Monday, September 30, 2013

Characterizing Wilderness!!

A blog post by Danny Savage

Located in southwestern Montana, the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness is stunning.  Designated in 1964, the Anaconda-Pintler was one of the first areas to be deemed wilderness.  It now has a total of 158, 615 acres.  Elevations range from 5,100 ft. to the 10,793 ft. West Goat Peak.  In the lower elevations, one can find sagebrush and willow flats before rising to forests of fir, pine, and spruce as well as aspen, sub-alpine larch, and whitebark pine.
            The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as “...untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.  (It is) Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements and human habitation…’wilderness areas’…shall be administered…so as to provide for protection of these areas (and)…the preservation of their wilderness character…” The Wilderness Act goes on to state “…each agency administering any…wilderness shall be responsible for preserving the character of wilderness.”  However, the Act does not give guidelines for preserving wilderness character.  If we read the characteristics of wilderness as described by the Act, we can get a sense of what we can do to preserve wilderness character.  The characteristics of wilderness, as defined by the Act, are untrammeled, undeveloped, natural, and opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation. 
            Founded in 1975, the Wilderness Institute’s mission is to further understanding of wilderness and its stewardship through education, research, and service.  The Wilderness and Civilization Program is part of the educational component.  Another thing that the Wilderness Institute does is wilderness character monitoring.  This past summer, they monitored the Anaconda-Pintler, hiking 208 trail miles and recording 147 weed patches (8 species), 120 hikers, 76 recreation sites, and 47 pikas.  Field measures are just one aspect of wilderness character monitoring, which helps inform proposed actions and impacts.  There was one section of trail remaining for the Wilderness Institute to monitor in the Anaconda-Pintler so the Wilderness and Civilization students traveled to help finish the job. 
            On Friday, September 20, we separated into two groups.  One group hiked straight to our campsite while the other group monitored along the trail.  Using a GPS and a pen and paper, we recorded such things as noxious weeds, signs, trail quality, wildlife evidence, and sounds outside of the wilderness such as airplanes.  The hike, about 5 miles or less, had some steep ascents.  I was particularly impressed by the grassy, wet meadows that we encountered at fairly high altitudes during the hike.  When we arrived at the campsite below East Goat Peak, it was nearly dark.  The site itself was gorgeous with a nice stream and a stunning cluster of old trees. 
            On the following morning, we hiked up to East and West Goat Peaks.  The hike was incredible with turquoise alpine lakes, a little snow on rocks, and two summits that provided panoramic views of the mountains and lakes around us.  It was very cold up there.  I am glad I was prepared with enough layers.  I felt so alive and free!
            On the following morning, we searched for pikas at the foot of the rocky hills leading up East Goat.  We saw at least four of the cute, furry, little creatures.  After, we hiked out of the wilderness.  This time, I was with the group who hiked straight to our destination while the other group monitored.  Along the trail, we saw a lot of evidence of wildlife, including moose and bear tracks and scat as well as a bear’s skull and bones.  Even though it was short, this field trip was awesome and was what I needed to clear my mind from the worries that come with civilization.

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