#21Around the Campfire; A Little Roadless Area History
The first burst of roadless areas as a national forest issue in 1971 made me a conservationist. Today, national forest roadless areas are part of the daily meat-and-potatoes for the conservationist, and it has been so for at least a generation of wilderness lovers. Only a handful of still-working conservationists remember the days before roadless areas came to steer our work with the Forest Service (Polly Dyer and Brock Evans would be two). Even fewer, if any, Forest Service employees are still on the job from that era.
Understanding how the national forest roadless area issue came into being is a must-have for today’s generation of wilderness campaigners. Truly safeguarding all roadless areas on the national forests is the quickest way to keep alive the room to roam that so many wildlife species need. National forest roadless areas are key shards of the Pacific, Spine of the Continent, and Appalachian Wildways for the North American Wildlands Network in the United States.
To be sure, keeping the backcountry roadless and out of bounds for threatening motor-cars shoved the wilderness area movement into life after World War One. And, yes, Bob Marshall sketched out a tally of million-acre blocks without roads in 1926 and a more refined catalog in 1936 for roadless areas of 250,000 acres and more. But in those days, national forests were nearly all roadless; it was the roaded areas that stood out. In picking places to put forward for primitive area rank, forest rangers and citizen conservationists went for the cream of the western mountains. The areas they chose were roadless, but nearly all primitive areas picked in the 1920s and 1930s had tens or hundreds of thousands of roadless acres more that were not added to the primitive area. (The last primitive area, the Blue Range in Arizona, is a case in point: the primitive area was 216,000 acres, but it was surrounded by another 300,000 acres of roadlessness for a total roadless area of over 500,000 acres. It was not until well into the 1970s that some of us began to think that all lands still roadless around “The Blue,” even if they were not part of that geographic, ecological, or cultural entity, should be part of our wilderness proposal, too.)
The 1964 Wilderness Act blazed several new trails, one of which was making “roadless area” a meaningful term and concept while defining it as a unit of contiguous federal land without roads and at least 5,000 acres in size or of a size practicable to manage. Leopold, Marshall, and other old trail-wolves had looked for bigger areas—enough for a two-week pack trip without crossing your own tracks –
Click on the attachment below to read the entire “Campfire”