

– Incentives for private land owners to provide access routes for landlocked public lands they hold sway over.

– Research and education regarding the relationship of conservation to a recreation and tourism economy, and how the two can coexist.

– Open and legal use of numerous additional backcountry mountain bike trails.

– Vastly improved trail clearing and maintenance, using efficient mechanized means illegal in big-W Wilderness.

– Encouragement and management of developed rock climbing areas with numerous drilled bolt anchors.

– Development of via ferrata fixed cable rock and alpine climbs (illegal in Wilderness).

– Due to global warming, ski resorts will need more high altitude terrain. Colorado has that land, but much of such terrain is locked up in “rock pile Wilderness.” Making more such Wilderness could be terrible for a ski industry that’s most certainly going to need such terrain to stay in business.

– And lastly but perhaps most importantly, our forests in Colorado are rapidly deteriorating due to improper management that’s resulting in overly dense timber stands that poorly resist insect damage. In many cases, turning that trend around will require access to the forest by mechanized means. Legal Wilderness shuts that down. Permanently. We need legislation that encourages proper management of our forests — instead of blocking it.

In other words, to Senator Udall, above is an outline for your new “Alpine Recreation Enhancement Act.” How about moving beyond your fiddling around with Wilderness debates and getting on it! You’d have my vote.

I can probably think of a few more things for the list that are important and only possible in NON Wilderness, but should turn it over to you WildSnowers! Rant on!

What do you like to do in the backcountry that’s illegal in big-W Wilderness? Sleep in a hut? Clip a bolt on a rock climb? What would you advocate for that Senator Udall could do that would help conserve our public lands and at the same time truly help our recreation economy? Or should we just forget about recreation as an economic engine, and depend on ranching, natural gas drilling, and second home construction to support ourselves?

Learn more about timber management in the age of pine beetles and global warming.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


56 Responses to “Senator Udall’s Alpine Recreation Enhancement Act (We Wish)”

  1. John Dough March 28th, 2013 9:20 am

    Excellent post Lou! I believe that the Hidden Gems could be much more successful if they thought outside the “W” box a little more and worked with different user groups to develop plans for specific areas where these user groups could still have access, but the lands received certain protections. Instead, groups like Hidden Gems seem to only see the issues in Black and White, all or nothing terms. “Wilderness B” is a great example of the mountain bike community offering a solution which would still permit access to Wilderness by the user group, while giving certain protections. But AFAIK this has yet to be implemented, although some areas in their plan were going to allow bikes still.

    It’s definitely frustrating to see this movement still pushing forward on their own terms, and fighting every other user group who they could work with and gain support for a broader and more successful cause.

  2. Don March 28th, 2013 9:20 am

    Excellent article Lou, I couldn’t agree more. I think this is worthy of being published in the Denver Post as an editorial. You should work at getting this into the Denver Post.

  3. Lou Dawson March 28th, 2013 9:25 am

    Denver Post? WildSnow has more readers…, so we’re good.

  4. Frank Klein March 28th, 2013 9:47 am

    I think you, like many (almost all) public land users, are pretty selfish. You have a state that has huts, a plethora of ski resorts, and a lot of 4×4 roads, but you want more and you are willing to sacrifice wilderness protections to get it. I understand that often times people who argue in support of wilderness paint a black and white picture that is unfair, where all non-designated wilderness will be a rutted out, biologically sterile, trash littered shit hole. That is clearly not true. However, the special protections Wilderness designation provides are worth it in almost any circumstance where such designation is possible given how very little protection most of the land in The USA (and the rest of the world) has.

    The wilderness designation does limit recreation in some ways, but it makes it possible in others. Would a week long ski tour be the same if you were never more than 2 miles from a road? Would an elk hunt be the same if the area you hiked 4 miles back to was ATV accessible? Wilderness designation is the best protection for Wilderness recreation there is even though it isn’t perfect.

    Huts aren’t illegal in wilderness, they aren’t in line with the wilderness act and would need serious justification to exist, which is almost never possible given how very few people actually use them. They serve small subsets of people and have a large impact. Why should a few skiers and mountain bikers get to have such a large footprint? Your ideas about mechanized logging are also incompatible with modern Wilderness forest management. The solution to problems caused by 100 years of forest mismanagement and climate change is not to fully mechanize the wilderness to more powerfully shape it. I think you’d have trouble finding many public land managers in Wilderness areas who would even want to allow mechanized forestry if it were an option, although they might appreciate the occasional chainsaw.

    I think this post clearly demonstrates why public land management is a constant and never ending struggle.

  5. Lou Dawson March 28th, 2013 10:03 am

    Frank, good points, thanks for not spouting the specious argument that somehow legal Wilderness is a great economic engine (it is indeed an economic boon for people who work for the Wilderness advocacy groups, but not for everyone else). My problem with your take is it’s the all-or-nothing view. My point is we can have wonderful conservation oriented backcountry, with recreation, and do it without the constant drone of new Wilderness proposals.

  6. Rudi March 28th, 2013 10:10 am

    This is such a complicated issue and I thank you for a well written article. Absolutely should be published in the post. My take is this though, At least Udall is trying to designate it Wilderness instead of busting it open for oil and gas drilling which is what most politicians think is best use of land. Sure there could be better ways of going about it that keep the land open for more types of recreation, but I’ll take overly restricted wilderness over a well platform any day. All that being said I think the best way to make people aware of conservation and environmental issues is through the guise of recreation.

  7. Samuel Savard March 28th, 2013 10:11 am

    I think you’re right Lou, but I also think that sometimes you just gotta do your own thing and “break” some rules in order to get true wilderness experiences. The problem is if they allow too much, then people will abuse and actually destroy protected areas. So the few respectful and responsible people who want to go in the true wilderness should just do it and not tell anyone… that way, most stupid tourists will stay on the beaten legal paths and stay away from the true gems that our land has to offer. Just saying, I don’t trust humans in general, and when the law gives an inch, people will take a foot or a yard…

  8. jdj March 28th, 2013 10:18 am

    Lou – with respect to your wilderness comments (which seem to conflate your wilderness concerns amid other nonwilderness issues), here are some realistic responses to your list:

    Trailhead parking improvements. – no problem with wilderness designation since they are on the boundary

    – More trailheads. – same, no violation of the Wilderness Act

    – Smoothing way for public backcountry hut building through funding and favorable legislation. –

    = to what end and for how much economic stimulus? almost nothing in terms of percentage of winter recreation spending.

    – Road improvements and additions to distribute access instead of concentrating it. Important road improvements include additional turn-outs on single-lane highcountry roads, while keeping the rough 4×4 character of many such roads.

    = If there is a road, it isn’t wilderness so what’s the problem? I guess I also wonder how you will access them in winter.

    – Acknowledgement and support of the fact that our Colorado highcountry 4×4 vehicular trails are a heritage resource rather than a nuisance.

    = what does this have to do with your feelings on wilderness?

    – Control and accommodation of ATVs (easily the biggest and fastest growing segment of spendy economically beneficial outdoor recreation, no Wilderness required.)


    – Oversight of ski resorts expanding to backcountry terrain.
    =already happening at an increasing rate – has nothing to do with wilderness except in one instance I know of in Montana.

    Management and preservation of existing Wilderness including better boundary signs, law enforcement, and removal of all permanent human improvements such as signs and bridges.
    Enforcement of the law in regards to motorized trespass in legal Wilderness.
    Snow plowing and summer maintenance of backcountry access roads.
    Oversight and opening of gated roads that could provide better recreation access.
    = I’ll combine these – management costs money – usually from taxpayers or user fees and neither seems politically feasible given the current political culture

    -Incentives for private land owners to provide access routes for landlocked public lands they hold sway over.

    = this is what markets do – on private land it’s pay to play, what’s wrong with that?

    – Research and education regarding the relationship of conservation to a recreation and tourism economy, and how the two can coexist.

    = tons on stuff on this, Ken Cordell at the Uni of Georgia (USFS) does comprehensive national work on this. Web site:

    – Open and legal use of numerous additional backcountry mountain bike trails.
    – Vastly improved trail clearing and maintenance, using efficient mechanized means illegal in big-W Wilderness.

    =clear violation of the wilderness act, to what end? the wilderness states have hundreds of miles of trails, roads, etc already. Do the bikers really need a few percentage more access?

    – Encouragement and management of developed rock climbing areas with numerous drilled bolt anchors.

    = a non issue even among most wilderness managers, fabricated by hippies in Missoula

    – Development of “via ferrata” fixed cable rock and alpine climbs (illegal in Wilderness).

    = where is the market for economic stimulus you seem concerned about? It is in multiple use public and private areas close to urban centers and ski resorts.

    It seems to me that to have any sort of rational conversation about this you first need to separate the wilderness issues from nonwilderness. Most of your list has nothing to do with present and future wilderness. Finally, wilderness is not about the money. That’s what multiple use is for, same goes for private land if that is the choice of the landowner. One solution – pay to put a hut on private land.

  9. Lou Dawson March 28th, 2013 10:20 am

    Natural gas, I have to admit that the only time a well platform has ever affected my life is the last time I walked into my gas heated house. I simply have never ever had a gas well affect me in any negative way whatsoever. I understand people’s concerns about gas field development, but I just can’t get behind making gas wells overall evil. If we have a some gas wells on the land in return for extensive mountain bike and other recreation access, that seems fair enough. After all, the mountain bikes and hikers will probably be there 60 years from now, while most of the gas drilling will be done and gone.

  10. Lou Dawson March 28th, 2013 10:22 am

    JDJ, the “conflation” results from my attempting to list not only direct things, but also stuff that could be worked on when the staggering amounts of money and time going to these Wilerness fights could be directed to well managed outdoor recreation. Hence, my mixture of stuff directly related to Wilderness, as well as things like parking improvements.

  11. George March 28th, 2013 10:30 am

    Recreation will take a backseat to Enviros (Big W) and Ranchers due to their ability to fund political coffers. IF the Big W groups were really serious about maintaining the wilderness characteristics of wilderness areas they would work with ranchers to protect the damage done in watersheds by cattle. The proof is evident in Capital Creek (Maroon Bells Wildnerness) and many other areas. IMHO cattle are the number one threat to a Wilderness experience, Big W or small W. I don’t propose banning ranching, but instead I am proposing sensible management and sharing the public lands with many user groups. SRMA and other non-Wilderness designations are a better solutions as Lou points out.

  12. Frank Klein March 28th, 2013 10:40 am

    I agree that the idea that Wilderness designation is an economic engine isn’t true. In fact, the vast majority of people will never know the difference between Wilderness and backcountry non-designated areas. At best there may be a few backpackers show up and maybe a pack station.

    I wish the Wilderness designation was unnecessary given that one is forced to accept some sacrifice for the designation. However, If the will is there to designate new Wilderness areas, and the area is indeed worthy of the designation, i’m inclined to favor it unless there is a special and compelling reason not to. From my point of view, Wilderness designation is the best compromise, it preserves a good deal of recreation possibilities, while protecting land from destructive development and preserving beauty.

    There are many areas I can think of off the top of my head that do a good job balancing uses and protecting resources without using a Wilderness designation, and I enjoy those areas. However, I would choose to make some sacrifices for better protection of those areas given how threatened all public land is these days.

    Maybe some new designation is in order, like mechanized-semi-developed Wilderness where mountain bikes, heli-skiing, fishing/hunting/skiing huts, and the occational ATV road are allowed but the area still receives protection from oil/gas/mineral mining, destructive logging, etc. and development is done sparsely in a low impact and high quality way.

  13. JWW March 28th, 2013 10:56 am

    I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own.
    -Andy Warhol

  14. SR March 28th, 2013 11:11 am

    The incredible elitism of Big Wilderness is nicely summed up by the restrictions on climbing bolts. I have repeatedly had difficulty finding bolts that I know are there, when I know I am on-route. Bolts, particularly hand-drilled bolts, are just a non-issue. But, many environmentalists simply don’t like seeing climbers. Mountain biking suffers for similar reasons. Not only don’t we need more wilderness, I believe we need a re-examination of the uses that are compatible with areas that currently receive wilderness designation.

  15. jdj March 28th, 2013 2:13 pm

    Frank – please see: “The Economics of Wildland Preservation: The View from the Local Economy,” in The Economic Value of Wilderness, Pat Reed and Claire Payne, eds., General Technical Report SE-78 Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, Forest Service, U.S.D.A., December, 1992. and: Wilderness for Its Own Sake or as Economic Asset; Rasker, Ray 25 J. Land Resources & Envtl. L. 15 (2005) for some discussion of the economic value of wilderness. In terms of indirect spending, having wilderness lands in your county is an economic good at multiple levels. In terms of direct spending yes, generally speaking it tends not to be huge – except in a few cases (i.e. Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness). The same pattern goes for all public lands.

    I think one thing missed in this discussion, and I appreciate your point, is that Wilderness actually means something – legally and legislatively. So-called “wilderness lite” is a multiple use national forest where we all have ample opportunity to influence what that use looks like. If it looks like bikes rather than logging we can influence that.

    I am more than just a little amazed at the lack of support for wilderness among a user group so closely identified with solitude from the ski resort crowds and nonmotorized travel. The fact is that BC skiers are not locked out of a single acre of public land – wilderness or not.

    Lou – you are talking about the opportunity cost of the wilderness debate vs plowing for parking. It’s a specious argument and you know it. Public hearings are largely a fixed cost for the USFS while plowing isn’t. Here in Bozeman we have a nonprofit whose sole aim is to help the FS find funding (mostly private) to keep the road to Hyalite plowed with access points. Perhaps it is time for the BC world to step up.

  16. Lou Dawson March 28th, 2013 2:25 pm

    Um, we have Wilderness lands in our County. Lots of acres. It’s great. I’m not sure if we have the exact amount necessary for the most economic benefit, nor am I sure that we’d not receive the same economic benefit if all that land was managed as conservation based USFS land with multiple use. My point is I strongly suspect we have enough legal Wilderness…

    As for cost, Wilderness Workshop has spent what I’d estimate as easily more than a million dollars on the Hidden Gems Wilderness push for central Colorado. Nothing has come of of that except the money being wasted and thousands of hours of time both pro and con human time being sucked up. If even a fraction of those resources was actually devoted to betterment of the land, on the ground, I’m most certain there would be tangible results.


  17. Lou Dawson March 28th, 2013 2:37 pm

    Jd, don’t be amazed, BC skiers do a lot more outdoor activities than skiing, many of which are affected by Wilderness restrictions. Sleeping in huts is my main example, but bicycling comes to mind, not to mention automotive access that becomes restricted and thus actually does lock us out by simply making it so difficult to get somewhere that human powered folks simply don’t go (and the land is instead enjoyed by poaching snowmobilers, as often happens around here.)

  18. Xavier March 28th, 2013 2:55 pm

    Like EVERYTHING in America… things are taken to the extreme and wilderness is one of them….always wanting more, no compromise and little common sense applied to the issue. Many wilderness groups and advocates act like and spew propaganda akin to the NRA in their self-righteous fervor.

    Here in the PNW access becomes more difficult every year due to road closures at our National Parks…State and USFS roads are taken out by floods and not repaired and still the wilderness advocates want more and people are concentrated into small areas of easy access. Rats start eating themselves when overcrowding reaches a critical limit.

    In the meantime, visitation of public lands in winter by normal people( not the freaks reading this website) continue to decline and the disconnect between the population and the winter wilderness grows.

    The elitists will always argue that with sufficient skill and effort you can access these areas but most people have limited time, money or desire to launch on 3 day bushwacking adventure with 50 lb packs.

    When you look at Europe for example and see how the population in mountain areas have such easy access and are connected to the mountains and their extensive hut culture….you truly wonder if America had chosen the right path and question if the growing disconnect will actual backfire in the long run and cause a diminished value to these wilderness areas by the people .

    My belief is that that has already started.

  19. Lou Dawson March 28th, 2013 3:01 pm

    Xavier, I’m with you. Though extremism is alive and well all over the globe, not just in America…

    One thing the Wilderness advocates need to realize is that as they make recreation more and more difficult, they _will_ loose a big part of their constituency. Sure, that’s based on selfishness. But selfishness is a powerful motivator that can do good if harnessed.


  20. Jack March 28th, 2013 3:33 pm

    I’m wondering how many creative efforts are going into compromise with private land owners. For instance, in densely populated areas in the Northeast, private developers may be required by local building authorities to provide small public parks and units for economically disadvantaged or elderly populations.
    If you applied similar reasoning to backcountry issues, private owners could be given an incentive (in terms of eased restrictions on building, or perhaps taxes) to provide access to land-locked public lands, or to maintain public access or parking. This could add to the lands value. Here in the NE, land adjacent to conservation land is at a premium.
    Big – W designation does seem like a big hammer. Good that those areas are out there, but a lot of land use wrangles are smaller and more locally defined.

  21. Dillon March 28th, 2013 3:49 pm

    So now there’s too much wilderness in Colorado? Lou, I’m hoping you meant to post this three days from now.

  22. JC March 28th, 2013 4:50 pm

    Hey Lou,

    Thanks for hosting the conversation. And, thanks for trying to hold our elected officials accountable. I live in Dtown and I know less of the politics of the Roaring Fork Valley and White River National Forest than the locals who frequent this blog, however, I am a person who travels to and spends money in these locations and being such am a person whose input is probably of some value.

    Thankfully I am able-bodied and in good health so I can take advantage of the Wilderness in all of her glory. I’m a big supporter of capital W Wilderness because it is so hard to enact, due in large part to the fact that it is so restrictive. That means that it is a long term, mostly set in stone, not to be overturned by the next Mayor, Governor, Congressperson, etc. thing. It also means that the land, regardless of the natural resources on or in it will stay as close to as beautiful as it is in it’s current state and that it can be enjoyed for it’s beauty, among other things, for generations to come. I think that this is a very worthwhile endeavor.

    Also, you point out areas where more funding would be needed for enforcement, the creation of new parking/trailheads, plowing, etc and I bet that there are other funds that NFS, BLM and other land management officials would argue are very necessary (I’d be willing to help out) and I think it’s an argument that we continually need to make to our neighbors, land users, and elected officials – taxes/user fees aren’t always bad.

    When I look at a map of Colorado I rarely think that there is to much dark green and instead I’m always shocked at how little real protected land exists between our great mountain towns. In fact I’m pretty sure that I could mtn. bike from Denver (Waterton Canyon) all the way to Carbondale on dirt right now. The only place I ever really feel remote in CO is in the San Juan’s and that is also the place where I see the most 4 x 4 er’s as well.

    In the end it feels like the Wilderness people want more Wilderness, ATV’ers want more access, mtn. bikers want more trails and from what I understand Senator Udall’s Bill does a good job of threading the needle. If I’ve heard correctly it doesn’t really close any Mtn Bike Trails, ATV trails, etc and it protects land in perpetuity.

    And, I’d love to see some new huts in the NF that buffers our Wilderness here on the Front Range.

  23. Lou Dawson March 28th, 2013 5:40 pm

    Sorry Dillon, it’s not a joke.

  24. Poach Ninja March 28th, 2013 8:06 pm

    Once any wild space is lost, it’s lost forever. Instead of focusing on our own selfish, economic reasons, let’s instead think of our great, great grandkids. And what we should leave for them when there is another 7 billion humans added to this earth.
    Trailhead parking lots, vehicle roads, ATV trails, and huts are probably NOT things that they will view as enhancements to unspoiled wilderness areas.

  25. George March 28th, 2013 9:49 pm

    Frank-the special land preservation designation exists and Udall has implemented a Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) and similar designations – these designations can protect against oil/gas, permit mechanized travel (game carts and bikes) while limiting seasonal impacts (winter elk habitat) and give a nice wilderness experience.
    JDJ– The special congressional protection that exists with Wilderness is available with alternative designations too. Ranchers and others prefer Wilderness because they receive SPECIAL considerations (that exclude user groups/others/public tax payers) which inflates the value of their real estate when continguous to Big W.
    If you follow the money you find big land owners (ranchers & hobby ranchers) who propose more Big W, adjacent to their property and then build mansions on the borders of these habitat destroying mansions. These NIMBYS create their Wilderness backyard for profit and lock out the tax paying public.

  26. Colin March 28th, 2013 10:06 pm

    Hand-drilled of fixed anchors is not categorically illegal in wilderness areas. Powerdrills are illegal, but that goes unsaid.

  27. Colin March 28th, 2013 10:07 pm


  28. Patrick March 29th, 2013 1:43 am

    Re: Wilderness … won’t ever add one red cent to our state economy

    The following paper describes a range of economic opportunities from which local economies are getting red cents. Some of the areas cited are “Big W” Wilderness, other portions are parks, and adjacent areas consist of many national, state, or provincial forests.
    Pathways to prosperity: The roots of economic success in the Crown of the Continent. 2012. A. Hagemeier. National Parks Conservation Assn.

    Hope some day soon Americans will enjoy increased opportunities to locate backcountry huts on US National Forest land. Ski in, hike in, sled in, fly in, enjoy, but don’t build more roads.

    Leave the Wilderness for nature, or walk/ski in and camp. Have a good time, with a light touch. I know you can do it, but for those who can’t, hey isn’t it nice that the Wilderness is there. You know, for your kids’ kids. Mtn bikes, ATVs, flight-seeing, frisbee golf, zip-lines, bungee-jumping, and the next “flavour-of-the-decade-activity” are for other places, and there are plenty of them.

  29. Rob Mullins March 29th, 2013 2:22 am

    Two extremes- all motorized, or all Wilderness. Some USFS officials have made the comment to me that this is what the public wants- one or the other. The big W gets the pressure off of the USFS leaders, since big W is legislated by Congress. In my efforts for management of the winter Forest I certainly learned to despise the extremes, and there are plenty of supporters of either extreme. Unfortunately the position that is assailed the most is the middle ground, true multiple use management done with a plan, logic, and according to the purposes of USFS. Multiple use management in winter is a view that is beat up by the extremes and avoided by the USFS officials because of the perceived difficulty.

    It seems that clear leadership is needed from Congress, or the Agency/ Executive Branch, rather than doing nothing except when the political winds blow strongly one way or the other

  30. Lou Dawson March 29th, 2013 6:51 am

    George, thanks for calling attention to SRMA. Udall is indeed aware of this and I give him cred in my blog post. My hope is that he’ll stop the divisive Wilderness proposals and go 100% for SRMA designations or just leave public land alone for a combo of recreation and resource management.

  31. Lou Dawson March 29th, 2013 6:55 am

    Rob, I hadn’t thought of this in terms of the extremes being easier to manage or making more economic sense. But you’re right. Make it restricted Wilderness and it’s hands off, you don’t even have to send in a trail crew if you don’t have the money. Or go to the other extreme and log/mine/drill it every 100 yards and take the extraction fees for a USFS or BLM cash injection. Dang. You’re right, we need leadership. Perhaps that’s the underlying emotion that caused me to call out Udall on this. Lou

  32. SR March 29th, 2013 8:16 am

    Regarding hand-drilling fixed anchors, to place new anchors you need a permit or other prior approval, such as with its $120 fee. The clear intention is to discourage new climbs. And the bolts just aren’t that visible. More broadly, climbers are viewed as a problematic user group. Just one of a long list of examples of how Wilderness is managed with an eye to a very small favored set of activities, while equally low-impact activities are successfully excluded in many cases and limited in others.

  33. brian h March 29th, 2013 8:27 am

    Shoot, Rob’s comment is just as well about any political process right now. The more moderate, non “pro” voices all have other things to do (ie work). The motivated extremists got the time and the organized money. Government ‘agents’ cave to the pressure of the yammering or succumb to the call of the cash. Down here in Durango we’ve got a drainage that is being proposed for ‘wilderness light’. The existing usage would continue in half of the area while the other half would become wilderness. This proposal would not have ever gotten off the ground (good or bad) if not for a national organization putting there people into the process. What do the locals want? Does anybody know? If the process is too arcane or lengthy only the zealots stick around.

  34. Lou Dawson March 29th, 2013 9:25 am

    SR, climbers and mountain bikers are leading the “new” view of legal Wilderness that’s become surprisingly common. If I’d published this blog post in early 1980, I would have been viewed as a heretic and received death threats. Now, most people I speak with have very similar views. They’re essentially tired of being excluded unless they’re a horseback rider or hiker, they’re smart, and see how the non-Wilderness land they recreate on is frequently just as beautiful and well preserved as the restricted Wilderness. Life lessons have been learned, mythology promulgated by radical enviros has been debunked. Time for other conservation tools. Time for enviro groups to wake up and smell the coffee instead of acting like they’re at an Earthday rally in 1972. Lou

  35. Lou Dawson March 29th, 2013 9:28 am

    Brian, it’s otherwise known as “mob rule” and is what our system of governance is supposed to prevent. Unfortunately, mob rule has gotten the upper hand in many cases these days. Those of us who stay home and tend our families instead of joining the mob tend to be ignored. It sucks. And is why I alluded in my blog post about how it’s like being caught in a science fiction time warp, endlessly repeating the same public hearing and letter writing campaign, over and over again.

  36. Frank K March 29th, 2013 11:47 am

    Wow, a lot of well thought-out and reasonable responses considering the “touchiness” of this subject.

    I was reminded of this post yesterday when I saw a Hidden Gems employee signing in for the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse from here in Crested Butte to Aspen. I couldn’t help but see the irony in it- since the race itself would be illegal in Big W, not to mention the Friends hut checkpoint along the way.

    Then again, there are a lot of ironies when it comes to Big W.

  37. Lou Dawson March 29th, 2013 12:12 pm

    Frank, classic! I’ve never been one to do too much finger pointing re hypocrisy, since any of use with ideals are going to miss our goals. On the other hand, some things are just too rich to ignore. A Hidden Gems advocate supporting that kind of recreation is a good example of the kind of hypocrisy I have little patience with.

    I’m trying to think of a metaphor. Could it be like a peace professing Buddhist or Christian operating a gulag in Siberia?

    Good point about the GT race being illegal if it was in Wilderness.

  38. Rob Mullins March 29th, 2013 12:58 pm

    Thanks Lou, I will immediately tell Jenny that I was ‘right’! 😆

    Over about 18 months here in the Wenatchee NF I put in considerable effort and hours for winter Forest management advocacy- and arrived at that conclusion. As I said, actually one clearly defined by some USFS offcials- all Wilderness, or all motorized is most likely to occur. The in-between is just too-difficult, in my view it actually requires real decision making that is just too much for a career USFS official, too much to hang out, and just not the way things are done. Such would be done only if it comes down to the Forests to do from Wa DC- Agency, Administration, Congress.

    Great point, brian h- ” If the process is too arcane or lengthy only the zealots stick around.” The process IS too arcane and lengthy, it is designed that way, real important change occurs often over decades! One other important aspect of the USFS that I have observed is that USFS officials are good at listening, making the person giving the input feel validated, then forgetting it unless it fits the preconceived USFS agenda. To their credit, I find USFS officials to be patient and congenial in taking public input, however it is a force larger than us and ‘them’ that hinders management or change! For example, our NCW Congressman Hastings (R) heads the Natural Resources Committee. Rep Hastings actions seem fairly set- and those include stopping all new Wilderness, and reflexively being pro-motorized. Although for example most guys I skitour with are Republicans, professionals who skitour and have the cash for a snowmobile to get to the goods, and are not on either extreme but a little of both. In spite of that, sadly, the Ds and Rs votes usually line up along the two extremes- due to real lack of any depth of understanding.

    If the general (non-mountain) public really understood management issues in the snowy Forests, and then if the politicians followed the wishes of the public, we would see multiple-use management on the winter Forest. If this were understood, Sierra Club would shrink or change to its early roots advocacy, and 170 HP snow machines would then be regulated instead of being the last unregulated powerful vehicle ripping up the Forest unchecked and without boundaries.

  39. Adam Olson March 29th, 2013 4:16 pm

    All of you “Big W” lovers are blinded by your own arrogance and foolish if you believe the rules won’t revert back to how they were when the “Greatest Generation” cut all the roads we currently use in the National Forest. The “Sagebrush Rebellion” is in full swing (lead by ever aging Baby-boomers) and I predict within 10 years, or less, an act of Congress will open up these “useless” lands know as Wilderness. The State of Utah has already passed legislation (signed by the current Governor) asking for their (Wilderness) land back. The GOP have these lands in there sights. It is to be sold to the highest bidder (oligarch). Just look at the GOP agenda and the latest Paul Ryan budget………………its for sale folks. And they justify this position by saying that the private sector will better manage it. How much do you think an acre of Wilderness will go for?

    The current Wilderness rules are archaic and obtuse. I hunt, hike, fish and ride these lands and have seen the impacts of ranching, oil speculation, grazing, hiking and total lack of maintenance have left for me and my children. A mess! We need better rules not more Wilderness. We need to be able to access these Wilderness areas and rid them of bark beetles, using chain saws and trucks or our precious Wilderness will go up in flames never to return.

    What will I do when I am an old man and only have a fraction of the prowess that I have now? What if I am part cyborg? Will I be excluded from Wilderness because I need mechanical assistance? Technically you probably can’t have a pace maker in the Wilderness either. Wilderness is biased and discriminatory. Neither bias nor discrimination should be tolerated in the 21st century. The rules need to be changed.

    Unbridled ski area operators are regularly taking public (Roadless and Wilderness) land. If you think this process is balanced ask yourself when was the last time you heard about a ski area giving land back to the public. They are wolves and will do anything for more money……..I meant land. Just look at the Aspen Ski Co, they want to cut a new road, out of there newly acquired “sidecountry” (Burnt Mtn). The last remaining Roadless area abutting the ski area will be used to build an egress road (I just puked a little).

  40. JC March 29th, 2013 4:46 pm

    Lou and Frank K,

    I’ve enjoyed much of the discourse but I’m sad that you guys are attacking a Wilderness advocate for enjoying the great outdoors in the National Forest. Being an advocate for Wilderness and partaking in mechanized, geared, bolted or hut activities are not mutually exclusive. Everyone agrees that there are appropriate places for all activities from mining and snowmachining to biking, hutting and hiking. I’ve got friends in Oil and Gas who certainly enjoy and desire Wilderness and I’d hope that you’d have the vision to see that these are not all or nothing activities. All of these discussions are about balance and admittedly finding that balance is hard, but it is much harder when any of us become narrow minded.

    Wilderness has not prevented Colorado from putting on amazing running, skiing and biking races across the state including: Hardrock 100, TransRockies multi -day races, the Breck Epic, UROC 100k, North Fork 50, Bailey Hundo, San Juan Solstice, Elk Mountain Grand Traverse, amongst a host of others and when Wilderness has gotten in the way it hasn’t stopped people from hosting fun runs with friends (Four Pass Loop) complete with FKT’s. Nothing is perfect…certainly not your ridiculous monk/gulag metaphor.

  41. Lou Dawson March 29th, 2013 5:06 pm


    I love your point about private land etc. One of the excuses used for the Wexner land grab near here is that the land will be better conserved as private rather than public. Your prediction is already happening.

    JC, there is a difference between being a Wilderness advocate, and advocating for endless increases in Wilderness acreage that would indeed obviate many of the backcountry activities we hold dear. Hidden Gems is an excessive land grab designed mostly for fund raising and to look good on paper. Enough is enough. Frank’s point is good.

    As for attacking people, you want to see real attacks you might check some other forums. Calling someone out, not even by name, for obvious hypocrisy is not an attack it’s just a useful and instructive observation. Keeps everyone intellectually honest.


  42. Lou Dawson March 29th, 2013 5:13 pm

    Man, I pray my ridiculous monk/gulag metaphor goes down in history! (grin)

  43. Lou Dawson March 29th, 2013 5:21 pm

    Hey Adam, I’ll one-up you on the crystal ball.

    I predict that in a few years, when global warming causes most of our state ski resorts to loose significant acreage and season time due to much of their runs being at low elevation, you will see an act of Congress to take certain lands in the Colorado highcountry OUT of the big-W inventory and added to those resort’s permit areas.

    In other words, if we can do the Bank Bailout of 2008, we can certainly pull some land out of a few Wilderness areas to keep the Colorado ski economy going.

    It’ll be pretty funny if Udall is the one to instigate this. Could happen.

    Let the howling commence.


  44. brian h March 29th, 2013 6:15 pm

    I’ll join that howl because that is not a far out possibility in this age of “the wheels are off the truck”. BUT! the more people that demand inclusion the more people can then crash that fat cat party when it starts! We’ll bring the keg to the “whine fest”.

  45. Lou Dawson March 29th, 2013 6:25 pm

    Udall’s legislations:

    2013: Central Mountains Outdoor Heritage Act, places 369 square miles into big-W Wilderness.

    2018: Central Mountains Ski Resort Assistance Act, takes 2,000 square miles out of big-W and places them in ski resort permit areas.

    2019: WildSnow Ski Mountaineering Preservation Act, blocks building of ski lifts in new resort permit areas.

    2020: Central Mountains Energy Conservation Act, outlaws ski lifts.

  46. Xavier March 29th, 2013 7:55 pm

    2016 Lou decides to run for Congress. On an interview on “Meet the Press” disturbing video is unveiled showing Lou engaged in pagan acts and burning DPS skis. In an attempt to rescue his campaign he goes on national TV declaring ” I’m not a Witch.” Retreats in shame to his secret mountain lair.

    2020 Wildsnow blog becomes self aware and takes over internet. Lou becomes leader of the free world as a result and demands to be called Dear Leader Lou.
    Strikes down Wilderness throughout America and builds hut system across every mountain range in the USA manned by skilled dessert chefs.

  47. Lou Dawson March 29th, 2013 8:00 pm


  48. Adam Olson March 30th, 2013 7:41 am

    Now that the sequester is going to hit full swing, look to the closed areas of the National Forest this summer to be the first to sell in the future.

    On a lighter note I will gladly accept a cabinet position under Dear Leader Lou to help further our agenda of National Forest domination!

  49. Adam Olson March 30th, 2013 7:51 am

    What! Did I just see an Ski Co. advertisement on your website? I am shocked. Is this a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them?” Do they know how we feel about them? And will people who buy tickets through your link be excluded from Burnt Mtn? Please tell me you negotiated some motorized acces after the lifts close.

  50. Rob Mullins March 30th, 2013 8:50 am

    Lou please let me know where to contribute to your PAC for you future political career !

    Great dialog! Except it is best to avoid the attacks, most of us would like to do that but it gets in the way of understanding and progress. We should try to convince our lawmakers to look at the problem through the multi-use view There is room for all, Wilderness, snomos, pristine non-WIlderness, MTBs, etc. It just requires some planning and management so that conflict is reduced. The result would be opportunity to improve the various opportunities for the various uses of the winter Forest.

    Must disagree that current Wilderness will be degraded or reduced. Just will not happen short of another desperate World War. Entropy is at a dysfunctional balance it seems in regard to USFS land management currently.

    As well, we need to ask our lawmakers to make the Agencies accountable. Agencies manipulate the situation to make their pit for a fat budget. For example, to make the point, Agencies have been know to cut services to the public and cut field personnel while maintaining the same or larger desk jockey numbers, writing on their pcs all sort f useless stuff…

    It is notable the numbers of mountain people who become anti-Wilderness. In these mountains, Wilderness trails are not maintained and/ or abandoned. Trail work is done by volunteers from the city who pay for their working vacation sometimes…

    Well-informed folks may not fit the black or white description. I am a strong big W advocate, yet I also ride my snomo ad dirt bikes extensively on the Forest and as well support that use-appropriately managed. I do not believe that we should build new roads in the Forest or cut any more old-growth timber. At the same time, I believe that the Forest should and could support a large timber industry, in a sustainable manner; communities would be partially restored while the Forest would be funded and well maintained as it was 25 years ago.

  51. Lou Dawson March 30th, 2013 9:09 am

    Adam, I’m still chuckling with all you guys, good to see the nice humor!

    Seriously though, I like Skico. Doesn’t mean I have to be a fanboy…

    As for the ads, if you see one it’s a Google contextual showing up in my Adsense advertising space. Be sure to explore it and see what they have to say. Always interesting to see what their marketing people are doing in the zero sum game that is the mechanized ski industry.


  52. stewspooner March 30th, 2013 9:49 am

    Sure I’d like more of whatever I could conveniently use. Wouldn’t everyone? But just because so much of society is getting older and lazier doesn’t seem sufficient justification to open up the last remaining unexploited mountains. It’s a little different here in the Kootenays, but I for one welcome the protections that make it possible to huff an overnight pack into areas without luxury commercial lodges, high-marked bowls, and heli-ski tracks.

    And when I’m too old and frail to do it myself, I hope I’ll have the selflessness to appreciate that such experiences are still possible for those that follow.

  53. leo americus March 30th, 2013 7:56 pm

    (Always interesting to see what their marketing people are doing in the zero sum game that is the mechanized ski industry.
    same as you and your buddies
    (Njord, best wishes on this! Sounds truly exciting and a nice way to combine your loves of aviation and backcountry skiing.)
    I guess heli skiing is backcountry skiing in your eyes.
    I always thought of it as the rich person’s mechanized ski industry.

  54. Adam Olson March 31st, 2013 9:20 am

    First, please educate yourself about the “Sagebrush Rebellion”. The National Forest us under attack by Washington legislators. I do not have the exact Utah legislation to quote from but they have passed legislation to move federal land from federal control and give it back to Utah. The current sitting Govenor has signed this. You can read all about it in the New York Times.
    Secondly, if you read the GOP Agenda (it’s lengthy) they clearly lay out the case that federal land is better managed by the private sector and therefore should be sold for revenue.
    Thirdly, if you read Paul Ryan’s (you know him, Rep from WI who claims to run a sub 3hr marathon and have climbed all the Elk Range Fourteeners) has the sale of federal land as a revenue source. All federal lands are in danger of becoming privatized. Just look to the military and how many civilian contractors are employed. They want to privatize Social Security too. The forest will be next. You heard it here first it might sound improbable but you have been told.

    Lastly, please do not confuse heated and passionately debated context as an attack. If the environs feel attacked here they need to look inside and see why those defensive feelings are surfacing. Often the truth is painful.

  55. Lou April 2nd, 2013 8:56 pm

    Adam and all, if I’d been told 10 years ago that people could outright buy large tracts of relatively pristine public backcountry land, I would not have believed you. Now we have the Wexner Two Shoes land exchange near here, in which public land is essentially being purchased.

    I’m not sure how far this could or will go (the purchasing of public land to private ownership), but you are correct, it exists.

    Interestingly, the Wexner exchange if completed will be done during a Democratic administration.

    I wouldn’t get too partisan about this. It seems to be more of an overall core rot than focused on any particular political party.

  56. Michael April 3rd, 2013 11:13 am

    For all the comments here yearning for the European mountain example, have you ever been there? Trees are planted in straight rows with no lower branches in the woods. Everything is pruned and regulated. When I meet Europeans in the backcountry here, they are grateful we have lands that are wild.

    Wilderness is good. I don’t want snowmobiles or bikes or bolted climbing routes in wilderness. Multiple abuse land is good. Snowmobiles and bikes and bolting is fine there. Both wilderness and multiple abuse lands have their value. I do object when the powers that be take away historical human use cabins in wilderness, like the recently demolished Waterhole cabin in Olympic National Park, or when areas are added to wilderness containing lookouts that are subsequently slated to be demolished.

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