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Senate’s ‘CARE’ action values public lands

The Wilderness Society and other national groups concerned with preserving public lands and wildlife issued a statement applauding a “CARE” action in the U.S. Senate.
The announcement dealt with a Senate resolution, sponsored among others by Sen. Lamar Alexander, to commemorate the week of Oct. 14-20 as National Wildlife Refuge Week.
The action calls to mind some of the nation’s past leaders in the movement for wilderness and wildlife preservation, men in politics like Theodore Roosevelt, scientists and literary men like Aldo Leopold and Wallace Stegner, and former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
Roosevelt set aside, as “preserves for the wild creatures” some of the nation’s first wildlife refuges and national forest lands. Insisting that we “should not dispose of the birthright of our children” in regard to the wildlife legacy, he also saw “essential democratic” and other values in public-lands protection.
These would provide in perpetuity, for the people as a whole, opportunities for hunting, sportsmanship and outdoor recreation, as of exercising and maintaining Americans’ traditional physical skills and appreciation of a “strenuous life.”
In similar vein, Leopold, a leader in the early decades of the national forest system, considered that “public lands and wilderness areas [would be] essentially a means for allowing the more virile and primitive forms of outdoor recreation to survive” as pioneering frontier opportunities were receding. They would preserve for Americans a democratic system of free hunting, a “sure resource of the man who cannot buy his shooting” under private-ownership restrictions, or under exclusive hunting-privilege systems as in Europe.
A commission established by Congress in the 1950s to study outdoor recreation and citizens’ wishes regarding it received a plea for preservation of wild places from the then writer/novelist Stegner. His eloquent “wilderness letter,” in December 1960, argued that beyond recreation as ordinarily conceived, beyond “hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain-climbing, camping, photography and the enjoyment of natural scenery,” Americans needed wild lands as places for spiritual renewal.
“Something will have gone out of us as a people,” Stegner said, “if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed, drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction, and push our paved roads through the last of the silence.” Human sanity and well-being need some places “where the bulldozers and pavements of civilization are shut out,” where people can “retain a hold on the natural world.”
The Wilderness Act, which allows areas within the national forest system to be preserved under such designation, was passed by Congress four years later.
Under legislation introduced by Sen. Alexander in 2011, some wilderness areas in the Cherokee National Forest will be enlarged, including (by 2,900 acres) the Sampson Mountain Wilderness nearby.
From 1903 when Roosevelt established the first refuge, the (partially overlapping) public-land parcels managed for wildlife and wilderness protection now make up 6.7 percent of the U.S. land area. The population having almost quadrupled since then, we can be grateful for continuing efforts, such as by Alexander, to promote and protect our public lands.