The Wilderness Act, signed into law in 1964, created the National Wilderness Preservation System and recognized wilderness as
“an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain….an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions . . . .”
I’m privileged to live on the doorstep of one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in the country, the Indian Peaks Wilderness. While performing Wilderness Trail Patrol this past summer, I experienced the best the wilderness has to offer, moments of complete solitude that broken only by the quaking of aspen leaves or the snap of twigs as a herd of deer moved through the forest. I sat upon a log gazing upon the glistening waters of Jasper Lake, surveying snow capped peaks as a red-tailed hawk circled overhead.
When the Wilderness Act was signed more than 50 years ago, I believe it was with that intention — to provide people with the opportunity to connect with nature and find refuge from the hum and bustle of city life. Perhaps that is why the with the Front Range experiencing a population surge, the Indian Peaks Wilderness has become one of the top ten visited wilderness areas in the country.
Now the U.S. Forest Service is seeking to open up the wilderness area to recreational shooting. I believe this sharply contrasts with the idea of wilderness and what it seeks to preserve for people. It provides an issue of public safety — where there are guns present, there most certainly is a risk of possible injury or even death from accidental shootings. Shooting also introduces an element of increased fire danger — just two years ago, a wildfire was started on PeeWink Ridge across from our house from people who were target shooting and started a fire during dry conditions. Do we really need to add the wilderness area into this mix?
Finally, allowing shooting in general goes against the grain of why the Wilderness Act was passed. Hiking trails in the wilderness only to have your solace be interrupted by gunshots ringing out hardly defines the “primeval character” of the forest and its environments.
The Forest Service already allows recreational shooting on Forest Service lands in and around Nederland. I should know, as frequently as I walk the Forest Service trail to North Boulder Creek, I hear the gunshots on many a weekend. They also have shooting clubs and areas on the plains as well. Are their rights really so valuable that they need to take over wilderness areas and ruin our wilderness experience while endangering public safety?
The Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance has taken a firm stand of opposing this proposal. In their statement opposing recreational shooting, they stated this:
When asked why the USFS was designating these lands as ‘suitable’ for recreational shooting – which appears completely contrary to concerns for citizen safety along with wilderness character challenges – the response from the USFS representative was that “we do not view recreational shooting as incompatible with the concept of wilderness.”
And yet, Section 2320.6 “Wilderness Management Model and the Wilderness Act” states that “Where a choice must be made between wilderness values and visitor or any other activity, preserving the wilderness resource is the overriding value.”
Right now, you can send a public comment on this important issue to the Forest Service. Stand up and let your voice be heard by letting them know that we mountain residents value wilderness.