Repairing Rainier: A Question of Values
What's more important, a thick, primordial forest, or the road that takes you to it? Is Yellowstone in winter only remarkable and wondrous if you can view it from the back of a throbbing snowmobile? Is the backcountry of Big Cypress National Preserve only impressive if you bounce through it on a swamp buggy on steroids?
These aren't new questions, but no clearcut answers have been attached to them. I revisit them now because of a story in the Seattle Times that examines how officials have been trying to rebuild Mount Rainier National Park in the wake of last fall's torrential storms that washed out roads and campgrounds.
The story, by Warren Cornwall, reveals that park officials, determined to stop a rampaging stream from undercutting the Nisqually River road, dispatched a bulldozer through designated wilderness to alter the new channel of Kautz Creek. Fortunately, saner minds prevailed before too much damage was caused.
Of course, sanity is a measure of perspective in this instance. Is the road more valuable than the wilderness?
A similar question arises in Rainier's northwestern corner, where the storms, once again, washed out much of the Carbon River Road. While park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga wants to rebuild a section of the road, the storm redesigned the Carbon River, in some places sculpting deep pools valuable to bull trout, a species protected by the Endangered Species Act.
In each of these instances we need to place a value on nature, and determine whether that value is diminished because we can't easily reach it.