Wilderness in 2010: See which states could gain new protections

Organ Mountains, New Mexico.

2010 could prove to be another banner year in wilderness protection. With one of the most favorable political climates in years, a multitude of national wildlands and Wilderness designation bills supported by The Wilderness Society could become law.

Unique and beloved lands from coast to coast are on the list for protection, potentially adding to the historic 2 million acres already protected by Congress last year. That expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System was the greasted the country has seen in 15 years.

“I think it’s realistic that we could meet that again this year and maybe even exceed it,” said Paul Spitler, The Wilderness Society’s National Wilderness Campaigns Associate Director.

Already a number of wilderness bills have been introduced in Congress and many others could be on the way, Spitler said.

“We have a Congress that’s supportive of Wilderness designations. We have an administration that’s supportive of Wilderness designations, and we have a strong and active field representation in a number of states that are building support on the ground,” he said.

Just a few highlights of lands we're working to protect (bills already introduced):

  • In California: Nearly 1.5 million acres of desert lands, including Native American cultural areas, historic trails and a portion of historic Route 66, would be protected by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s California Desert Protection Act. The act would also create two new National Monuments and expand Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve.
  • Colorado: 61,000 acres of wilderness in the snow-capped San Juan Mountains outside of Telluride. We are also working to have our Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal introduced. It would protect 400,000 acres of scenic Rocky Mountain forests and meadows in central Colorado.
  • Idaho: A total of 300,000 acres of beautiful alpine forests and lakes in the Boulder-White Clouds region.
  • Montana: 670,000 acres of wilderness in Montana’s Rocky Mountains.
  • New Mexico: 259,000 acres of wilderness in the rugged Organ Mountains outside Las Cruces in Southern New Mexico and another 100,000 acres protected as a national conservation area. In the Northern part of the state, places like Ute Mountain and the Rio Grande Gorge are up for protections.
  • Oregon: 25,000 acres of ancient forests and cascading waterfalls could get permanent protection in the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act.
  • Washington: An 22,000 acre expansion of the stunning Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area just outside Seattle in the northern Cascades.

The Wilderness Society is working to have a number of additional bills introduced in 2010. Highlights include:

  • In Nevada: A bill that would protect 200,000 acres in the Gold Butte area, just two hours east of Las Vegas and home to a rich variety of Native American archaeological sites, the desert tortoise and the only pocket of Arizona cypress in Nevada.
  • Texas: A bill to protect half a million acres of Big Bend National Park, where priceless archeaological sites mix with diverse mountain and desert landscapes.
  • Utah: Wilderness and wildlands bills in a number of counties in southern Utah, where unique red rock canyonlands are world renowned.

For opportunities to help protect the lands above, sign up for WildAlert.

photo: Organ Mountains, New Mexico.