After years of Congressional inaction on conservation issues, 2014 turned out to be a time to celebrate. Not only did we successfully advocate for two new national monuments (and the expansion of two others), but in a fitting salute to the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we helped push Congress to protect more than 1 million acres of public lands in the National Defense Authorization Act.
To achieve these victories, we had our work cut out for us. Congress had not designated any new wilderness in years, despite ample opportunities. In fact, many lawmakers remained dead set on doing the opposite—opening more wildlands to oil and gas drilling, logging, mining and other development.
However, thanks to supporters like you, The Wilderness Society was able to accomplish a lot, successfully pushing for the designation of over 275,000 acres of protected wilderness over the course of 2014 and repelling many serious threats to our shared natural heritage.
In the spring, Congress finally passed a bill to protect wilderness (Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes) for the first time in about five years. Gradually, other popular, bipartisan conservation bills started to move in Washington, culminating in December’s blockbuster public lands legislation.
When lawmakers could not (or would not) get the job done, we worked hard to help local communities have their voices heard in the White House, and President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to protect some very special places.
As 2014 draws to a close, we are thrilled about all you have helped us accomplish in tough times, but we know our work is far from done.
Through your financial support and willingness to send WildAlerts and share our message on social media, you have helped us chip away at the gridlock in our nation's capital. That said, a number of positive wilderness bills still await action in Congress—as well as anti-conservation legislation that we will need to fight.
We couldn't have done this without you, our supporters—and we won’t be able to keep up the good work without you, either. Enjoy a look at the victories you helped us achieve this year, and sign up to be part of our successes in 2015.
Top photo: Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument (New Mexico). Credit: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.
Top victories you helped us achieve in 2014
Congress protects more than 1 million acres of public land
The Rocky Mountain Front, parts of which will be added to existing wilderness areas in Montana. Credit: EcoFlight.
What was arguably the biggest wilderness victory of 2014 didn’t come until near the very end of the year. In December, Congress passed a set of bipartisan wilderness and public lands bills that aptly saluted the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, protecting irreplaceable land in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Washington, Nevada and many other states—more than 1 million acres of newly-protected land in all, including 245,000 acres of wilderness.
Among these were places The Wilderness Society has worked for years to protect, with your invaluable support: Hermosa Creek (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Front (Montana), Pine Forest Range and Lyon County (Nevada), Columbine-Hondo (New Mexico) and Alpine Lakes (Washington). Read more about this huge conservation victory.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks rides local support to national monument status
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks are known for beautiful scenery and cultural value alike. Credit: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.
In May, buoyed by major local support, President Obama protected New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument. This piece of Doña Ana County, featuring dramatic mountain peaks, colorful plants, diverse wildlife and priceless archaeological sites, has long been prized for its rugged landscape and pockets of solitude. Now, it finally enjoys the national status it deserves, which should solidify its standing as a premier travel destination and boost jobs and economic activity.
Finally! Sleeping Bear Dunes breaks Congress’ wilderness slump
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Credit: Rodney Campbell, flickr.
With a superlative like “the most beautiful place in the country,” is it any wonder that Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes, containing valuable wildlife habitat and popular outdoor recreation spots, earned the highest possible level of federal land protection in 2014? Actually, yes. It had been nearly five years since Congress last protected any land as wilderness, making the bipartisan bill shepherded by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) rather remarkable. This show of cooperation was a perfect salute to the Wilderness Act—which passed with similar bipartisan backing in 1964—and a sign of hope for the future.
California’s Silurian Valley spared from energy development
Wildflowers in the Silurian Valley. Credit: Bob Wick (BLM).
An important decision by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in California spared one of California’s desert treasures, denying an application for a large-scale solar project in Silurian Valley. This wild landscape stretches between the Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park, connecting parks with nearby wilderness and offering major outdoor recreation opportunities. If the application had been accepted, it could have set a dangerous precedent for the development of other projects, roads or transmission lines. Instead, the BLM laid the foundation for a level of protection this wild spot truly needs.
California monument expansion makes good on State of the Union promise
The Historic Point Arena Lighthouse is visible from new portions of the California Coastal monument. Credit: Hendo101, flickr.
A little over a month after President Obama promised to “protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations” in his State of the Union address, he followed through, using authority under the Antiquities Act to make Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands a part of the California Coastal National Monument in March. This designation set aside about 1,665 acres, including breathtaking coastal scenery, wildflowers and habitat for sea lions, beavers, shore birds and raptors. The land-based expansion ensures easier access for visitors.
San Gabriel Mountains become a national monument
The Sheep Mountain Wilderness lies within the boundaries of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. Credit: yosoydemichigan, flickr.
Despite local support, efforts to protect Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains, which provide clean water and air to the nation’s second-largest urban area, had gained little traction in Congress. So in October, President Obama acted, designating it as America’s newest national monument to help preserve the area and improve visitor services. The range is accessible to a diverse community in Los Angeles County that is uniquely at-risk for health issues that could be alleviated in part by greater participation in outdoor activities. The San Gabriels also contain some of the region’s most beautiful alpine and chaparral scenery and rare wildlife habitat.
Some of Colorado’s most unique public lands protected in settlement
The rugged and vulnerable Roan Plateau. Credit: Scott Braden (Conservation Colorado).
After years of work by The Wilderness Society, a late October legal agreement between the BLM and conservation groups canceled existing oil and gas leases atop northwest Colorado’s Roan Plateau, which is home to big game herds of elk and mule deer, cutthroat trout and some of the rarest plants in the U.S. Though efforts to protect the Roan Plateau will continue, settlement of the lawsuit could lead to a responsible management plan for the future and protect some of the most critical and sensitive wildlife habitat in the region.
The Wilderness Act celebrates its 50th anniversary
Ansel Adams Wilderness (California) was originally protected as the Minarets Wilderness in 1964. Credit: Steve Dunleavy, flickr.
The Wilderness Act was rewritten or resubmitted 66 times and subject to 18 public hearings and 16,000 pages of testimony before it was passed in 1964, only months after the death of its author, Wilderness Society Executive Director Howard Zahniser. President Lyndon Johnson made conservation history by signing it into law, laying the foundation for a network of unique protected lands we still cherish today.
As we celebrated the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary in 2014, that network had grown to a total of nearly 110 million acres. The anniversary became a cause for celebration and reflection across the country—including that rarest of all things, a bipartisan show of support in Congress. It also helped put a spotlight on wilderness in the national media, with features about the anniversary and The Wilderness Society appearing in news outlets from National Geographic to CBS News.
Plan balances clean energy and conservation in the California desert
Trona Pinnacles in the California Desert. Credit: Sandy Redding, flickr.
In September, significant progress was announced in the ongoing effort to balance conservation and clean energy through the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), which could protect millions of acres of land in California that are home to cultural artifacts, recreation areas and wildlife habitat. For years, there has been a growing demand for public lands in the west to support clean sources of energy; this plan is expected to set a smarter path forward for directing those projects to places where they will have the smallest impact on the land and the greatest chance of success.
President Obama creates the biggest protected marine reserve on earth
Pacific Remote Islands National Monument and the surrounding waters are home to a large population of sharks, rays and other predatory fish, the depletion of which threatens ocean ecosystems across the planet. Credit: Kydd Pollock (USFWS), flickr.
This year’s big conservation victories were not limited to dry land. In September, President Obama used the Antiquities Act to expand the existing Pacific Remote Islands National Monument about 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii—in the process making it the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve. Building on the work of past leaders, President Obama gave new protection to a stretch of ocean containing jungle-like coral that is thousands of years old and provides vital habitat for sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, tropical fish and exotic birds.
Virginia’s “Too Wild to Drill” national forest wins new protection
George Washington National Forest. Credit: Bill Couch, flickr.
Containing more than 2,000 miles of hiking trails and eight designated wilderness areas, Virginia’s George Washington National Forest is definitely “Too Wild to Drill.” Fortunately, plans released by the U.S. Forest Service in November will prohibit new natural gas leases in the forest and keep drilling out of essential parts of this wild landscape, which contains headwater streams that provide clean drinking water for more than 8 million people, including the nation’s capital. “[T]he prohibition on new leasing is good news for everyone that drinks water in Washington, DC or Richmond, Virginia,” said Chase Huntley, senior legislative director for The Wilderness Society.
Wyoming plan balances energy development and conservation
Elk, like this one in Grand Teton National Park, depend on habitat like that protected in the Beaver Rim MLP. Credit: David Grimes, flickr.
Conservation got a boost in Wyoming as part of a new approach by the BLM, which rolled out its first Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for an area called Beaver Rim. These new plans, which The Wilderness Society helped shape, enable carefully-sited energy projects to move forward while at the same time identifying wild areas that should be off-limits to development. Striking a better balance between energy and land protection, this MLP, which is one part of a larger plan covering about 2.8 million acres in the region, recognizes the value of recreation resources, cultural sites and wildlife habitat in the area.