How Wild Wilderness Works

Hikers in the moutains.
Hikers in the moutains.
Daniel Bosler/Stone/Getty Images

­You head to a nature preserve for some peaceful solitude. Suddenly, a couple of ATVs come roaring over the horizon. You were planning to camp at a quiet spot you'd found a decade ago, but apparently, it's been paved over. Now there are recreational vehicles all over the place. What happened? Commercialization.

These are the scenes that Wild Wilderness exists to combat. For nearly two decades, this organization has been fighting against the commercializing of natural wilderness. In an effort to support sagging budgets, some federal lands are at risk of being privately developed. Thousands of acres (more than 400 hectares) of public lands are being offered at auction [source: Wild Wilderness].


In our nation's history, public wilderness has been managed in order to extract commodities such as oil or timber. More recently, recreational opportunities themselves have become an important commodity to generate revenue. "Comm­ercialization, privatization and motorization" is the new goal, through a revised Recreation Access Tax that became law in 2004 [source: Wild Wilderness]. This law replaced the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program that had already angered many wilderness lovers.

­Wild Wilderness tries to keep nature's lands natural. Though growth is good, it has to be managed and not come at a significant cost. Wild Wilderness followers, for example, would be disappointed to know that your quiet camping spot is now a paved ATV spot. They find it upsetting that nature is disappearing in order to close some federal budget gaps. They also oppose the practice of placing fees on many outdoor recreation activities -- to them, you shouldn't have to pay to enjoy the outdoors.

How did this group of dedicated wilderness pr­otectors begin? Find out in the next section.


History of Wild Wilderness

Wild Wilderness began in 1991, when residents of Bend, Oregon, began attending local forest service meetings. Three years later, they were appalled when plans emerged for a motorized SnoPark in a local winter recreation area. They ar­gued that permitting motor vehicles would endanger local snowshoe walkers and skiers. The organization drew attention to the issue, which resulted in the plan's failure. Some of the trails have since been closed to snowmobiles through the group's efforts [source: Wild Wilderness].

In 1997, Wild Wilderness members discovered that plans had been made to allow for the development of some public lands through the American Recreation Coalition (ARC). At that time, the group expanded its reach beyond local levels, creating a Web site to inform the public of plans to privatize the nation's national parks [source: Wild Wilderness].


Wild Wilderness executive director Scott Silver mounted a campaign to bring about awareness of, and repeal, the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program, known as Fee-Demo, which began in 1996. This provision, inserted into the Interior Appropriation Bill, authorized four agencies -- the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- to charge fees for recreational activities on public land. Fee-Demo was accomplished despite the objections of more than 300 conservation and recreation groups [source: Silver].

The roots of Fee-Demo began in 1962, when the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC) noted that tourism and recreation on American public lands was an item of economic interest. That report led to legislation such as the 1965 Land and Water Conservation Act, which included a provision for charging fees. By doing so, the federal government hoped to be able to cut support for land management [source: Silver].

If you'd like to find out what keeps Wild Wilderness motivated, move on to the next section to learn about the group's mission.


Mission of Wild Wilderness

This grassroots organization has three major purposes: to advocate, educate and c­ommunicate [source: Wild Wilderness]. The group defines "wilderness values" as solitude, naturalness, inspiration and challenge, and seeks to protect and enhance those virtues. The people whose interests in these values are being protected include mountaineers, bird-watchers, stream anglers, hikers and backcountry skiers. The organization emphasizes non-motorized recreation and opposes the development of wild areas [source: Wild Wilderness].

­To further its goal of educating and communicating, the organization maintains a Web site, developed in 1997, when the group moved from a local to a national agenda. On that site, a collection of factual articles and data sheets has been posted to provide objective material for those who are interested in this issue. The goal of the group's Web site is that recreation associations and environmental organizations, as well as journalists, will make use of it as a guide. The Web site also draws readers' attention to pending legislation and the work of lobbyists representing interests that would develop wilderness areas. It encourages activism among citizens to combat the commercializing of our nation's natural heritage [source: Wild Wilderness].


The group opposes "pay-to-play" fees in wilderness areas and urges civil disobedience in regard to paying fees. They recommend that their "No trail fee$" stickers, which are offered free of charge on the Web site, be displayed in car windshields in place of official stickers [source: Wild Wilderness].

If you're thinking about supporting this group, check out the next section.


Joining Wild Wilderness

Unlike many similar groups, Wild Wilderness does not have an official membersh­ip with dues and annual enrollment. It is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit group. It uses volunteers as staff and relies on private donations. The group requests and welcomes donations, and its Web site is equipped with PayPal to facilitate donors [source: Wild Wilderness].

­Wild Wilderness is not focused on collecting money, however. Instead, the group prefers to encourage activism in local communities as well as at the national level. It supports letter-writing campaigns to newspaper editors or to members of Congress. The organization also favors signing and circulating petitions and keeping informed about wilderness-related issues that affect all citizens. To aid in disseminating that information, the Web site has a special blog section. The executive director comments there regularly. The organization also supports rallies that oppose privatizing public lands. It has worked with groups at local, state and regional levels to fight the passage of forest access fees and to prevent new fees from being passed into law. In addition, the group works with lawyers to assist people who are bringing legal challenges to the issues surrounding paying access fees [source: Wild Wilderness].


If you're a lover of wild places left unspoiled, check out this group's Web site for yourself. Read the blogs and comments and find out about pending legislation and legal challenges to laws. See how you can aid in the mission of preserving wild lands so that generations to come can experience the same enjoyment from the wilderness as you have.

Lots More Information

Rel­ated HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Berwyn, Bob. "Senate to Review Public Land Fees." (Accessed 12/9/08)
  • Borowski, John F. "Take the Word 'Public' and Insert 'Corporate' Into the Phrase 'Public Lands.'" (Accessed 12/10/08)
  • Silver, Scott. "The Recreation Fee Demonstration and Beyond." (Accessed 12/10/08)
  • U.S. Forest Service. "About Recreation Fees." (Accessed 12/10/08)
  • Wild Wilderness. "About Us." (Accessed 12/9/08)
  • Wild Wilderness. "The Future of Public Lands Recreation." (Accessed 12/10/08)
  • Wild Wilderness. "Mission Statement." (Accessed 12/10/08)
  • Wild Wilderness. "Recreation Fee Demonstration Program Protest Art." (Accessed 12/10/08)
  • Wild Wilderness. "Support Wild Wilderness." (Accessed 12/11/08)
  • Wild Wilderness. "Welcome to Original/Classic Wild Wilderness Homepage." (Accessed 12/9/08)
  • Wild Wilderness. "Welcome to Wild Wilderness." (Accessed 12/9/08)
  • Wild Wilderness. "What We Do." (Accessed 12/9/08)
  • Wild Wilderness. "Why Does This Web Site Exist?" (Accessed 12/10/08)