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Russ Hanbey

Russ is a backcoun- try ranger for the Darrington Ranger District.

January + February 2010 » Washington Trails


Forgotten Stepchild

The Forest Service is asked to manage wilderness on a shoestring

The centerpiece of Washington’s north central Cascade Mountains, the 577,000-acre Glacier Peak Wilderness, is a dreamscape. Wild and scenic rivers stretch up to meet a volcanic peak of classic form and elegance. Before 2006, access to the western slopes of this wilderness was up a gravel road driven through a heavily forested corridor paralleling a free flowing river. A small campground at the end of the road offered an open invitation to continue up the White Chuck River Trail and its way trails.

Northwest—not, I suspect, exactly what the founders of the Wilderness Act had in mind.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 was signed by President Johnson after a decade of debate, public hearings and over 60 revisions. This act, established the National Wilderness Preserva- tion System, and initially included 54 units to- taling 9.1 million acres of land administered by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.

As a backcountry ranger for the Darrington Ranger District, I’ve been privileged to walk this trail and others around the Glacier Peak Wilderness off and on for decades. Glacier Peak and its environs was a showpiece of the origi- nal Wilderness Preservation system, because of its size, unparalleled diversity and beauty. Today, the edges are fraying.

The heart of the landscape is as untamed as ever, but only the most hardheaded and intrepid hikers can push their way past the decimated portals and blown-out trails to ac- cess this pristine wilderness. Extreme weather in concert with gutted U.S. Forest Service funding has created a “perfect storm” of benign neglect and minimal management of this and other designated wilderness areas in the Pacific

Prior to the Wilderness Act, the Forest Ser- vice’s history ran deep with staff and exper- tise that supported resource extraction, road building, fire management and “multiple use” approaches. With the inception of the Wilder- ness Act, the values of conservation leadership within the Forest Service, as exemplified by Ar- thur Carhart, Aldo Leopold, and Bob Marshall and others who valued remote and undeveloped landscapes, gained equal footing with the wise- use politics of Gifford Pinchot.

The Forest Service had to shift gears and begin to manage “set-aside” landscapes as self-contained units within broader national forests. New management strategies included recognition of four statutory qualities of wilder- ness “character.” These requirements demanded

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