The Ernie Dickerman Wilderness proposal (Figure) has a number of favorable attributes not possessed by other wilderness proposals in the eastern US.
At 65,000 acres (26,000 ha), it is big, and occupies one of the few national forest tracts in the eastern US where such a large wilderness could be designated. It thus at once satisfies a fundamental ecological principle of island biogeography and honors in the most appropriate way possible one of our leading wilderness luminaries.
At this stage of our knowledge it should not be necessary to defend the idea of unfragmented habitat and its premier manifestation – big wilderness. Much of the scientific justification for big wilderness has been in the literature of island biogeography for years, as summarized, particularly by Harris (1984) . It has been detailed and popularized in the early Earth First! journal, Wild Earth, Conservation Biology and numerous other publications. According to this theory, which has been substantiated by numerous field investigations, biodiversity is a direct function of the size of unfragmented habitat. Although most large wilderness is now confined to the West, should we not strive, here in the East, for as much as possible as well? Should not every large tract of low road density public land in the Mid-Atlantic States – numbering as few as the fingers of one hand – be cherished, protected, and as soon as possible, be given legal wilderness status?
Other favorable attributes of the Ernie Dickerman proposal, including some that are unique, are as follows:
It has defensible boundaries. They do not impinge on state roads or intensive recreation areas, except for a single tiny and remote national forest "picnic site." These boundaries exclude all private lands and enclose an area as equidimensional as is possible in this region of linear mountain ranges, thus maximizing the solitude per unit area, which is both an ecological and recreational asset. Unlike the indefensible wilderness study areas (Little River and Ramsey's Draft Addition) that fall within it, the area of this proposal incorporates the ridge lines that dominate the entire region. Without wilderness status, roads along these ridge lines would seriously compromise the solitude of the wilderness study areas, which are confined to slopes.
The wilderness proposed here does require closing segments of several Forest roads, in particular the segment of FR85, which runs along the highest ridge line, dead-ends and today mars the wilderness quality of the region. Similarly, the upper part of FR95, which intrudes along the North River's rich flood plain, would be eliminated. The Bald Mountain Road, which exists merely to service a few ecologically- destructive "wildlife openings" of the State Department and Game and Inland Fisheries, and which consists only of muddy ruts along another ridge line, should have been closed long ago. In any case, closing these roads would set no precedent, since this has been done to create a number Eastern wilderness areas. In one case, that of the Great Swamp Wilderness of New Jersey, a township road was closed (Scott,2001), in a far more draconian measure than is required here. Closing roads for this wilderness could even serve a broader purpose, namely the general principle and benefits of road closings, the many monetary savings, the protection of our rarest forest interior species, a meaningful way to counter global warming and the national need to undo the decades of ill-advised road construction on our public lands. It could serve as a classic illustration in the East!
Not since pre-settlement days would an area exist that provides such habitat integrity and remoteness, characteristics required by sensitive species like Black Bear, Eastern Cougar, Fisher and large raptors, including the Golden Eagle. It would also be a bastion against that bane of modern society, light pollution. Many birds, insects and other organisms are adversely affected by human produced light. An example is the plight of large moths, which we, in our Forests of the Central Appalachians Project, have found to be increasingly rare in settled and even mountain areas. Thus the Great Silk Moths, such as the Luna (Actias luna), were observed to be fatally attracted to campground washroom lights. In an ecological ripple effect, these large moths play an important role in the breeding success of the Whip – Poor – Will (Caprimulgus vociferus), a bird now also difficult to find in the Appalachians. Indeed, Shenandoah Mountain is one of the few places where this correspondent has heard this bird in recent years.
Bolstering the general advantage of habitat size, Shenandoah Mountain is also graced by a number of rare disjunct and endemic species. It has one of the few occurrences of Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) this far south, while another disjunct is the Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) . Although this bird has been observed in boreal habitat in West Virginia's Alleghenies, breeding populations are known only on Shenandoah Mountain and a few high peaks to the south. Endemics include the Cowknob Salamander (Plethodon punctatus), a millipede (Nannaria shenandoah) and likely others. Other species uncommon in Virginia are Red Raspberry (Rubus strigosus), Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides) and Least Trillium (Trillium pusillum var monticulum) . Shenandoah Mountain also appears to be choice habitat for the Eastern Woodrat ( Neotoma floridana), a species that has been declining throughout the East. The reader may want to consult our Forests of the Central Appalachians Project which contains an increasing number of biological and geological inventories of the Proposal area.
A wilderness of this size could also serve important scientific functions in baseline studies of the eastern US environment with respect to the effects of climate changes such as may be brought about by global warming, the effects of pollutants on forest growth and biodiversity and normal plant succession and stability. Supplementing research natural areas such as those that already exist in the Ramsey's Draft Wilderness, additional ones could be established in the more diverse and remote habitats made available by this proposal. Although many opportunities for baseline studies exist in the West, the East, despite its greater population centers and associated needs, has far fewer suitable areas, in further powerful justification for this proposal. Thus the Ernie Dickerman Wilderness is one of the most rigorously based scientific proposals conceivable.
The foregoing does not exhaust the attractions of this wilderness. There are rapidly accumulating threats to water quality in the adjacent limestone – based Shenandoah Valley from modern agricultural practices and urbanization, and these threats are telegraphed downstream to population centers, including our nation's capital. Streams in the wilderness would be protected from vehicle and other pollution that now degrades the watershed as a consequence of existing roads and unregulated camping. Eliminating these roads would counter some of the downstream pollution and enhance overall water quality.
So far little has been said of the recreational resource represented by this wilderness proposal and of its importance to the overpopulated and urban-stressed East. In 1991 designated wilderness in the George Washington National Forest constituted only 3%, whereas in national forests as a whole it was 17% (Mueller, 1991) . Similar low values also prevailed in the Monongahela National Forest and West Virginia. Also, according to Johnson (2001), less than 2% of Pennsylvania's Allegheny National Forest is designated wilderness. Recently these values have been increased slightly in Virginia by the addition of two small wilderness areas totaling 11,300 acres, including one first proposed by Virginians for Wilderness (Mueller, 1991) . Thus it is clear that, relative to population, there is an enormous wilderness recreational deficit in the Mid-Atlantic Region. It is obvious that the deficit of big wilderness, wilderness that best conveys the educational, uplifting and inspiring experience we seek from the land, is even greater. Of the Mid-Atlantic national forests, possibilities for wilderness of this size exist only in the Monongahela and George Washington. Nothing highlights the significance of the Ernie Dickerman proposal more than these dismal statistics. The people of the Mid-Atlantic Region, and most particularly, the city youth, who may not be able to travel far, and who spend most of their time in crowded urban areas, deserve this wilderness. They deserve it, not only as an educational and recreational resource, and as a relief from the stresses of their world, but also as a cleansing landscape for the water and air they depend upon each day.
In 1986 Ron Tipton of the Wilderness Society said (Washington Post, 11-30-86) of this proposal (then named the "Shenandoah Wilderness") : "This is something that's legitimate, that's worthwhile to support." We believe that now, more than ever, the Society has a reason to support this wilderness, as it honors one of its own. We need to remind The Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, other environmental groups and our US Congresspersons and Senators that it's high time to do something in Ernie's memory, and decrease the big wilderness deficit in the East. Please join this fight for big Eastern Wilderness!
F. Mueller PhD
Virginians for Wilderness
Proposed Ernie Dickerman Wilderness (enclosed by heavy line) . Location is 20 miles northwest of Staunton, Va. along US 250. Green is National Forest land. Click to enlarge. Figure is based on National Forest Recreation Map.
Harris, Larry D., 1984,The Fragmented Forest, Island Biogeography Theory and the Preservation of Biotic Diversity. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Johnson, Kirk, 2001, Howard Zahniser's Legacy. West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Spring Review 2001, 20-21.
Mueller, R. F.,1991, The George Washington National Forest, Central Appalachian Wilderness in Perspective.Wild Earth 1 (3) 62-67.
Scott, Douglas W.,2001, Congress's Practical Criteria for Designating Wilderness, Wild Earth, 11 (1) 28-32.
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