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Wilderness Character

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Wilderness Character

Postby baywolf » Sat Nov 08, 2008 11:37 pm

Nice to be by the fire and get warm, the last couple weeks have been cold in the wilderness. When I see a fire, the people around it usually don't want to see me. Where I work (Desolation Wilderness) campfires are illegal. I just returned from my 15th season as a backcountry ranger/trail crew leader for the USFS. When you leave the field it takes a few days-weeks even, to wind down. You are so focused on protecting and preserving the wild lands of our country, you continue to take issue with unethical behavior and thinking, even when you are relieved from duty. (I guess it comes with being a Forest Protectioin Officer; those of us who have Law Enforcement training and are responsible for enforcing regulations look at life a little different. I know I do and say things now I never would have considered before. It could be that being lied to on a consistent basis might have something to do with it.)

Normally I wouldn't get too excited by a magazine article (or advertisement), but what I just read has really twisted my mind. I am asking those around the fire to bring your attention to the November 2008 issue of BACKPACKER magazine. Specifically the "How to Do Everything (121 essential outdoor skills) article that begins on page 35: the REI advertisement on page 14; and the photo on page 89, introducting the GEAR article. Now possibly my ethical standards are too finely tuned, prejudiced, by what I have dedicated a significant part of my life to achieve. Or maybe I now have too much time on my hands, thinking that what we read and see might possibly have an effect on our behavior. Quien Sabe. All I know is that what I have seen and read in this issue deeply disturbs me. (and yes by the way I have sent a letter to the editor at: letters@backpacker.com). Hopefully those around the fire, after reading what I have to say, will consider doing the same.

I'll start with the articles, then the advertisement, and finish with my definition of Wilderness Character.

Packing & Planning (Page 37) - Nowhere in this section is their any mention of considering the first principle of Leave No Trace - PLAN AHEAD and Prepare. As LNT states: "Almost all recreation related impacts are the result of poor planning". I consider practicing Leave No Trace ethics a skill. I propose that it is more important to inquire prior to your trip about food storage requirements, site-specific closures, pet restrictions, weather conditions and wilderness specific regulations (quota or reservations, human and animal waste disposal), than being able to pack in 20 minutes. Maybe all those folks I have kindly required to end their camping trip before they had planned would have been better served with a little more time up front considering what is asked of them.

Set up the Perfect Camp (page 42) - "Pitch your tent on a durable surface like a meadow, slickrock, gravel bar or sandy beach . . . Choose an established site whenever possible." When has a meadow ever been listed as a durable surface? I can't tell you how many times I have moved people from their chosen campsite. Its as if their is no thought involved in what might be the result of their action, its what is convenient. "We can't move we just opened the champagne, its our anniversary", I have heard every excuse imaginable. The latest campsite that has become quite popular is: camping in a marked restoration area! After hiking all day, setting up camp and starting to cook your dinner the last thing you want is to be moved. A meadow a durable surface, what next?

Lets look at page 14, the REI advertisement. Guess what: the tent is set up right in the middle of a meadow. Its more important to have a panoramic picture that compares to your friends Plasma TV than finding a durable surface or considering the visual impact your campsite selection has on others. REI is a company that is involved in a number of volunteer activites that support ethical and responsible actions. =D> ](*,) :moon: How embarassing!

If you are still reading this, move on to page 89. In the GEAR testing section, Lets set up our tent in a lovely meadow, when it appears their are durable surfaces close by. I guess by now "meadow tenting" is totally acceptable. [-X

I will leave you with a personal definition of Wilderness Character that I composed during a on-line Wilderness Management course from the University of Montana's Distance Education program:

Wilderness Character, in defined areas (USFS,NPS, BLM,etc.) is determined to a large extent by those folks who define policy and enforce management guidelines. Their ability to develop a public consensus/consciousness, and their success in having people embrace and believe in it determines that character. Wilderness Character can be a jail-break from a high country, garbage strewn trailhead, with trampled flora and tortured and abused wildlife. Or it can be a quality of pristine wildness that brings awe and wonder to those who are fortunate to experience it. Unfortunately what takes place on one side of an abstract line in the ground, drawn thru trees and rock, directly impacts the other side, so the issue is extremely complicated. My own personal view is strongly influenced by what I have seen and experienced the last 15 wilderness field seasons working for the U.S. Forest Service. I have been fortunate to have experienced mornings of golden-apricot enveloping shafts of light so overwhelming that time stood still. I have also observed disgusting examples of total disregard for the natural resources that Wilderness areas attempt to protect and preserve. Wilderness character is an idealized state: constantly changing, constantly being impacted from above, below and on the ground. It doesn't stand still, it educates and inspires, and it can confuse and hurt those who value it most. Wilderness character is what we do in our backyards, and is those attitudes and behaviors we carry with us. . . . . . . .

Cheers, Jon



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Re: Wilderness Character

Postby rightstar76 » Sun Nov 09, 2008 2:19 am

I don't think REI knows what's going on in its advertising. It's probably outsourced my guess to some modeling agency which knows all about LNT camping. Right! As long as REI can sell, that's all REI cares about. As far as Backpacker is concerned, it's one big commercial. As long as the people there are making money, they're not going to be too concerned if they screw up and tell people to camp in a meadow.

But it goes a little bit deeper than that. IMHO the reason LNT camping has gotten short shrift is that it has been labeled a limousine liberal quality. There is a lot of truth to it. Liberal folks telling conservative folks how to behave in the wilderness. So no matter how noble the cause, it just doesn't get taken seriously.

When I was growing up I was made to feel guilty if I didn't follow the regs, so it's kind of engrained in me to follow all the rules i.e. no campfires or tents in meadows, etc. But that's the world I was raised in. Somebody else might have a different and equally legit perspective. Why should he/she not light a campfire? Just because some liberal says so? Maybe REI and Backpacker are just doing good business by not caring if they make a mistake. Heck, a lot of people are going to camp in a meadow or make a campfire, regardless of what the regulations say. If they see an ad with it or read an article that shows someone doing it, they are more likely to be a repeat customer. That's good business! It's not about whether it's right to make a campfire. It's about whether it feels right. And right now to a lot of people it sure does and has for a long time.

Maybe the new Prez elect can unite the country and take this whole wilderness thing to a new level. But it's got to be a consensus IMHO. Because as long as its liberals vs. the conservatives it's going to be same old same old.

I said to my wife last summer when I was reading one of these wilderness reg displays don't these people know the audience they're talking to? These writers must be living on another planet totally oblivious to US, the people who actually come here. No wonder nobody's listening!
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Re: Wilderness Character

Postby dave54 » Sun Nov 09, 2008 5:25 pm

I do not consider BP magazine as a source of outdoor skill info anyway. Most of their articles are an example of what NOT to do. And rightstar's point about REI ads is well taken, some corporate responsibility and oversight is due.

To the contrarian viewpoint -- you stated you worked 15 years in Desolation, the most visited Wilderness in the U.S. Not all wilderness areas have as stringent of regulations as you are accustomed. Desolation must, by its own popularity, be tightly controlled and most here will agree. Other wilderness areas have lesser degree of regulation and do not suffer for it. I submit there are locations and situations one can make erect a tent in a meadow for a single night without any permanent, or even moderate term, impact. (IMHO meadows are a poor spot to make camp anyway. They tend to be damper and colder than just a few yards away inside the treeline). As you know, LNT is designed to minimize the cumulative impacts over time by repeated use of the same site. With little to no repeat use of the same site no cumulative degradation occurs.

As an example, my wife and I spent the 4th of July weekend last summer in the Warner Wilderness, Modoc NF. This was a three day weekend and yet did not see another soul on the trail or at the trailhead the entire trip. Regulations as restrictive as Desolation in the Warners are completely unwarranted and run contrary the USFS philosophy of minimal regulation as necessary to maintain the resources. I regularly use the Caribou Wilderness, the closest to me, and there is no regular backcountry patrol, no permits required, no trailhead or campsite quotas, and none are needed. Practices that are prohibited in Desolation may be done here with no cumulative effect.

Of course, another of my pet peeves, and I have made previous posts on this topic, is the use of bright colors for tents and clothing -- which present a visual impact at a far distance. Even the emptiest wilderness can suddenly seem crowded when you see a line of bright red and yellow dots along the trail on the opposite ridge.


And about the new administration -- public lands and wilderness issues are absolutely off the radar. Seems to be a very low priority. Nothing of substance in his position papers or on his website -- just a few generalized non-committal sentences. Some names are circulating in the DC rumor mill for Sec of Interior -- Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, former AK Gov Tony Knowles, and former OR Gov John Kitzhaber. Sec of Ag (overseeing the FS) has no short list yet. Of course, the sub cabinet positions and agency heads are too far down the food chain to even have serious contenders yet.
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Re: Wilderness Character

Postby hikerduane » Sun Nov 09, 2008 6:07 pm

I've been a visitor to Desolation since the mid 70's and have seen the changes. From the Wilderness Ranger having their dog off leash:), nice lady, to my own dog not allowed in the Visitor Center anymore.:(, nice dog. From campfires to none being allowed.

How come they never show the campers too close to the lake, fire pit resurrected and the toliet paper 10' from the tent, wheel drag marks in the trail from having a ice chest carted in. I just love it when campfires are only allowed in developed sites in Aug. when there is high fire danger and people say they always have a fire when they go camping, it is a tradition. Idiots! Both of these incidents were in the Caribou Wilderness. In Thousand Lakes Wilderness, I see one lake that horse people use, the horses have trampled the dirt around some of the trees.

I was at Lake of The Woods about six to seven weeks ago, the morning I left, a site I passed up and had camped at in the past, but was now closed for rehab, was occupied by someone and they were 20' from the water. Arrg!

I can see you are jaded. I managed a mini-market for years and am still not over employees lying about doing something, showing them and them sticking to their story.
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Re: Wilderness Character

Postby quentinc » Sun Nov 09, 2008 7:57 pm

The camping in a meadow thing is clearly disgusting. However, and Baywolf I don't mean to offend you here, but I think the Forest Service is to blame for some of its own troubles. You mention LNT, yet packers are given incredibly free reign, to lead herds of mules to trample over the wilderness. The impact of even a single stock animal is equal to what -- maybe 30 hikers? Worse yet are some of the proposed regs the NPS and NFS have come out with (which High Sierra Hikers Assn, for one, sometimes successfully opposes), which would grant even more unlimited use by packers (and more stringent limits on hikers -- huh??).

So, when one sees muleshit and piss everywhere, huge ruts in trails, trails ground into choking dust by late summer, mule trails through protected meadows, etc., it's pretty hard to convince someone to practice LNT.

Another problem is what Dave54 alludes to. When you impose stupid rules, it tends to make people dismiss all of the rules, even the ones that really matter. Sometimes, there are simply too many rules, some of which make abundant sense (no camping in a meadow) and some of which don't. It always amuses me when I see how the rangers are spending their times littering use trails with branches and twigs to try to discourage people from venturing off the main trail. Often, these use trails travel over terrain that no one on the main trail would ever even see, so what harm they do is a mystery. And then there are the rebuilt trails that seem to have 5 switchbacks for every 10 feet of gain. This kind of inanity is just begging for people to cut the switchbacks. I find myself often cutting switchbacks uphill. And I only do this where it could do no harm to the trail itself (which is pretty much of the time, I find).

Anyway, I guess I'm just in the mood to vent today, but rules can be a double-edged sword.
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Re: Wilderness Character

Postby BSquared » Mon Nov 10, 2008 8:07 pm

Nice post, Baywolf; thanks!

-B2
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Re: Wilderness Character

Postby SSSdave » Thu Nov 13, 2008 2:37 pm

I did a couple of backpacks into Desolation in 2007 after not visiting for about 20 years. Some areas like around Middle Velma Lake are very beat up with numbers of illegal campsites and firepits too close to the lake while other outstanding places I visited well away from trails are virtually pristene. For years I've complained about the lack of effective NPS and USFS processes to stem two of the most common abuses, camping in used campspots too close to water and use and construction of illegal firepits. I've been extensively backpacking over three decades and there is as much abuse today and disregard for rules and regulations as there ever was.

There are simply never going to be enough wilderness rangers to cover but minor areas of our vast wilderness areas. Even in those areas where rangers patrol, what real inforcement mechanisms do you have to change the habits of the signficant numbers of users who although they know the regulations choose to break them in part because there isn't any penalty? A group gets caught camping atop a meadow, are lectured then are simply asked to moved to a sterile site. A group too close to a lake is lectured then asked to move away. A group without a permit is scolded and then a permit is written. A group caught using a campfire in alpine regions well above legal fire limits is scolded and told to put their fire out and break up their fire ring. So all too many know even IF they get caught, so what! For many people a lecture is all that is necessary to embarrass them and likely change their habits. But such is of course not the case with significant numbers of others. The only way to usually gain their respect and conformity is through delivery of some level of pain. A backcountry ranger is usually limited in what they might possibly do regarding enforcement. Five miles into the backcountry they by themselves cannot be expected to bother with arresting and handcuffing people for the above infractions regardless of how uncooperative groups are. And it is of course difficult to even find out the identity of a person that refuses to cooperate showing their identity.

The key to any such system is rather simple. Wilderness rangers have to be able to identify at a glance people in groups that have valid wilderness permits and also identify who those people are. Doing so one will inevitably result in much greater compliance because all the slackers will not want to be identified.

For years some national parks have given a person who picks up a permit for a group one wired tag they attach to their one pack. I think that idea could be improved. Lets say every adult person that lugs a backpack into the backcountry were required to attach a visible wired tag to their backpack provided as part of the wilderness permit process. Thus if 4 people were in a group, there would be 4 custom tags provided that would attach to each of their packs. And for every adult their name, address, and state driver's licence number would be printed onto their tags before they were provided. For the few adults that have no driver's licences, something else could be used. For foreigners their passport numbers. Thus a permit requester would have to provide that information up front either for reservations or for walk up permits. The person picking up a permit would also have to show their actual driver's licence to prove at least one person in a group was legitimate as well as have a listing of information for others in their group. And all adults would be required to carry such IDs along on their trips. As long as everyone knew that was the policy it ought to work as smoothly as any other retail transaction that requires IDs. So this is asking no more than buying a shirt and showing an ID with a credit card. The wired tags would be dual color coded and change every couple weeks in order to prevent people from putting on old tags.

Rangers would easily be able to tell from a distance if groups had permits that would be a boon and would likely quickly be able to capture anyone's ID information in event of infractions. That would certainly cut down considerable backpacking in without permits as those with such an intent would be all too visible. It is certain a small number of people would immediately howl and rage about the new Nazi mentality. However it is highly likely those would be the same people that are and would continue to abuse the system. So no sympathy from this person. Were it not for them, such increased enforcement would of course be unnecesary.
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Re: Wilderness Character

Postby hikerduane » Thu Nov 13, 2008 5:51 pm

As someone who deals with others personal info all day long, I disagree with giving out DL info etc. to the trip leader, as many times, we go with folks we have only met thru others or bping forums and may not know their whole background. Also, I am sure the Parks, FS offices get enough calls, without every single person who is going on a bp trip/visit, calling them. Maybe the Wilderness Ranger should whip out a ink pad and paper to finger print the offenders.:) You are right Dave, more punishment for gross offenders.
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Re: Wilderness Character

Postby Bad Man From Bodie » Fri Nov 14, 2008 10:54 am

Good one Baywolf......

Seams like this topic is on everyone's mind, now more than ever. I see wilderness character or ethics being discussed on all sorts of topic boards. So, its with out a doubt of great concern to everyone. The idea that one user group has more of an impact on the land than others is absurd in my opinion. There are bad apples in every barrel and that is just how it is.

I am a firm believer that practice makes perfect. This holds true to everything we do in life IMHO. The more we climb, ski, fish, read, write, bike, what ever it is, the more you do the better you get at doing it. I feel strongly this holds true to backpacking/hiking/climbing or in general using the wilderness, which is what we are discussing. So, the more time you spend out in the wilderness, the better you understand the wilderness. I find its those folks who don't have an understanding of the wilderness are the ones that leave the bigger footprint and sometimes they adversely impact certain areas.

What individuals want to take away with them from their wilderness experience should be their own busyness. So if that means riding a horse in, or catching and keeping a fish, or building a fire where permitted, or camping on the grass where permitted, that should all be ok as long as those individuals respect the land. I would propose to educate rather than regulate. I find those who abuse the land (fire rings, horse ruts, trash, ect.) are typically uneducated about the damage they do to the ecosystem because they dont understand it. Just as our forefathers where uneducated about the effects of industrialization to the environment, or uneducated about the effects of whipping out the buffalo, some people are uneducated about the effects of wet soggy damp meadow camping, or fire pits.

In conclusion, I don't agree with the idea of creating more wilderness regulations. If they would better enforce the ones they have in place that would help a bit. Rather I would like to see more FS sponsored education required for large groups before they are issued permits, and stiffer fines for repeat offenders!
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Re: Wilderness Character

Postby Snow Nymph » Wed Nov 19, 2008 3:40 pm

Good post!
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


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