Certifiably Awesome: Josh Hicks, The Wilderness Society
In honor of Earth Month, we’re shining the spotlight on our pal (and Adam’s BFF) Josh Hicks. Josh works for the Wilderness Society, a conservation organization that seeks to protect and preserve our nation’s wildlife areas from development and environmental threats (only 5% of our land is “designated wilderness” – more on that, below). In lieu of a long intro, we’re going to jump right into Josh’s interview, since he’s about as articulate as they come (plus, he has a dog named Bill Murray… so there’s that).
Hey Josh! Thanks for chatting with us. Would you first explain to our readers a bit about the Wilderness Society and what you do there?
The Wilderness Society is the leading American conservation organization working to protect our nation’s wildest lands. Picture lonesome deserts, ancient forests, rugged canyons, alpine lakes, remote mountains, wild rivers, immaculate starscapes. Most of America’s wildest places are found on federal public lands; these are lands that you own. Here’s a map that shows all of America’s federal public lands.
The Wilderness Society advocates to protect America’s natural, wild heritage. We use ecology, economics, law, policy, and grassroots organizing to convince elected officials and federal land management agencies (think U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Department of Interior, etc.) to protect these wildlands for future generations from threats like oil and gas development, mining, timber harvesting, road building, and other development.
As part of Earth Month we worked with the ocean conservation organization Mission Blue (who works to preserve our largely unprotected oceans). For comparison’s sake, how much of the United States’ land is protected wilderness?
There are 762 designated wilderness areas totaling about 109 million acres in 44 states. That may sound like a lot, but it’s only about 5% of the United States—an area just larger than the state of California. Slightly over half of America’s designated wilderness is found in Alaska, which means that about 2.7% of the contiguous United States is protected as wilderness.
Photos, from top: Josh, Mandy, and his dog Bill Murray at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah; Bill Murray at the Bottom of the Rio Grande Gorge inside the Monument; S.W.’s own Adam Poor aka Admiral Adam at Buffalo Peaks Wilderness, Colorado
Can you explain specifically what “designated wilderness” means and why preserving these areas is so important?
To most, wilderness is a poetic word that depicts a wild place. But wilderness also has a legal definition. Regarding the latter, wilderness is a type of protection given to America’s most pristine wildlands — areas within national parks, forests, deserts, and other places where there are no roads or development.
Designated wilderness is the highest level of conservation protection for our federal public lands. Only Congress, through passing a law, can designate an area wilderness. Wilderness areas are designated within existing federal public land. When Congress passes a law that officially designates an area as wilderness, the construction of roads, mining, timber harvesting, oil and gas extraction, and other development are permanently prohibited. You can’t drive a car or other vehicle into a wilderness area and you can’t use motorized equipment. Here’s a fun interactive map if folks want to explore some of America’s designated wilderness areas.
Wilderness is important because it’s a haven from the pressures of our fast-paced society. It provides us with places where we can seek relief from the noise, haste and crowds that too often confine us. Wilderness offers adventure and challenge. In wilderness, you can hike, canoe, watch wildlife, camp, fish and many other activities.
This kind of recreation in the wild has countless proven benefits to our health and wellbeing. Wilderness is vital habitat for wildlife. In addition to providing wildlife with a home, wilderness also provides migration routes and breeding grounds for grizzly, elk, wolverine, lynx, and wolves to name just a few charismatic species. Wilderness areas also protect watersheds that provide drinking water to many cities and rural communities.
Photos, from Top: Holy Cross Wilderness; view above the Rio Grande, New Mexico; Bill Murray at the bottom of the Rio Grande Gorge inside the Monument
Politics plays a major role in what you do. Explain #KeepItPublic campaign for us.
Our system of federal public lands is a uniquely American idea that the rest of the world has adopted. These lands, owned by the public and overseen by the federal government on behalf of all citizens, are a cherished part of our national heritage. Our system of federal public lands is under attack. In 11 western states (Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming), a coalition of special interest groups is lobbying state governments to seize America’s public lands so they can be privatized or auctioned for drilling, mining, and logging.
The attempt to takeover our national lands has spread to Congress. In late March, the Senate approved a budget amendment that would facilitate the transfer or sale of national forests, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges to states. A budget resolution in the House of Representatives expresses support for this idea. These attempts speak to a broader agenda in this Congress to suppress Americans’ rights to access and enjoy the lands that belong to all of us—whether we live in Maine, Montana, or Mississippi.
The Wilderness Society with our partners in conservation and recreation are working to stop these radical special interest groups from getting ahold of our public lands. These lands are your lands and we’re fighting to keep it that way. If you want to learn more, you can visit our website where there’s also a petition you can sign.
In your opinion, what are most remarkable wilderness areas in the United States?
Whether it’s those woods behind your house when you were a kid, that state park where you used to go swimming, or the summer road trip you took out west, everybody has their favorite. I grew up backpacking in the southern Appalachians in the Smokies so, hands down, that’s my favorite wild place. Utah’s canyon country and deserts are incredible unique and wild. Obama recently designated the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Northern New Mexico, which is a stunning landscape.
The bison, elk, grizzly, wolves, and other mega-fauna found in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding wilderness) is like nothing else in the lower forty-eight. A place I’m spending a lot of time to protect these days is a hidden gem in central New Mexico called the Cibola National Forest, a place most have never heard of. It’s very remote and wild. Check out some photos here.
Now, onto Certifiably Awesome Questions:
What is your favorite food that a nutritionist would approve of?
Mountain Dew, with collard greens a close second.
What is your favorite “I-really-shouldn’t-be-eating-this” food?
I eat an impressive amount of garbage around any holiday. Fudge for breakfast at Christmas, king cake three meals a day for Mardi Gras, Halloween candy for weeks.
What is a skincare myth that you have busted on your own?
I don’t think I’ve busted any on my own!
What percent natural are you?
I do relatively well but could always do better. For the most part, we eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies. When work gets really busy and has me hustling, I slip and start eating processed foods, like frozen lunches. I try to drink extra amounts of water when I’m eating bad to compensate for the crap I’m consuming.
What is your naked animal? (Oh you don’t know what this is? Allow us to improve your life tremendously. IF posing for naked photos, what animal would you choose to hide your manly parts?)
So many good options. I’ll go with hawksbill sea turtle.