Our Last Wild Places, and Why They Need to Stay Wild

I'm lucky to spend a lot of my time with all kinds of people, from ranchers and tactical firearms instructors to conservation leaders, from liberals to libertarians. I like conflict and argument, and I've never been the kind of person who thought that everybody should agree, or that my friendship with anybody depended upon us agreeing on every issue.

I've tried hard to understand the objection some hunters have to roadless areas and wilderness, but so far I have not been able to do that. I spend as much time as possible with my kids in roadless areas, and most of my best hunting and fishing experiences have been in those kinds of places, designated wilderness, or not.

I think it is selfish for people, even if they are in the majority, to want to use ATVs or build roads into the last remaining backcountry areas, simply because they themselves do not have the time or energy to go there and enjoy them. (These folks will say that I am selfish for wanting to "lock up" the public land for foot and horse traffic only. To which I reply: an estimated 98% of the American landscape is within one mile of a road or motorized access. How could it be selfish to want to retain the last 2% in a more natural state?).

I admit that I am baffled by the idea of any hunter or fisherman supporting H.R. 1581, the so-called "Roadless Area Release Act" that would open up 60 million acres of public lands to new road-building and ATV use, unless those sportsmen are simply voting with their political party, and individual issues be hanged. I know that happens. Suppose for example, I am someone who hates the kind of people who care about issues like clean water. So I'll vote for the politician who sponsors a bill allowing the local slaughterhouse to dump its waste in the river flowing through my property.

To consider an argument for opposing H.R. 1581, please take a look at the map above, created by the US Geological Service.

The map shows road densities in our country with a color-coded system that I find pretty easy to read and understand. It shows us, really, what we already know: that there are very few places left in the U.S. where someone can truly be distant from a road or motorized trail. And those places that are left--that show up as green on the map--are the places written about in Field & Stream and other hunting and fishing magazines on a weekly or daily basis.

The Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Maine North Woods, the Yellowstone, Bridger-Teton and Wind Rivers in Wyoming, the Bitterroot-Selway, the Adirondacks, southern Arizona's Coyote Mountains, southern Nevada, southern Utah, and so on. The places that we read about, or have read about, or that we dream about for a trophy mule deer or elk hunt. Those are the spaces, and make no mistake about it--they are the last spaces of their kind--that we talk about changing forever with bills like HR 1581.