12 Jul Wildflowers and Wilderness Character
Wildflowers! Such a wonderful part of the natural world. Soaking up the sun in the sky and water in the soil to turn simple elements into valued resources is an incredible feat that’s often underappreciated. On my hike into the Belly River, my coworkers and I passed through the forests speckled with wildflowers in plain sight, yet out of view when we weren’t searching for them. Our hike started at Chief Mountain Trailhead, where the Canadian border crossing is within a few hundred steps. When first descending into the forest I was engulfed by the deep greens of all the plants in the forest. As we continued hiking my coworker pointed out the little flowers sitting in the sea of green. Having iNaturalist Seek downloaded on her phone, she could identify the flowers down to the species and their common name. “Pearly Everlasting,” “Showy Crazy Weed,” and “Cutleaf Anemone” were some of my favorite finds. We also saw bear and wolf tracks on our hike, which was incredible.
We then arrived at the Belly River Ranger Station where two wilderness rangers rotate living at the cabins for 9 days at a time. They pack their supplies in by backpack and horse and are the heart of wilderness stewardship in the park. Wilderness rangers provide education on wilderness character and safety to visitors exploring the park along with carrying out wilderness management projects by monitoring wilderness resource impacts, compliance, and more.
Wilderness is defined by its wilderness character, which includes five qualities that impact every decision about how humans interact with wilderness areas. The qualities include natural, which are intact ecosystems free from the effects of modern civilization, untrammeled, where areas are free from human control or manipulation, undeveloped, which is without permanent structures, opportunities for solitude or a primitive type of recreation, and optionally, other features of value, such as natural features that are important for scenic, educational, historic, or scientific value. These qualities can be in conflict. For example, spraying invasive weeds threatening the native plant population to preserve the natural quality of wilderness is in conflict with the untrammeled quality since people are manipulating the environment.
Protecting wilderness areas is important to preserve threatened wildlife, protect watersheds that provide clean drinking water to communities, and other ecological services that benefit both humans and wildlife. It’s also important for people to have access to wilderness for opportunities to recreate, learn about the natural world, and see the importance of preserving these natural areas. That said, allowing people to have unrestricted access to the wilderness can be detrimental to the environment if people don’t have education on how to minimize their impact. For this reason, Glacier has a backcountry permitting process that both limits the amount of overnight campers to a number each campsite can sustainably support and provides education on leave no trace and regulations designed for humans to minimize their environmental impact.
If we all picked a wildflower or went off trail to get a cool picture, there would be no wildflowers left to see. Be the person who sets a good example for others.