Wednesday, February 2, 2005

People fuel wilderness movement

'Gray beard' offers perspectives on 40 years in wilderness protection trenches

Express Staff Writer

Doug Scott Photo by David N. Seelig

One of the wilderness movement's admitted "gray beards" said last week the power behind wilderness protection lies with U.S. citizens, not with the conservation community or politicians.

"The energy isn't with the environmental groups. It's around the kitchen tables of people who feel passionately about an area," said Doug Scott, policy director for Campaign for America's Wilderness. "The professional wilderness movement could dry up and blow away tomorrow, but the demand for wilderness would be every bit as prevalent."

The author of "The Enduring Wilderness, Protecting Our Natural Heritage through the Wilderness Act," Scott arrived in the Wood River Valley Thursday for a public event sponsored by The Wilderness Society. For a few hours prior to the engagement, he sat down at the Idaho Mountain Express offices for a talk about his career, the state of the wilderness movement and a pair of Idaho-based wilderness proposals.

One of his central themes was that wilderness protection is a grassroots endeavor.

"The politics change over time. The constant is the grassroots support," he said.

In that sense, the wilderness movement has changed little in 40 years, he said.

Scott has been involved with wilderness protection efforts since passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. As the Sierra Club's Northwest representative from 1973 to 1980, he was intensely involved in enacting the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and wilderness in the Snake River gorge on the Idaho-Oregon border in 1975. His lengthy resume also includes helping Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson found the original Earth Day.

Scott said there never really have been easy wilderness bills.

"They are inherently complex issues to deal with," he said. "The reality is, you get into complications that arise from other people's desires of what to do with that land, and they have to be worked out."

For that reason, among others, Scott's hat is off to Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, for their work attempting to designate wilderness areas in the Gem State's Owyhee canyon country and Boulder-White Cloud mountains, respectively.

"They have rolled up their sleeves and are looking for something that can work," Scott said. "I'm very optimistic."

If the Idaho congressional delegation is on board with those two wilderness proposals, passage in Congress should be relatively painless, he said, adding that he is convinced that legislation for the Boulder-White Clouds, north of Ketchum, must take into consideration the economic needs of Custer County.

"A sustainable economy for the rural West is something our organization believes strongly in," he said.

As for the process, the 40-year wilderness advocate said it is very pragmatic.

"It isn't particularly helpful for any side to draw lines in the sand," he said. "Our movement is so diverse that there are differences of opinion, and we shouldn't be surprised about that."

Finally, Scott pointed out that the benefits of wilderness are about far more people than those who set foot inside a wilderness area's boundaries.

"The largest number of people using the Sawtooth Wilderness Area are the number of people driving along Highway 75 and looking at the wildness," he said. "An enormous amount of it is the wildness surrounding that place. The fact that it is wilderness on the horizon has value to people."

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