“What Is Your ‘Why’?”

Stanley Lake and the Sawtooths at 6:10 AM

Stanley Lake and the Sawtooth Mountains at 6:10 AM

WC attended Wild Idaho recently. Among the many excellent speakers was Connie Myers, the founding director of the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center. The Center is an inter-agency training facility for the four federal agencies with a stake in wilderness: the Forestry Service in the Department of Agriculture; the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management in the Department of the Interior, and the Fish & Wildlife Service.

Myers ran the Carhart Center from its inception in 1993 until her recent retirement. Using Arthur Carhart‘s career, she drew three lessons for conservationists. WC won’t steal her whole presentation – you should see her talk yourself if you get the chance. But her third lesson struck a chord with WC, and triggered this blog post. Myers said you should ask yourself, when considering what you do, “What is your ‘why’?”

WC has made an effort to promote conservation and preserve wilderness most of his life. That led to ten years on the board of Alaska Conservation Foundation and recent election to the board of Idaho Conservation League. Perhaps it is late days to be asking himself the question. But nonetheless.

What is your ‘why’?

As with most things for WC, a lot of it involves the influences of what he has read. Aldo Leopold, Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abbey and others too numerous to mention. And, above all, John Muir, whose writings spanned California, WC’s birth state, and Alaska. Those writers made WC reflect on the value of the natural world.

What is your ‘why’?

Mrs. WC taught WC about birds, to love and appreciate birds. It’s hard to overstate the importance that avifauna have in WC’s life. And birds need undisturbed habitat to prosper. Birds have become the most important lens – and as a bird photographer, WC uses that word deliberately – through which WC tries to save the natural world.

What is your ‘why’?

Fly-fishing, which needs fish, which need healthy waters. The Chatanika River, north of Fairbanks, was a superb grayling and whitefish stream. Until placer miners upstream disrupted the channel, coating the bottom with fine-grained silt, completely wrecking the fishery. The Arctic Grayling couldn’t spawn. In two years, the Chatanaika was basically a fish-free stream. When the EPA stepped in and enforced that water quality laws, forcing the placer miners to use settling ponds and strictly limiting sediment discharge, that river gradually recovered, although never back to what it was. The EPA acted because people complained. But remediation worked.

What is your ‘why’?

A very long hike along what was then called the Oregon Skyline Trail, now the Oregon segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail is magnificent, but the sections through wilderness – the Mt. Hood Wilderness, the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, the Mt. Washington Wilderness and the Three Sisters Wilderness, in particular – were wild and largely undisturbed. The sections not protected were clear-cut disaster areas. There could not have been a more graphic demonstration between “protected” and “unprotected.”

What is your ‘why’?

Living in Alaska. The primary difference between conservation in Alaska and conservation in the Lower 48 is the difference between trying to prevent harm and trying to fix harm. Alaska is largely unspoiled, and the effort is to prevent it from being wrecked. Tongass National Forest, Pebble Mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; conservationists are trying to prevent those magnificent natural areas from being damaged by resource extraction. Stateside, most of the effort is fixing what is already damaged: mine tailings and outflows, invasive species like cheatgrass and russian thistle, the terrible consequences of irresponsible water management and protecting the remaining wildlife. Yes, there are still areas to e protected – the Cecil D. Andrus White Cloud Wilderness Area was recently protected – but mostly its managing and mitigation.

What is your ‘why’?

Those aren’t all of the reasons but it is some of them. Thoreau said, “In Wildness is the reservation of the World.” WC believes that to his bones. It’s WC’s “why.”



One thought on ““What Is Your ‘Why’?”

  1. This resonates. I am not as articulate when asking the question “what is your why”, but used that philosophy throughout my systems engineering career (BTW, John Muir was a big influence and one of the early systems engineers 😀) And, I have several grandchildren who have received the message. I hope.

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