The United States has some of the most diverse and amazing wildlands in the world. Here are 10 "pockets of wonder" worth experiencing and protecting:
1. Wyoming's Upper Hoback Basin
Even in late April, you might still have to ski into the Upper Hoback Basin, but it will be worth the trip. Surrounded by scenic peaks and dotted with aspen groves, the Hoback is home to a Noah’s Ark of wild critters. It’s also the headwaters for the federally designated Wild and Scenic Hoback River. So it’s no place for a 136-well natural gas field. That’s why The Wilderness Society continues to work with a local citizen’s coalition to stop proposed drilling.
2. Montana's Rocky Mountain Front
Hike above the Teton River and look for wildlife tracks. This place is considered to be one of the best wildlife habitats in the country. That’s just one reason why a broad coalition has come together to support the proposed Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, which would protect habitat by creating a new conservation management area, designating new wilderness as well as assisting the local ranching community in its ongoing battle against noxious weeds.
3. Arizona's Sonoran Desert
Escape the city and roam among desert bighorn sheep, ring-tailed cats, iconic saguaro cactus and ironwood trees. Here in the Sonoran Desert of west-central Arizona, The Wilderness Society is working to protect a piece of the American West from rapid urban growth in Phoenix and other nearby cities. That is the goal of the Sonoran Desert Heritage campaign. A model of open and transparent public land use discussions, the campaign's engagement with locals has revealed broad-based support for conservation and highlighted the need for permanent conservation protections like new wilderness and national conservation area designations.
4. New Mexico's Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks
Located just outside of Las Cruces in southern New Mexico, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area has long been the center of enjoyment for many in southern New Mexico, with ample opportunities for spring bird watching and wildflower sniffing. The proposed Organ Mountains-Dona Ana County Conservation and Protection Act (S. 1024) would conserve 241,000 acres of wilderness and 110,000 acres as a National Conservation Area.
5. Idaho's Nez Perce National Forest
Peer into the emerald pools of Meadow Creek and see if you can spot Chinook salmon in the heart of Nez Perce National Forest in northern Idaho. As part of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative — a coalition of groups working to ensure this region’s wild future — The Wilderness Society hopes to one day see Meadow Creek officially protected as wilderness.
6. California's Beauty Mountain
In heart of San Diego County are the exceptional rock formations of Beauty Mountain. This place is home to steep canyons and chaparral and oak woodlands — gems enjoyed by thousands of hikers and equestrians who travel the Cutca Trail and the renowned Pacific Crest Trail. Beauty Mountain provides an important boost to the thriving outdoor recreation economy of San Diego County as well as a welcomed respite from traffic snarled urban sprawl. The Wilderness Society is currently working with members of Congress to pass the Beauty Mountain Agua Tibia Wilderness Act of 2011 (H.R. 41), which would protect 21,000 acres.
7. Colorado's Browns Canyon
The whitewater season doesn’t really begin until later in the summer, but the proposed Arkansas River Canyon National Monument and Browns Canyon Wilderness still offer great hiking in a wild Rocky Mountain river paradise. The area serves a vital role as severe winter range for elk and remains home to Canada Lynx and black bear. Greater protections will create better habitat connectivity and ensure Colorado’s watersheds and backcountry landscapes are protected for future generations.
8. Washington's Alpine Lakes
Alpine Lakes is one of the most visited wild areas in the country. Along with the Pratt River and Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, it is a haven for the residents of Seattle, who live just 45 minutes away. The Wilderness Society is currently working on legislation that would protect an additional 22,000 acres of wilderness adjoining the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and designate nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River and 10 miles of the Pratt River as Wild and Scenic Rivers. These additions include diverse low-elevation forests with thriving fish and wildlife populations, including cougars and native trout.
9. Maine's Coastal Island Wildlife Refuge
There is no better place to watch Atlantic puffins and arctic terns than the Maine Coastal Island Wildlife Refuge. With on-the-ground teamwork guided by The Wilderness Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended wilderness designation for 7,000 acres within the 11,000 acre Refuge. Following the recommendation, the Maine Coastal Islands Wilderness Act of 2011 was introduced to Congress. If the Act passes, what began as a great idea among diverse locals will ultimately protect 13 truly wild islands.
10. Tennessee's Upper Bald River
Hunt for colorful salamanders and toadstools amid the rhododendron jungle surrounding the Upper Bald River. The proposed Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011 will conserve nearly 20,000 acres of wild lands, expanding five existing wilderness areas and creating the new Upper Bald River Wilderness Area. This legislation presents a unique opportunity to protect an entire watershed, securing both water quality as well as trout and wildlife habitat in a beautiful and rugged landscape. In our southern highlands, there are not many places like this left.