An Interview with Suzanne Cable

Suzanne Cable is the wilderness program manager for the Moose Creek Ranger district. This interview was conducted in the summer of 2010.

Suzanne Cable

Bruce Reichert: What does wilderness mean to you?
Suzanne Cable: What wilderness means to me is incredibly large, wild areas where evolution continues, where all of the species that belong here are represented, where humans are part of the eco-system rather than the dominant feature of the eco-system.

I'm really glad that I have this job, because I'm personally passionate about wild lands conservation. When you look at the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness, which is about 1.3 million acres, our neighbor to the south, the Frank Church, is about 3 million acres. When we add the Gospel Hump wilderness, which is contiguous along the Salmon River, you have almost 4 million acres of designated wilderness protected wild lands.

It is a tremendous – not only national but continental scale, even global scale -- wild land resource. There are just very few places left on the planet that are as wild and as strictly protected for their conservation. It is just an incredible resource that we have right here in the middle of Idaho. It is a very rare and very valuable resource that we have. A magnificent, enormous chunk of wild country left.

BR: What is unique about the Moose Creek landing strip?
SC: This landing strip here at Moose Creek has an upper limit of 800 flights per year that can be allowed; and we count landings throughout the summer months – really April through November – so that we monitor how many landings occur. And if we bump up against that 800 limit for a few years in succession, our management plan then directs that we initiate a planning process to insure that we don't exceed that 800 landings per year number.

Moose Creek is really popular. It's a great place, we have a diverse group of users who love to come here. I'm always impressed when I talk to visitors who come to Moose Creek with how much they love this place. It's amazing. We get aviators from all over the country who come here just as a destination, and the passion that they have about this place is fantastic.

Moose Creek airstripAnd then we field the same kind of input from our floaters and backpackers and stock users. There is just a tremendous positive enthusiasm about Moose Creek and people love the place the way it is; and we're interested in preserving that kind of opportunity so that people can come here and have that same experience that they had with their grandfather 50 years ago. And people are still coming back and doing that same kind of recreation. And people have been flying here and using it as a base for wilderness-dependent activities for all those years. The aviators who come here love this place.

But right now we're close. We're below that 800 limit, but we're at a place where I want to make sure that the opportunity stays here and it is unrestricted; but if we start to hit that 800 number, then we're going to be required to manage the area in a different way.

BR: Is this wilderness managed differently than, say, the Frank Church wilderness?
SC: Correct. The Wilderness Act of 1964 designated certain wilderness areas throughout the country at the time of the legislation, so this is one of the original 1964 wildernesses. The Selway-Bitterroot and those other wilderness areas designated in '64 are managed primarily according to the act.

Wilderness areas that were designated later on – for example, the Frank Church, which is to the south of us, designated in 1980 – have a specific legislation that created that area and there are additional components to that legislation which allow a greater variety of uses - more so than what was included in the original '64 act.

From a management perspective it is great because it is pretty clean here. We follow the act, we follow our general management direction which reflects the wilderness act, and we're fortunate that it is pretty clean. Once you get into some of the areas that were designated later, for example the Frank Church, it gets more complicated.

BR: What do you base your management decisions upon?
SC: What we do at the forest service is we manage for the legal definition of wilderness. We do what we're instructed to do through the 1964 Wilderness Act and our forest policy on interpreting that.

Moose Creek BuildingThere are a lot of competing uses in Idaho for our wild lands, and there is a segment of the population that loves our wilderness areas, and it is probably pretty accurate that there is a portion of the population that sees these lands as not being put to productive use, but I hope that most Idahoans and most of the American population can see that the service that these lands provide is just by being a remnant of intact wild eco-systems of what so much of the country once was. We're saving our last remaining wild lands, and even though they're not producing a commodity, they are serving an incredibly valuable service for the health of our communities, for the health of the eco-system, for the wildlife that is here and just for our planetary health. We've got a great remnant here of what once was.

And there are an awful lot of differing opinions on whether it is good or bad, or whether it should be here or not, but that is one of the good challenges about being involved in wilderness management.

BR: Can you use a wheelbarrow in official wilderness?
SC: It is allowed because it is the minimum necessary for the administration of the area. And we use it very rarely - only when it truly is the minimum tool to get the job done. Today we've got a volunteer project going on with the Idaho Aviation Association, and they are helping us make some modifications to how camping is managed in the area here right near the air strip. So we're moving a pile of dirt from there to over there, so we're going to use the wheelbarrow rather than a line of 10 people carrying buckets.