I am in support of the National Park Service "Preferred Alternative" (Alternative B) for Isle Royale. It is a wilderness area that is worthy of protection and, in this case, protection requires immediate action rather than no action.

One reason for my stand is Veterans need a living wilderness

Let me take you to Viet Nam ...

Every day, on the USS McMorris, we watched the news on teletype. It came in slow — one letter at a time — plunk plunk plunk. You could finish words in your head long before they finished on paper: "carpet bomb", "incursion", "North", "South". And there was one piece of news that came every day — "the body count". We watched it type out — plunk plunk plunk — eyes glued on the numbers. It came with a misguided supposition that it would make us feel better: it was intended to show we were winning, but the numbers were shrouded in rumors and questions. One day the monotony of being at sea was interrupted by the alarm for general quarters. Silence was followed by the shots and explosion, the enemy ship sank, and there were cheers — the cheers of war — for death. Amid all of this there had been draft card burnings, protests and an admonition that "you shouldn’t wear your uniform if you go home on leave".

When it was over, and I returned to Michigan, the first thing I wanted to do was grab my tent and go North. Go North to sit by a campfire taking in the sounds and smells of nature — back home.

As another reminder of what wilderness can mean to veterans, the February, 2017 "VFW Magazine" has a headline — "outdoor challenge provides inner strength". The story is about wilderness adventure helping bring today’s veterans out of the darkness of PTSD. Our veterans need places like Isle Royale National Park! What greater reason could we possibly have to care for wilderness?2

I understand, and agree with, the reasons we prefer to not overly manage wilderness areas, and it is true we must do the "minimum required"3 when action is needed. It is also true that the mission of the National Park Service directs us to " ... conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."4

Around the time Isle Royale became a National Park (authorized in 1931 and approved in 1940), Adolph Murie wrote to the National Park Service against their plan to build trails. He was opposed to the development of trails, but we will see later that he was not opposed to protective action. The following, from his letter, does a good job of talking about wilderness and responsibility. "The National Park status of Isle Royale is primarily determined by its wilderness character. There are, of course, other features of human value and interest on the island, but it is the wilderness character of it that is outstanding. A hundred years ago this quality would not have been given consideration in the setting aside by law of an area for preservation, for at that time most of the west was still wilderness. But today wilderness is becoming so rare that the mechanism of the National Park Service is being employed in an effort to preserve some remnants of it.

Since Isle Royale was given National Park status because of its wilderness, it is, of course, the duty of the National Park Service to preserve this wilderness. This mission and responsibility must always be kept uppermost in our thoughts. It is a difficult assignment, which, to carry out, will require complete faith in its worthiness."5

Isle Royale is worthy and we must be responsible. Wilderness stalwarts of the past were fighting against roads, dams, resorts and other incursions into wild areas, and they were willing to take steps to protect what they had. They fought against development that was aimed at ease of access or profit, but they also willingly took action aimed at protection. There is a distinction between "development" and "protection" — they are not contradictions. Thinking beyond Isle Royale to the whole idea of how to manage wilderness, one thing that does a good job of showing a willingness to take action relates to fire. Our view of fire is different today, but what I am showing is that the people fighting for wilderness were willing to do something (rather than do nothing) to protect wilderness.

From 1930, we have Bob Marshall’s "The Problem of the Wilderness": "The problem of protection dictates the elimination of undeveloped areas of great fire hazard. Furthermore, certain infringements on the concept of an unsullied wilderness will be unavoidable in almost all instance. Trails, telephone lines and lookout cabins will have to be constructed, for without such precaution most forests in the west would be gutted. But even with these improvements the basic primitive quality still exists: dependence on personal effort for survival."6

Through the 1930s and 1940s, Isle Royale was in a very similar situation to what we have today. The moose population was growing and people were having discussions about the need for a predator. The following statements are from people who helped form our ideas of wilderness. They are the ones who fought for what we have today. They knew the island as a wilderness environment and wished to protect it.

Adolph Murie, in a report to the National Park Service in 1934: "To prevent further devastation of vegetation on Isle Royale it would seem highly advisable that control methods be initiated to reduce the moose population to the carrying capacity of the island."

"The reduction of the number of moose should increase the charm of the island, even for those persons interested almost entirely in moose. There is a satisfaction in knowing that a lake before us is not partially depleted of its flora and fauna, but rather that it is full of a variety of life. For the greatest enjoyment of the moose, it is not particularly desirable to have them so plentiful that we involuntarily compare the gatherings of them to a prosperous barnyard."7

Aldo Leopold to Hillory Tolson, Acting Director, National Park Service in 1944: "I am much interested to hear about your proposal to re-introduce the wolf to Isle Royale, and I very heartily approve."

"I agree with Victor Cahalane in that it would be well to get suggestions from Adolph Murie. I know he would favor it…"8

Sigurd Olson in a letter to Aldo Leopold in 1947 (The letter includes a hand scribbled note to send a carbon to Olaus Murie): " ... I was appointed chairman of an Ecological Committee… …back in 1936. … The committee planned on getting under way about the time the war broke out and then everyone became far to busy to think about it."

"We know that timber wolves will keep down the moose and we also know that they will keep the beaver down."

"I would suggest making a planting of several pair of timber wolves and see what happens. And if possible I would certainly like to see some fisher and lynx introduced as well just as an experiment. What is probably needed is a bolstering of the predatory side of the balance with enough variety of types so that in a few years we would have a chance to find out which might work best. For swift results I would suggest a planting of timber wolves."9

Olaus Murie, Director of The Wilderness Society, in a letter to Aldo Leopold in 1947: "I am interested in the copy of Sig Olson’s letter concerning your proposed study of Isle Royale. His remarks appear very sound. I, for one, would like to see wolves put on Isle Royale as an experiment."10

They felt, back then, and I feel, today, that we have an obligation to protect the ecosystem of Isle Royale. If we allow moose to devastate the vegetation, it will be difficult to say we protected it and it will be less desirable as a destination.

I will bring up one more point, because of what I expect will be brought out in opposition to taking wolves to Isle Royale.

Howard Zahniser is well known, and rightfully respected, as the scribe — and much more — behind The Wilderness Act. He trudged through the process for several years and numerous revisions before the bill was passed into law in 1964. One word and one phrase from Zahniser are often pointed to in defense of maintaining a hands-off approach to wilderness management: wilderness should be "untrammeled" and we are to be "guardians, not gardeners". I agree with Zahniser and I also see that this does not define the entirety of his thinking. He had a wisdom that allowed room for what he (or anyone of that time) could not know. He delivered the following words to the Society of American Foresters on March 4, 1957: "Hope in the United States for wilderness in the future depends on our success in developing a policy and program that provide for the preservation of wilderness as such, by our federal government, with a presumption of perpetuity.

I must say "presumption of perpetuity" because our successors are, and must be, free to modify — or even abandon — any or all of our arrangements.

Every arrangement with an objective of permanence, if it is faithful to our human responsibilities, if it is made with an awareness of human realities, must include provisions for change.

There is no freeze that cannot be thawed.

There is no lock without a key, and if the key is not available the lock itself is in danger.

There can be no sound program to establish or to provide for the preservation of something that does not include provision for addition, modification, elimination.

The best we can do is to perpetuate the opportunity for perpetuity."11

These words from Zahniser are to be taken with a great deal of caution, but they are not to be forgotten or ignored. Our wilderness forefathers could not have predicted, or prepared for, each of the challenges facing wilderness today. Any hope of perpetuity is in our hands and it is our responsibility to:

  • protect the ecosystem
  • that protects the wilderness
  • that our military personnel need when they come home from war

Please stick with your plan to take wolves to Isle Royale.

References

  1. Draft Environmental Impact Statement to Address the Presence of Wolves - https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=140&projectID=59316&documentID=76680
  2. “VFW Magazine” February 2017, “The No Barriers Life” by Kelly Gibson. Digital version available - http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/publication/?i=377967&p=14
  3. “Minimum Requirements References in National Park Service Policy” - https://www.nps.gov/lake/learn/nature/upload/NPS-Wilderness-MRA-Policy.pdf
  4. The Organic Act of 1916” formed the National Park Service - https://www.nps.gov/grba/learn/management/organic-act-of-1916.htm
  5. NPS, Isle Royale NP, IRNP Resource Management Records, Box 10, Folder 19 "Preservation of Wilderness on Isle Royale" by Adolph Murie, ca. 1930.
  6. Bob Marshall — “The Problem of the Wilderness” by Bob Marshall, Scientific Monthly, February 1930, Pp. 141-148. Digital version available - http://www.wilderness.net/toolboxes/documents/awareness/Bob%20Marshall%20writing%20-%20The%20Problem%20of%20the%20Wilderness.doc (Bob Marshall was one of the founders of the Wilderness Society and fought tirelessly for the preservation of wilderness.)
  7. Adolph Murie — University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology, Miscellaneous Publications No. 25, “The Moose of Isle Royale” by Adolph Murie, University of Michigan Press, July 7, 1934. Available online - https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/56270/MP025.pdf;jsessionid=8C3F87451C85D4272855BB85A7B75103?sequence=1 (Adolph Murie was a wildlife biologist known for his stand that wolves were an important part of a balanced ecological system.)
  8. Aldo Leopold — a letter from Aldo Leopold to Hillory Tolson, Acting Director of the National Park Service, Page 30 of file aldoleopold.alwildecolmn.i0012.pdf from the Aldo Leopold Archive. Aldo Leopold was one of the founding members of the Wilderness Society and played a key role in the preservation of America’s first wilderness area in 1924 (The Gila).
  9. Sigurd Olson — a letter from Sigurd Olson to Aldo Leopold dated May 9, 1947. Pages 30-31 of file aldoleopold.alwildecolfl.i0013.pdf from the Aldo Leopold Archive. Sigurd Olson was a prolific writer and supporter of wilderness. His writings give a feeling of wilderness that few other authors achieve.
  10. Olaus Murie — a letter from Olaus Murie to Aldo Leopold dated June 5, 1947, Page 23 of file aldoleopold.alwildecolfl.i0013.pdf from the Aldo Leopold Archive. Olaus Murie fought to save Arctic areas as wilderness and was a Wilderness Society president.
  11. 11. Howard Zahniser — “The Wilderness Writings of Howard Zahniser” edited by Mark Harvey, University of Washington Press, 2014, page 149. Howard Zahniser joined the Wilderness Society in 1945 and became the primary lobbying force behind the passage of the Wilderness Act which was signed into law shortly after he died in 1964.

The digital Aldo Leopold Archive is at: http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=wiarchives;view=reslist;subview=standard;didno=uw-lib-leopoldpapers;focusrgn=C01;cc=wiarchives;byte=17501850

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