Lawmakers have spoken about wilderness; Will the Forest Service listen?

A profusion of Mule's ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis) blooming in Nevada's Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Photo by Andy DeGeus.

You nudged them, and Congress spoke.

After Wilderness Society members sent  thousands of letters and emails to Congress, U.S. lawmakers have insisted the Forest Service not abandon its duty of protecting vulnerable wild lands recommended for Wilderness designation.

A total of 72 members of Congress have signed on to a letter asking Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to create a new policy that fixes gaps in the agency’s spotty protection of recommended Wilderness areas.

"The Forest Service has recommended these lands as wilderness, some as far back as 1993, and it’s high time we acted on those recommendations," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz, the author of the letter. "These pristine areas are some of the most beautiful parts of the entire country, and we should move to give them the protection and appreciation they deserve."

While current Forest Service policy is to protect the wilderness character of areas recommended for wilderness designation, the agency has not evenly applied the policy across the country. In fact, many recommended wilderness areas in national forests, such as California’s portion of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Oregon’s Rogue River-Sisikiyou, and Idaho’s Salmon-Challis, are being degraded by off-roading and other damaging activities authorized by the Forest Service.

"The agency has a long legacy of protecting wilderness areas, but needs to do a better job managing the areas it has recommended for wilderness designation," said Paul Spitler, The Wilderness Society’s National Wilderness Campaigns Associate Director.

"This letter represents a strong Congressional endorsement for a new national policy protecting these lands, and we appreciate the leadership of Chairman Grijalva and all the Representatives who are supporting this effort," Spitler added.

In response to a Wilderness Society WildAlert in late January, more than 17,000 wilderness supporters reached out to their representatives, urging them to sign the letter.

The Forest Service has recommended that Congress designate more than 3 million acres of pristine forest land across the country as Wilderness. While lawmakers consider these proposals, it is essential that the wilderness values of these lands remain intact, or the lands may actually lose eligibility for Wilderness protection.

If you haven’t already, it’s not too late to speak up! Click here to send a letter to your members of Congress. Or sign up to receive free advocacy alerts here.

photo: A profusion of Mule's ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis) blooming in Nevada's Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Photo by Andy DeGeus.