What Would You Do If You Were In Charge of America's Wilderness?

If you were made steward of a popular wilderness, how would you handle things?
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If you were made steward of a popular wilderness, how would you handle things?

You’re in charge

You’ve been appointed steward of a large, popular wilderness not far from a major city. Every choice you make will effect the land’s four wilderness qualities (undeveloped, solitude, untrammeled , and natural ; see below), which derive directly from the Wilderness Act. Each choice is based on a real-world scenario. Just as in real life, you’ll face growing tension between the qualities the Act protects, due to the increasing effects of climate change and other human pressures. Grab a pencil, tally your score, and see what kind of manager you’d be—and how your choices affect hikers, ecosystems, and the very idea of wilderness itself.

Quality Control

As a wilderness manager, you can’t have it all. Every choice has consequences, good and bad: Keep a running tally for each quality, then see which category scored highest to figure out what kind of manager you are. Your concerns:

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Undeveloped: Adding buildings or structures degrades this quality; removing them improves it. Using motorized tech (bulldozers) or mechanized transport (bikes or wheelbarrows) also degrades it.

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Solitude/Unconfined Recreation: Whatever crimps chances for deep, out-there backpacking degrades this aspect. Boosting quality of recreation improves it.

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Untrammeled: The more humans choose to interfere, the more this aspect erodes. A hands-off approach improves it.

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Natural: Anything that helps native species, processes, and landscapes thrive is a plus. Threats to them degrade it.

Start

  1. POOP IS PILING UP NEAR A POPULAR ALPINE CAMPSITE.
  2. LODGEPOLE PINES NEED FIRE TO REPRODUCE, BUT A HISTORY OF SUPPRESSION LEFT THE FOREST DENSE AND VULNERABLE TO A HUGE BLAZE.
  3. EVEN...WAS THE WORK DONE IN TIME? TODAY’S DATE IS...EVEN BAD LUCK. THE FIRE WAS TOO HOT SO THE TREES ARE ALL CRISPED, AND NOW SOIL EROSION IS OUT OF CONTROL.
  4. ODD...THE FIRE STAYED SMALL AND NOW SOME NEW TREES ARE SPROUTING. YOU’RE CONSIDERING PRESCRIBED
    BURNS IN ANOTHER ZONE, WHICH WILL HELP THE FOREST’S LONG-TERM HEALTH.
  5. STATE FISH AND GAME OFFICIALS STOCK LAKE WATERY WITH NONNATIVE HUNGRYFISH EVERY YEAR. BUT NEW RESEARCH SHOWS HUNGRYFISH EAT ENDANGERED FROG TADPOLES.
  6. THE RANGER IN A REMOTE PATROL CABIN IS RUNNING OUT OF FOOD!
  7. INCREASING ACIDITY IS KILLING THREATENED, NATIVE GOODFISH IN LAKES THAT ARE DOWNWIND FROM A POWERPLANT
  8. STEELY DAM IS PREVENTING SALMON FROM MAKING IT UPRIVER TO SPAWN AND DIE, THUS DEPRIVING THE BEARS AND FOREST OF AN IMPORTANT SOURCE OF NUTRIENTS.
  9. HA! GOOD LUCK WITH THAT.
  10. A COMMERCIAL GROUP APPLIES FOR A PERMIT TO TAKE GROUPS OF VETERANS ON WEEKLONG TREKS UP A POPULAR PEAK; THEY’D BE RUNNING TRIPS THERE MOST OF THE SUMMER.
  • Install a vault toilet.
  • Limit camping with a permit system.
  • Remove signs and stop maintaining the trail to make access harder.
  • Thin the forest slowly, using crosscut saws and horses.
  • Cross your fingers and put extra Smokey The Bear signs at trailheads.
  • Fire up the chainsaws and helis to thin the forest fast.
  • And so it goes.
  • Replant the area with the same plant types that were there.
  • Replant the area with a mix of flora, including trees normally found farther south. Hopefully some will survive as climate shifts.
  • Last one to the drip torch is a rotten egg!
  • Sounds hot and smoky. No thanks.
  • Let them keep stocking; anglers love it.
  • Piscicide! Send in crews to poison the hungryfish using motorized rafts.
  • Stop stocking and see what happens.
  • Send in a helicopter, which is speedy and will avoid resource damage along the trail.
  • Hire a chain of mules to pack in pasta. Fasting builds character.
  • Stock goodfish in other naturally fishfree lakes.
  • Helicopter in limestone to spread on the water; it’ll lower the acidity for the next six months.
  • Send a few goodfish to the local aquarium and hold a small, private farewell ceremony.
  • Fly in frozen salmon carcasses to drop on the forest and feed the bears; the power company is offering to fund it.
  • Watch and weep.
  • Remove the dam!
  • If there’s a full moon tonight, you win! Score these points:
  • Otherwise,politics prevail. Go back and pick a Plan B.
  • Deny! Commercial trips aren’t what wilderness is for.
  • Allow! They deserve it, and it’s important to get as many people as possible experiencing this place.

It’s time for your annual review.

Which category scored highest?

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Primitivist: Knock down all the buildings and ban all the helicopters! You want to feel like Lewis and Clark.

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Escapist: You’ll tolerate some restrictions (like permits) if they’ll keep out the hordes, but you’re against limits on your own sense of isolation.

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Lennonite McCartneyite: As John Paul the Beatle put it, “Let it be.” You’re wary of playing God, and appreciate the chance for total humility that unmessed-with wilderness offers.

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Ecofreak: You value ecological integrity above all else. Save the trees!