2009: A Year for Wilderness, Wildlife

Hiker in Kings Canyon National Park, CA. Courtesy NPS.

After eight years of Bush Administration environmental roll-backs and land hand-outs to industry, the nation finally has a real chance to create better days for wild places. The time for change is here, and with your help we’re leading the charge to make that happen.

Since November’s election, our staff and policy experts have been working full-speed ahead with members of the presidential transition team and with members of Congress to prepare them on steps they can quickly take to right many of the environmental wrongs of the past eight years.

From securing sweeping wilderness protection to promoting a major initiative to create green jobs to combat global warming, our aims are high.

We hope you’ll be part of this effort as we will surely be calling on you to assist in the future. Until then, please read on and learn about some of the important work we’ll be doing — with your help — in the coming year:

Keeping Wilderness Wild

Granite Highland Trailhead at Bridger Teton National Park, Wyoming. Courtesy NFS.This year could be a watershed year for Wilderness protection. After years of hard work by The Wilderness Society and its partners, Congress is poised to pass a package of bills that would create the greatest expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 15 years, and would forever preserve beloved places for the benefit of future generations.

The package of bills is the Omnibus Public Land Act. It passed in the Senate Jan. 15 and is moving quickly toward a vote in the House. The act would protect close to two million acres of wilderness in eight states, including portions of such American treasures as the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Oregon’s Mt. Hood, and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Passage of this legislation, and a host of other wilderness bills, remains one of our top priorities for the year.

Addressing Climate Change

Solar panels on urban roofs. As Congress crafts an economic revitalization plan for the nation’s ailing economy, part of its focus is on creating “green jobs.” But the nation would be missing a rare opportunity if those jobs focused solely on weatherizing homes, installing solar panels, and building wind turbines. America can benefit from jobs that directly protect our land, watersheds and fish and wildlife habitat to restore and maintain the health of critical ecosystems.

That’s why we are urging Congress to include in any economic stimulus package a proposal called Green Jobs Restoring the Land. This proposal would restore critical ecosystems in the face of global warming. It would also create thousands of jobs in communities across the country. We look at this as a Civilian Conservation Corps for the 21st century, and one that is sorely needed.

Protecting Lands from Unbalanced Demands from Drilling

Roan Plateau, Colorado. Photo by Jane Pargiter. Courtesy EcoFlight.In the wake of the Bush Administration, some of our most fragile, remarkable, and unprotected places have been snapped up by the oil and gas industry, in places that are too wild to drill.

Working with the Obama Administration, we’ll have an opportunity to restore a more appropriate balance between energy development on public lands and the protection of our air, water, wildlife, cultural heritage and last remaining wildlands.

In 2009, our goal is to move the Bureau of Land Management to reform its oil and gas program, including eliminating the leasing of lands that have been proposed for Wilderness protection.

We’ll also push Congress to pass legislation to permanently place special public lands off limits to oil and gas development and with the administration to slow development of oil shale, an environmentally destructive fuel.

We’ll also contine to play a leading role in ensuring that siting and configuring of new energy infrastructure is done properly, including minimizing environmental impacts on public lands.

And, as we work to put in place a national energy policy that moves us from oil dependency to renewables, we intend to make certain that the decisions regarding where to build transmission lines and other infrastructure on public lands put wilderness and wildlife protection squarely in the picture.

Protecting Roadless Forests

Castle Peak, Boulder-White Clouds Roadless Area, Sawtooth National Forest, Idaho. Photo by Craig Gehrke.The Wilderness Society is already preparing to seize the opportunities for roadless forests with the new administration. We’ll be calling on the new administration to require the Department of Justice to make a full-bore defense of our roadless forests in the federal court system. This follows a recent ruling by a federal district court judge that reduces the number of states where the Clinton-era 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule applies.

We’ll also be calling on the administration to support a moratorium on any road building, mining or logging projects that would degrade the value of our unroaded forests until ongoing legal battles from the Bush administration play themselves out.

Protecting America’s Arctic

Caribou in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Courtesy FWS.Protecting the incomparable resources of America’s Arctic will again be the focus of our work this year, not just in Alaska but also in Washington as the 111th Congress and the new administration of President-elect Obama take office.

With the new Congress in session, we’re already seeing hopeful signs of momentum to protect the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the threats of oil and gas drilling. On Jan. 6 — the first day of the new Congress — Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., introduced The Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act (H.R. 39), which would designate the coastal plain of the Refuge as Wilderness. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. indicated he would introduce a companion bill in the Senate on Jan. 9. The Wilderness Society will work tirelessly to encourage other members of Congress to sign on as cosponsors to these two important bills and work for their passage.

The Arctic Refuge is not the only place in Alaska threatened by oil and gas development. Looking ahead we anticipate continued calls for drilling in some of the most fragile lands and waters of America’s Arctic. Your help in the coming months will be critical to help us keep the Arctic Refuge as well as places such as Teshekpuk Lake (home to millions of the world’s migratory birds), Bristol Bay (home to some of North America’s most important sustainable fisheries), and the Arctic waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas (home to polar bears, whales, walrus and other threatened and endangered marine life) protected from development.

Read more about the issues we're working on with policy makers in our Congressional Briefing Book.

Hiker in Kings Canyon National Park, CA. Courtesy NPS.
Granite Highland Trailhead at Bridger Teton National Park, Wyoming. Courtesy NFS.
Solar panels on urban roofs.
Castle Peak, Boulder-White Clouds Roadless Area, Sawtooth National Forest, Idaho. Photo by Craig Gehrke.
Caribou in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Courtesy FWS.