Letter: What are the benefits of wilderness | SteamboatToday.com

Letter: What are the benefits of wilderness

There are usually two dramatically opposing views about wilderness. Those who love it, enjoy the peace and solitude. Others think it takes their freedom away and regulates what they can do.

In reality, wilderness is not a two dimensional issue of conflict. The proposed America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, protecting public land in Utah, meets the needs of both sides of the conflict and benefits both the lovers and detesters of wilderness.

In the United States, only 12% of land is currently protected. America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act accounts for 1.5% of the remaining land that needs to be conserved to reach the goal of protecting 30% of public land in the United States by 2030.

What does wilderness offer to both sides of the wilderness conservation debate?

1. America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act helps to connect and conserve five key wildlife corridors in the continental Western U.S. that facilitate wildlife movement from Mexico to the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic appreciated by hunters and hikers.

2. In order to avoid severe and irreversible impacts of global temperatures rise of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, we need to live within a carbon budget. Keeping coal, oil and natural gas, oil shale, coal bed methane and tar sands in the ground under the Wilderness Act would contribute significantly to achieving this goal.

3. Scientists have estimated that the lands contained in the Wilderness Act currently sequester and store 247 million metric tons of organic carbon in plants and soils.

4. Below the desert biocrusts, there are crystals of calcium carbonate underground that may be double or triple the amount of stored carbon above the ground. America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would protect millions of acres from industrial soil disturbances and safely store carbon.

5. Biocrust soils are living organisms — composed of cyanobacteria, algae, lichens, and mosses — that play a critical role in mitigating climate change impacts. Biocrusts take decades to mature. Without America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act they would be quickly destroyed by surface disturbing activities like vegetation removal projects, mining, oil and gas drilling, off-road vehicles and unsustainable grazing.

6. When disturbed windblown biocrust soils land on snow they cause the snow to melt faster and earlier than it normally would. This early runoff has cut annual river flows by more than 5% and could reduce runoff into the Colorado River by 7% to 20%.

Although we may not live in Utah, many of us often recreate in the Utah wilderness. Contact Rep. Lauren Boebert at 202-225-4761 and Sens. Michael Bennet at 202-224-5852 and John Hickenlooper at 202-224-5941 to ask them to support America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and protect our public lands.

John Spezia

Steamboat Springs

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.