America’s Great Outdoors in Seattle

America’s Great Outdoors Listening Session, Seattle, WA
July 1, 2010

Post by Allen Stockbridge

On Thursday, July 1st, I attended the America’s Great Outdoors listening session in Seattle. There were about 500 people attending. After meeting in a large group, with an introduction and orientation to the event, the group broke into many small groups for a structured listening session.  These groups were led by employees of the National Park Service.

The leader of the group of 35 people that I attended was Jonathan Jarvis, the Director of the National Park Service (nationally).  The other great coincidence of picking this group at random is that Charles and Nancy Bagley, two other Seattle based SUWA members, were in the same small group.  We planned to meet in advance (we planned to recognize each other by the Protect Wild Utah yellow button that we were wearing).

The hour and a half long listening session was structured around four questions that were asked. After each question, the audience could speak and provide their input.  The National Park Service staff took careful notes, using a laptop and overhead, so that the comments could be added to the national report. The speakers were civil towards one another, and even the ATV guy who was there agreed that ATV riders must be held accountable to the laws protecting wilderness and wilderness study areas.

Here is what I said in response to the questions: I introduced myself and said that I had just moved to Washington State from Utah and had worked with SUWA starting in 1996.

  • Challenges – Proposed wilderness areas are vulnerable to human encroachment and need to be protected as soon as possible or will be lost as wilderness lands forever.  Some of those opposed to a wilderness designation for sensitive federal lands are intentionally denigrating the land so that it will lose its wilderness characteristics.  This is a challenge to federal lands that needs to be addressed before it is too late.
  • Federal Government Role – Federal enforcement resources are limited due to pressure on the budgets of the BLM, National Park Service, and other agencies will patrol and protect our federal lands.  It is unrealistic to increase the allocation of resources for appropriate enforcement efforts. The penalties for those who are caught by federal enforcement agents on the ground need to have more “bite” to really discourage encroachment on federal wilderness areas, wilderness study areas, and other proposed wilderness land.  Sanctions can include much higher fines; and the seizure of equipment used in wilderness areas, including ATVs, trailers, and vehicles that trespass on federal wilderness land.   A public awareness campaign about new “very high fines” are needed to create awareness of the new penalties. Without increasing sanctions, and in the absence of increased patrol and enforcement resources, wilderness areas will continue to be disrespected and irreparably harmed.  Additionally, more power can be given to citizens to record illegal activities and report them to federal authorities.  On the basis of this evidence, federal prosecutors can pursue known violations with vigor.
  • Tools – U.S. Senators and Congress members should be invited and actively encouraged to visit federal lands already designated as wilderness lands or seeking wilderness protection.  For too many members of Congress, wilderness is a vague notion.  Without direct experience and personal appreciation for lasting value of wilderness lands, there will not be the passionate support needed to protect appropriate federal wilderness lands forever.  The visits will benefit other federal land programs, including the maintenance of the National Parks operating budgets, and the public outreach programs to ensure use of parks by those most in danger of Nature Deficit Disorder.

I encourage you to attend a Listening Session and speak. I think it is equally important to write your comments into the official record at: http://ideas.usda.gov/ago/ideas.nsf/

For me personally, it was a deeply rewarding experience.  I left with the feeling that the federal government is listening.  I can only hope the majority of people speak to preserve wilderness and fund national parks, and federal agencies charged with protecting the land.

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