Not everyone cares about wilderness. And, why should people care? We already have much to worry about: health care, jobs, education, poverty to name but a few.
When I try to answer the "why care" question for myself, I think first of my two young daughters stopping to scoop their first drink from a clear mountain stream. I remember them riding horses in untouched meadows and canoeing on a mountain stream. I remember the special light in their eyes as we sat around a campfire and reminisced about our day in the wilderness. A pair of great horned owls, birds that are dependent on wild lands for their survival, sang for us one night and we sang back to them. I don't know how to place a value on such experiences, but I know that they will forge a different kind of character in my daughters than if they only had the opportunity to walk in city malls.
I think about a time when I sat with friends on a wildflower-covered ridge and watched 31 mountain goats, large and small, pick their way across the rugged headwall of the Persimmon Basin in Willmore Wilderness Park. When a yearling stumbled and was nudged back to safety by its mother, I was reminded of my own children. I prayed then that my grandchildren would one day have the opportunity to sit in the same meadow to watch the goats' grandchildren traverse that same headwall. In California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, a range not unlike Alberta's Rocky Mountains, the mountain goats are gone. So are the wolves, grizzlies, and big horn sheep.
Wilderness is not just for us. It is required by the many species that are struggling now to survive what seems to be limitless human expansion. We should provide for these creatures simply because they are here and should always be here. At the very least they should not be removed by our careless hands or by callow indifference. In Canada, we like to think that wildlife problems are elsewhere the Elephants in Africa, the Tigers in India. But we too have a dramatic problem: many bird, mammal, amphibian and reptile species are at risk. Without legislatively protected wilderness, the numbers of species at risk in Canada will certainly grow. It may be that the very next generation of Canadians will not be able to see a delightful little creature called the Burrowing Owl that dwells only in Canada's Grasslands Regions. Already the Swift Fox, a cat-sized grasslands dweller is gone.
Wilderness has other values that we rarely consider in our decision making. The boreal forest of northern Canada is as important a set of earth lungs and source of biodiversity as those Amazonian rainforests that we all hear so much about. We southern Canadians imagine the north of our provinces as a vast untouched expanses of forest and bog. Nothing could be further from the truth. Crosshatched with oil and gas exploration roads, clearcuts and strip mines, sometimes besieged with mighty dams, the North is presently 100% committed to industrial development. Without strong wilderness protection programs, the few remaining Woodland Caribou that depend on the boreal forest are likely to expire in our own lifetimes.
I have had been confronted by naysayers who insist that those who believe in protecting lands from industrial use and from motorized travel are simply being selfish, that protected areas benefit only a few elite backpackers. I see it differently. My generation can never exhaust the opportunities that our lands presently provide for our wilderness adventures. Would it not instead be selfish of us if we dont secure those opportunities for the next generations?
Protecting our special places isn't about exclusivity. Hunting, fishing, riding, walking, skiing, bicycling and traditional activities like trapping are clearly compatible activities. Even cattle grazing as a substitute to the bison that once roamed our three types of prairie grasslands is an acceptable activity.
Of course, we also need developed parks and we are fortunate to have so many of them. At a small lakeside cottage, four generations of my family have swum, boated and hunted for the small frogs that capture the dreams of children and storks. I remember with fondness warm winds whispering us into a barbecue-sated sleep. To argue that we should save some small part of our country as true wilderness is not to demean the pleasures we humans derive from our domesticated parks. But if we fail to also provide wild places, our children's children will experience a world of limited opportunity. Wilderness isn't the kind of thing that hangs around for the next generation--it's on the run.
I think about our attachment to wilderness as a people and about the settlement of Canada, first by the aboriginal people who wandered across the Bering land bridge and next by the displaced peoples of Europe who arrived by boat. Their character was forged by a wilderness that is almost gone. But that special Canadian Character is not. For, is it not our cold winters, our lush summers, and especially the vast landscapes that define us as a people? Every year, millions of us visit our national and provincial parks. Doesnt this tell us that we inheritors carry the need for the experience of wilderness? Unfortunately, we don't perceive a problem because we still envision Canada as mostly wilderness. What a shame if, ensnared by this illusion, we let our few remaining wild lands fall under the relentless plough of development.
On one special day in my life, as a 50-year old man, I walked for what seemed endless hours in a sky filled with light along the top of the Starlight Range in Willmore Wilderness Park. I recall with gratitude that my walk was made possible through the foresight and value placed on wilderness 50 years ago by a politician, then Alberta Minister of Lands and Forests Norman Willmore. It was Normal Willmore in whose honor that park was named. We need Norman Willmore's vision more than ever now to secure protection for Canada's special places.
Many years ago a small group of Canadians, with great foresight secured a commitment by the Federal government to establish Banff as Canada's first great National Park. Clearly no one would argue that this was a mistake, that by doing so we prevented industrial development or that we somehow impoverished ourselves as a nation.
Now it is our generation's turn to serve a stewards. We need to create new parks to represent the diversity of Canada's landscapes and to protect those species that are absolutely dependent on particular landscape regimes. We have done much to protect mountains. We have done little to protect the many other regimes that also serve as wildlife habitat and that also bring pleasure to visitors. For our own integrity, it is important that we ensure that future generations have the opportunity to experience a native grassland, an untrammeled alpine meadow or an aspen parkland in its natural state. If would be unforgivable if our own inaction and our government's lack of vision caused us to bypass this responsibility.
I hope that all those who enjoy visiting our present parks will join me in respectfully but forcefully asking our politicians to complete our parks system and to provide the necessary legislated protection from industrial development.
Willmore Wilderness Park, Rocky Mountains, Alberta, Canada. This webpage is about the relatively untouched and unknown Willmore Wilderness Provincial Park, located just north of Jasper National Park in the Rocky Mountains bordering the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. It contains information and maps about hiking and horse back riding and outfitters in Willmore Wilderness Park. The webpage is done by Ray Rasmussen who has been hiking in Willmore Wilderness Park for more than 20 years.
Willmore Wilderness Park, Alberta, Canada. This webpage is about the relatively untouched and unknown Willmore Wilderness Provincial Park, located just north of Jasper National Park in the Rocky Mountains bordering the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. It contains information and maps about hiking and horse back riding and outfitters in Willmore Wilderness Park. The webpage is done by Ray Rasmussen who has been hiking in Willmore Wilderness Park for more than 20 years.