Saturday, September 18, 2021

Wilderness abuse

| May 19, 2021 2:55 PM

After 20 seasons guiding wilderness treks and river journeys in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, I have witnessed significant changes in wilderness visitors. As a teenager I hiked from Ovando to Essex, scrambled in the Mission Mountains, and skied from Benchmark to Holland Lake. Years later, adventures through the Bob were family highlights. I have a 45-year perspective on backcountry and the people who venture there. It was common to share the journey with deeply appreciative guests humbled by the 30-mile trek and the river float.

We travelled light and left little trace.  Recently I’ve noted increased human impacts and a decreased respect for wilderness. The scattered human excrement and toilet paper flowers, and excessive fire rings filled with garbage, have altered the experience and place. I have witnessed individuals riding mountain bicycles and others flying drones.  

Expectations of the guided outing have changed. Two years ago, I shared a trip with a group of men outfitted with float and fishing equipment normally witnessed in a non-wilderness setting. They fired rounds of ammunition at late hours and blasted music as other wilderness goers floated past. Some in the group roughly handled trout before releasing them. 

These men exited the wilderness like carnival goers finished with the entertainment.   Last spring’s news that a couple had actually helicoptered into the Bob on a fishing outing and simply had to pay a minimal fee speaks to a lack of wilderness trespass accountability. 

This past winter I skied into a rugged patch of the Mission Mountains, seeking to reconnect with my favorite local wilderness. What I discovered were snowmachine tracks criss-crossing that majestic landscape. Other skiers have recently witnessed similar trespass. To all who truly value Northwest Montana, can we renew our efforts to safeguard the wilderness treasures that help make it such a remarkable place?

Joe Biby