Vail Valley Voices: Why Hidden Gems matter
November 24, 2009
There has been a lot of talk lately about the Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal, and as the local campaign outreach coordinator, I’d like to answer the central question: Why are these lands so important to protect with wilderness designation?
I often reply that they are key to our economy, healthy wildlife, watersheds and forests. All very true, but I’d like to offer another more philosophical answer.
These wild, untrammeled lands are as endangered as the lynx that is scratching to survive, or the polar bear that drifts toward its death on a tiny ice flow amid an ever-expanding sea.
These precious Gems are the heartbeat of our wild landscapes; they are the song in our soul when we hike high and stop to listen. They whisper to us that humans are not the web of life but merely a strand in that web, and that all we do is connected to everything else.
These few wild places are disappearing as quickly as, and in relation to, the 60 percent decline in our mule deer population over the past 20 years. No habitat means no wildlife.
Without our wildlife and wild lands, we lose our heritage, we lose our connection to our past and to the natural world, and we lose the very heartbeat of our community.
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Why protect these lands? Because if we who live closest to these Gems do not have the understanding, the bold vision and the courage to protect our remaining wild lands now, who will?
And where will our children and grandchildren be able to experience the wildness that we have been so fortunate to experience right here in our backyard? How will we explain to them that we used up the land, wildlife, water, forests and air for our benefit without thinking of them?
What excuses will we make for our poor stewardship of the greatest gifts we had?
Why these particular lands? The areas in this proposal are the most endangered wild lands we have left in Eagle County. Most are still roadless and complement our existing high rock and ice wildernesses — spectacular but not complete ecosystems by any means.
The Gems would extend protection to critical mid-elevations where the ecological value is highest; into wildlife habitat, migration, mating and birthing areas; over watersheds still unmolested by erosion from roads; and through unfragmented forests.
If you fly over these Gems, they stand out dramatically from the logged, roaded, trailed, highly impacted lands that surround them.
So far, they have escaped man’s misuse, but they still face extreme pressures from extraction (timber, gas, oil, mining and water) to motorized and mechanized recreation.
These Hidden Gems remain essentially unscathed, but encroachment continually increases and soon they will be degraded to something less than wilderness quality.
Why wilderness designation? Because that is the strongest protection possible, and our most precious assets — our landscapes and wildlife — deserve nothing less.
It would be nice to give other surrounding lands some protection as well, using lesser designations. But this proposal is about the most critical, intact ecosystems we have left, that are the very heart of our community.
Dare we risk them to something less than the greatest respect and protection we can offer?
Another question I hear from many people and user groups is: “But what about me?” My answer is simply: This is about something bigger than you, bigger than me, bigger than each of us. This is about the entire web of life, of which our presence and our desires are only a part. It’s about understanding what our impacts as individuals and as a fast-growing community have on the natural world that sustains us. As a community we choose how to manage our land and how to manage ourselves with respect to our public lands. There are hundreds of thousands of acres in this county that we have dramatically altered and that will continue to serve our technology and growth.
Protecting the Hidden Gems is not a “land grab” but a land gift to future generations by protecting the richest, most pristine areas to the highest degree.
No major roads and few, if any, mountain bike trails will be impacted. We’ve reached out to all stakeholders from ranchers to the Army National Guard and continue to find the common ground that supports the understanding that taking care of our nest ensures a thriving home.
Why the Hidden Gems? Because they are of inestimable value to us as individuals and a community just the way they are!
As John Muir said: “Brought into right relationships with the wilderness, man would see that his appropriation of Earth’s resources beyond his personal needs would only bring imbalance and begat ultimate loss and poverty by all.”
Let’s offer these areas the protection to be simply natural. Everyone can all still go and use them for what may be humanity’s own highest good, reconnecting to and understanding our place in the natural world.
To learn more, offer your support, or get involved please visit http://www.whiteriverwild.org.
Susie Kincade is the Eagle County coordinator of the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign.