I’m on the board of Wilderness Watch and am appalled at the Senate’s legislation recently adding 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness. This pitifully small addition protects only 1 percent of the wilderness-eligible roadless federal land in Montana, as your article in the Missoulian pointed out, and adds less than 2 percent to Montana’s wilderness inventory. Worse still, as part of the deal, two protected wilderness study areas in eastern Montana were released for development. Now, the only question becomes how federal agencies should “manage” this tiny addition and other wilderness in our state. As a retired physician, I hope it will be with humility and restraint.
When I started my premedical training in the 1950s, tonsillectomies were routine for all kids and some doctors were still advertising cigarettes. Still further back, in an 1870s medical text I inherited from my great-grandfather, opium was recommended for babies with colic; malaria was attributed to “bad air”; and some mental illnesses were blamed on overheated rooms and novel-reading. As William James put it, “our science is a drop, our ignorance a sea.” We have never fully understood complicated systems like the human body or wilderness, and never will, so the old medical adage of “first, do no harm” applies to both.
Neither climate change nor the desires of sportsmen are adequate excuses for heavy-handed, meddlesome “management.” Some species in wilderness will suffer, others will thrive in the future. It’s up to nature to work out which, not us. Fortunately, the 1964 Wilderness Act makes it crystal clear that wilderness is the one place left where nature is in charge, and we humans should keep “hands off.” Simply obeying this visionary law is the best way to make sure we do no harm.