2. I'm a big boy. Feel free to vehemently disagree with me. Personal insults are fine. I can handle them.
3. Not everybody likes the forum. I'd love to discuss this in person too. Send me a PM. We can chat about it during a hike sometime too.
Implement a permit system with quotas for the most popular wilderness areas in Arizona (managed by the USFS). I propose these to include the following wildernesses:
• Superstition Wilderness
• Pusch Ridge Wilderness
• Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness
• Kachina Peaks Wilderness
It's the LAW!
The Wilderness Act of 1964 set out to protect and preserve federal lands in a way that no other environmental law had done before. It passed through congress with overwhelming bipartisan approval (374-1 in the House and 73-12 in the Senate). *Emphasis in the quotes below is mine.
In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas ... a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress as "wilderness areas" ... shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character... [§2.(a)]
PrecedentA wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized 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 ... retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation... [§2.(c)]
While no Wilderness areas managed by the US Forest Service in Arizona have done so, popular Wilderness areas in other states have established permit systems and/or quotas including (CA) Ansel Adams Wilderness, Golden Trout Wilderness, Hoover Wilderness, John Muir Wilderness, South Sierra Wilderness, San Gorgonio Wilderness, (CO) Indian Peak Wilderness, (ID) Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness, (MN) Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (maybe others too ... this is tough to search).
Wilderness Areas that are managed by National Parks are regularly under permit and quota systems due to popularity, including in Arizona, with Grand Canyon being the most obvious example. National Park Wildernesses that had not previously been under permit and/or quota systems are reacting to changing user patterns and implementing new policies (including Mt. Rainier and Olympia NPs). Other land management agencies such as the BLM also have permit and quota systems in place such as the Aravaipa Wilderness.
The Other Side of the Argument
The purposes of this Act are hereby declared to be within and supplemental to the purposes for which national forests ... are established and administered and --
Nothing in this Act shall be deemed to be in interference with the purpose for which national forests are established...[§4.(a)(1)]
National Forests were created as the "land of many uses" -- which include grazing, timber, mining, and recreation, among others. While the Wilderness Act prohibits some of these uses, I think there is certainly needs to be a balance with regards to recreation.Except as otherwise provided in this Act, wilderness areas shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use.[§4.(b)]
I don't think that it is consistent with the Wilderness Act of 1964 for there to exist the number of people regularly present from the trailhead to the top of Humphreys, Flatiron, Fremont Saddle, West Fork of Oak Creek, etc. I don't believe those who wrote the act nor those who voted for it could have ever envisioned the current levels of use being experienced! This kind of use is fine on Camelback, South Mountain, the McDowells, and Picketpost. Those are not federally protected for the specific purpose of maintaining wilderness character. I believe it is important to recognize the difference in land use designation.
I hate permits. I don't like restrictions on public access or use. At all. But I believe sometimes reasonable restrictions are necessary to protect resources from being "loved to death". One benefit of a permit system is education. Even a free permit with no quota requires individuals to learn about the land, why it is a designated wilderness, and what the definition and purpose of wilderness designation is.
This is an issue that will only get worse over time. If we wait too long to act, parts of the wilderness that the law set forth to protect will no longer exist.
Unfortunately, I don't expect to see it happen. Implementation and management is too costly. The San Juan National Forest in Colorado had a plan to implement a permit and quota system for a popular portion of the Weminuche Wilderness two years ago and it had to abandon the plan because the funds were not available to properly manage it. The same is likely true elsewhere.
The result, sadly, will be the loss of wilderness that was once wild.
Sources of information: