Many wilderness advocates, scientists, and public land managers have long recognized the threat that excessive recreational use poses for wilderness. Howard Zahniser, the 1964 Wilderness Act’s author, warned more than 50 years ago that wilderness can be threatened “from development for recreation.” He emphasized the need for humility and restraint in our dealing with wilderness. The 1978 edition of Wilderness Management, the definitive professional tome on wilderness management, summed it up: “There is a real danger of loving wilderness to death.”
The Wilderness Act itself warned of overuse. It stated “that an increasing population” could destroy all wildlands. Hence the need for the act. The U.S. population is 137 million people more than 1964 and world population has more than doubled with corresponding pressure and impacts from recreational activities.
And we are witnessing the increased recreational demand. Take for example a small, fragile and unique rock formation in the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness. This remote area straddling the Arizona/Utah border is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The agency is now considering allowing 96 people per day to visit — more than a 400-percent increase from previous regulations. Due to the internet and other marketing of this wilderness, including by BLM, that agency now claims the “increase in public demand dramatically underscores the need to consider increasing visitor access” to this part of the wilderness. Really? Nearly a quarter of a million people wanted to visit the area in 2018. Does BLM seriously expect wilderness can be maintained by allowing almost 100 people per day at one small, fragile feature? What ever happened to the management concern of loving wilderness to death?