(Larry Wells is one of the pioneers in wilderness therapy. He founded Wilderness Quest in Utah (originally called Wilderness Conquest) in 1988. In 1971 Larry began doing trips for the State of Idaho and Wilderness Quest later became one of the early private-pay, parent-choice wilderness therapy programs.)
February 23, 2011
Having read Order No. 3310 issued by Secretary Salazor, Federal Department of the Interior, to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), I believe all outdoor based treatment programs using public lands should be aware of its potential impact. It is an order to find and recognize lands with "Wilderness Characteristics" (it does not say what those characteristics are) OUTSIDE of the Wilderness Study Areas and OUTSIDE of the units of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
It states they shall be described as "Lands with Wilderness Characteristics", and if the BLM concludes that protection of the areas designated with wilderness characteristics is appropriate, the BLM shall designate these lands as "Wild Lands" in their land use planning. They will be managed as wilderness designation areas. This directs the BLM to manage areas as Wilderness without congressional approval, thus without voter input.
When an area is managed as "Wilderness", it means several things. First, it means absolutely no mechanized use. Cars, trucks, ATV's, fixed wing airplane for cargo drop and even bicycles would be prohibited, making it exceedingly difficult to support a group in the field and/or effectively deal with emergencies.
Recently, one outdoor based treatment program was denied permission to move a wheeled portable radio repeater by hand to the needed location because wheels are not allowed off the road because the wheels are mechanical and damaging to the environment.
When I operated in Idaho, to get permission to bring a helicopter into a designated wilderness area was time consuming and complicated. To bring one into national forest or BLM land in that case was not life or death, but I wanted to be on the safe side. However, under the proposed regulations, A helicopter may not be approved in any situation, depending on the person you are dealing with.
Second, it is up to the bureaucrat in charge of the land to decide what constitutes "Wilderness Characteristics" and what management decisions are required to preserve them. The BLM will have unlimited latitude in their management decisions. They may not put many restrictions on the land use, or they may completely close an area to any use, or anything in between.
The pattern that removed grazing is instructive. Although the original explanation included acceptance of many current routine activities, the eventual decision was no motorized repair of springs, trails, stock ponds, fences or corrals and this included use of chain saws. To operate in these areas, everybody had to pack feed for their horses, establish no permanent corral or line camp structures, and at one point they had to defend the horse being able to leave manure on the trail.
Currently one program is being told they cannot gather materials for primitive skills. They can use only dead wood on the ground, but no local rocks are allowed to be used and a decision is being made on yucca leaf for cordage.
The order further states the BLM should develop recommendations, "with public involvement," regarding possible Congressional designation of lands into the National Wilderness Preservation System. Based on my experience presenting at the hearings in San Juan County, Utah last fall on behalf of Wilderness Quest (I am no longer a part of Wilderness Quest, but agreed to present at the hearings), the statement "with public involvement" is referring to organized environmental groups, not local citizens.
To put this into context, the BLM already has many different land area designations, including WSA, WSR, ACEC, SRMA, and others. With many outdoor based treatment programs having permits with the Forest Service, Park Service and the BLM, all the rules are becoming harder to conform to and these new rules are becoming a detriment to providing the opportunities needed for an effective treatment program.
The BLM has never repaired roads in San Juan County, which is a county function, so when I owned Wilderness Quest we did a lot of road repair as service projects to keep the roads usable. Now the BLM states if road repair is conducted there can be no disturbance outside of the road track area. This makes road repair impossible because rocks and soil must be gathered to fill washouts, or you need to create a drainage path off the road, etc. This will effectively close some roads.
We did not use stoves except during fire closures as I feel wood is a far more renewable resource than any form of fuel for backpack stoves. We used a fire pan, crushed coals into a fine powder, scattering it to wash and blow away. Now a fire pad is required under the fire, and fires are not allowed in Dark Canyon, Fable Valley, White Canyon nor any of their side canyons. This requires stove and fuel. Students must pack out their feces, and all charcoal. It is already a challenge in the winter to meet the state licensing regulations regarding pack weight at 4000 calories per day and extra clothing using a one week resupply. Add one week of feces, charcoal, fuel and stoves and the loss of the one week resupply, the program is becoming less and less of a wilderness program.
The treatment industry needs to lobby against the closing of areas by wilderness management that will take away the ability to provide the 24 hour support for safety. It is also my belief the regulations are against providing appropriate outdoor opportunities for treatment that can fill the gap that mental health, talking therapy and RTC's did not meet for certain adolescents.
Filling that gap is the reason we started doing what we do. It would be harmful to the children we help if this opportunity were lost due to an increasing pattern of restrictive regulations.
About the Author: Larry Wells resides in Montecello Utah and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org