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Last week I was lucky enough to float the Salmon River through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness of central Idaho. As my family and I floated down this river, it was hard to remember how controversial the bill that created this wilderness was when it passed in 1979. Shepherding this law through Congress was likely a reason (along with the Reagan landslide) that accounted for the 4,262 votes the Idaho Senator Frank Church lost by in 1980. Spending time in rafts moving from calm water into rapids and camping along the shore with people I had known for decades and others I had just met, reminded me of how vital it is to get away from the swift pace of a digital life.

That there have always been disagreements on how to protect these types of wild places was exemplified by the decade of debate and thousands of pages of declarations that came prior to passing the Wilderness Act in 1964. Much of the debate focused on Western land owners, ranchers and recreationists who were concerned this Act would severely curtail the types of actions allowed in Wilderness. Most of these apprehensions were addressed by grandfathering in previous activities (e.g., grazing and mining) but not the use of mechanized vehicles. The primary author of the act, the Wilderness Society’s director Howard Zahniser, went so far as to acknowledge that hikers traversing Wilderness would be carrying products derived from mining and timber harvest after being delivered to the trailheads in gas powered motorized vehicles. He argued that even with the general accoutrements of a developed society, the country’s citizen would benefit by protecting truly wild places.


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