A winning week for our public lands

Boulder-White Clouds, Idaho. Courtesy USFS.

While The Wilderness Society is deeply concerned about the Gulf Coast oil spill, we are happy to be able to announce some good news on another front impacting public lands in the West. During the first week of May, in five short days, five momentous milestones for wilderness legislation were achieved.

In Nevada, Colorado and California, four proposals for wilderness designation leapt over important preliminary hurdles. And in South Dakota, a proposal to create the first National Forest Grassland in the country climbed all the way to the Senate.

The Wilderness Society is active in advocating for each of the proposals. Here’s a look at what they include:

In Idaho — Boulder-White Clouds

In Idaho, U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Reps. Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick introduced a new version of the Boulder-White Clouds legislation in the Senate and House, respectively. The legislation would designate 330,000 acres of wilderness in three separate Idaho wilderness areas: White Cloud Wilderness, Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, and Jerry Peak Wilderness.

The Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act or CIEDRA, which had been introduced in the House in 2005, was finally introduced in the Senate for the first time. This new measure contains a number of significant improvements won over time by local and national partnerships, such as the addition of 32,000 more wilderness acres.

Wilderness Society staff, Craig Gehrke, an Idaho native, and Bart Koehler, a 35-year-veteran at TWS, worked tirelessly with local groups to craft legislation that could work for everyone. Craig and Bart will continue to collaborate with local hunters and anglers, small businesses, recreationists and conservationists to see this finally pass through Congress.

In Nevada — Gold Butte Wilderness and National Conservation Area

Gold Butte, Nevada. Photo by David Bly.In Nevada, the Clark County Commission passed a resolution endorsing the Gold Butte Wilderness and National Conservation Area. Gold Butte is characterized by dramatic sandstone formations and red rock cliffs, and thousands of Native American petroglyphs and prehistoric sites.

The stakes for Gold Butte could not have been higher: Recently, irresponsible off-roading recreation has caused environmental damage and vandalism, bullet holes and graffiti of cultural sites and Native American rock art have been reported. Now, after this key step toward permanently protecting this area, it is time for the Nevada congressional delegation to act, and consider legislation to permanently protect Gold Butte as Wilderness. Jeremy Garncarz, who has contributed to many Nevada wilderness achievements over the past decade, led The Wilderness Society team working closely with local partners like Friends of Gold Butte to accomplish this historic milestone.

In Colorado — Hidden Gems and Chimney Rock

Hidden Gems, Colorado. Photo by Lisa Smith.In Colorado, Eagle County sent a letter endorsing nearly all of the areas in the Hidden Gems conservation proposal. With the County’s endorsement, Hidden Gems advocates are one step closer to designating a total of 380,000 acres of wilderness.

The region is unique for its protection of lands that provide a home for elk, the Canada Lynx, black bear and mountain lion. These areas will also provide for greater habitat connectivity and ensure Colorado’s watersheds and backcountry landscape is protected for future generations. Steve Smith works closely with local Hidden Gems Campaign, and leads TWS advocacy on this effort with key members of Congress.

Also in Colorado, legislation was introduced this week by Sen. Michael Bennet and Congressman John Salazar to create the Chimney Rock National Monument in southwest Colorado. The legislation will designate the 4,726 acre area as a National Monument and protect the region which contains watershed, scenic, archeological and cultural resources.

In California — Berryessa-Snow Mountain

Poppy field in California. Photo by Andrew Fulks.In California, the City of Winters endorsed the Berryessa-Snow Mountain National Conservation Area proposal. Located less than 100 miles from the Bay Area and Sacramento, the area is a dazzling outdoor wonderland, rich in natural features and recreational opportunities such as hiking, riding, kayaking, hunting, fishing and bird watching. Alice Bond in our California office has worked with local stakeholders on this effort. We are hopeful legislation to permanently protect this special area will be introduced in the coming months.

In South Dakota — Buffalo Gap National Grassland

Buffalo Gap National Grassland in South Dakota.And finally, in South Dakota, Senator Tim Johnson introduced legislation to protect 48,000 acres on the Buffalo Gap National Grassland that would be the first National Forest Grassland wilderness in the country. Bart Koehler, when not focusing on Boulder-White Clouds, worked tirelessly with local partners, such as the South Dakota Wild Grassland Coalition, ranchers and landowners, and other stakeholders to see the Buffalo Gap National Grassland wilderness bill introduced. He will continue to work with regional and national partners moving forward toward permanent protection.

This week was monumental for the areas listed above. As we watch Breton Island, the second oldest National Wildlife Refuge in the U.S. threatened by the Gulf oil spill, we need to remember what we are working to protect.

Boulder-White Clouds, Idaho. Courtesy USFS.
Gold Butte, Nevada. Photo by David Bly.
Hidden Gems, Colorado. Photo by Lisa Smith.
Poppy field in California. Photo by Andrew Fulks.
Buffalo Gap National Grassland in South Dakota.