Document 50: Charles Ehlert Supports the Creation of North Cascades National Park and
Other Wilderness Areas, 1966

Statement of Charles Ehlert in U.S. Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, North Cascades—Olympic National Park: Hearings, Eighty-Ninth Congress, Second Session, on the Study Team Report of the Recreational Opportunities in the State of Washington,
February 11 and 12, 1966,
p. 155-58.

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My name is Charles Ehlert. I am speaking only for myself here today. . . . I came to Washington from Illinois in 1963 in large part because the Olympic and North Cascades Wilderness is here. I expect to teach my children to enjoy and respect these extraordinary places.

I have no economic interest in the outcome of this controversy and I am not even greatly concerned about its effect on myself and my children. I expect that we will always be able to find some scrap of wilderness and solitude no matter how thoroughly managed and developed this land may be in the next few years.

I am more concerned about the millions of people years and years from now in a far more crowded and mechanized and regimented world who will need space and solitude and occasional hours of freedom and who cannot appear today and express their opinions—who have no choice or participation in our decisions. They, as well as we, are the fortunate owners of this land.

Over the past generation . . . wilderness in the contiguous United States has diminished at a rate of about 1 million acres per year as the result of highways, logging, mining, recreation development, real estate development, hydraulic and hydroelectric development, and other civilized activities. Only a little is left of the original 2 billion acres of wilderness in these 48 States. What there is now is all there ever will be. We are destroying the work of 10,000 or 20,000 years of geological and ecological history in minutes. No government agency can grow a rain forest or make birds sing.

Many people say wilderness is undemocratic because it locks up land for a minority. That is a superficial view. It is perfectly democratic to protect legitimate interests of the people from abridgment by majorities. And the people that we must consider include future generations of Americans. Surely our interest, and theirs, in having a little land in its natural condition, free and safe from the noise and marks of our civilization, is a legitimate one.

It seems to me that it is undemocratic for those groups interested in economic exploitation and massive mechanized recreation development to insist that all the land of all the people must be devoted to those uses, to insist that its worth must be measured by their own values and to insist that all the land be integrated into the materialistic motor vehicle culture of our time.

Not everyone accepts this as a universal measure of value. To many people solitude is as important as speed and the appearance of a tree is more important than any amount of dollars, and wastepaper, and plywood that can be got out of it. Many people value the biological, ecological, and geological aspects of an ancient river valley more than its hydroelectric aspects.

All the land cannot be kept as wilderness. Too many people have too many good uses for it. But they have the vast majority of it now. They have Hetch Hetchy and Glen Canyon [Hetch Hetchy is a valley in Yosemite National Park, and Glen Canyon is located near Grand Canyon National Park; both areas were flooded by the construction of dams] and they are asking for a few thousand acres of Olympic National Park and there is no end to what they will demand compromises over, down to the last wild acre and the last tree.

Someday an irrevocable line will have to be drawn or the last virgin tree will be converted to pulp and dollars. I believe that the time is long overdue. It is up to us now to draw the line, investing it with every mark of permanence that we can.

In the last analysis, civilization must mean something more than goods. It must have to do with the wise and proper use of goods, with regard to a wide range of human needs. It is inevitable that the desire for peace and quiet and solitude and wide open land will become a major human need. This remaining wilderness that we have is a part of our national wealth and treasure. We can squander it now on what we conceive to be our economic and social needs. They will not be the same in a generation. To ignore the inevitably greater need for wilderness in favor of short-term economic advantages seems uncivilized and barbaric to me. The greatness of our society will be measured by more than its gross national product and its acres of asphalt and concrete.

The particular and unique values of wilderness cannot be measured in the quantitative way that its parts and segments are measured in the commodity markets. There are, nevertheless, unique private and public values of wilderness that are no less real because they are difficult to quantify.

Private wilderness values are esthetic and spiritual. Poets and artists tell about these things best. Since man first began communicating, he has associated his travels on the face of the earth with journeys of his spirit. Perhaps because his ancestors crawled out of the sea, man's inner journeys and outer journeys seem to beget each other. They are inextricably connected in man's basic nature.

Wilderness is of immeasurable value to the scientific public, the artistic public, and the general public. Its enormous varieties of natural species, many of them rare and fragile, are of immeasurable value to the understanding of biological and ecological processes. Its varieties of form and mood are an infinite source of reflection. Through the accumulated small experiences of many people and the occasional inspired genius of a few, wilderness has exerted a profound and undeniable influence on the shaping of broad social and cultural patterns. Walden Pond had something to do with the idea of civil disobedience and passive resistance, and that idea has had much to do with implementing recent social and political reforms, from here to India. [After living alone on the shores of Walden Pond for two years in the 1840s, Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden, a book that advocated the importance of wilderness and that proposed civil disobedience as a way to seek social change.] Wilderness had something to do with the character and insights of the prophets of all of the major religions of the world.

The wilderness has influenced and enriched the whole long history of man. It is worth keeping. That which remains in the United States is little enough and fragile enough so that every reasonable doubt as to its proper use should be solved in favor of preservation. With reference to the issues before this committee and the areas under consideration:

(1) I am opposed to Mr. Overly's plan and opposed to the deletion of any land and any trees from Olympic National Park. [Fred Overly was superintendent of Olympic National Park, and his plan advocated reducing the size of the park by about 6,000 acres.]

(2) I believe that 2 million acres of the North Cascades study area should be permanently protected as wilderness. That represents only about 32 percent of the entire area under study, about 4.6 percent of the area of the State of Washington, and about 0.1 percent of the area of the contiguous United States. Because this land is primarily a national asset, the latter figure is by far the most significant.

(3) I am opposed to any activity or improvement that is destructive of life and the natural condition of this protected area, and especially logging, mining, dams, roads, tramways, and airports. They will not improve it. Roads particularly will segment and reduce it, and its parts will never add up to its original whole.

(4) I believe that, with safeguards against massive roadbuilding and development, this area will best be protected by the National Park Service. Alternatively, any of the protected area that does not become a national park should be included in the National Wilderness Preservation System under Forest Service administration.

(5) I am in favor of the additions to Mount Rainier National Park recommended by the National Park Service.

(6) I am in favor of the establishment of the Alpine Lakes-Mount Stuart Wilderness Area recommended by the National Park Service.

(7) I am in favor of the establishment of the Okanogan Wilderness Area recommended by the National Park Service. . . .

I appreciate having the opportunity to present these views and thank the committee.

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest