Forest Service made a common-sense decision

Bethine Church and Peter Morrill
June 18, 2010
Idaho Statesman

Deep within the language of the Wilderness Act of 1964 are these words: "Wilderness areas shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation and historical use."

It's difficult not to think about that word "educational" as we have watched with some amazement - and some amusement - the discussion about whether the U.S. Forest Service made the correct decision when it recently reversed course and granted a request from Idaho Public Television to film a segment for its acclaimed "Outdoor Idaho" program within the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area.

Obviously, the folks at IPTV are thankful that the Forest Service made the right call and for the right reason. We are also confident that former Idaho Sen. Frank Church, who was there at the creation of the Wilderness Act and handled the bill on the Senate floor, would have heartily agreed. The Forest Service made the correct call.

Frank also would have said the language of the act, which remains one of his great legacies, holds room for common-sense application. What better vehicle to tell the story of the importance of places like "the Frank" than public television, whose entire mission is devoted to enlightenment and, as the act says, education? Some have seized on the prohibition of "commercial" activity in wilderness areas as a justification for keeping the light footprint of IPTV out, but that misses an essential point. Public television is noncommercial. In fact, IPTV is a state entity, a part of the State Board of Education and licensed by the FCC as a noncommercial station.

The thousands of Idahoans who happily write an annual check to support IPTV programming know that its noncommercial nature is fundamental to its appeal. We rarely see a program like "Outdoor Idaho" featured in another television venue, in part because such high-quality, educationally focused programming is the mission of non-commercial public television.

Taken to the extreme, would prohibiting commercial activity in a wilderness area also preclude the Forest Service from selling a backpacker a map or a river runner a permit? Following such tortured logic, the great photographer Ansel Adams - who certainly sold his remarkable photographs - would have been prevented from packing a tripod into a wilderness area? Thankfully in the IPTV case, common sense prevailed.

Frank Church once eloquently said it was pretty hard to take yourself too seriously when you had slept under the starry sky of an Idaho night. He knew the value of solitude and the unique benefits of keeping some of our most special places just as the Almighty made them. He also knew that exposing Americans to such wonders was a key to preserving those special places for all of us for all time. It strikes us that a segment on "Outdoor Idaho" focusing on young people learning the value of experiencing and protecting a wonderful part of Idaho is exactly in keeping with the "educational" purposes spoken of in the Wilderness Act.

Protecting "the Frank" and allowing IPTV a chance to educate and inform all of us are certainly not in conflict. Quite the contrary. Common sense and the Wilderness Act tell us we can - and should - do both.

Bethine Church was the wife and political partner of U.S. Sen. Frank Church. She chairs the Frank Church Institute at BSU and is on The Wilderness Society Governing Council. Peter Morrill is the general manager of Idaho Public Television.

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