Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Earth version 1.0 is more important than ever

Two kinds of people inhabit the United States: people who know the nation needs more federally designated wilderness and people who don't know—yet.

Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson knows, and that's why he's championed the creation of a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness area for more than a decade.

Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus knows. That's why he's called on the president to use his power under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to make the area a national monument.

Yet, their advocacy hasn't carried the day on an issue that's languished in the partisan ponds of Washington, D.C., politics. That's where ideologues stop visionaries and purists block pragmatists these days. The impossible politics have left federally owned wilderness lands in Idaho only partly protected.

The clock is ticking, and not only for Simpson who won't be in Congress forever. It's ticking down on a human population in danger of forgetting that it needs spaces free from the hand of man for its own physical and mental health.

The ubiquity of electronic devices today makes it difficult for people to get off their backsides and into a pair of hiking shoes for an encounter with Earth version 1.0. This version has no electrical outlets, no glowing screens, no Facebook, no YouTube and no texting, sexting, tweeting, MP3 playing or gaming.

With Earth 1.0, minds don't operate on overload. They float, observe, wander and rest while human muscle and bone do the work. Stress drops away like paint peeling from an overheated wall.

Researcher Ruth Atchley of the University of Kansas recently released a study that showed that people from all walks of life from age 18 to over 60 who spent as little as a long weekend in nature improved on standardized measures of creative intelligence by up to 50 percent. Atchley and fellow researchers compared the performance of backpackers before they hit the trail and after and discovered the huge difference.

Yet, telling highly wired people that they would perform better if they lost the headphones, the computer, the tablet, the music player and the smart phone for a while is like telling a heroin addict that he or she needs to switch to aspirin.

Instead of lectures, people need wilderness experiences. And we need them soon, before we forget we need them at all.

Protecting wilderness requires more than lines on a map. It requires giving new generations contact with Earth 1.0—the 3-D Milky Way, crashing creeks, high, ridged walls and sturdy creatures of the Boulder and White Clouds mountains—as intimate as their contact with their computer keyboards and touch screens.

The research is in. We must protect wilderness so that wilderness can protect us from ourselves.

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