Winter Recreation Management of Western United States Lands: Ethics, Evolution, and Choices
AuthorFerrell, Gail Small
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Aldo Leopold was a familiar figure in the early conservationist movement in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Leopold worked for the newly formed United States Forest Service (USFS) beginning in 1909, and continued his work with the USFS for 20 years. He then served as professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. During his professional tenure with the USFS he promoted, and later, further refined, the concept of ethical management and stewardship of U.S. Forest Service lands. Since Leopold's death in 1948, the widespread use of off-road motorized vehicles presents a profound change in recreational habits. The deleterious effects of motorized recreation are well documented, but the ethical construct laid out by Leopold in the 1930s has yet to be applied to motorized recreation management on public lands. Most of the public lands in the U.S. are located in the Western U.S., and primarily managed by two federal agencies; the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the USFS. This paper's focus is on land management planning by the USFS. In particular, the U.S. Forest Service has not planned for snowmobile management on the majority of its snow covered lands under its jurisdiction. This study extends the ethical framework promulgated by Leopold to the public lands management of snowmobiles today. The perception of land use in America has developed from our initial colonization of the Americas to the eventual settling of the American frontier. The colonists brought their view of dominion of the wild from the Judeo-Christen biblical perspective, and found in the new America a wild new frontier over which they would exercise dominion. Overcoming Native, but fundamentally undeveloped, land and occupying the continent is, in the formulation of Frederick Jackson Turner, what made Americans, American. However, once the conquest had been completed, the American psyche still held the ideal of conquest of the new frontier, or environment.As wild lands diminished, a growing perception emerged that no wild lands was tantamount to no wilderness, and the preservationist movement gained momentum. Without new land to conquer, recreation became the conduit through which Americans expressed their need for wilderness conquest, or alternatively, they might seek to explore solely for a natural wilderness experience, as promoted by the preservationist movement. These divergent modes of recreation are reflected in the motorized and non-motorized winter recreation uses of public land in the modern era. Motorized winter recreation using snowmobiles conquer the land through masculine domination and human-powered winter recreation explores the winter landscape for the wilderness and natural experience.A working land ethic requires the preservation of all parts of the biota and a deliberate extension of our national conservation policies to plants and animals. The Tahoe draba, a sensitive plant species found only in the mountains surrounding the greater Lake Tahoe area, have historically not been fully considered in the regional land use planning process, since federal land managers continue to allow snowmobile use into areas where this sensitive species exists. However, given the rarity and sensitivity of the Tahoe draba, good ecosystem management should consider impacts to Tahoe draba by snowmobiles. This view has been substantiated by U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, on March 29, 2013, when the Court ruled that the United States Forest Service will be required to evaluate the impacts of snowmobiles on the entire ecosystem.Aldo Leopold wrote in the classic A Sand County Almanac, "Obligations have no meaning without conscience, and the problem we face is the extension of the social conscience from people to land" (Leopold 1966, 246). This dissertation examines an elemental conflict of ethical philosophy and practical management as played out in human- and engine-powered recreation on winter landscapes of the American West's public lands. It addresses, and provides at least a provisional answer to a fundamental question: How ethically are we treating the winter landscape?