Proposed wilderness at Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. What does wilderness mean to you? (Image: FWS)

Wilderness – do you appreciate wilderness for its mountains, free-running rivers, and wild, roadless areas?  Or for its clean water, clean air, wildlife, and the promise of solitude?  I value wilderness for all those reasons, and I hope we can preserve these special areas for our kids and grandkids.  Or as the Wilderness Act says, “to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

As the National Wilderness Coordinator for the Service, I like to visit wilderness whenever I can.  Every summer, my family and I look forward to visiting refuges, parks, and national forests across the country.  Our favorite part is always our arrival in the wilderness.  That’s where we feel the stress of the noise and commotion of people and their machines melt away.  As my son says, wilderness is where he gets to experience the earth as it was meant to be.  You get a different feeling about being outdoors when a grizzly bear could be just down the path, or a condor may fly overhead; when no one will rescue you if you flip your canoe or forget your matches.

That’s why it is so important for the Refuge System to monitor trends in wilderness character, develop Wilderness Stewardship Plans that will preserve wilderness character, and recommend that additional lands be protected as wilderness.   As we work to establish corridors and connectivity between existing refuges, we should choose places that exhibit wilderness character.  Perhaps instead of responding to climate change by actively modifying habitat or transplanting plants and wildlife, the Refuge System should manage some corridors as little as possible to allow wildlife the freedom to determine where conditions are right.

I hope there will always be untamed, undomesticated wild areas where humans are not intentionally managing the water, the animals, the plants – calling all the shots.  Where we can experience places on Earth, as it was meant to be.  What do you think?

Nancy Roeper, National Wilderness Coordinator, National Wildlife Refuge System