Big Sur cove in California. Photo by Jon Sullivan.
September is National Wilderness Month and to honor the occasion, The Wilderness Society has pulled together an urgent campaign to get Congress to pass protections for nearly 4 million acres of iconic wild places throughout the country. More than 20 different Wilderness and wildlands protection proposals are working their way through Congress — many after years of works to get them there — but we must rally to make sure they make it past the finish line.
The 20 bills would preserve exceptional wild lands in 12 different states — places in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Tennessee’s Cherokee national forest and even Lake Michigan’s shoreline. But Congress needs to act now. If they don’t, we’ll have to start the long legislative process over again next year.
Below, we invite you to read about some of those wonderful places we have the chance to preserve right now — and then we urge you to become one of the many wildland supporters who are writing to Congress as part of our Wilderness campaign.
These places urgently need your help today:
California: The California Desert
The California desert is a panorama of diverse and scenic contrasts found nowhere else on Earth. Here, pastel mountain peaks, hidden springs, world-famous wildflowers, Joshua tree forests, majestic bighorn sheep and the endangered desert tortoise are just a few of the enchanting elements of this intensely rich landscape. Americans and international visitors have cherished these wild lands for their beauty and recreational opportunities. Sandwiched between two major population centers of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the desert is under development pressure at both ends. Passing wilderness legislation will forever preserve this unique landscape.
Colorado: San Juan Mountains
Visitors to the San Juan Mountains Area are treated to the awesome sight of snowy mountain ridges, as well as the excellent camping and backpacking opportunities that attract so many to this part of southwest Colorado. The San Juan Mountains are also an important watershed, providing clean water to the surrounding communities. However, oil and gas development threaten the communities’ clean water supply and economic and social well-being.
Idaho: Boulder-White Clouds
Home to the largest unprotected tract of unroaded forest in the lower 48 states, these dramatic mountains offer great solitude, and an abundance of hiking trails through gorgeous, lake-strewn mountain terrain. Scrambling, wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting, horseback riding and other recreation opportunities abound. Continued off-road vehicle use threatens the wild character of the landscape.
Michigan: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Towering dunes overlooking the deep blue waters of Lake Michigan make up Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This area offers boundless opportunities for visitors to experience the terrain, from camping to taking leisurely walks along the coast.
Montana: The Rocky Mountain Front
On the eastern side of the Crown of the Continent, Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front offers quintessential western scenery of noble mountains overlooking vast, golden prairie lands. This area provides some of the best hunting, fishing, camping and wildlife viewing in the state, if not the entire country. It needs protections, especially as motorized use and noxious weeds encroach more on its lands every year. The Front is one of the country’s most intact wildlife habitats, where visitors can actually spot members of the second largest migratory herd of elk in the nation. Ranchers, landowners, and sportsmen are working to permanently protect more than 300,000 acres of public lands as Wilderness and a Conservation Management Area in one of the most unique wildlife habitats in the lower 48 states.
New Mexico: Ute Mountain and Rio Grande Gorge
Ute Mountain, one of the most ecologically significant lands in New Mexico, is the highest point on New Mexico Bureau of Land Management land. And the Rio Grande Gorge is known as one of the world’s great avian migratory routes. Protecting these areas will not only protect important wildlife corridors, but also guarantee nature lovers everywhere a chance to explore the area, take in the awesome view, and simply breathe in fresh air.
New Mexico: Organ Mountains
It’s been said that the Organ Mountains are the backdrop for one of the most breathtaking scenic views in New Mexico. This rugged range gets its name from the granite needle-like peaks at the height of the range, similar to the pipes on a pipe organ. Located just outside of Las Cruces in southern New Mexico, the Organ Mountains have long been the center of enjoyment for many in southern New Mexico, with ample opportunities for recreation.
Nevada: Gold Butte
It is not hard to appreciate that this spectacular region characterized by dramatic sandstone formations, red rock cliffs, and thousands of Native American petroglyphs and prehistoric sites, needs to be protected. An abundance of wildlife and cultural icons makes Gold Butte a haven for nature, history and outdoor enthusiasts. Congress needs to designate a National Conservation Area with Wilderness included to help preserve these exceptional lands, which are increasingly degraded by irresponsible off-road vehicle use and vandalism of cultural sites.
Oregon: Devil’s Staircase
Truly one of the last gems of its kind, the Devil’s Staircase is a remote chunk of extremely wild, old-growth forest hidden deep within Oregon’s coastal rainforest. Today this dense cedar, fir and hemlock-filled forest holds some of the last remaining old-growth stands in the coastal range. Adding to the area’s rare qualities is the Devil’s Staircase waterfall, a destination of mythical proportions. Few have ever ventured to the staircase, which is a series of cascading pools hidden deep with the heart of Wassen Creek and takes more than a day’s trek to reach.
South Dakota: Buffalo Gap National Grassland Wilderness
This treasured area is home to grazing, hunting and other activities. The Grasslands are characterized by unique plant and wildlife and offers hikers, horseback riders, hunters, and birdwatchers, a diverse wilderness experience. Unique places — like Indian Creek, Red Shirt and Chalk Hills — are characterized by cliffs, tablelands and prairies. They are threatened by ever-expanding ATV use, and the encroachment of surrounding development.
Tennessee: Bald River and Cherokee National Forest
Some 30 miles south of the Smokey Mountains within the Cherokee National Forest are the headwaters of the Bald River, an area of enchanting hardwood forest lands, where rushing water and the calls of wildlife are the only sounds to be heard. Protecting the river’s head waters would add to already existing protections for the total Bald River watershed that provide hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans with clean drinking water.
Utah: Wasatch Mountains
The Wasatch Mountains are rich in recreational opportunities and majestic views, such as backcountry skiing. Protecting the headwaters of Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Mt. Olympus as Wilderness will help protect the sensitive watershed that provides municipal water to more than a half-million residents of Salt Lake City. Legislation to protect this watershed is supported by local governments, recreation interests, and local conservation organizations.
Washington: Alpine Lakes
Originally designated in 1976, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area has provided a haven to cougars, black bears, elk and native trout. Portions of the current wilderness were left out of the 1976 bill and are now being looked at for inclusion. The legislation would also keep the entire Pratt River and the upper portion of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River in their present pristine condition. These rivers are home to world-class fishing, kayaking and whitewater rafting, are within easy reach of Seattle, and provide residents with easy opportunities to experience their free-flowing nature. In fact, Alpine Lakes is one of the most visited wilderness areas in the nation, replete with more than 700 lakes and mountain ponds. The Pacific Crest Trail goes through the current designated wilderness.
West Virginia: Monongahela National Forest
From atop North Fork Mountain, one experiences stunning views of the majestic Smoke Hole Canyon to the East, and to the West, breathtaking vistas include Seneca Rocks, the North Fork River Valley, Champe Rocks, Dolly Sods Wilderness and the recently designated Roaring Plains Wilderness. The views from atop North Fork Mountain were hailed by Outside Magazine as “some of the best scenery in the East”, and the North Fork Mountain Trail was named the “most scenic trail in West Virginia” by Backpacker Magazine.
Not pushing these bills past the finish line means these wildlands will remain at risk to oil and gas development, inappropriate off-road motorized vehicle use and other encroaching threats.
Protecting them will ensure that we will always have clean drinking water, healthy air, quiet places to experience nature, and that our future generations will always benefit from our shared natural heritage.
Big Sur cove in California. Photo by Jon Sullivan.
California Desert. Photo by John Dittli, Courtesy Campaign for the California Desert.
San Juan Mountains in Colorado.
Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in Idaho. Courtesy USFS.
Ranger talking with visitor in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. Courtesy NPS.
Crown of the Continent in Montana.
Rio Grande Gorge in New Mexico. Photo by laszlo-photo, Flickr.
Organ Mountains in New Mexico. Photo by oflazer, Flickr.
Gold Butte hikers in Nevada. Photo by Ron Hunter.
Devil's Staircase in Oregon. Photo by Dave Tvedt.
Buffalo Gap National Grassland in South Dakota. Photo by Lynn Hetlett.
Bald River in Tennessee. Photo by Jeff Hunter.
Wasatch Mountains in Utah.
Autumn in Alpine Lakes in Washington. Courtesy USFS.
Monogahela National Park in West Virginia. Photo by David Jones, Creative Commons.