Story last updated at 1/15/2014 - 2:43 pm
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and it looks like Southeast Alaska won't lack for commemoration.
A John Muir impersonator, the worldwide premiere of a movie about Tongass wilderness areas called "The Meaning of Wild," a wilderness art display that will travel to Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau and Gustavus, and a Wilderness Act "birthday party" (on Sept. 3) all are in the works. But Kevin Hood, the Forest Service's Wilderness Manager for Admiralty Island National Monument and the Juneau Ranger District, kicked off the year's celebrations at Southeast Chapter of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance with a thoughtful talk on just what "wilderness" is, and whether or not it can endure.
The talk, he said, was "about an evolution in my own thinking - quandaries we face as wilderness managers, especially in the 21st century."
Central to that evolution is the word "untrammeled," which means "unrestrained" or "unfettered" and is used in the actual language of the Wilderness Act: "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
Hood values scientific research and has done it himself, he said, but began to question whether certain techniques - heart rate and video monitors, tranquilizers, tags, shooting scoters to open their stomachs and analyze their diet, pulling bears' teeth to age them - were "the kind of thing we should be ... supporting in wilderness."
"As a wilderness ranger, I began to notice certain trammeling," Hood said. "If you know all its behavior ... at some point it's not wild life."
In a way, he said, he sees this as trammeling in the name of conservation. And in an era in which many species are under threat from climate change but the federal budget is shrinking and future commitments to, for example, a captive California condor breeding program may be uncertain, he questions "our national tendency to want to do something."
Over the millennia, estimates are that the earth has hosted between 1 and 4 billion species, and at least 95 percent of them are extinct, he said.
"Is extinction a natural process that we should respect?" he asked. "It will get harder as climate changes, funding goes down, and more and more species are under duress."
A supporter of the Endangered Species Act, ultimately he differentiated between saving an animal humans have endangered, or trying to save particular populations of a species undergoing a natural process of flux.
As one audience member put it, the need may be "trying to untrammel previous trammeling."
That's something Europe is attempting to do, "rewilding" areas people have left after moving to cities. The number of brown bears in Europe, for instance, has doubled in the last 20 to 30 years, Hood said.
The Wilderness Act took eight years and 66 drafts, and 18 Congressional Hearings to pass. It gives Congress the authority to designate public lands as "wilderness," which is the most protected status for land. As of Oct. 2012, five percent of the United States was designated as wilderness, Hood said.
Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Mary Catharine Martin at email@example.com.