The Bureau of Land Management oversees the Adobe Town Wilderness Study Area south of Rawlins. The Wyoming County Commissioners Association wants to resolve the fate of wilderness study areas and will launch a statewide reclassification effort that could take more than three years to complete. (U.S. Bureau of Land Management)

I was raised in Wyoming and have lived much of my life in Laramie, where I currently reside. I am the writer-in-residence for the University of Wyoming, a contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine and the author of four books. Over the past 20 years, I have visited many of the Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Areas in Wyoming, including Encampment River Canyon, Adobe Town, Ferris Mountains, Lankin Dome, Split Rock, Miller Spring, Savage Peak, McCullough Peaks, Sweetwater Canyon, the Sand Dunes and probably a half dozen others.

As a journalist for National Geographic, I have traveled around the world dozens of times doing assignments in over 100 countries. And yet, there is no place like Wyoming. Wyoming’s greatest resource is its wildness, in particular, designated wilderness as part of the National Wilderness Preservation Systems and the wilderness study areas. For example, the Red Desert in southwest Wyoming contains some of the rarest and most extraordinary features in the world. It is home to 13 wilderness study areas, the longest ungulate migration in the lower 48 states and the largest desert elk herd in North America. Wyoming citizens, in particular hunters, know that it is the undeveloped WSAs that allow these animals, and their remarkable migrations, to exist.

While I acknowledge that coal, oil and natural gas play a significant role in Wyoming’s current economy, I can guarantee you that in 50 years (probably less) they will mean little in the global energy market. The world will have moved on. It already is. Scotland is building the largest ocean wind farm in the world. Sweden has promised to eliminate fossil fuel usage entirely in the next generation. Germany already gets almost 30 percent of its energy from renewables. China has more solar panels in place than the U.S., and most of the countries in Africa are moving to small-scale solar as a consistent means of obtaining electricity.

Wyoming needs to wake up and recognize what it really has: unspoiled wildness. As the world becomes desperately overpopulated and despoiled, wildness is more valuable, by far, than any other natural resource. The wilderness study areas are one of the richest examples of Wyoming’s natural heritage—and they will be destroyed forever if they are opened up to industrial and motorized use. These are the very places we should protect, not just for Wyomingites, but for all humans.

As a member of the Governor’s Task Force for Recreation this past year, we concluded that tourism will be the biggest economic force, outstripping energy production, in the next few years. People around the country, indeed, around the world, crave open space. They crave open vistas. They crave what is vanishing, and that is exactly what Wyoming still has. These people will come to Wyoming and spend money. The surrounding states of Colorado, Montana and Idaho have already realized that the tourism economy brings in more money than timber, cattle and coal.

If we want to boost Wyoming’s economy, the best possible decision is not simply to preserve WSAs, but designate them as permanent wilderness. What a concept! That was the point of their special preservation in the first place.

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I urge Representative Liz Cheney to abandon HR 4697 and to refrain from introducing any other anti-wilderness legislation. It is bad for the economy of Wyoming, bad for the people of Wyoming, and particularly bad for the future of Wyoming.

Mark Jenkins is a contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine and a writer-in-residence for the University of Wyoming.

Mark Jenkins is a writer for National Geographic and University of Wyoming Writer in Residence. (Mark Jenkins)

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  1. And oh yes! What Mark Jenkins said.

    …and one more correction my Edited Submission

    First paragraph
    “…or to promote healing processes.”

    I apologize if other typos or mistakes are found.

  2. EDITED SUBMISSION

    Beetle-killed trees, deadfall and snags have served as nature’s forest healing “scabs” for millions of years. Picking at a scab invites secondary infections and results in scar tissue having little subsequent blood flow and an inability to fight future infections or healing processes. As John Muir so eloquently observed, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

    Exposing bare land is the worst thing a land management agency could do following forest disease, insect outbreaks, windfall and other natural events resulting in deadfall.

    Deadfall forms protective layers of woody debris, essential in the process of nutrient recycling in the forest duff. Those claiming deadfall is a catastrophic wildfire waiting to happen simply mislead and distract the public (lay persons) from the voluminous independent research that demonstrates just how unlikely it is that a wildfire will visit beetle-killed stands and the resulting area of deadfall. If you want the scientific truth about the ineffectiveness of logging and so-called forest restoration in the aftermath of beetle-kill and other natural tree-killing events do your own research. Do not rely on the Forest Service or the timber industry “scientists” for accurate scientific information. Their motivation is money and job security, not scientific truth.

    Start your diligent and unbiased research by studying the many and growing number of studies conducted by independent scientists. Scientists from the University of Wyoming to all around the globe debunk the pseudoscience propagated by those whose livelihoods depend on perpetual logging, logging under any “right sounding” label such as restoration, vegetation treatments, fuels reduction etc.

    Speaking of fuels, fuel load is a term the timber industry and the Forest Services uses constantly to flame the fear of catastrophic wildfire. Dead wood can be fuel or it can be a flame retardant. Understanding fire requires understanding the physics and chemistry of fire, the difference between flammable, inflammable, combustible, flash points (ignition temperatures) and so much more. Oxygen is a flame accelerant. CO2 is a flame retardant. Water, moisture and humidity, of course, impede the spread of flames. Anyone who has ever smothered a fire with a blanket should understand the importance of CO2 as a flame retardant. Likewise a forest blanketed with a dense canopy serves to trap CO2 in the understory, thus serving to retard flames in terms of height and intensity (i.e., heat generated). Thinned forest allow ambient oxygen to permeate forests at all times while absorbing less CO2 at all times. Dense canopies produce the opposite effect, an effect that serves to retard any flame that may be introduced by lightning or man.

    The O2/CO2 component of fire is but one of hundreds of components involved in the fire profile of any given wildfire. I’ve studied these component (initially to satisfy my sense of scientific curiosity and later to hone my understanding so that I could more clearly expose the bill of goods being sold the public by the Forest Service and its logging industry partner. Their dis- and misinformation campaign is unending and your tax dollars support their institutionalized propagation of pseudoscience.

    The Forest Service and timber companies never even begin to investigate this physical and chemical level of understanding and much less to integrate the molecular (micro) aspect of the spark with the environmental/ecological (macro) scientific realities of forest fires.

    As for the latter, wildlife from fungus and nitrogen fixtures to subnivean critters to snowshoe hare to lynx to deer, elk, bear and moose have evolved with wildfire, windfall, beetle-kill and other natural events leading to dense deadfall for millions of years. No human can say that deadfall in the short-term or long term harms wildlife.

    In fact, the best humans can do is not listen to hunters who can’t or won’t walk through deadfall and/or those who have their careers and incomes as their prime frame for observing nature through anthropocentric lenses.

    Rather, people interested in scientific truths about forest and wildlife ecology must study the work of independent scientists in their respective fields.

    I have written many comments to the USDA Forest Service to debunk the (mis)information they use to justify their proposed fuels reduction projects. Unfortunately, I cannot, here, supply the hundreds of cited scientific studies I have shared with the Forest Service… and that is just how the Forest Service and their timber industry partners like it. They love to relegate the thousands of studies our independent scientists conduct to dusty shelves in libraries and to online sources that typically now charge for each study.

    Because I cannot do justice to this subject of beetle-kill, deadfall, windfall, wildfire and the opportunistic proposed and actuated responses to these natural events the Forest Service and the timber industry offers, I leave you with two challenges.

    Challenge #1

    *ADULTS ONLY and pending local fire restrictions and weather (e.g., temperature, humidity wind etc conditions)! Have other willing adults nearby ready to help in the unlikely case a small fire starts and tries to spread.

    1a
    *Immediately try to start a log fire with a single match or spark on the lower or bottom of the recently turned over log. How hard or easy is it in each case to set the log aflame?

    1b
    *Try to start a log fire with a single match or spark on the upper or dry surface of the log.

    1c
    *Smother a small grass fire with a blanket. Observe that it is not the blanket itself that smothers the fire but, rather, the CO2 produced by the fire itself and trapped by the blanket over the so-called “fuel” the grass. The blanket may or not be fire resistant but this is far less a factor in retarding and extinguishing the flame than is the lack of O2 and build up of CO2 the blanket creates in the space between itself and the grass.

    Challenge #2

    Roll over any log (deadfall) you come across (roll it off its current resting place).

    Observe the following:

    How moist is the soil under this log relative to surrounding, sun exposed soil?

    How much moisture is trapped inside the log relative to the surrounding soil?

    How much life (insects, grubs, worms, centipedes, fungi, mosses, other tiny plants, mycorrhizae etc do you discover beneath the log?

    How much life (insects, grubs, worms, centipedes, fungi, mosses, other tiny plants, mycorrhizae etc do you discover surrounding the log? Be sure to roll the log back onto its original resting place!

    Elementary, you say? If you do not or will not understand the basics you cannot understand the complexities.

  3. Agree public lands stay public and not leases to oil and gas. Stop trophy hunting wildlife increases the economy twice as much as hunting.

  4. Even though Mr. Smith would like to take credit for our forest management, facts are facts. Tourism already accounts for more money than logging ever did. Too much wilderness already, Mr Collins implores. He does not speak for many, just a short sighted few. A little study of history shows that the only reason there is any wilderness at all is because of people who knew how greedy people can ruin anything fragile on this world. Hunters want these areas open because they want easier access. That has nothing to do with conservation. If not for past generations conservation, there would be no hunting today at all. The game animals would have been gone a long time ago. We must protect our heritage for our future generations as our forefathers did for us. Ms. Cheney does not represent anything but big corporations intent on profit now. Wyoming voters easily forgot why she gave up her bid to unseat Sen. Enzi. She is not one of us, and never will be.

  5. Totally agree with you, Mark. We need wild places where man hasn’t had a chance to screw it up. Truly wild places are hard to get to. If you can drive your 4-wheeler there, it isn’t a wild place. I work hard to stay in shape to visit these places. I’ve been rewarded with elk meat in the freezer, great photographs, and most importantly, real solitude and a deep sense of humility.

  6. The forest service and BLM have plenty of power to protect public lands as is. And for the very reason that you brought up,less demand for coal and oil we don’t need any more wilderness. Why on earth would you lock up thousands of acres of public land so that no one can access it except on foot? Some people have to work on their feet for a living and don’t really want to spend their weekends also on their feet. If you have your way that will be the only way we can see the backcountry, meaning we won’t get to see it nor will the tourists. You are clueless if you think more wilderness benefits Wyoming. Are you a bicycler? You can’t bicycle in the wilderness. In the 25 yrs I have lived in Wyoming, I have never once seen anyone on foot out in the desert backcountry, Adobe Town or any place else. If you want the public to love, protect, & enjoy Wyoming, you need to let them access these places. It’s pretty hard to rally support to protect a place if you don’t visit it.

  7. Well written and thoughtful article; also, from a posted response and echo, above the comprehension level of some.

    Here is one example of a political body recognizing the economic benefits of beauty and protected wilderness:New Zealand. This astute country parlayed it’s unspoiled wilderness into a major economic driver resulting in an infusion of movie productions and concomitant tourism cash.

    Unlike the American business philosophy of short term gain and long term pain, other nations recognize the generational hand off and responsibility of stewardship of our natural resources for those yet to come.

    To the Wyoming legislature and Congressional members, it’s not all about selling off our birthright to increase your pocketbook.

  8. I am a fourth generation Wyoming native and I’ve heard the stories of Wyoming’s woes that often center around blizzards and droughts and bad economic conditions that inhibit the opportunities for the state of Wyoming and its citizens to thrive. With the boom bust cycle of our economy and culture, we live a bipolar life as a state: we are riding high, grabbing everything that comes our way because we know we are winners and then it is all pulled out from under us and we are left shaking our heads in despair, wondering what happened. In spite of that there are a lot of things that keep me here. Not these least of these reasons is the wildness of Wyoming. It never ceases to fill me with awe. I will never it take for grant.
    Wyoming wildness has often been encroached upon by poorly thought out mining, agriculture, lumbering, and development and special interest groups, leaving irreparable scars. Each industry has its risks when imposed upon the landscape. And tourism, not carefully managed, leaves a scar, too.
    Now, when I venture into the wildness, I am saddened by the obvious disrespect for this precious resource. Garbage, litter and human waste littler the landscape. When hiking means watching where you place your feet in order to avoid stepping in human excrement, I have to wonder about the total disregard for this precious resource.
    So, I say, bring on tourism but let’s regulate it like we should any other industry.
    Let’s stop and ask ourselves, “What do we want Wyoming to look like for future generations? How can we support economic development and preserve the things we hold most dear? Do we have to destroy to thrive?”
    Economic development does not mean we have to destroy our wildness and preserving our wildness does not mean we have to deprive ourselves of a vibrant economy. Let’s stop drawing lines in the sand and find common ground for productive conversations to solve Wyoming’s unique set of challenges. I think we would find we have more in common than not.

  9. That is exactly the wrong answer!!!!
    Look at what tourism has done to Colorado, Montana, ect !!!
    We nedd to keep the idiots out of our state n our policy making!!!!!
    Wilderness is a waist of resources!!!
    If you dont hatvrst the timber u loose the resorce and destroy the ecosystem! Elk, deer ect cant walk thru the scrambled mess that becomes the tangled mess of blowdown timber n a wilderness!!!
    Got to the old fire lookout on Black haul mtn and look at the health of our forest . The healthy swaths of forest you see are the areas we logged n the 60’s 70’s and 80’s and are regrowing beautifully . The grey dead timber is what the Sierra club n like groups prevented from being harvested ans are now beatle killed tinder boxes waiting for Ma Nature to burn off to allow a much longer period of scared slow regrowth .

    1. We need to preserve wild, open places. Not every place needs the “wilderness” designation that precludes management. Indeed, the rules for wilderness management should be revisited to allow for proper management in some circumstances. However, Mark is spot on that Wyoming’s most valuable resources is our open landscapes, outdoor recreation opportunities, and sense of wildness. All urban planning, public lands, and mineral extraction decisions moving forward should keep that in mind. Don’t confuse preserving wilderness with negligence…it sounds like you are equating the two.