Message from Mike Matz - Get Outside and Read!

Your Wilderness - February 2013

I have a tradition at the beginning of every year that probably a lot of you do, too. My resolutions for the coming 12 months run the gamut, of course, but two items in particular always make the list.

The first of these is to visit proposed or designated wilderness at least twice during the year. You might think it a slam-dunk proposition in my line of work, but with school schedules, sports seasons, and other family commitments, it's tougher than you might imagine. I'm certain you can relate. Then, we often get so mired in our work trying to save these places that we don't leave the time to get out and enjoy them, as author Ed Abbey admonished us to do. But I generally manage to accomplish this goal.

Last year, it was a weekend raft trip on Chama River and a four-day hike in Lizard Head wilderness. We also experienced the Rio Grande del Norte, proposed as a national conservation area with a couple of wilderness areas within—and which may end up soon as the country's newest national monument, if President Barack Obama proclaims it as anticipated.

This year, we are eyeing the South San Juan Mountains Wilderness, which sits just north of the New Mexico border in southwestern Colorado, for a family hiking excursion. It would be the first backpacking trip in a wilderness area for our daughter, Celia, 4, though our son, Carson, 10, is an older hand at these treks. The other places are up in the air, but might include some farther afield, including the Clearwater

Watch This American Land:

Basin in northern Idaho, where an intriguing collaborative discussion is occurring among county commissioners, conservationists, and timber interests. The other could be north of Chicago on one of our five Great Lakes, at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where nearly the entire Michigan congressional delegation has sponsored legislation to designate wilderness. Finally, we might visit the Cherokee National Forest in eastern Tennessee.

The second resolution that annually ends up on my list is reading. Again, it's something that is probably considered a no-brainer—who doesn't read throughout the year?—but I find that if I don't have a goal for the number of books I want to finish and the couple of books I really want to get to, it's easy to let it slide because of the distractions we all experience.

If reading is something that also makes your list, let me suggest a few books that have been instrumental in advancing the importance of wilderness and inspirational in providing the drive to defend and protect what remains.

If you haven't read them, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and Abbey's Desert Solitaire are absolute musts. They both combine a deep appreciation for the outdoors and philosophical musings on the need to protect wildness. Meanwhile, if you like American biographies, I heartily recommend The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, by Douglas Brinkley. There are books aplenty on our nation's finest conservation president, but none that really delves the way this one does into why he was such a great chief executive in land and wildlife protection.

Two very engaging books I can suggest are most helpful if you wish to gain a foundational understanding of the historical underpinnings of wilderness protection in this country. One was released last year, The Promise of Wilderness, by James Morton Turner, and the other is The Politics of Wilderness Preservation, by Craig W. Allin. Turner's book mentions several contemporary wilderness heroes in the movement, including Ken Rait and Tim Mahoney of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Professor Allin once served on a wilderness advisory committee the Campaign for America's Wilderness assembled for education and outreach work.

Many other titles could make my list of recommendations, but I find it's better not to be overwhelmed by the cliché ‘so many books, so little time.' I guess the ideal for me is to hike several miles deep into a wilderness in the summertime, set up camp, cook a fine dinner, put the kids in their bags, then sit by a warm, fragrant fire. And read.