Wilderness

Wild, biologically intact wilderness places connect us to our past and an American frontier that helped to shape our values of freedom, self-reliance, and perseverance.

As our region’s population increases and becomes more urbanized, as more former farm and timber lands are developed, our remaining backcountry lands become even more valuable as remnants of our once-vast wilderness heritage.

Click here for facts about wilderness and the proposal for the Colville National Forest.

Wilderness takes many forms

Bunchgrass Meadows, part of the proposed Mountain Caribou Wilderness. Photo: Eric Zamora.

Wilderness takes many forms. It does not have to be a 10,000-foot peak or an alpine lake. It may be broad expanses of native forest, as in the Twin Sisters roadless area in the Kettle Range;  the rolling, parklike vistas of a ponderosa pine forest at Thirteenmile Canyon near Republic; or a flower-filled vista of an alpine meadow intermingling with aspen groves and bears amid the berries as at Hall Mountain above Sullivan Lake.

“Wilderness” simply refers to those places truly free and “untrammeled,” unmarked by roads, logging, pipelines, dams, or other infrastructure.  However, Wilderness also can refer to specific areas designated by Congress under the Wilderness Act of 1964.

Wilderness provides sanctuary

People benefit from having healthy wildlands nearby.

Bamber Mountain in the Bodie Mountain roadless area. Photo: Eric Zamora.

Wilderness provides a sanctuary from the pressures of a rapidly growing and changing world. In wilderness, we escape from the stresses of the modern world. With the population of northeastern Washington expected to increase by the year 2030 as much as 70% over year 2000 totals, finding a place to ourselves in the natural world is even more vital.

The economies of towns and communities located near designated wilderness are more diverse and stable, and their residents enjoy more economic prosperity than those in areas without wilderness.

Like humans, wildlife need sanctuary from the modern world and a safe place to live. Many animals, such as bears, lynx, wolves, elk, wolverines, and caribou rely on the wild forests of the Columbia Highlands for refuge, habitat, and as a connectivity crossroads for moving across the larger landscapes.

Wilderness provides adventure

Gypsy Peak and the proposed Salmo-Priest Wilderness additions. Photo: Eric Zamora.

When protected, wilderness also offers an enduring legacy of wilderness recreational activities and adventure. Many Western wilderness areas provide hundreds of miles of backcountry adventure without the crowds. In many cases, especially here in northeast Washington, even a short, half-mile hike can bring solitude, respite, and challenging adventure.

Wilderness designation preserves the public’s ability to enjoy hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, birdwatching and berry-picking, horseback riding, skiing, and snowshoeing. Wilderness protects critical habitat for fish and game, providing many of the nation’s best quality hunting and fishing areas and longest seasons.  Many of the biggest bucks and bulls are taken in or near the backcountry and wilderness areas.

Wilderness can be enjoyed without even walking within its boundaries. Wild places form the rugged horizons of many communities, the backdrop for scenic drives, the canvas on which to create dreams of future adventures. Many of America’s iconic, awe-inspiring places are within wilderness areas. And in wilderness many findartistic and spiritual inspiration.

Even if we never once step foot in a wilderness, we benefit from its clean, clear air and its even, fresh flows of clean water. Some 60 percent of Washington’s water comes from forested mountains.

Safeguarding wilderness

Jackknife roadless area. Photo: Eric Zamora.

In 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act to protect as a permanent resource the unspoiled character of wild areas across the United States. Yet today less than 4 percent of Washington’s designated wilderness lies east of the Cascade Mountains, and less than one percent of the Columbia Highlands is currently protected as wilderness.  The Salmo-Priest Wilderness Area on the Colville National Forest is the region’s only designated wilderness.

One hundred years ago, much of northeast Washington was wilderness. Today, our remaining roadless areas are all the wilderness we have left.

In the Columbia Highlands, several hundred thousand acres of wild and roadless areas still remain unspoiled by logging, roads, and other human developments. Many of these areas qualify for wilderness designation and safeguarding for future generations.

Wilderness provides the strongest protection for our wild public lands. Only Congressionally designated wilderness will ensure these wild lands will remain as they are today. Status such as “roadless area” or “primitive area” cannot protect them from changing management policies and being developed in the future.

Wilderness reminds us there are some things that are priceless—you simply can’t re-create it, and you certainly can’t buy it.  For more information about efforts to designate new wilderness areas in the Columbia Highlands of NE WA as part of a balanced plan that includes maintaining working timber and ranch lands and timber jobs, read more about the Columbia Highlands Initiative.

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