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BREAKING NEWS: President Obama Recommends Wilderness for Arctic Refuge

After receiving more than 1 million public comments requesting stronger protections for America’s iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, President Obama and Interior Secretary Jewell unveiled the Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) yesterday, recommending a Wilderness designation for the Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain. This reverses the longstanding Reagan-era recommendation to drill for oil in the Coastal Plain. The president has sent the message to Congress that the administration – like the American people – wants to see Congress finally act to protect this sacred place. A Wilderness recommendation to Congress is the most significant shift in momentum towards permanent protection that any president has made since the Refuge was established by President Eisenhower.

The Conservation Alliance has been involved in the effort to protect the Arctic Refuge for the past decade. It is an iconic and remote landscape notable for its wildlife and outstanding recreation opportunities. I had the opportunity to visit the Refuge several years ago with a group of outdoor industry leaders. We floated the Canning River, which flows north from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean. During the trip, we saw wolves, grizzlies, musk oxen, and countless bird species. On the last day, a herd of hundreds of caribou moved through our campsite, seemingly unfazed by our presence. We swatted mosquitoes, caught Arctic grayling, and hiked in the midnight sun. My words fail when describing the experience.

Adam Forest sizes up wolf tracks in the Arctic Refuge.

 

Much of the Arctic Refuge is already designated Wilderness, the highest level of protection we can give to federal lands. But, there is a 1.5-million-acre strip of land – known as the Coastal Plain – where the refuge meets the Arctic Ocean that has been at the center of controversy for decades. The rivers of the Arctic Refuge all flow into the Beaufort Sea through the Coastal Plain. Along with the Brooks Range, the Coastal Plain bookends the 19-million-acre refuge into one of the most pristine, intact, and spectacular landscapes left on our planet. Unfortunately, the Coastal Plain also has known oil reserves that oil companies and their political allies would love to exploit. Since visiting the Arctic Refuge, I have often thought what it would be like to take that singular journey from the Brooks Range down the Canning River, ending at an Arctic coast riddled with oil wells. The contrast would be an insult to the eye, and the landscape.

President Obama’s Wilderness recommendation for the Coastal Plain is important because it is now the official position of the US government that this important area should be protected rather than opened for energy development. And it will be managed as such for the life of the CCP signed yesterday.

The Conservation Alliance thanks President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for taking this important step toward final, permanent protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And we call on Congress to act on the President’s recommendation, and pass a bill that designates the Coastal Plain as Wilderness.

To thank President Obama for this exciting news, please sign the petition at: http://www.protectthearcticrefuge.org/

Watch: 2014 Sizzle Reel

We pulled together the highlights of our conservation victories from 2014 in a short video, featuring music by The Infamous Stringdusters. We are proud of the work we did in 2014, bringing the outdoor industry’s resources to the organizations working to protect wild places throughout North America. We look forward to another productive year in 2015!

Watch: Emerald Waters of the Klamath-Siskiyou

The Conservation Alliance twice-funded Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild) for their work to stop several proposed nickel mines in southwest Oregon. These mines are adjacent to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area and the Illinois, Rogue and Smith Wild and Scenic rivers.  The Red Flat Corporation, a subsidiary of a British investment firm, proposed a strip mine adjacent to these pristine roadless areas. Unfortunately, an outdated mining law from 1872 allows foreign companies to mine our public lands. Today, the water quality and fish habitat in these wild rivers are at risk.

Take action today by telling the Oregon Water Resources Department not to grant water rights to the mining company.

We’re proud to fund KS Wild for this important work to protect Oregon’s forests and rivers.


Rough and Ready Creek, OR Photo: Zach Collier

Action Alert: Forest Service Protects The Thompson Divide

The campaign to protect the Thompson Divide reached an exciting milestone at the end of 2014. Thanks to the conservation-minded White River National Forest Plan released by the Forest Service in early December, the majority of the Thompson Divide is now closed to future oil and gas leasing for the next 15-20 years.

Our grantee, the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC), is using a unique approach to protect this pristine landscape that involves both administrative and legislative action to prevent future development, while working with current lease-holders to retire existing leases.

The Thompson Divide is a 220,000 acre landscape that includes 15 different watersheds. These watersheds bring clean water to Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Redstone and Paonia. This outdoor recreation destination supports 300 jobs and contributes $30 million a year to the local economy.  In this largely roadless area, one can enjoy gold-metal trout fishing, rock and ice climbing, backcountry skiing, big-game hunting and a backcountry snowmobile trail that stretches all the way to Grand Junction.

 

The Forest Service set an important precedent by closing the area to future oil and gas development. Until the BLM cancels existing leases and closes the Thompson Divide to future leasing, TDC’s administrative work is not done. There are currently 61 active leases, covering 100,000 acres in the heart of the Thompson Divide. In 2007, the Interior Department’s Board of Land Appeals held that the leases issued in 2003 by the Bush Administration were in violation of the NEPA and Endangered Species Act. The BLM is currently analyzing 25 of these illegal leases.

Take action today by thanking the Forest Service for protecting the Thompson Divide and urge the BLM to follow suit. 

 

Passing the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act is the long-term strategy for permanently protecting the Thompson Divide. On December 28th, 2014, Senator Michael Bennett announced that he plans to re-introduce legislation to permanently protect the Thompson Divide from future oil and gas leasing, thus protecting it beyond the lifespan of the White River National Forest Plan.

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