For the vast majority of human existence, we roamed the planet on foot the way we were designed. In the blink of an eye, the human experience of our native habitat has changed. We have lost connection with the healing, hallowed grounds that were our lifeblood. Our humanness was shaped by wandering freely through natural landscapes that took eons to build the thriving habitat and biodiversity that supported life. What little native land remains is on the chopping block. In the time it took to read this paragraph, we have lost more than 10 football fields of forested land.
Since 2001, the Roadless Rule has prohibited logging and roadbuilding in remote roadless areas on 58.5 million acres of national forests in 39 states, including vital wildlife habitat in undeveloped swaths of the Tongass National Forest, our largest remaining temperate rainforest. In a March 2019 poll by Pew Charitable Trusts, 75% of the public supported keeping the Roadless Rule.
By the end of the Trump administration, 9 million acres of roadless areas in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest had their protections eliminated. This administrative action was finalized despite overwhelming support for retaining roadless protection from the millions who commented on the proposal. Thankfully, after reviewing the roadless repeal in Alaska, President Biden has directed the Forest Service to reinstate the 9.2 million acres of old-growth temperate rainforest protections under the 2001 National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act.
Roads degrade the natural habitat we require as humans and share with many other species. One person’s prosperity should not be another’s poverty. We need to balance our use of public resources. Places have value beyond commerce. We must realize that the value of unadulterated/undeveloped lands can exceed the value of the material goods extracted from them, perhaps for the possibilities of medicines yet discovered, perhaps for the biodiversity that will be a key to our survival, or perhaps we will see the intrinsic value of these places absent human greed.
What is more critical or valuable to our species: short-term commodification of our natural resources or long-term health of our ecosystem and home? The question is rhetorical. We are losing species and the habitat they call home at an alarming rate. These last invaluable roadless places must be preserved simply for preservation’s sake.
Roadless areas are where the magic happens. I have hunted and fished my whole life all over the Northwest and, given the opportunity, I seek out the scarce roadless areas. It is in these areas I feel most alive, most human, most free. These areas are the last remaining bridge to our past – to our very roots. Once converted, they are gone for the rest of our lives and several generations to come. What kind of world do we want to leave to our kids? What kind of world do we want for ourselves? Good stewardship is within us and in our best interest.
We are surrounded by compromised ecosystems. It seems clear for the health and well-being of our species and that of others we must protect what little remains of roadless, wild land. Preservation of nature is simply preservation of ourselves. Our saving grace may very well be the realization that we are nature, that we are a part of – not apart from – the natural ecosystem that supports us.
Bruce McGlenn runs the Human Nature Hunting School in Kettle Falls, Washington, to help people awaken their innate senses and strengthen their connection to nature through the art and mindfulness of hunting.