Let's not make areas too restricted
Sportsmen and others who appreciate wildlife and wild
lands should oppose creating yet another wilderness in
the Tumacácori Highlands.
careless thinking or lack of familiarity with existing
Forest Service policies could allow anyone to believe a
wilderness designation is really about preventing urban
sprawl, all-terrain vehicle abuse, power lines,
development of National Forest lands or proliferation of
forest roads. These issues can be better addressed
through other means that would yield fewer unintended
principal effect of a wilderness designation will be
obstruction of activities designed to restore and
maintain wildlife populations and forest health.
Whether a specific area will benefit from wilderness
status depends on the threats facing that area. The
principal threat to the Tumacácori Highlands is the
flood of smugglers and illegal immigrants. Literally
tons of discarded clothing, backpacks, drinking
containers and other refuse have left much of this
formerly pristine area looking like a public dump. The
best protection in the short term would be a reduction
in illegal border traffic and a massive cleanup of the
the longer term, land and wildlife agencies will need to
fight fires, carry out controlled burns and conduct
research and wildlife-management activities. But
restrictions designed to guarantee wilderness
connoisseurs that their visits are free of all human
sights and sounds make restoration activities more
difficult and costly to perform.
example, volunteers clearing brush and invasive trees to
improve wildlife habitat in wilderness are typically
forced to work with hand saws and shears instead of
gas-powered chain saws that could accomplish more work
faster and with fewer people.
Wilderness restrictions apply to all activities
including repair of damage to the landscape. Instead of
helping to fix the damage, a wilderness designation will
only make fixing the damage more expensive and less
likely to be accomplished.
Conflicts inherent in attempting to manage the same land
for both wilderness and wildlife have long been subjects
of discussion in academic and professional journals.
Preservationists favor a hands-off approach to public
lands and wildlife, while active-management proponents
believe organic elements of the landscape should be
managed to some degree, especially where human impacts
are already interfering with natural processes.
of today's disputes over public-lands policy reflect the
differing opinions in these camps as well as the
political and cultural tensions between citizens groups
aligned with each.
concept of wilderness is more legal and sociological
than biological. Because they are often used as tools in
lawsuits, wilderness designations effectively transfer
decision-making from natural-resources experts to
lawyers and judges.
Wildlife advocates should be especially concerned that
lands managed under a wilderness designation give
priority to the human wilderness experience above the
needs of wildlife. Even on wildlife refuges, where one
would expect wildlife to have priority over any other
purpose, "wilderness values" trump wildlife.
Currently two wilderness organizations are suing the
Kofa National Wildlife Refuge to force removal of two
water tanks that were constructed to help save a
declining herd of bighorn sheep. Even though the refuge
was originally established for sheep and only later
designated a wilderness, the suit asks for protection of
wilderness areas "from actions that may diminish their
wilderness character and ecological value."
case is merely representative of many lawsuits and
administrative challenges filed over the years by
preservation activists using wilderness status as a
Sportsmen do agree with wilderness activists on one
point: the Atascosa, Pajarito and Tumacácori mountains
are among Southern Arizona's
finest treasures. However, we have learned from
experience that some laws restricting human activity can
actually harm both land and wildlife by enforcing a
policy of neglect that ignores this area's specific
wildlife and wild lands deserve better care and
treatment than what wilderness designation allows.
to Larry Audsley at Laudsley@aol.com.