Victory and Opportunity for Beloved Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota

Photo Credit:  Dave Freeman

Guest blog post by Ellie Siler from the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

Time to Act: The Boundary Waters Needs Your Voice

On January 13, the United States Forest Service initiated a two-year pause for any new mineral leases or exploration, long enough to allow an environmental review of the watershed surrounding the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. The environmental review will be conducted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service. This review comes on the heels of an announcement from the BLM that sulfide-ore copper mining leases held by Twin Metals Minnesota, a company owned by Antofagasta in Chile, were denied.

For the past three years, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, led by Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness has been building a movement to protect this Wilderness. Along with supporters, organizations (including Conservation Alliance), businesses, veterans, students, hunters, anglers and more, the Campaign has successfully created a national movement on behalf of this “quiet Wilderness” and we’ve now reached a critical stage in the efforts to gain permanent protection for the watershed of this national treasure.

Now is the time to speak up for the future of this beloved hunting, fishing and paddling destination and join the chorus of voices to make sure it is protected. Sulfide-ore copper mining would be disastrous for the ecosystem, business that depend on the Wilderness, and all those that recreate in the area. Now is the time to take action! The Forest Service is taking public comments now — tell the agency to protect the entire Boundary Waters are from sulfide-ore copper mining. You can submit a comment through the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

Value of this Place

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a unique treasure in northern Minnesota. The 1.1 million acre Wilderness is characterized by its interconnected lakes and rivers and uninterrupted forests. The Boundary Waters includes 1,200 miles of canoe and kayak routes, 237.5 miles of overnight hiking trails and 2,000 designated campsites. Several sensitive wildlife species make the Wilderness their home, including the gray wolf, moose, Canada lynx and loon.

As America’s most visited Wilderness Area, the Boundary Waters is the economic lifeblood of northeastern Minnesota’s lucrative tourism industry. The Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park help drive the economy of northeastern Minnesota, where tourism supports nearly 17,000 jobs and brings $850 million in sales annually to the region (Explore Minnesota).


President Obama Designates Bears Ears National Monument


President Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument, permanently protecting 1,350,000 acres of public land in southeastern Utah. The Bears Ears landscape is home to thousands of Native American cultural sites, which inspired a coalition of tribes to band together to push for the designation. The region also boasts world-class rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, canyoneering, whitewater paddling, and skiing. By designating the Bears Ears National Monument, President Obama preserves a place where outdoor enthusiasts have the opportunity to respectfully explore a protected landscape where past and present intersect.

The centerpiece of the new monument is Cedar Mesa, a high-elevation plateau riddled with serpentine canyons that drain into the San Juan River. I first visited Cedar Mesa nearly 20 years ago, guided by a friend who was working to protect the area. I asked – naively it turns out – what threatened the place. She took me to a spot just off a well-traveled BLM road that was littered with countless sherds of pottery left by Ancestral Puebloan communities. From the many small pieces of clay, I assembled a pot in my imagination: gray clay with simple, but artistic, painted designs. I looked closely at one piece of pottery, and saw the imprint of the potter’s fingerprints in the clay. As my eyes focused, I realized that I could not walk through the area without stepping on more sherds. The cultural history of the place was on full display.

I then saw a spaghetti bowl network of vehicle tracks, remnants of ATV wheels that had churned through the area. My friend told me that there are countless sites throughout Cedar Mesa that suffered similar damage. Few regulations, limited enforcement. I felt devastated that this beautiful record of the past, integrated with a spectacular natural landscape, was at risk.

I have visited Cedar Mesa several times since; to float the San Juan River, hike canyons, and explore rock art. I came away from each visit in awe of the people who made a life off the land 1,000 years ago. I also learned about new threats to the region, including energy development, and the looting of cultural sites.

Nearly four years ago, The Conservation Alliance learned that Utah Congressman Rob Bishop wanted to develop legislation that would protect large swaths of southeastern Utah, and open equally large swaths to resource extraction. His “grand bargain”, called the Public Lands Initiative (PLI), would offer something to everyone. We funded several conservation organizations (Grand Canyon Trust, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and The Pew Charitable Trusts) to work on the PLI, and continued to invest in that effort until late 2015. At that point, it became clear that the PLI would likely contain too many poison pills for the conservation community to swallow. Fortunately, a parallel effort, led by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, was working to protect much of the same area as a national monument, which would not require an act of Congress. With grants to Utah Dineh Bikeyah and Friends of Cedar Mesa, we threw our support behind the monument effort.

Along the way, we found remarkable support within the outdoor business and recreation communities for the protection of the Bears Ears. We worked closely with our colleagues at Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Alliance to demonstrate the economic and recreation benefits of the Bears Ears region. At the Summer 2016 Outdoor Retailer trade show, an unprecedented group of CEOs held a press conference to call on President Obama to designate a Bears Ears National Monument. Business leaders from Utah and beyond spoke from the heart about the place in economic, recreation, and spiritual terms. It was a moving event.

Early in his presidency, Obama said he wanted to designate national monuments that help tell lesser-known parts of the American story. I’ve explored the Bears Ears region over the years, amazed that no school teacher ever taught me about the Ancestral Puebloans, and how they built tools and structures, farmed, and conducted rituals throughout the desert Southwest. By designating Bears Ears National Monument, President Obama shines a light on an important part of our story. We now have the opportunity to respectfully explore a protected landscape where past and present intersect.

President Obama Designates Gold Butte National Monument


President Obama added to his significant conservation legacy by designating the Gold Butte National Monument, permanently protecting 296,937 acres of public land in southern Nevada. Gold Butte – also considered Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon – includes rugged mountains, Joshua tree and Mojave yucca forests, outcroppings of sandstone, and braided washes that turn into slot canyons. Native Americans have depended on this area for sustenance, medicine gathering, and spiritual use for thousands of years. Visitors can find rock art, structures, roasting pits, and pottery throughout the area.

The Conservation Alliance first supported efforts to protect Gold Butte back in 2006 when we funded Nevada Wilderness Project to develop a campaign to designate the area as Wilderness. That effort laid the groundwork for the national monument campaign that followed. Earlier this year, we supported both Friends of Nevada Wilderness and Friends of Gold Butte to build grassroots support for the monument designation.

Our friends at KEEN Footwear included Gold Butte in their Live Monumental campaign, an effort to urge President Obama to designate five national monuments before the end of his term. Founding member Patagonia has been a long-time participant in the Gold Butte effort. And Las Vegas-based Zappos hosted events to rally support for the designation. It’s always great to see our members go above-and-beyond in to push for new conservation gains.

President Obama protected Gold Butte on the same day that he designated Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. With these protections, President Obama secures an important place in the history of conservation in the United States.

What the new forest plan means for our Tongass National Forest

©Earl Harper

Guest blog post by Jenny Weis, Communications Director at Trout Unlimited – Alaska 

Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest produces more wild salmon than anywhere else in the country. At 17 million acres, this magnificent landscape of western hemlock, Sitka spruce, western red cedar and Alaska yellow cedar trees is part of the world’s largest remaining intact temperate rain forest and hosts some of the rarest ecosystems on the planet that are ideal spawning and rearing conditions for wild Pacific salmon and trout.

Besides sustaining the cultures and lifestyles of local residents including three coastal tribes, salmon from the Tongass employ one in 10 people in the region and contribute an estimated $1 billion per year to the Southeast Alaska economy.

Despite its bounty and unique role as America’s last “salmon forest,” the Tongass faces threats.

Salmon depend on intact watersheds that haven’t been degraded by logging and road-building. Despite this, huge volumes of the old growth forest have been logged from public lands in Southeast Alaska. Many miles of road are carved into pristine areas and pulp mills have historically polluted the air and water. Though the situation on the ground is bad, the political climate can, at times, be even worse.

Historically, the Forest Service has been too hung-up on supporting the old-growth logging industry to prioritize righting the wrongs done to the forest and protecting salmon and trout for future generations.

Until this month.

The Forest Service just officially amended the Tongass Land Management Plan to prioritize protections the most important areas for salmon and trout in the forest. The Tongass Land Management Plan is the document that governs activities including logging, road-building, mining, habitat restoration and recreation. The new plan nudges the existing timber industry into using young growth, meaning smaller trees that have grown back after clear-cut logging and, over the course of 16 years, phases out large-scale old growth logging altogether in the Tongass. This is excellent news for Tongass fish and the businesses that depend on them!

While we know special interests, still pining for the heavy logging of the past, will work to roll back or eliminate the best parts of this plan, we are celebrating this major milestone for healthy Tongass fisheries. TU will work to uphold this progress, and also to achieve further investments at the state and federal levels in salmon and recreation.

Thank you for your support!

©Earl Harper

We Stand By Our Land

The Conservation Alliance Board and Staff, November 2016,  Santa Barbara, CA

The Conservation Alliance board and staff gathered at the Toad&Co offices in Santa Barbara last week to hammer out a new, three-year strategic plan, and a 2017 annual operating plan. We intentionally scheduled the retreat for the week after the elections to ensure that we made our plans with a full understanding of the political landscape in which we operate. We dared to assume that one pro-conservation administration would follow another, and our work over the next three years would simply build on our efforts over the past eight. Needless to say, the election results took us by surprise.

We actually don’t know much about where Donald Trump stands on conservation and public lands issues. We do know that there are members of Congress who would like to wreak havoc on our public lands system. These lawmakers have already introduced legislation that would transfer federal lands to the states, the first step toward privatizing those lands. The same members of Congress routinely stop conservation bills from moving forward, and have threatened to gut our bedrock environmental laws. During the past four years, President Obama has regularly used his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments to protect special lands when Congress has failed to act. Emboldened members of Congress are already talking about rescinding those national monument designations, and repealing the Antiquities Act.

Make no mistake. Our public lands system is now at risk.

“Public Lands” is a painfully generic term for places that inspire so much joy and awe; places that test our abilities and teach us lessons about our place in the world. These are the lands – our National Parks, Wilderness areas, Forest Service and BLM lands – that provide the setting for our great adventures or our daily trail runs. We backpack, ski, and mountain bike on our public lands. We paddle their rivers and lakes, and climb their rocks. Sometimes we go there to simply find quiet in an ever-busier world.

I grew up exploring public lands with my family. I learned to ski and climb there. I got engaged in one National Park, and honeymooned in another. During an eight-month job transition, my wife and I spent seven months on – and under the spell of – public lands. Sound familiar? I’m guessing most people who earn a living in the outdoor industry have a similar connection to our public lands. That’s good news, because we are going to need everyone to stand up now and repeatedly over the next four years in defense of these special places.

American voters elected Donald Trump, and gave his party majorities in both chambers of Congress. But I do not believe this election was a referendum on our public lands system. Public lands are one of the few institutions left in our society that transcend political affiliation. They are our common ground.

Our shared commitment to public lands will be tested over the next four years, and The Conservation Alliance will take a strong stand in their defense. Our new strategic plan will direct us to spend more time on our advocacy efforts, engaging our member companies and their employees to demonstrate support for public lands. Our funding program will continue to support efforts to protect our last wild places, seeking creative opportunities to preserve lands and waters in a challenging political climate. But we will make an important adjustment to our funding criteria, creating a new fund to support organizations working to defend the integrity of our public lands system. We look forward to branching out into this new area of funding.

To our members, we say without equivocation that our work together has never been more important. Our alliance of outdoor businesses has helped protect more than 45 million acres of land and 2,900 river miles over the past 27 years. Our steady success speaks to our ability to be nimble as the climate for conservation changes. Your board of directors met last week, and developed a solid plan for the next three years. We look forward to working with you to implement that plan, and to ensure that the outdoor industry does all we can to preserve our most special wild places.

Outdoor Businesses Call on President Obama to Expand the California Coastal National Monument

The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500


Dear Mr. President,

As outdoor industry companies that depend on protected landscapes where our customers recreate, we urge you to use your authority under the Antiquities Act to expand the California Coastal National Monument. After years of community dialogue and overwhelming public support, it is time to add Trinidad Head, Lighthouse Ranch, Lost Coast Headlands, Cotoni-Coast Dairies, and Piedras Blancas to the California Coastal National Monument.

When President Clinton first established the California Coastal National Monument in 2000, it became our most viewed, but least visited monument. Comprised originally of 20,000 offshore rocks and islands, the monument was biologically important and scenically jaw dropping, yet offered few opportunities to visitors. With your addition of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands to the monument in 2014, visitors gained the first on-land addition to the monument. Expanding the monument will provide public access and interpretation opportunities while protecting important coastal resources for current and future generations to enjoy.

Thanks to the efforts of Senators Boxer and Feinstein along with Representatives Capps, Eshoo and Huffman, the proposed expansion of the California Coastal National Monument enjoys widespread support throughout California. We are encouraged that these Congressional champions have also called on you to expand the California Coastal National Monument.

As companies in California, we can attest to the direct benefits that this designation will bring to the communities of our state, and the outdoor industry. In California, the outdoor recreation economy contributes $85 billion in consumer spending and supports 732,000 jobs. This economic contribution depends on places for our customers to play, learn, and share the outdoors with friends and family. The proposed additions to the California Coastal National Monument will help grow California’s outdoor recreation economy.

We hope you will use the Antiquities Act to expand the California Coastal National Monument before the end of 2016.


Download a copy of this letter here.

Save the Date! The Conservation Alliance Breakfast with Climate Change Activist Auden Schendler

Noah Howell Little Pine Wasatch UT


The Conservation Alliance Breakfast
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
7:00-9:00 AM
The Marriott, Salons F-I, Salt Lake City

Gnomes and Brook Trout: Meaningful Climate Solutions in a Harsh World

A Presentation by Climate Change Activist Auden Schendler 

Brook trout will lose more than three-quarters of their range in the West in the next 75 years due to climate change. Winter sports will see snowpack declines of up to half by end of century. And our next president denies that there’s a problem. But our future can still be prosperous. The outdoor industry has two choices: slowly watch our business and lifestyle disappear, or become a meaningful part of the climate solution, protecting our economies for the long term. Auden Schendler is Sustainability VP at Aspen Skiing Company and board chair at Protect Our Winters. A (mostly) reformed dirtbag and lifelong outdoorsman, he works on high leverage solutions to climate change.

Arrive tired, leave inspired!

Conservation Alliance Grantees Deliver Five Victories


In October 2015, The Conservation Alliance invested $790,000 in grassroots conservation organizations. Each grant went to a project working to secure permanent protection for a specific threatened wild place.  We direct organizations to use our funding over the course of a 12-month period. At the end of the grant period, we ask each group for a final report. These reports play a key role in helping us determine the return on our investment. Conservation Alliance grantees funded in the last 12 months reported five conservation victories, permanently protecting 1,823,423 acres, four river miles and one climbing area.

On October 1, we received 19 final reports. Following is a summary of the progress our grantees have made with our funding. At the end of the summary are several exciting updates on work we funded in April 2016. We will share final reports on all of our April 2016 grants in April 2017.

Download the complete report summary here.

A Tale of Two Maps: It’s Time to #ProtectBearsEarsNow

Eighty years ago, the US Department of the Interior produced a map for a proposed Escalante National Monument that would protect millions of acres of public land in Southern Utah. That vintage map has a lot in common with a more recent map that illustrates the many outdoor recreation opportunities on the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. These two maps demonstrate that the idea of protecting lands in Southern Utah is nothing new. The current proposal for the Bears Ears would protect nearly two million acres of land, preserving the area’s rich archaeological history and many outdoor recreation amenities. The maps are a good reminder that conservation can take a long time, but that good ideas generally win the day in the end. We hope that the vision DOI forwarded in 1936 finds final success in 2016.

The Conservation Alliance Board Calls on the President and Congress to Protect Public Land

Kirsten Blackburn, John Sterling, Adam Cramer, Hans Cole, Linda Balfour

The Conservation Alliance made a trip to Washington, DC last week to push Congress and the Obama Administration for new land and water protections that benefit outdoor recreation. We focused our efforts on securing new national monuments from the President, and on a package of public lands bills from the Congress. Our delegation included representatives from Patagonia, KEEN, Superfeet, REI, Outdoor Industry Association, and Outdoor Alliance.

As we near the end of President Obama’s final term, it is important that we do everything possible to secure new national monument designations. The Conservation Alliance has funded campaigns to protect the Bears Ears in Utah, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the Grand Canyon Watershed in Arizona, Gold Butte in Nevada, the Owyhee Canyonlands in Oregon, and Birthplace of Rivers in West Virginia. We also endorse expanding the existing Cascade-Siskiyou and California Coast National Monuments in Oregon and California. In meetings with Obama Administration representatives, we delivered a letter signed by 68 member companies supporting the Bears Ears proposal.  Read the complete trip report on our blog.

We also worked closely with Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Alliance to develop a list of eight bills that we would like to see Congress move this year. This package of bills would protect lands and waters in Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, and Tennessee. We chose bills that face little or no opposition, and have already had at least one Congressional hearing. It is unclear from our meetings whether the Congress will try to move a package of lands bills before they adjourn later this year, but these bills would be a nice investment in conservation that benefits outdoor recreation.

Our trip coincided with the grand opening of the new REI Flagship store in Washington, DC. Our friends at REI hosted a vibrant party to show off their beautiful new store, and to talk about the company’s commitment to the greater Washington community.

This trip is likely our final visit to Washington during the Obama Administration. It has been an honor to represent our member companies in urging the federal government to manage our public lands for conservation and recreation. After the election, we will begin to build relationships with the incoming administration to ensure that public land protection continues to be a priority over the next for years, and beyond!

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