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:

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.

Congress Designates New Wilderness Areas


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.

Support Colorado’s Browns Canyon

One of our partners working with the Obama Administration asked us to circulate a sign-on letter to our Colorado-based members asking President Obama to use the Antiquities Act to designate Browns Canyon National Monument.  They are seeking support for this action throughout CO to provide a powerful demonstration of the outdoor industry’s support for the monument. The letter will be delivered in early December to Administration officials and to CO Senators Udall and Bennet.

Your company does not need to be based in Colorado to sign this letter in support of Browns Canyon National Monument.  Please show your support by sending your logo and the following information to josie at by Tuesday, December 2:

Company Name
Your Name

There is a long history of bi-partisan support for protecting Browns Canyon, locally and statewide. After more than fifteen years of attempts to protect Browns Canyon via legislation, the strategy to protect Browns Canyon shifted to a National Monument Campaign. Recent polling that shows 77% of Coloradans support designating Browns Canyon as a National Monument.

Starting in 2006, The Conservation Alliance funded two organizations, Colorado Environmental Coalition and Conservation Lands Foundation, for their work on Browns Canyon.

Browns Canyon National Monument Opposition
Local Congressman Doug Lamborn has opposed Senators Udall and Bennet’s Browns Canyon legislation, and locals expect that Senator-elect Cory Gardner will join his Republican colleague in opposing the President’s use of the Antiquities Act for the area. One of the three Chaffee County County Commissioners opposes the designation, but the other two (both Republicans) are supportive. There are several vocal grazing permittees and OHV enthusiasts that oppose the designation, even though Senator Udall went out of his way to address their concerns in his legislation and the designation will not change grazing or motorized access in the area. Finally, there are some vocal tea party personalities locally that have expressed concern, mostly along ideological lines. In all, the area enjoys broad support, but there are certain to be voices of dissent about the action that also appear in the media and at local meetings.

Action Alert: Sign a Petition Supporting the Creation of Baja California’s First State Park


Save the Waves just launched the #SaveSanMiguel campaign to gather support for the permanent protection of one of the last intact watersheds on the Baja peninsula.  By turning the San Miguel watershed into Baja California’s first state park, the quality and quantity of the drinking water for 400 locals will be secured and 58 hectares will be protected from threats such as sand mining, illegal trash dumping and urban development.  The San Miguel is one of six priority projects identified by the World Surfing Reserves, and is believed to be the first wave ever surfed in Mexico.

Save the Saves and the World Surfing Reserve are gathering 10,000 signatures on a petition asking Baja California’s Governor, Francisco ‘Kiko’ Vegath, to protect the San Miguel.  These signatures will demonstrate international and local support for the creation of San Miguel State Park.

Sign the petition today to show your support for San Miguel.

Patagonia Ambassador Kyle Thiermann and Surfing for Change released this film about the San Miguel and the efforts to protect it:

The Conservation Alliance funded Save the Waves with a $35,000 grant in our Summer 2014 funding cycle. This is the second project in Mexico funded by the Alliance since our inception in 1989.

ONDA Solidifies Critical Local Support for Sutton Mountain

Oregon Natural Desert Association is one step closer to permanent protection in the John Day Basin.

Photo: JDavis

Conservation Alliance grantee, Oregon Natural Desert Association, has cleared an important hurdle and move one step closer to securing protection for a proposal wilderness area in the John Day Basin with the endorsement of two local governments.  When successful, this wilderness proposal will protect roughly 58,000 acres of public land known for spectacular scenery and prime wildlife habitat.

The Wheeler County Court and the Mitchell City Council have both voted unanimously to support a wilderness designation for Sutton Mountain, which neighbors the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in the John Day River Basin.

In casting their supporting votes, local officials cited the economic benefits of the proposal, which also includes transferring a 1,959-acre Bureau of Land Management-owned parcel to Wheeler County. Mitchell, considered the gateway city to Sutton Mountain, endorsed the proposal last week in a 6-0 vote. The Wheeler County Court followed suit this week. With the two key endorsements, wilderness advocates and local stakeholders are optimistic that the proposal will earn the support of the Oregon congressional delegation.

The proposed land transfer, an area near Mitchell known as the Golden Triangle, was at one time private land that is currently administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The parcel contains a historic homestead and was in the past used for agricultural purposes.

“This proposal really is in the best interests of local residents,” Wheeler County Judge Chris Perry said. “It will create economic opportunities through tourism and visitation to the new wilderness. The majority of area residents I’ve heard from are in favor of this plan, and they agree that it will breathe new life into a tired horse.”

“People come to Mitchell already to see the wonder of the Painted Hills,” said Mitchell City Councilor Kerrie Shortt, referring to Travel Oregon’s inclusion of the Painted Hills in its Seven Wonders of Oregon campaign. “But we believe they’ll stay longer when they realize Sutton Mountain is also worth a visit.”

With its see-for-miles vistas, deep canyons and fascinating geology, Sutton Mountain is a gem of the John Day River Basin worth knowing, said Brent Fenty, ONDA’s executive director. It also features prime habitat for elk, mule deer and raptors, as well as plants found nowhere else in the world.

“We’re proud to be part of a collaborative proposal that would respond to the needs of Wheeler County residents and protect one of the most important areas of Oregon’s high desert,” Fenty said.

ONDA will continue working with Wheeler County, the City of Mitchell and other stakeholders to pursue legislation for the proposal.

Learn more about ONDA’s conservation initiative ( and the area’s unique characteristics ( on ONDA’s website.

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