50 Years of the Wild
By Mike Stevens, Washington State Director
Wrangell-St. Elias. Absaroka-Beartooth. Yosemite. Craters of the Moon. Weminuche. Mt. Adams. John Muir.
These names conjure vivid memories for me of glaciers, grizzlies, rock spires, wildflowers, rain, sun and streams. And they bring up strong emotions as I remember family and friends and shared experiences – epic lightning storms, being close to wild animals, skiing on high ridgelines, the freedom of just walking, eating, and swimming, shivering through star-filled nights, learning about each other and about ourselves.
I write this in my office overlooking Puget Sound and the port of Seattle. Ten million visitors a year crowd the marketplace below, just steps from a busy bay where we have seen orcas. In the distance, over the tops of freighters arriving full from China, I can see the wilderness peaks of the Olympic Mountains. Most of the time, when I look out the window, I make sure to enjoy the beauty of the place, and then I return to working through our piece of the challenge of conservation in the 21st century.
The challenge is overwhelming given that the pace of change is staggering – when I graduated from college in 1990, global population was just over 5 billion. We are at 7 billion today and I will retire as we hit 9 billion. How do we sustain large landscapes and wide-ranging wildlife on a planet with 9 billion people? How do we secure food, clean water, energy and shelter? Surely, we must deploy every strategy and every tool at hand, we must fire our imaginations and work together.
Today, however, on the Wilderness Act’s 50th birthday, I’m keeping things simple. I am going to think about those wilderness areas, those magical names, and how they mean so much to me and to so many others. I will treasure my memories and look forward to the next adventure, to learning a new mountain range, to introducing young friends to their first backpack or peak climb. I am going to reflect on how a few committed people dedicated themselves to the protection and stewardship of these places. And give thanks.