An Interview with Joe Hudson

Joe Hudson has been the district ranger for the Moose Creek district in the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness for 12 years. This interview was conducted in the summer of 2010.

Joe Hudson

Bruce Reichert: What does it take to keep a back country air strip operational?
Joe Hudson: It takes a lot of volunteer work and efforts by everybody involved. We're working today with the Idaho Aviation Association, and I've been working with them for the past year and a half now. We determined that we had some insect problems over where the aviators were used to camping. So when we found out that there were a lot of issues with diseased trees, from a risk standpoint we needed to change the way we were doing business there.

So I met with Idaho Aviation Association several times, and we actually did a site visit and decided we would move the camping area from where it used to be to the area behind me that we're working on now. We decided that the two existing primitive outhouses were very old, so we decided we would do away with those and build some new primitive outhouses over in this new camping area.

We had some picnic tables over on the other side that were very big tables and have probably been there 30 or more years, and so we decided that we wanted to focus a little bit more on portable and temporary facilities in regard to the tables, so we're using education efforts to try to encourage pilots to bring their own portable tables into the back country and their fire grills and things like that.

It has been a pretty good partnership effort between the Forest Service and the Idaho Aviation Association. I think we're all pretty much on the same page, and I think this kind of shows that we've got a pretty good crowd here of aviators who are willing to put some sweat equity into the place.

The Moose Creek work crewBR: What does it mean to have planes and pack animals operating together?
JH: This area became a wilderness area with the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. And with that Act there were a lot of negotiations, and part of those negotiations were the existing air strips prior to the passage of the Act; and part of those negotiations and compromise was that the air fields would remain open that were in existence and operating prior to the Wilderness Act, and this was one of them.

So the pilots are part of the wilderness community, as well as the back-packers and the horse and mule folks, the river floaters; they are all basically part of the wilderness community.

BR: Any stories about grandfathering this in?
JH: You've got to realize that it was a 9 year debate before the Wilderness Act was passed, so there was a lot of negotiation back and forth, a lot of lobbying back and forth. I think one of the beautiful things about the Wilderness Act is there were those negotiations, and the fact that it remained wilderness for 46 years is pretty amazing; and I think that part of our job is to manage the area to protect the wilderness values, and that includes air strips, also.

We generally don't have things like outhouses in the wilderness, but this is a concentrated use area. It is like an internal portal or trail head, and so you have air traffic, horse and mule traffic, backpacker traffic. So it is a concentrated use area, and so to protect the resources, we've installed the two primitive outhouses; otherwise you would have a bigger mess.

BR: What does wilderness mean to you?
JH: To me it means making sure that all our actions meet the intent of the Wilderness Act and protects the characteristics and the qualities that the Wilderness Act set these areas aside for.

There are really four main ones, and one is undeveloped character. The second one is opportunities for recreational opportunities, primitive and unconfined recreational opportunities. The third is providing opportunities for solitude; and the fourth is naturalness, or allowing the natural processes at work on the landscape to operate freely within the wilderness.

BR: Do you think young people even know what wilderness is?
JH: I hope so, because otherwise it's the only way it will survive. You've got aviators; you have the people on the river, on the Selway River; you have stock people; you have backpackers. You've got a broad base of support, and I think the only way wilderness will survive is to continue that broad base of support.

That's what really the whole purpose of the wilderness was, to provide an enduring resource of wilderness for future generations. It is a gift when we hand off this wilderness resource to the next generation, and I think they respect it.

The woodend sign at Moose CreekFrom everything I've seen they respect it a lot. In fact, we had the Montana Conservation Corp working out here on trail projects, and these are people 18 to 24 ,and they certainly know what wilderness is, and they certainly respect wilderness, and have an opportunity to experience and learn about it. By the same token, we have a local group, the Selway Bitterroot Foundation, who operates an intern program so these are young people that are brought in – half a dozen or so every year – and they spend an entire year in the wilderness working and working with our wilderness rangers and learning about wilderness. So I think with a lot of those efforts – and those efforts are going on nationwide – we really are making an effort to insure that wilderness does pass down from generation to generation.

BR: So is wilderness perceived in a positive way here at Moose Creek or as a burden?
JH: I think it is perceived in a positive way. I know a lot of people who use the wilderness. They love it for maybe different reasons, but they all love it, and I'm sure there is a commonality throughout that. People like to get away where it is quieter, and it is more solitude. You don't have the masses or you can get away by yourself or with friends and not run into a lot of other people.

As with anything, if you look back 40 or 50 years ago, there were a lot less people, and the more people there are, it seems like the more restrictions that sometimes are necessary. And the more restrictions that are necessary, a lot of times the more it is perceived that things are being taken away.

Everything I experience here at Moose Creek in the wilderness is that it is very well respected. Idaho has some of the most beautiful wilderness in the country. It is some of the original wilderness areas. The Selway Bitterroot is 1.3 million acres. You can wander around for a long time and be pretty secluded.