This coming year, wilderness needs your voice more than ever. Our nation's wild places continue to disappear at alarming rates, while climate change and other human made pressures are stressing wild lands to the point of no return. Rather than protect more of our public lands, some lawmakers in Washington have been trying to open more of them to oil and gas drilling, logging, mining and other development. Meanwhile, young people are disconnecting from nature more than ever before, begging the question of who will be the voice for our wildlands in the future.
The year ahead holds serious challenges, but our conservation victories from 2013 show that, even in the midst of today's threats, we can still do great things for our last unspoiled wildlands. The year 2014 also happens to be the 50th anniversary year of the Wilderness Act, so we'll be celebrating wilderness protections throughout the year, and looking forward to winning more victories. Join us on Facebook and Twitter or sign up for WildAlerts to stay updated about anniversary events and more.
The threats and opportunities for conservation in 2014:
1) Gaining protections for more wilderness areas
Alpine Lakes Wilderness could be expanded in 2014. Photo by Jeff Pang, flickr
Congress has not protected any new acres of wilderness in several years but thanks to our supporters efforts, the dam of wilderness protection bills held up in Congress is starting to crack. In 2014, we're working with Congressional wilderness champions to secure permanent protection for irreplaceable wilderness areas across the U.S. With the introduction of more than two-dozen wilderness protection bills this year alone, Congress has ample opportunity to pass legislation that would protect more of the wild places that our nation loves and depends on.
The following places are just some of the areas up for wilderness designations:
- Alaska: The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to epic caribou migrations and large portions of America's Arctic.
- Colorado: Hermosa Creek Watershed and San Juan Mountains, both containing some of the state’s grandest scenery and outdoor recreation opportunities. Another bill would protect Browns Canyon, a popular rafting destination, as a national monument.
- Maine: 13 islands off the coast of Maine containing crucial habitat for migratory seabirds.
- Montana: The Rocky Mountain Front, one of the last truly pristine stretches of wildlife habitat in the continental U.S.
- New Mexico: Columbine-Hondo, which contains the headwaters that supply clean water to the cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces. Another bill would protect the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area near Las Cruces as a new national monument.
- Oregon: Devils Staircase, including 30,000 acres of old-growth forests near the southern coast of Oregon.
- Tennessee: Land in Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest, one of the most biologically diverse temperate forests on earth.
- Washington: Lands near Alpine Lake Wilderness in Washington state, where a total of 22,000 acres of spectacular valley forests would be added to the current Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
Photo: San Juan Mountains, Colorado, by Michael Buck.
2) Repelling special interest attacks on our public wildlands
Photo: The Antiquities Act, under attack in Congress, was used to designate Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in 2013. Photo by BLM, New Mexico.
Anti-wilderness members of Congress have been busy launching legislative attacks on bedrock environmental laws and our public lands, the most audacious of which include:
- a proposal to open up all wilderness areas to motorized vehicles, road construction and other forms of development
- a plan to open vast swaths of our national forests to lawless logging
- an attempt to strip the century-old authority of the White House to establish new national monuments.
In the coming year, it will be critical to keep the pressure on Congress to vote against these disastrous bills. You can help by joining our WildAlert list to learn about opportunities to take action.
3) Growing the ranks of wilderness supporters
Wilderness is about places and people. Behind every protected wild place - every park, refuge and forest - are the passionate people who worked to ensure the future of those special places. Without the people we wouldn’t have the places. Unfortunately, many communities and Americans have become disconnected from the outdoors and lost contact with those special places. To ensure that Wilderness has a future generation we must reconnect our communities, especially our young people to the outdoors.
Focused on this challenge, The Wilderness Society has launched an ambitious campaign to build the ranks of new wilderness supporters. In 2013 we launched our Go Outside and Play Campaign and expanded Great Outdoors America Week in Washington D.C. which brought together youth, health, recreation and conservation organizations to celebrate the great outdoors and advocate for reconnecting Americans to our special places. In 2014 we are expanding our outreach to build new partnerships and support efforts to reengage communities through exciting new projects like the National Outdoor Leadership Schools' Expedition Denali Inspiration Tour.
Video: Learn about the amazing journey of Expedition Denali
We are also working to engage public lands conservation service corps across the country through our support of the Partnership for a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps to encourage national serve on our public lands, provide young people with work experience caring for these special places and help them develop a life-long connection to the outdoors. These efforts will initially focus on our "50 for the 50th Project": implementing 50 wilderness service projects to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the wilderness act. Throughout the year we will be rolling out many new efforts and projects to reach communities across the country and reconnect them to our great outdoors.
4) Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act
In 2014, The Wilderness Society will recognize the anniversary of 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. This landmark act, written by The Wilderness Society's Howard Zahniser, has allowed us to protect 110 million acres of pristine wilderness across the United States and is considered one of America's greatest conservation achievements. Thanks to the Wilderness Act, Americans have a way to protect their most pristine wildlands for future generations.
This anniversary is a wonderful chance to remind Americans about the importance of our wild places. To do so, we're participating in celebrations throughout the year as part of the Wilderness50 coalition and launching a dynamic digital campaign to highlight all that's been achieved for wilderness in the past 50 years and and all that we aim to achieve in the next 50. Join us on Facebook and Twitter or sign up for WildAlerts to stay updated about anniversary events and more.
Video: Learn why The Wilderness Act is so important to wildlands.
5) Holding the line against drilling threats in our most sensitive wild places
Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness is one of 12 places featured in our Too Wild to Drill report.
Last summer, our Too Wild to Drill report highlighted 12 beloved wild places threatened by oil and gas development. In 2014 we’ll continue to pressure decision makers to keep oil and gas drilling out of sensitive areas like Chaco Canyon, New Mexico and wildlands near Arches National Park in Utah. Other priorities include:
- Urging the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to create Master Leasing Plans. These plans are critically important because they require the BLM to fully map out a wild area for all of its values, including recreation, wildlife habitat and cattle ranching. The Wilderness Society will continue to push the BLM to create Master Leasing Plans to identify and protect the most pristine areas before they are drilled.
Ensuring the habitat for the iconic greater sage-grouse is not recklessly endangered. Sage grouse live in some of the most pristine, but unprotected, wilderness left in lower 48 states, and rampant drilling development leaves their future very uncertain. Right now Bureau of Land Management offices in western states are developing plans for greater sage-grouse habitat, and will hopefully make the right decisions. Take action to urge the BLM to provide adequate protections.
6) Putting conservation on equal ground with energy
Photo by Ecoflight
The Wilderness Society is putting pressure on the government to strike a better balance between energy development and conservation on federal public lands. For several years, the pendulum has swung too far towards fossil fuel development, and we’re working to correct that by protecting some of the wildest places in the nation.
Another way to balance conservation and energy is to take the approach that the Obama administration took with the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, also known as the Western Arctic Reserve. In 2013, the BLM finalized a plan that opened up more than 70% of the available oil to drillers, while still keeping more than 11 million acres of caribou and migratory bird habitat off-limits. The Wilderness Society will continue pushing the Obama administration for this kind of energy development balanced with conservation.
President Obama has made fighting climate change a key goal of his second term and protecting America’s wilderness is one of the best ways to do that. Wild lands help guard against extreme weather and other impacts of climate change, as well as reduce the amount of carbon pollution in the air. This is why it is so important that land conservation be on equal ground with energy development on our wild lands.
7) Creating a clean energy future
Photo: Creative Commons, Care2
In 2013 President Obama made a commitment to double America's clean energy production from sources like wind and solar. This is a much needed move, but one that puts increased pressure on our public lands. The year ahead provides great opportunities to improve the way we do renewable energy on our public lands. By pressing for congressional action and Interior Department leadership, we can offset the impacts to our lands through mitigation, conservation and re-investing in local communities. This includes:
Advocating for the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act (PLREDA): This is a bipartisan bill that would direct money from electricity produced from wind and solar back to states, counties and a conservation fund in the same way we do funds already collected from oil and gas development on our public lands. The bill has broad support, including counties, sportsmen and recreation groups. When Congress returns from their winter break, our coalition of diverse allies will be urging them for a hearing on this bill.
Guiding energy to the right places: Across the west we will continue to push agencies to ensure that renewable projects are guided away from inappropriate places. In states like California, the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation plan can help protect some of the regions treasured lands. Our focus in the California desert will help state and federal agencies in their efforts to identify conservation lands while at the same time evaluating areas where clean energy could be built.
Offsetting impacts of land destruction: When energy development does occur, we need to ensure that we find ways to offset those impacts in other ways, including better construction practices and setting aside land for wildlife migration and protection. Mitigation is a wise step that will better balance energy development and conservation. As Secretary Jewell moves toward a full year in office, her secretarial order and continued leadership on this issue will help guide the department and its agencies to take a broader look at the landscape as a whole, allowing for smarter planning and decision-making in the months ahead.
8) Restoring lost funding for our public lands and conservation programs
Photo: Eno River State Park in Raleigh, North Carolina. An 805-acre tract was added to the park in 2003 with the help of an LWCF grant. Credit: flickr, Jim Liestman
In the coming year, it's critical that the government restore conservation funding to appropriate levels. We'll be fighting against attempts to balance the federal budget on the back of our public lands. Programs and agencies that support natural resources conservation, outdoor recreation and historic preservation account for just one percent of the overall federal budget, but they have borne the brunt of Congressional spending cuts over the past several years, which must be reversed. Among other important programs, we aim to secure $900 million in dedicated support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program that uses oil and gas payments to conserve public lands.
Ways to help wilderness in 2014
- Ask your members of Congress to pass the wilderness bills that have been held up in Congress.
- Be part of 2014's success stories by considering a donation to support our work
- Join us on Facebook and Twitter or sign up for WildAlerts to stay updated about anniversary events and more.