On Valentine’s Day most people try to do something special for those they love. While you’re at it, why not try to do the same for the lands you love? All of us own 618 million acres of national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and western acreage overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Many of these places put up with way too much abuse: poorly executed mining, drilling, and logging, to note a few.
The Wilderness Society has selected a dozen of these natural treasures. We hope you will show them some extra love. “Every bit of love we invest in these lands of ours will pay off for future generations, who will be living with them far into the future,” says Melanie Beller, our vice president for public policy.
Mojave Trails National Monument, California
Located mostly south and west of California’s Mojave National Preserve, this 941,000-acre monument would be established by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill to protect significant portions of the California Desert (S. 138). If left unprotected these lands unique would be vulnerable to mining and inappropriate development. The monument, linking the preserve to Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley, would contain an undeveloped stretch of about 70 miles of Route 66 between Needles and Ludlow. This famous road carried many honeymooners west for first time. Other features include the Kelso Dunes, the Marble Mountains Fossil Beds (with its 550-million‐year-old fossils), Pisgah lava flow, the Amboy Crater, and California’s largest cactus garden. The area is home to desert tortoises and bighorn sheep, among others.
San Rafael Swell, Utah
Located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, the San Rafael Swell reaches west to the forested ramparts of the Wasatch Plateau and south to Capitol Reef National Park. This spectacular geological region is well-known for its great dome of uplifted sedimentary rock, rising 1,500 feet above the colorful surrounding desert. The Swell is popular among hikers, river runners, hunters, horseback riders, and climbers, who can enjoy a striking display of ancient rock formations, cliffs, towers, mesas, buttes, canyons, and hardy pinyon pine and juniper forests. The wildlife roster includes bighorn sheep, antelope, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons. However, this scenic region is increasingly threatened by mineral exploration, oil and gas development, and motorized vehicle use.
How you can help: Urge your representatives in Congress to support legislation that would add significant portions of the Swell to the National Wilderness Preservation System.
White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
One of the most popular recreation destinations in the thickly settled Northeast, White Mountain National Forest contains 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail, six wilderness areas, and most of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks, including Mt. Washington. Potential logging in the forest is an on-going concern. Now a high-voltage power line carrying hydro power from Canada to southern New England might be routed through the forest. While traversing the forest, the Northern Pass line, featuring towers 90 to 135 feet high, would cross the Appalachian Trail at least once. Our regional staff is urging a full accounting of the costs to communities and wild areas while finalizing a report that assesses northern New England energy needs, low-carbon options, and the potential impacts on natural areas and wildlife in the Northern Forest.
North Cascades, Washington
The North Cascades, with Seattle and the Puget Sound on its western edge, has the highest concentration of glaciers in the continental U.S. Cold, clear rivers give rise to much of the fresh water that flows into Puget Sound and the Columbia River. These watersheds support endangered wild salmon and trout, while providing clean water for downstream cities, farms, and hydroelectric power plants. The North Cascades’ diverse habitat is vital to a range of wildlife, including hundreds of species of migratory birds. Population growth and increased development in the region threaten the North Cascades; so does climate change. Some experts predict that one-third of glaciers in the North Cascades will disappear. The other two-thirds may still have a chance to survive—if we do something to stop global warming. National Park Service geologist Jon Riedel says the melting rate has increased, explaining: "The loss of glaciers has meant a decline in our 'glacial bank account,' if you want to call it that, of about 400 billion gallons of water. That is the net loss from this increase in melting.”
How you can help: Subscribe to the North Cascades Initiative newsletter, which will keep you up-to-date and offer suggestions on how to get involved: http://www.experiencewilderness.org/signup-newsletter
Tongass National Forest, Alaska
Towering Sitka spruce and hemlock, rivers surging with salmon and scenic coastlines help make the Tongass National Forest an outstanding attraction for the tourists who pack cruise ships to Alaska. It is the world’s largest primarily intact temperate rainforest. Excessive logging and road-building in some of the forest’s most spectacular areas have damaged this natural treasure, but a transition is under way. The US Forest Service, urged on by The Wilderness Society and others, is leading the transition of the local economy from one based on old-growth logging to one based on restoration, second-growth timber harvest, salmon, and recreation. Unfortunately, cuts to the Forest Service budget proposed by House leadership could undermine this transition, threatening long-term job growth prospects for the region.”
Snowbird Mountains, North Carolina
Located in North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest, these mountains are popular with hikers, anglers, campers, and others who love the long views and clear-running streams. The area is home to the Joyce Kilmer Wilderness Area. The Snowbird Mountains are among the places where Eastern hemlock, a keystone species in the stream-side forests of the southern Appalachians, is suffering from a woolly adelgid infestation. The pest has the potential to kill most of the region's hemlock trees within the next decade. A second serious threat is Corridor K, an outdated highway expansion plan dating from the 1960s. The proposal includes four lanes of asphalt through the Nantahala and would require boring nearly 3,000 feet of tunnel under the Appalachian Trail. Proposed Congressional cuts to the budget for the U.S. Forest Service could jeopardize the effort to save the hemlocks.
San Francisco River, Arizona, New Mexico
Winding through Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, the San Francisco River is a crown jewel of the arid Southwest. The river is a refuge for many imperiled species, including the Mexican spotted owl and native fish. Its wild and scenic character offers superb opportunities for fishing, hunting, camping, and hiking. Yet portions of the river are threatened by increasing traffic made up of dirt bikes, ATVs, and other off-road vehicles. Besides stealing the area’s tranquility, these vehicles scar the landscape and threaten the river’s ecology. Rivers and streams serve as the lifeblood for many species, particularly in this arid region. The U.S. Forest Service is deciding whether to designate the stream bed of the San Francisco River as an ORV road.
The Heart of the Great Basin, Nevada
In central Nevada lies America’s largest, highest and driest desert, full of life and true wilderness. The ecological variety includes sagebrush flats with pronghorn and rattlesnakes (and hot springs) and 12,000-foot peaks with trout and golden eagles. The Heart of the Great Basin is bisected by Highway 50--‘The Loneliest Road in America.” To permanently protect wilderness-quality lands in the Great Basin from inappropriate off-road vehicle use and commercial activities, the BLM should safeguard them until Congress can add them to the National Wilderness Preservation System. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has started work on the long-term management plan for this region and should recommend such additions.
Baca National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado
Featuring cottonwood-studded riverbanks, rolling sagebrush prairies, and wetland meadows, southeastern Colorado’s Baca National Wildlife Refuge is a magnet for migrating birds such as the sandhill crane. It’s also home to many rare species, including the mountain plover and bald eagle. More than 4,000 elk depend on the refuge for critical winter habitat and calving grounds to shelter newborns. Hundreds of Native American artifacts lie buried under ancient layers of sand, and world-class archeological sites dating back 11,500 years have been found nearby. But the Lexam Corporation wants to drill for oil and gas inside this sanctuary, posing a serious threat to groundwater. The Wilderness Society and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council are challenging Lexam’s plan.
Upper Hoback Basin, Wyoming
Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and is teeming with wildlife: moose, pronghorns, bears, wolves, Canada lynx, and more. But plans being made right now could drastically and forever change this wild place, with 136 natural gas wells, many miles of roads, waste treatment plants, and water and air pollution. We can change the future of this place by convincing Plains Exploration and Production Company to sell back its leases so they can be permanently retired. If a buy-out of leases does not occur, the American people (owners of this forest) must demand the highest environmental standards be met before drilling begins. Click here to send a letter to the Bridger Teton Forest Supervisor, urging either a lease buy out or the addition of s stronger conservation alternative.
Otero Mesa, New Mexico
Southern New Mexico’s Otero Mesa is one of the largest remaining pieces of intact Chihuahuan Desert grasslands in the United States and is home to more than 1,000 native species, including rare grasses, bald eagles, and pronghorn. It also provides habitat vital to mule deer, black-tailed prairie dogs, mountain lions, and 200 species of migratory songbirds. There are thousands of ancient archeological sites, including petroglyphs on Alamo Mountain that date back 1500 years. The area also contains more than a half million acres of roadless, wilderness-quality lands. But for more than a decade The Wilderness Society and local partners have been fending off oil and gas drilling proposals. Drilling could contaminate the Salt Basin aquifer, the largest underground water source in New Mexico.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
This popular spot attracts 250,000 visitors a year, and they travel by canoe and portage trail, exploring more than 1,000 lakes and using 2,000 campsites. Since 2008, mining companies have applied for more than 100 permits to conduct exploratory drilling on Superior National Forest lands, with multiple mines in development. Much of the activity is occurring near South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake just south of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Now under review is an open-pit sulfide mine proposed by PolyMet Mining Company, about 15 miles from the wilderness. This mine would damage hundreds of acres of national forest lands, violate water-quality standards, and eliminate two square miles of critical habitat for lynx and wolves.
Bitter lichen. Photo by eyeinthewild.com, Flickr.
San Rafael Swell. Photo by Rennett Stowe, Flickr.
White Mountain National Forest. Photo by Peter Smart.
North Cascades. Photo by Damon Parrish, Courtesy REI.
Tongass National Forest. Photo by John Schoen.
Snowbird Mountains in North Carolina. Photo by Cameron Cassan.
San Francisco River in the Gila National Forest. Photo by Doris Weaver.
Stella Lake in the Great Basin. Courtesy NPS.
Baca National Wildlife Refuge. Courtesy USFWS.
Upper Hoback Basin. Photo by Diane Corsick.
Alamo Mountain in Otero Mesa, New Mexico. Photo by Nathan Newcomer.
Ensign Lake in Boundary Waters, near mining area. Photo by Greg Seitz.