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Congress Designates New Wilderness Areas

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The US Senate voted today to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a package of public lands bills that together protect 524,300 acres of federal land including 246,300 acres of new Wilderness in Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico. This is the largest suite of new public lands protections by Congress since 2009.

The newly protected areas are:

  • Alpine Lakes Additions, WA: Just 45 minutes east of downtown Seattle, the Pratt, Middle Fork and South Fork Snoqualmie Valleys are the closest mountain valleys to Puget Sound population centers. The legislation permanently protects 22,000 acres of additions to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and 40 miles of the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers as Wild and Scenic.
  • Hermosa Creek, CO: The bill protects the 108,000-acre Hermosa Creek Watershed in the San Juan National Forest of southwestern Colorado, including nearly 38,000 acres of new Wilderness within the watershed.
  • Rocky Mountain Front, MT: Montanans rallied around the new protections for 275,000 acres of public land in western Montana. The bill adds 50,500 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and 16,700 acres to the Scapegoat Wilderness. The legislation also designates 208,000 acres as Conservation Management Areas.
  • Columbine-Hondo, NM: The protects 45,000 acres north of Taos, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including Gold Hill, its highest peak. The new Wilderness also contains the headwaters for two rivers.
  • Wovoka, NV: In Nevada, the bill designates 48,000 acres of wilderness in Lyon County, protecting historic, cultural, and natural resources. The Wovoka Wilderness will be named in honor of the Native American spiritual leader and father of the Ghost Dance, who lived near the area.
  • Pine Forest Range, NV: The bill protects the 26,000 acre Pine Forest Range Wilderness in northwest Nevada. The Pine Forest Range is a popular destination for sportsmen and recreationists and is prime habitat for mule deer, sage grouse, and mountain lion.

The Conservation Alliance and our member companies played a role in this success. Our funding supported the conservation organizations that led the Alpine Lakes, Hermosa Creek, and Rocky Mountain Front efforts. These grants amounted to more than $300,000 since 2008. We generated several sign-on letters from our members demonstrating business support for each of these bills. And we organized many trips to Washington, DC to meet with Congressional leaders and tell them why protecting these areas is important for the outdoor business. Earlier this year, we released Common Ground, a film about the many interesting characters that support protections for the Rocky Mountain Front. It’s hard to believe, but we first started working on the Alpine Lakes effort back in 2007. These things often take longer than we expect, but once they pass, the protections are permanent.

We recognize all of our grantees who made these protections possible: American Whitewater; Washington Wild; The Wilderness Society; Montana Wilderness Association; Friends of Nevada Wilderness; New Mexico Wilderness Alliance; and Conservation Colorado.

Though we celebrate the protection of these important places, we are disappointed that included in the same legislation is a provision that may permit a copper mine next to a popular climbing area in Arizona. Our good friends at the Access Fund have for years fought the Oak Flat land exchange that would enable the mine development. In addition to destroying the Oak Flat climbing area, the proposed mine would devastate significant Native American cultural sites, and is strongly opposed by a coalition of more than 20 tribes in Arizona. Before the land exchange is executed, the proposed mine must undergo an Environmental Assessment as mandated by NEPA. Access Fund will play a key role in fighting the land exchange through the NEPA process, and we encourage you to support Access Fund in this effort. Click here for more information.

Thank you to all of our member companies that allow us to bring our funds and voices to bear on important conservation measures.

Big Win for Canada’s Peel Watershed


Peel River Watershed, Yukon photo: Peter Mather

 

Our friends at Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-Yukon scored a major court victory that will likely lead to the protection of 13 million acres of wild lands in the Peel River watershed. On December 2, the Yukon Supreme Court ruled that the Yukon government overstepped its authority when it threw out a land-use plan for the Peel that would protect 80 percent of the watershed. The Yukon government announced last January that it would ignore the plan — seven years in the making — in favor of its own plan to open most of the watershed to mining and other development. CPAWS-Yukon then joined the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation in a lawsuit to challenge the government’s action. The court ruling is a resounding victory for those who want the watershed protected.

The Conservation Alliance first supported the Peel protection effort back in 2010, funding CPAWS-Yukon for their participation in the land-use planning process. When the Yukon government tossed out the plan, we then supported the lawsuit that should now reinstate the protective plan. With the court ruling, the government must now go back and implement the original plan, though they may make some limited changes. The judge ruled that the government may not change the amount of land that will be protected. As a result, we are likely to celebrate 13 million acres of new protections sometime in 2015.

The twists and turns in this campaign demonstrate the power of committed, local people advocating for the protection of wild places. CPAWS-Yukon and the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation never wavered in their dedication to protecting the Peel. When the government rejected the land-use plan, the conservationists turned to the courts. And won.

We are proud of the role we have played in this effort, and hope to report a final victory in a few months.

National Geographic wrote an excellent summary of the effort when the ruling was announced. Check it out.

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