I would like to correct a number of inaccurate statements made by one of our county commissioners in his recent guest column with the headline “The proposed Crater Lake Wilderness: A dangerous road to disaster and exclusion.” The writer could have avoided spreading this misinformation by simply reading the Wilderness Act of 1964, going to the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal website — craterlakewild.org — or by simply picking up the phone and calling Umpqua Watersheds. I would urge readers to do the same to verify the points I make below.
Wilderness is not off-limits to firefighters: This is a common piece of disinformation often promoted by the opponents of wilderness. But the Wilderness Act clearly states that … such measures may be taken as may be necessary in the control of fire, insects, and diseases …” The writer claims that “Conflicting and ambiguous rules regarding fighting fires in a wilderness area were factors that contributed to the size and impacts of the Biscuit Fire.” Again, a simple reading of this act will show the rules to be straightforward and clear. If there truly was “confusion,” that was more likely the fault of disinformation from detractors outside the agencies than the Wilderness Act itself.
Wilderness designation does not restrict public access: The writer believes that wilderness designation would somehow “restrict our access to these lands,” but he is wrong. Anyone can go into any wilderness at any time. But like all public lands (include those currently open to logging), managing agencies may limit access to human activity that threatens to degrade the public’s land; e.g. overuse that damages the resources that belong to all of us. What is restricted is the use of mechanical and motorized equipment in a wilderness area, although exceptions can be made by the managing agency in the case of wildfire management, public safety or other emergency situations.
Travel, recreation and tourism are not inhibited by wilderness designation: The writer is again misinformed when he states that wilderness designation would be responsible for “… diminishing or eliminating public access for travel, recreation, [and] tourism”. This is simply not true and only serves to spread confusion (deliberately or not) about this proposal. The Wilderness Act states that “… wilderness areas shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use.”
This proposal does not restrict access to currently designated snowmobile and mountain bike trails in the Diamond Lake area: The writer incorrectly states that it will “… reduce or prohibit access to these lands for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, bicycling, bird watching, skiing and family snow-related activities.” On the contrary, wilderness is considered to be the premiere destination for all of the activities. The Wilderness Act states that “… wilderness areas shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use.”
If by “family snow-related activities” the writer means “snowmobiling,” the current Crater Lake Wilderness proposal specifically exempts existing snowmobile and bicycle trails around Diamond Lake. And contrary to other misinformation being circulated by opponents of this proposal, it does absolutely nothing to limit motorboat use on Diamond Lake beyond current rules.
Wilderness is good for business and the local economy: The writer is mistaken again when he decries “the tremendous negative impact it would have on the economy, businesses and residents of Klamath, Jackson and Douglas counties.” A peer-reviewed report published in the International Journal of Wilderness calculated the combined yearly benefits to the U.S. population from National Wilderness Preservation System use, passive-use, and ecosystem-services values on the order of $9.4 billion. Another recent report in Headwaters Economics documents evidence that in western counties “… permanent protections on federal land support above average rates of job growth and are correlated with higher levels of per capita income.”
These findings are confirmed by numerous other studies.
Also note that the existing wilderness areas on the Umpqua were signed into law in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, and the local economy saw robust growth through the end of that decade. I’m not suggesting that all of this growth was driven by those wilderness designations, but they certainly did nothing to hurt our economy.
It is unfortunate in this era of tweet storms and social media echo chambers that too many citizens only share “information” that confirms their own biases instead of using primary sources to do their own fact-checking, or talking to local folks who are knowledgeable on a particular issue. To get the truth on what the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal is, and is not, go to the websites listed at the top of this column or call us at Umpqua Watersheds at 541-672-7065.