Vermonters Push for More Wilderness

Thanks to my friend Sal for his continuing gleanings of important stories from websites around the nation, and click on his link below: “Ted, got this from a forum in Maine whose participants (with a couple notable exceptions) ardently believe that the environmental movement is a plot by the “antis” to kick them out of the woods. The loud, ugly minority of Vermont sportsmen which you have consistently written about and which are organized under the “Traditions Coalition” and “Hunters, Anglers, and Trappers of Vermont” have long pretended that wilderness is undemocratic and anathema to hunters and fishers and the public at large. Now Vermont’s elected officials -- representing their constituents and heeding their expressed wishes -- are pushing for more wilderness, desperately needed in the East. God bless ‘em.” ---- And here are my thoughts: The best fishing and hunting in the nation is in wilderness. To get to it one has to park one’s motorized vehicle, get off one’s butt, and hoof it. That’s precisely why wilderness hunting and fishing is so good. I get sick to my stomach when motorheads trot out the old saw that wilderness is “elitist” and unfair to the infirm. The most eloquent advocates of wilderness I know are disabled. For example, I raise money for a terrific group called Wilderness Inquiry that takes disabled people into wilderness. Janet Peterson of St. Paul, who has had cerebral palsy since birth, had a dream of canoeing into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. She had always assumed this was impossible, but then she heard of Wilderness Inquiry. Wilderness Inquiry takes thousands of people a year into wild backcountry; about half have disabilities, many severe. People pay if they can, but at least 50 percent of the operation is financed by donations from foundations, corporations and individuals. Director Greg Lais reports that for every disabled person the Wise-Use crowd trots out who says, "I can't get access to wilderness," he can produce 25 who say, "that's baloney." Janet Peterson is one of these. She has so much difficulty speaking that I couldn't interview her. Instead, I asked her to write down the answers to my questions about her trips with Wilderness Inquiry and e-mail them to me. Would she like to have Congress arrange for her to be motored into places like the Boundary Waters, I'd asked? Here's what I found on my computer screen: "I would rather stay home than think I would be contributing to the eventual loss of the wilderness…I believe in the old adage that we are only visitors to the wilderness and we should adapt to it, rather than the wilderness adapting to us." Linda Phillips of Minneapolis, deaf and paralyzed from the neck down, also realized her dream of meeting the Boundary Waters wilderness on its own terms. She was one of the most disabled people Wilderness Inquiry has ever served. So fragile was she that Lais worried that she wouldn't survive the tip test in which the canoe is purposely flipped. "She caught wind of our discussion and freaked out," recalls Lais. "She told us we were way out of line, that we had no right to take those decisions away from her. So we flipped her out of the canoe, and she did great. She was so disabled she couldn't even lift her coffee cup to her lips. At the end of the trip, sitting around the campfire at night, she spoke -- in a high falsetto voice because of her hearing loss. She said, 'This trip is the most meaningful event of my life.'" A few years later, when Linda died, Wilderness Inquiry named an award after her. Sigurd Olson -- the father and bard of Minnesota wilderness -- was disabled, too, with Parkinson's disease. He had been suffering from the ailment in 1977 when, at age 78, he faced down the loud, angry crowd to testify for his beloved Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Five years later he wrote these words: "A new adventure is coming up, and I'm sure it will be a good one." Then he rose from his typewriter, lashed on his snowshoes, went out into the woods, and died. I think Olson saw the "new adventure" as unfolding not just in the Boundary Waters, but in schools and town halls and court rooms across America, on the pages of newspapers and magazines, in the halls of Congress, wherever wilderness compromisers haul out the fiction that easier access means more democracy. And, after all the shouting -- when we start counting voices again instead of decibels -- that adventure just might turn out to be a good one. Good luck Vermonters!