Crown Jewels Report signals it’s time for Congress to act

The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a long-awaited report to Congress that details a list of lands that the agencies see as good candidates for being designated as new wilderness areas. The report, released in early November 2011, was compiled based on the input of local community members and officials, as well as conservation groups including The Wilderness Society.

Although the lands that are included on the list are only recommendations of possible wilderness designations, the list is bringing attention to these areas in a way that will hopefully encourage Congress to act on behalf of their preservation.

“The recommendations compiled by the BLM are a good start toward the critical goal of protecting more of the wild places that belong to the American people, but they are only the beginning,” said president of The Wilderness Society, William H. Meadows in a press statement. “Today’s announcement must be followed by action from the Bureau of Land Management and Congress to ensure that the areas identified in the report get the protection they deserve, and the outcomes from local community processes are supported and recognized.”

The selection of key places recommended for designation strongly supported by The Wilderness Society includes:

• Beauty Mountain (California) in the heart of San Diego County holds exceptional rock formations, steep canyons and chaparral and oak woodlands. These gems are enjoyed by thousands of hikers and equestrians who travel the Cutca Trail and the renowned Pacific Crest Trail. Beauty Mountain provides an important boost to the thriving outdoor recreation economy of San Diego County.

• McKenna Peak, Castle Peak/Bull Gulch, and Brown’s Canyon (Colorado) are unique for their protection of mid-elevation lands that provide a vital role as severe winter range for elk and other species, and are home to Canada Lynx, black bear and mountain lion. These areas will also provide for greater habitat connectivity and ensure Colorado’s watersheds and backcountry landscapes are protected for future generations.

• Boulder White Clouds (Idaho) holds the largest unprotected tract of roadless forest in the lower 48 states. The area offers great solitude and an abundance of hiking trails through pristine mountain terrain. People visit for opportunities to scramble, view wildlife, fish and hunt, and horseback ride.

• Devil’s Staircase and Wild Rogue (Oregon) is within Oregon’s coastal rainforest and is perfect for the adventurous explorer. The area is one of the remote and intact old-growth rainforests and stands in Oregon’s coastal plain. The area’s namesake is a series of cascading pools, hiding deep within the heart of Wasson Creek near Reedsport, OR.

• Gold Butte (Nevada) is characterized by dramatic sandstone formations and red rock cliffs, thousands of Native American petroglyphs and prehistoric sites.  The area is a haven for nature, history and outdoor enthusiasts due to its abundance of wildlife and cultural icons.

• El Rio Grande del Norte (New Mexico) holds some of the most ecologically significant lands in the New Mexico. The area hosts Ute Mountain, which rises from the surrounding sage plain to an elevation of over 10,000 feet. The Rio Grande Gorge also calls this area home, and serves as one of the world’s great avian migratory routes.

• Desolation Canyon (Utah) serves as a rafter’s playground, an archeological treasure trove, and an icon of the Old West. The Canyon offers iconic views of formidable red rock clips, multicolored rock spires and juniper-dotted slopes.

The Wilderness Society hopes that this list will serve as compelling evidence of the broad support and undeniable importance of these natural treasures. “…There is no excuse for ignoring [the evidence of the report] at the expense of these incredible places,” said Meadows. “The time for Congress to act is now; the future of our natural heritage cannot wait.”