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Thoughts on Wilderness, Democracy, Freedom, and Patriotism

By Bart Koehler

Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the nation. - President Theodore Roosevelt

When we strive to pass wilderness legislation, what we are really engaged in is democracy at work. We are taking the law into our own hands, working our political system, and helping shape a better future for our public lands by using the Wilderness Act.

Bob Marshall called for vigilant American citizens to “fight for the freedom of the Wilderness.” Battling for the freedom of the wilderness in the halls of Congress is one of the purest forms of democracy that there is. To defend wilderness, we express our freedom of speech at public meetings, while commenting on seemingly endless environmental impact statements, by writing administrative appeals and going to court, and by traveling freely across our great Nation to meet with our elected officials and to testify before Congress.

Every American owns our public lands. Owning our public lands is one of our greatest liberties and most deeply held freedoms, rooted in a strong sense of place. Woody Guthrie was right when he sang about “This land is your land, this land is my land.” It is our responsibility to safeguard this liberty and freedom every day.

The word “patriot” means one who loves his or her country, and who guards it from harm. We are all patriots for our country's wildlands. As patriots, we work within our democracy and our “government by the people” to defend and protect our wildlands against all odds.

When it comes right down to it — after all the strategies, tactics, proposals, campaign plans, and other ideas have been discussed — the future of our American wilderness depends on each one of us. Every acre of wilderness protected so far has depended on the stalwart actions of big-hearted, strong-spirited people. People like you — grassroots and bedrock citizens — have made all the difference and you will continue to do so in the challenging times ahead. Rachel Carson said it this way, “Protecting our planet is our finest form of patriotism.”

We can help change the face our American landscape. Working together we will make a big difference as we fight for the freedom of our great American wilderness. We can help protect more acres of wilderness by forging ahead with commitment, responsibility, perseverance, and — as true patriots — with an abiding love for our wild country.

Bart currently serves as the Director of The Wilderness Society’s Wilderness Support Center in Durango, Colorado.

-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement