Wild places worth saving: 27 sites Congress must protect

Every September, Idaho resident Dana Menlove and her husband take to the river with their two young children, trading a few days in the classroom for the lessons of the Snake River’s South Fork. At their favorite spots, the family fishes for native Yellowstone cutthroat, browns and rainbows and watches moose meander through their camp.

“The South Fork of the Snake provides a unique opportunity for personal renewal through recreating in a wild place,” said Menlove. “It’s hard to believe one can feel that ‘wild’ so close to the highway.”

The Menlove family is not alone in their love for the South Fork of the Snake — the area is recognized as a premier fishing destination and one of the most valuable ecosystems in the state. Because of these special qualities, The Wilderness Society has included the South Fork of the Snake on our list of special places that are especially deserving of federal purchase with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) this year.

LWCF was established in 1964 to provide federal funding to protect natural resources around the country. The funds, which come directly from revenues paid to the federal government from oil and gas leases, ensure that places like the Snake River remain healthy and thriving.

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Seven LWCF priority projects are located east of the Mississippi, where open spaces can be tough to come by.

In Maine, funding for the High Peaks Conservation Project will add 17,000 acres to a network of varied, unbroken terrain that will help area species adapt to a changing climate.

“The High Peaks region of western Maine is home to a diversity of essential ecological communities critical for species adaptation in the face of climate change,” said Jeremy Sheaffer, The Wilderness Society’s Maine Projects Director. “In addition, these projects provide a unique opportunity to conserve nationally significant recreational opportunities and habitat.”

The well-traveled track of the Appalachian Trail cuts through the High Peaks region before continuing south, where it passes near another priority LWCF project: Rocky Fork in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

Rocky Fork in Tennessee. Courtesy USFS.Rocky Fork lies adjacent to more than 22,000 acres of wilderness and roadless areas, a haven for black bear, rare salamander and Appalachian brook trout. For the past two years, the Forest Service has named Rocky Fork its top acquisition priority.

“Funding for the Rocky Fork tract in Tennessee will insure that this 10,000-acre parcel will remain in public ownership and provide key habitat and recreational opportunities for generations to come,” said Brent Martin, The Wilderness Society’s Southern Appalachian Program Director.

Although the West is known for abundant wild lands, many special places there need LWCF funding. In Washington state, a priority project would add more than 1,000 acres to forests that fragmented by transcontinental railroad construction in the late 19th century.

Family hiking in the North Cascades. Photo by Holly Werran, Courtesy REI."Washington state's North Cascades provide a stunning array of habitat for wildlife from lush, cool alpine fir forests to arid Ponderosa pine forests. Yet there's still a land ownership pattern reminiscent of a checkerboard with parcels of private land woven with Forest Service land," said Peter Dykstra, regional director of the Pacific Northwest office of The Wilderness Society.

"LWCF funding allows the Forest Service to consolidate forest land, which will be healthier for the wildlife and fish that thrive on intact forested watersheds. It also benefits the many people who depend on the North Cascades for clean drinking water and enjoy hiking, fishing and skiing in the region."

Far from the North Cascades, to the South Fork of the Snake River and across the country, many Americans have fallen in love with the wild rivers, forests and mountains near their hometowns. Funding for these LWCF priority projects will conserve wildlife habitat and keep these treasured local getaways wild.

For Dana Menlove in Idaho, the solitude and beauty of family trips along the Snake River offer visible proof of the importance of the LWCF.

“I'm deeply grateful there's a mechanism like the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect the South Fork of the Snake and other wild and ecologically diverse places,” said Menlove. “It's a blessing to me, my children and all of those who come after us.”

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