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Lay of the Land
As a child, I spent a lot of time traveling with my family to different national parks, national monuments and other beautiful areas. It was something we enjoyed doing together and something that brought us closer together. Although we loved to get outdoors and explore new places, visiting the San Gabriel Mountains was one thing we never did. We would always travel to other parts of California or to other states to experience nature. It wasn't until I started college that I visited the San Gabriel Mountains for the first time. It took me that long to visit the mountains I grew up so close to. It turned out that the San Gabriel's are absolutely amazing and beautiful.
My personal experience is one of the reasons I became so passionate about the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign. I want there to be increased awareness among the Los Angeles basin of this precious resource we all have available to us. I want children to grow up thinking about the San Gabriel Mountains in the same way they think about popular places such as Yosemite. These mountains are so close to such a large, diverse population and I believe they deserve to be taken as seriously as other natural areas throughout the United States. They provide such an overcrowded area with much needed open space. They have the ability to provide a place for healthy recreation and to connect youth with nature, despite the fact that we live in one of the largest cities in the country.
The San Gabriel Mountains Forever's vision of establishing the mountains as a national monument will provide long term recognition and protection. It will give the mountains the world class designation it deserves. After attending the most recent public meeting regarding this issue, it was very satisfying to see the amount of support present. It brought a strong sense of community to the campaign which is the backbone as to why this campaign was created in the first place. I am excited for what is to come regarding the San Gabriel Mountains. I hope that with the hard work coming from the people involved with the campaign, Washington can realize the beauty and importance these mountains have for the community.
-- By Laurie Aguilar, San Gabriel Mountains Forever volunteer and Leadership Academy graduate
Often we think of illegal logging as a threat to ecosystems and wildlife. However, this week provided a tragic reminder that illegal logging harms not only harms plants and animals, it also threatens people and communities around the globe. In a remote region near Peru’s border with Brazil, a prominent activist, Edwin Chota, was shot and killed, along with three community leaders. Suspected in the killings were illegal loggers, who have long tried to extract tropical hardwoods in nearby forests.A Ka’apor Indian watches a group depart on a jungle expedition. Lunae Parracho/Reuters
Unfortunately, these slayings are not an isolated occurrence. According to a recent report by Global Witness, more than 900 people were killed from 2002 to 2013 while trying to protect the environment and land rights. While this violence has spread around the globe, Latin America has been particularly impacted, with Brazil accounting for nearly 450 of these cases.
As illegal loggers venture deeper into the forest to extract valuable hardwoods, tensions often arise with local communities. In Brazil, the Ka’apor tribe has lost roughly one third of their land since the 1980s to deforestation and cattle grazing, driven by illegal logging. Tired of encroachment by loggers and a lack of enforcement action by Brazilian authorities, the Ka’apor are taking matters into their own hands. In recent months, the tribe has begun capturing illegal loggers, taking their clothes, and forcing them to leave the area. At the same time, warriors use confiscated tools to destroy already-cut timber and logging equipment.
Though this violence occurs in countries that produce timber, such as Brazil and Peru, consumers in the United States and other timber-consuming nations share some responsibility. According to a report on illegal logging in Peru by the Environmental Investigation Agency, wood from one Peruvian mahogany tree and one cedar tree can fetch $11,000 and $9,000 on the U.S. market, respectively.
The Sierra Club expresses our deep condolences and our full support to all who have experienced or who have been touched by violence and intimidation for standing up and fighting against illegal logging. We are doing our best to contribute to the work of those fighting illegal logging by working to stop demand for illegally harvested wood in consumer countries like the United States. At stake are not only endangered plants and animals, but people’s lives.
--Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program
Situated on Florida’s Sanibel Island in the Gulf of Mexico lies the 6,400 acre J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge’s northern part is where visitors can find the 2,619 acre J.N. “Ding” Darling Wilderness. Both the national wildlife refuge and wilderness area are named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, for his extraordinary work in urging President Truman to create this refuge.
For visitors, this wilderness area is a mass of mangrove islands, which is part of a large mangrove system that still needs to be matured in the U.S. They can also see red mangroves, hardwood groves, seagrass beds, cordgrass marshes, and West Indian hardwood hammock.
J.N. “Ding” is home to American alligators, bobcats, river otters, snakes, turtles, armadillos, frogs, lizards, fish, and Northern raccoons. But what is truly spectacular and famous about this area is the variety of migrating birds present. The J.N. “Ding” Darling Wilderness serves as a shelter, where they can get food, raise their babies, and rest. Over 220 types of birds call this area home, including endangered and threatened ones that may be gone in the future. Some of the interesting birds to look out for are roseate spoonbills, which are bright pink birds with a spoon-shaped bill; egrets, white birds whose long feathers will puff out and down its back during breeding season; double crested cormorants, black birds whose feathers are not waterproof and so they are usually seen during the day standing on something with their wings spread wide; and recently endangered wood storks with their bare heads and long beaks.
To really get a good experience from this majestic wilderness area, visitors should definitely bring binoculars for bird watching when the tide is low, during this time what this area is famous for can truly be seen, hopefully, in its entirety.
-- by Fionna Poon
For the third time in five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has increased the 'incidental take,' or the number of grizzly bears they anticipate will be killed, as a result of conflicts with livestock in the Upper Green area of the Bridger Teton National Forest in northwest Wyoming. The Upper Green has the highest number of conflicts in the entire Greater Yellowstone region, yet the agency has once again failed to require any meaningful measures to reduce those conflicts with livestock being grazed on public land. At least fifteen grizzly bears have been intentionally killed in the Upper Green because of conflicts with livestock since 2010.
Because Yellowstone grizzlies are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), any federal action that could jeopardize the continued existence of the species and/or its habitat must be evaluated. If it is determined that the action (in this case, livestock grazing), will not jeopardize the species but could result in ‘take’ of the species, the take must be quantified and an exemption from the Act is granted.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly raised the number of bears that can be killed in the Upper Green while failing yet again to require measures to reduce conflicts. The title itself of the just-released decision tells the story: “Biological Opinion for the 2014 Supplement to the 2013 Supplement and 2010 Amendment to the 1999 Biological Assessment for Livestock Grazing on the Northern Portions of the Pinedale Ranger District.” In 2011, the incidental take limit of six bears was exceeded the following year, even though the term of the take statement was 10 years, through 2020. In 2013, a new take statement upped the take to 11 bears, which was supposed to be through 2017, but by earlier this month, six grizzlies had already been killed. And now in 2014, the agency has allowed another 11 bears to be killed in the next three years. According to the agencies, the Yellowstone grizzly population is ‘recovered,’ (though it remains on the Endangered Species List), and the Upper Green grizzlies are viewed as ‘extra’ bears.
Sierra Club and several other non-governmental organizations are pushing the agencies for more requirements to actually reduce conflicts, instead of ignoring the problem and simply raising the take. The Forest Service, as the agency that grants grazing permits on the lands the agency manages, has the authority to require livestock producers to do more to reduce conflicts. So does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has the ultimate authority over species protected under the ESA. The only meaningful measure in recent years that has been required, night penning of sheep, has been effective in reducing conflicts when done correctly. Now, however nearly all the conflicts are with cattle, and nothing further is being required, or even attempted, by either agency to resolve conflicts between grizzlies and cattle.
Though every situation and landscape is unique, conflict reduction measures have been proven to work elsewhere. Altering grazing patterns, having more riders with livestock, use of guard dogs and other methods have been effective. Federal agencies and the producers who graze their cattle on public lands in the Upper Green should be actively working to find solutions instead of ignoring the problem and killing more bears, particularly a threatened species trying to survive on public lands. The Upper Green has more conflicts than anywhere else in Greater Yellowstone. This is where solutions are needed most. But unfortunately for grizzly bears, federal agencies have once again bowed to political pressure and increased the number of grizzly bears that can be killed in the Upper Green while avoiding the hard work of finding real and lasting solutions.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly increased livestock-related incidental take of grizzly bears in the Upper Green:
USFWS 1999 Biological Opinion/Incidental Take Statement, 5 grizzly bears; met or exceeded.
USFWS 2011 Biological Opinion/Incidental Take Statement, 2011-2020: 6 grizzly bears within any 3 consecutive years; exceeded in 2012.
USFWS Amended Biological Opinion/Incidental Take Statement, September 2012 through 2012 grazing season: 3 grizzly bears
USFWS 2013 Biological Opinion/Incidental Take Statement, 2013-2017: 11 grizzly bears in any 3 consecutive years, with no more than 3 of the 11 being females; 6 bears, including 2 females, killed by August 2014.
USFWS 2014 Biological Opinion/Incidental Take Statement, 2014-2019: 11 grizzly bears in any 3 consecutive years
Today marks 50 years since President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law, establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System and setting aside 9.1 million acres of wild lands for the use and enjoyment of the American people. As a result of America’s support for wilderness, Congress has since added nearly 100 million more acres to this unique land preservation system—in 44 out of 50 states, and in Puerto Rico.
Labor Day marks not only the end of summer, but a momentous moment in our nation's history-- a moment that began at the Pullman Historic site in Chicago, Illinois.
Pullman was the nation's first planned industrial town, built around the Pullman Palace Car Company. Known for the development of the sleeping car, the company operated during the U.S. railroad boom from the late 1800's to the early 1900's.
It was here that the members of the American Railway Union (ARU) launched a wildcat strike in 1894, provoked by reductions in poverty wage that pushed them ever deeper into debt to George Pullman, the “benevolent” overlord of the company town, who owned the workers’ homes and the stores where they purchased their daily needs. ARU leader Eugene Debs initially opposed the strike. However, after seeing the abysmal conditions in the company town first hand, Debs resolved “to do everything in my power that was within law and within justice to right the wrongs of those employees."
After the union decided to support the strike, Pullman received a sweeping court injunction against the ARU. The next day President Cleveland ordered 20,000 federal troops to crush the strike and run the railways. Debs and ten other ARU leaders were arrested and convicted for conspiracy to halt the free flow of mail. The strike was violently crushed while Debs and the rest of the union leaders were sitting in jail. In the wake of the strike Congress honored the slain workers by designating Labor Day as a national holiday.
Debs emerged from jail convinced that democratic socialism was needed for working people to have a real voice. He later became famous for winning nearly a million votes for President as a socialist, while he was in prison for encouraging young men to resist the draft in World War I.
The ARU had been founded by Debs as one of the first major industrial unions to organize all workers regardless of craft. However, black workers were excluded from the ARU, as they were from almost every union at the time. Years later, Debs acknowledged that the exclusion of black workers by the ARU, apart from its immorality, was an important reason for the union's defeat by Pullman in 1894.
Chicago, and the Pullman Company, was also the catalyst for the birth of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Organized by A. Philip Randolph, the Brotherhood was one of the first and most powerful African-American unions. The campaign to found the union was long and difficult, facing opposition not just from the company but also many members of the black community. By the 1920s, the Pullman Company was one of the largest single employers of African-Americans, and had succeeded in recreating its public image of enlightened benevolence. For black porters, as for their white ARU counterparts decades earlier, working for the Pullman Company was much less glamorous in practice than it appeared. Porters depended on tips for much of their income and were thus dependent on the generosity of white passengers.
The Brotherhood’s organizing drive in Chicago began in earnest in 1925. It took ten years of concerted struggle, until 1935, for the Brotherhood to get its first collective bargaining agreement with the Pullman Company. Randolph, like Debs, went on to become a respected socialist leader of national stature. He became the moving force behind the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, where he prophesied,
"We are the advance guard of a massive moral revolution that is not confined to the Negro, nor is it confined to civil rights, for our white allies know that they are not free while we are not."
Today, much of the historic Pullman town still stands. This rare confluence of industry, labor, and African-American history has been recognized by the National Park Service as "conclusively nationally significant." Now the Park Service would like to make the Pullman Historic Site part of the National Park System.
The proposal, which would create Chicago's first national park, has tremendous local support. By its tenth year of operation it's expected that the park will draw 300,000 visitors annually and create 356 jobs. It will generate $15 million in annual wages and $40 million in sustained economic output.
It will also help further efforts to make our country's public lands, parks and monuments more representative of the full American experience. As Park Service director Jarvis noted in a recent interview, "If you step back…and look as a nation at what we set aside as historic (on the National Register of Historic Places), less than 10 percent of 80,000 sites represent the contributions of minorities and women. This is a problem."
President Obama has the authority to permanently protect this area as a national monument under the Antiquities Act. He has already used this authority eleven times before and has taken steps to include a diversity of places and experiences in America's wild legacy through the designation of such places as Fort Monroe, César Chávez and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments. This Labor Day, I hope you’ll join me in asking that he continue that legacy by designating the Pullman Historic Site a national monument, thereby adding it to our National Park System.
-- by Dean Hubbard, director of the Sierra Club's Labor Program
Labor Day represents the end of summer-- and nothing says summer quite like a trip to the beach. At the beginning of summer, my family spent a few wonderful days exploring the beaches lining a small South Carolina coastal town. Enjoying the catch of the day at a local crab shack, we gazed at a sign across the road at a grocery store that pleaded "Don't ruin our ocean with sonic cannons." As we talked to long -time residents, we were struck by the deep concern they have that drilling for oil offshore would kill this community’s tradition of great seafood, clean beaches, and sea turtle nesting.
Recently the Obama administration opened up the waters off the Atlantic coast to seismic testing, the first step towards offshore drilling. Opening up pristine areas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans for drilling is being proposed in the Obama Administration's new five year Outer Continental Shelf Oil & Gas Leasing Program. New offshore drilling not only threatens our communities and beaches, it also severely undercuts President Obama's plans to fight climate disruption.
The planet is heating up, from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas. Though President Obama and this Administration have done more to combat climate disruption than any other president, true progress can't be made if offshore drilling is expanded. If we are serious about avoiding the catastrophic impacts of climate disruption, we have to keep dirty fuels like oil and gas in the ground and scrap any plans that would allow new offshore drilling off of our coasts.
Oil and gas from new offshore drilling dumps more carbon pollution into the air, increasing sea level rise that destroys coastal communities and beaches. More major cities such as New York will flood – as we saw during super storm Sandy -- as well as other cities such as Miami, Norfolk, New Orleans, and Boston. The Everglades and the marshes of Louisiana will melt into the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Keys, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, barrier islands from New Jersey to Florida, and beaches across America could simply disappear. Some communities, like those in Norfolk, are already dealing with increased flooding from rising seas.
New offshore drilling threatens our coastal economies. Every summer millions of Americans vacation at our coasts and beaches. They spend time with their families, and spend billions of dollars supporting coastal economies that create millions of jobs. Those jobs depend on clean, healthy beaches that could be lost to a single accident.
Image from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
Drilling means spilling. True recovery after a devastating oil spill is a myth spun by Big Oil. The Gulf of Mexico has still not recovered from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster; oil continues to wash ashore on Gulf beaches; commercial fisheries and marine populations have not rebounded.
Opening new areas such as the South Atlantic for offshore drilling sets us up for more devastating oil spills and ties our nation into the dirty energy of the past.
Currently, there is no offshore drilling infrastructure on the east coast of the United States. Even if new leases are issued as early as 2017, it will take at least 15 years to develop the facilities - first exploratory rigs that are replaced by permanent drilling rigs, pipelines, support vessels and ports, etc. – to exploit any commercially recoverable oil or natural gas. That will mean that development of fossil fuels off the coast of Virginia or South Carolina would lock us into dirty fuels for the next twenty years and likely much longer.
This is not the legacy that the President, or we as Americans, should leave behind. New fuel economy standards and cleaner power plant rules are important and positive steps towards cleaning up our energy and combating climate disruption. However, to truly combat climate disruption, the President must also protect our coasts and beaches from oil drilling. Put the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans off-limits to offshore drilling and leave those dirty fuels in the ground.
-- Dan Chu, director of the Sierra Club Our Wild America campaign
Bordered by the Thunder Ridge Wilderness, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Petites Gap Road in the south; and the James River in the northeast, the James River Face Wilderness is Virginia’s first designated wilderness with a total of 8,886 acres. Located in west central Virginia, one of the area’s important characteristics is its sheer scenic beauty that is visible on any one of its 32 miles of trails—11 of which are part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. To get a wider view of James River Face, visitors can climb one of the numerous bluffs and cliffs in the wilderness area, where elevation can range from 650 feet at the James River to Highcock Knob at 3,073 feet. Where the James River cuts through the Blue Ridge Mountains, a beautiful gorge is visible offering distant views; perfect for a picture.
James River Face Wilderness, Steve Boutcher, wilderness.netThe James River Face Wilderness is home to a diverse variety of plants. About 800 types of plants can be found here, which is almost 1/3 of all recorded plants in Virginia. Some of the plants that can be found in this wilderness area are: white pine, northern red oak, chestnut oak, yellow pine, bulbous bluegrass, dwarf shrubs, and much more. Throughout the wilderness area keep an eye out for the stunning rhododendron and azalea flowers; they’re not to be missed. Other plants to watch out for are the area’s three extremely rare plants: clammyweed, star flowered Solomon’s seal, and Kankakee mallow.
About 75 types of birds and 55 types of mammals can be found in James River Face. Among them are white tailed deer, wild turkeys, black bears, foxes, coyotes, hawks, bald eagles, salamanders such as Virginia seal salamander and Appalachian seal salamander, snakes, lizards, and birds. Along with the rare plants, keep a look out for the water shrew near the James River and the rock vole, both very rare animals.
In addition to countless scenic views, visitors can enjoy other activities such as hiking, bird watching, camping, fishing, horseback riding, photography, orienteering, and cross country skiing. The wilderness area also has opportunities for peace and quiet for people who want to get away from their everyday life and just enjoy the serenity of nature. One of the unique highlights of James River Face is Devil’s Marbleyard, which can be reached by taking the Belfast Trail. Located on the slopes of the Gunter Ridge, it is an 8-acre hillside boulder field featuring remarkable car-sized boulders and breathtaking mountain views of the wilderness area below.
While it is known for being Virginia’s first wilderness area, visitors have given the area a second reputation. As one of the most beautiful wilderness areas with the best scenic views in Virginia, the James River Face Wilderness is a place that is worthy of every American’s bucket list.
-- by Fionna Poon, Our Wild America intern
When you hear the word 'bayou' it is hard not to think of the American Gulf Coast. These unique swampy ecosystems have come to define the region, especially in Louisiana. In fact, the word 'bayou' is believed to have originated in Louisiana. Healthy bayous are not only teeming with biodiversity, but can also protect inland areas from tropical storms and hurricanes. These are just a sampling of reasons why protecting coastal wetlands are so crucial.
The Louisiana coast has lost 1,900 square miles of marshes and wetlands over the last 85 years as the Gulf of Mexico continues to encroach further inland. Louisiana's wetlands and the communities that surround them are in trouble, but there is a solution: Restoration.
For the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club, stopping coastal erosion and degradation has been a major priority. With the help of thousands of active Louisiana Sierrans along with like-minded local organizations, projects have been underway to promote nearby nature by bringing back the wetlands that once were and protecting the wetlands that remain. One area that has been a chief concern for the Delta Chapter is New Orleans' Bayou Bienvenue. While the biological health of this area is highly threatened, the efforts that are taking place there have given residents a new hope.
A Wetland in Crisis: A time lapse of aerial pictures of Bayou Bienvenue in 1952, 1960, and 1976.
A formerly thriving freshwater cypress-tupelo swamp, the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle is now a barren saltwater marsh due to canal construction in the 1960s and subsequent saltwater intrusion. In its former glory, as the only part of the Central Wetlands system adjacent to the Lower Ninth Ward, Bayou Bienvenue was an integral resource for one of New Orleans most economically vulnerable communities. Previously filled with cypress trees, water lilies, fish, alligators, otters, and birds; older residents recall the swamp as a place to fish, hunt, harvest and explore. Now the area is merely open brackish water, but efforts from several organizations including Sierra Club are working to change that.
The Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club has been working on the Bayou Bienvenue project since 2006 in partnership with local organizations and other environmental non-governmental organizations as the Restore the Bayou campaign.
“In working after Hurricane Katrina with the community in the Lower Ninth Ward, the community decided that they wanted to recover in a more sustainable way. That included not only repairing their houses to be safer and stronger but also work on restoring natural protections like Bayou Bienvenue” says Darryl Malek-Wiley, who has been an environmental justice organizer with the Sierra Club for 10 years in Louisiana. Restore the Bayou is truly a community project born from community ideas and fueled by community efforts.
The Lower Ninth Ward community is making huge strides towards restoration. Last year, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana in partnership with the Sierra Club and local volunteers were able to plant over 6,000 wetland plants along the shore of the Bayou. In 2013, Restore the Bayou also unveiled new educational and interactive, museum-quality signage to help visitors and residents alike understand what the Bayou used to be and what community members hope it will one day be again. These amazing efforts are just the tip of the iceberg for what Malek-Wiley and the rest of the Lower Ninth Ward community have planned for the site. Not only are these projects physically changing the landscape of the area, but through them residents have a chance to connect with nearby nature.
Volunteer transporting marsh plants for planting in the Bayou
As with many local efforts, Malek-Wiley says the major challenge is trying to secure money for the restoration project. In 2012 Sierra Club was able to get Bayou Bienvenue included in Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, a state-level plan to reduce flooding risks and rebuild wetlands. Bayou Bienvenue’s inclusion made the Restore the Bayou project eligible for state dollars. Sierra Club also got the Bayou listed on a similar restoration plan developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While both of these were steps in the right direction, neither was able to contribute funding to the Restore the Bayou efforts.
Sierra Club is working to engage the Urban Waters Federal Partnership with Restore the Bayou. The Urban Waters Federal Partnership brings together fourteen federal agencies with the goal of improving our nation's waterways and the communities that surround them. The Partnership focuses particularly on communities that are overburdened or economically distressed. At its launch in 2011, the program announced seven pilot sites and three years later the program has grown to include 18 designated Urban Waters locations, one of which is New Orleans. Sierra Club is excited about the growth of this program and hopes to work more closely with the Partnership in the future.
A nature paddling tour in Bayou Bienvenue
“I think this is the type of program that [Urban Waters] should be investing in because it’s being driven by community leaders, is directly related to the community and would return ecosystem benefits to the community” says Malek-Wiley on why this Bayou Bienvenue should be designated as a Federal Partnership project. The Sierra Club supports the efforts to restore the Bayou Bienvenue Wetlands Triangle and is striving to create a federal and community partnership that will allow this area to once again become an integral part of a more sustainable and healthier New Orleans.
For more on Restore the Bayou Bienvenue Wetlands Triangle, visit their interactive website where you can hear stories, get project updates, and take action as well as donate to Restore the Bayou.
-- by Tia Watkins, Nearby Nature Summer Intern, Sierra Club
A group of intrepid veterans, now aspiring filmmakers, recently embarked on an expedition into the wilderness of Washington's North Cascades National Park for the 2014 Sierra Club Military Outdoors Adventure Film School. Months of planning, training, and pre-production, followed by six days in the mountains summiting Sahale Peak, Shark Fin Tower, and the Aquirre resulted in some amazing experiences, and truly inspirational films.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just released the 2014 State Indicator Report on Physical Activity, and it’s bleak. The state by state analysis is a stark reminder that most kids in America are not getting enough physical activity.
According to the report, only 27.1% of youth in the United States are meeting the national physical aerobic activity guidelines, which call for 60 minutes of moderate- or vigorous- intensity physical activity daily. In some states, like Texas, less than one-fifth of young people are meeting these guidelines.
Unfortunately, these numbers are less surprising when coupled with the fact that most Americans simply do not live within walking distance of a park. According to the state by state report, only 39.2% of the U.S. population lives within a half mile of a park. If you want to see how your city fares on park access, look no further than the Trust for Public Land’s Park Score, which ranks cities on park acreage, access, investments and other metrics. The proximity and safety of parks are increasingly being recognized as a contributing factor to the overall health of a community, yet many of our children don't have basic neighborhood access.
It’s not all bad news. The CDC’s report also found that when you combine parks, community centers and sidewalks, 54.5% of youth have neighborhood access to safe places for physical activity. While I, find that number to be woefully inadequate, it is a slight improvement over the CDC’s 2010 findings that only 50% of youth had neighborhood-level access to physical activity opportunities.
The report also took a look at the school and childcare environments and found that several states are beginning to provide policy guidance to enhance physical education and activity. For example, 30 states have provided policy guidance on recess, and 34 have provided guidance on walking and biking to school. Twenty-seven states have adopted some form of complete streets policy, designed to make walking and biking safer and easier.
While progress may be being made in some areas, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all kids and youth are meeting the daily physical activity guidelines, and perhaps even more work to be done to ensure that getting outdoors is a part of that daily routine.
That is why my colleagues and I at the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) created the Every Child Healthy Outdoors (ECHO) Across America Toolkit. OAK is a national strategic partnership of over seventy businesses and organizations from diverse sectors with a common goal to connect children, youth and families with the outdoors. The ECHO Across America Toolkit was designed by a broad set of OAK members and includes major contributions from the YMCA of the USA, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Children & Nature Network, Conservation Legacy, the Public Lands Service Coalition, and the Alliance for Childhood, among others.
ECHO Across America provides state and local groups the tools needed to develop strong and diverse alliances and a plan to get kids and youth outdoors. The Toolkit includes resources for organizing a meeting of non-profit, community, business, and government leaders in a state or city to conduct an assessment of existing policies and initiatives. ECHO also helps alliances set policy goals for getting kids and families outdoors and provides advocacy resources for engaging governors and mayors to advance those goals. The Toolkit takes a multi-sector approach that includes strategies in education, health, transportation, the built environment, conservation and environmental stewardship.
At the national level, Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and Congressman Ron Kind of Wisconsin have introduced legislation that complements the ECHO Across America strategy. The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act is one of several pieces of legislation aimed at improving kids’ access to nature and the outdoors. The bill would provide incentives for states to develop multi-sector plans, similar to those recommended in OAK’s ECHO Across America Toolkit, to ensure that kids and families have opportunities and encouragement to get outdoors. The bill has broad support from OAK members.
There is still a long way to go to ensure that every child has opportunities to get healthy outdoors and we could use your help. If you represent a business or a non-profit organization that believes all children and youth should have opportunities to get outdoors, consider joining the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. Download OAK's ECHO Across America Toolkit and see how you can advance Every Child Healthy Outdoors strategies, today.
Looking for some simpler ways to get involved? Start by letting your member of Congress know that you support the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act. Next, take a kid outdoors! Then, make known your efforts and ideas to engage more young people in the outdoors by blogging, writing a letter to the editor of your local paper, or sharing them in the comments below and on OAK’s Facebook page. Collectively, we can create an ECHO Across America.
Picture an extremely tall mountain, overlooking a clear blue lake at its foot surrounded by thick forests of Engelmann spruce, fir, pine, conifer, and apsen trees. Next visualize this lake showing a beautiful reflection of that same mountain. Now imagine this scene happening over and over again throughout one area. While it may appear to be imaginary, these scenes are very real, combining together to make up the High Uintas Wilderness in northeastern Utah.
Photo courtesy Cordell Anderson, Wilderness.net
One of Utah’s greatest treasures, the High Uintas Wilderness is one of the U.S.’s most outstanding wilderness areas, with evidence to prove it. As part of both Ashley and Wasatch-Cache National Forests, it is the largest wilderness area in Utah with a total of 456,705 acres.
Stretching 60 miles east to west, the area is home to the highest mountain peaks of the Uinta Mountain range, which is also the highest in all of Utah with peaks ranging from 6,000 to the highest of all, Kings Peak at 13,528 feet. This area also has meadows, wetlands, waterfalls, streams, rivers, and lakes, surrounded by numerous varieties of flowers such as the monkey flower, which looks like a smiling monkey, and the rare old man of the mountain flower. However what this wilderness area is known for is its amazingly breathtaking views both from above and on the ground. It has countless clear blue glacier-formed lakes against a gorgeous backdrop of towering mountains, true picture perfect moments.
High Uintas is home to a number of animals such as moose, elk, deer, mountain goats, black bears, a herd of rocky mountain bighorn sheep, river otters, birds, and fish. An animal to look out for when visiting this wilderness area is the gray jay whose nickname is the camp robber. Named for their sneaky ways of obtaining food they have been known to hoard food and consume anything that they can find. Another animal is a willow ptarmigan, a type of white bird who during the wintertime is completely covered with feathers—even their feet, to make walking easier in the snow. One more remarkable animal to look out for is the bald eagle.
With 545 miles of trails guiding visitors into the depths of the wilderness, there are many things to do at High Uintas. Some of the popular trails are Hades/Rocky Sea Pass, which passes through a large number of incredible lakes; Swift Creek Trail as the preferred route to Kings Peak; and Center Park for its stunning panoramic view of the Yellowstone Basin in its entirety. Visitors can go boating, river and lake fishing, camping, hiking, and cross country skiing. The most popular activity is backcountry fishing.
Beyond its beauty, the High Uintas is also a water source to the unique animals in the area and the Uinta Mountains watershed is crucial in supplying water for power, industry, farm, and city use for thousands of Americans in Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, and California.
-- by Fionna Poon, Our Wild America intern
It is an exciting time to be a conservationist. Of course, there are still plenty of uphill, grassy and rocky battles, but now is a time to be more optimistic than ever. Just this year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary year of the Wilderness Act, a new Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument, and the pending expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and no doubt more to come. Recent successes have stirred more and more local and national support for protection of our public lands. Next on the list? Utah.
Last week, fourteen U.S. Senators signed a letter to President Obama calling on him to use the Antiquities Act to protect the Greater Canyonlands in southern Utah. The Senators represent 13 states and more than 100 million Americans. National, regional and local communities have been working to expand Canyonlands National Park ever since it was established in 1964. As noted in the letter:
“Greater Canyonlands … provid(es) habitat for seven threatened and endangered species. Four rivers flow there-the Colorado, the Green, the San Rafael and the Dirty Devil, this watershed serves wildlife as well as 30 million Americans in seven states. It is a lifeline in the increasingly arid West.”
The letter briefly details what is a very long list of historical and economic benefits that would come from protecting the Greater Canyonlands area. The call from the Senators also comes on the heels of a recent letter from the health community, wherein over 200 health professionals from Utah signed a letter to President Obama, similarly calling for a national monument in the region because of the health benefits to all Americans. In addition, just last week, Utah’s state Senate leadership reinvigorated a local campaign for permanent protection of the Greater Canyonlands area—asking Utahans to sign-on in support of protection. In sum, the national and local support for permanent protection of this invaluable region is growing.
The 1.8 million acre area contains over a thousand archeological and hunting sites that date as far back as 12,000 years ago. The rich ecological and historical diversity of the area is what creates a sustainable flow of visitors year after year.
“The outdoor recreation economy is a sustainable one, worth more than $5 billion annually in Utah and more than $646 billion nationwide. American public lands that receive protection help drive economic growth.”
Communities and their representatives understand the immense benefits of lands preservation in southern Utah. A national monument designation would preserve threatened species habitat, ensure clean drinking water from the four-river watershed to the surrounding areas, and provide locals and visitors with pristine and protected views, and unparalleled recreation opportunities.
Nothing could be better than a national monument designation to commemorate this region and the 50th anniversary of Canyonlands National Park this September. As President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “the joy of living is his who has the heart to demand it,” and the public certainly demands the conservation of Greater Canyonlands.
-- by Lauren Van Vliet, Our Wild America Lands Protection Campaign intern
This month, The Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act -- sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall -- was approved by the Senate National Parks Subcommittee.
The bill, which Sen. Udall proposed last year, highlights what Coloradans see as an important priority -- maintaining the legacy and beauty of our natural spaces so they may be enjoyed well into the future. The bill would protect existing legal uses of the land and ban future mining on the riverbeds, thereby protecting the river’s water supply.
The Arkansas River runs through Browns Canyon, making the region a haven for whitewater rafting, fishing, and many other kinds of recreation. The region also supports local agriculture and tourism industries.
Another step closer to earning National Monument recognition, the proposal would protect 22,000 acres of public land from future development and 10,500 acres of designated wilderness. The bill now moves on to the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
A recent poll by Conservation Colorado indicates that 77 percent of Colorado residents support the monument designation proposition. Summit Daily reports that conservationists, locals in Chaffee County, and business owners are enthusiastic about the environmental, economic, and recreational opportunities for Browns Canyon posed by this bill. In a piece for the Denver Post, Joseito Velasquez and Rigo Magaña -- representing Hispanic and religious communities in Colorado -- praised the bill and called upon the Senate to keep “encouraging stewardship of our outdoor and cultural heritage.”
“I’ve spent 18 months developing this bill side by side with Chaffee County residents and other stakeholders. I’ve held public meetings, received thousands of written comments, and my staff and I conducted over 50 meetings,” Sen. Udall said in a hearing as the Chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee. “The resulting bill is emblematic of how public lands bills should be done: from bottom up, based on what the community wants.”
---Stephanie Steinbrecher, Sierra Club Media Team
Yesterday the House Natural Resources Committee marked up 16 pieces of public lands and wildlife legislation. Considering the gridlock that has blocked the advancement of lands bills of late, this is real progress. Most notable among the measures considered were several that protect wilderness areas across the country, supported by the Sierra Club:
Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act
Introduced by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA-8) and Susan DelBene (D-WA-1), H.R. 361 adds 22,000 acres to the 394,000 acre Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. Due to its proximity to Seattle, the area is beloved and heavily used by hikers, campers, kayakers, and anglers. The bill also designates parts of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers as Wild and Scenic. Unfortunately, this version of the bill now includes an amendment that allows mechanical thinning of trees and nd military overflights. As Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3) pointed out, this amendment could undermine the wilderness values and the Wilderness Act.. The Senate version of this bill, passed by unanimous consent last year, contains no such amendment. We hope that the committee will work with the Senate to address this issue before the bill gets to the floor.
Northern Nevada Land Conservation and Economic Development Act
H.R. 5205, introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV-2) designates the Pine Forest Range and Wovoka wilderness areas, establishing approximately 72,000 acres of new wilderness in Northern Nevada. While this legislation does contain a few provisions of concern, we are encouraged by its broad bipartisan support and hopeful that these issues will be resolved.
Oregon Caves Revitalization Act
Introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), S. 354 passed the Senate by unanimous consent a few weeks ago. Now that it has passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee, it is one step closer to being signed into law. The bill expands the Oregon Caves National Monument by more than 4,000 acres, ensuring the protection of one of the largest and most elaborate cave systems on the west coast.
As America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964, it is heartening to see these bi-partisan bills progress towards becoming law. We hope this is sign that Congress will continue to take action that protects the lands and waters that make America so special.
-- by Marni Salmon, Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign
In a society preoccupied with electronic communication it comes as a ray of natural sunlight to read about Vermont families escorting amphibians such as frogs, toads, newts and salamanders across busy roads to the vernal pools in which they breed (Valley News May 11,’14). Concern for wild creatures is especially timely now since, on September 3, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964. That law defined wilderness as an area of undeveloped federal land retaining its primeval character, without permanent improvements or human habitation, protected and managed by designated federal agencies.
To understand the commitment of environmental conservationists I conducted an e-mail dialogue with outstanding leaders in the field. My questions were focused on the growth of their intimate relationships with nature and their views about the myriad ways in which wilderness matters. They provide valuable ideas for today’s youngsters and their families.
Little Rock Pond, White Rocks National Recreation Area, VT. Photo: Don DicksonDon Dickson, a Sierra Club member since 2001, has collaborated incessantly with other conservation organizations to extend and protect wilderness areas in Vermont. During his first years in primary school he walked through a small forest with his buddies, curious about the crayfish, polliwogs and frogs they saw in a creek. Although his interest in wild creatures was sustained his exposure was sporadic until he moved to Vermont after graduating from college. There he has hiked as much as possible, always hoping to see moose, bear and deer without having them see him. Although he’s been mindful of possible attacks, his main concern has been to avoid habituating them to human presence that would place them at risk of being shot.
Greg MacDonald, current member of the Executive Committee of the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club, recalls woodland creatures in a family camp in New Hampshire in the ‘50s and ‘60s. “Raccoons would often jump from the trees … onto the roof of the camp, which triggered the vivid imagination of a four-year-old child in the middle of the night. My initial fear of these midnight marauders was later put to ease when a couple of raccoons decided to raise their family under our porch. [Although we never forgot] that these were wild animals, they really became part of our family and forged a lasting memory and appreciation of the natural world,” he wrote.
Daybreak offered special fascination also. On a farm in Nova Scotia “when I would accompany my uncle to the night pasture to herd the cows to the barn for morning milking my sneakers would become soaking wet even though it hadn’t rained and the skies were clear…. I was confused by the mystery of dew.”
“Much of my nature discovery happened on my own or with the neighborhood kids,” wrote Jackie Ostfeld, currently the director of the Sierra Club’s Nearby Nature Initiative that is “working to connect communities to nature-close-to-home.” Furthermore she co-founded the Outdoors Alliance for Kids … more than 70 organizations working to connect children, youth and families to the outdoors.
Being out in nature provided her “with a sense of freedom … where my parents didn’t really know where I was … where I could just be a kid.” Bob Jordan, until recently the national chair of the Sierra Club’s effort to protect Utah wilderness, enjoyed an experience somewhat similar to Ostfeld’s. When he was about eleven years old, his family had moved from a built up area to the edge of some fields and woods. “I would take long walks with my dog to enjoy the peace, quiet and natural beauty,” he wrote.
Others were attuned to special characteristics of the landscape. Beginning at seven or eight, Vicky Hoover, Chair of the Sierra Club’s California/Nevada Wilderness Committee, enjoyed outings with her family in state parks or forests where she enjoyed walks and scrambling on the rocks. Her first trip into wilderness occurred when she went backpacking in California with her husband and two children. “It was like a paradise, the peaceful, quiet, expansive subalpine basin with meadows, rock slabs, ponds and streamlets, small trees and mountains all around … hard to believe that this was ‘the real world’, no other people around. We were instilled with its serenity and peace – its perfection.”
Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, author and founder of 350.org which he described as “the first big planet-scale campaign about global warming,” was introduced to hiking by his father. “I was always moved, from an early age, by the shape of ridges and mountains, the sound of wind across a big pine forest,” he wrote. His most powerful experience of wilderness occurred hiking in the Adirondacks and “after four or five days just feeling like my mind had finally gone fully silent. Animals seemed to notice the same thing – I remember an owl landing on a branch three feet above my head and just sitting quietly as I walked underneath along the trail. At day’s end I sat by the lakeshore and watched a heron stalking fish not five feet away. It was as if I’d become invisible.”
“My concept of wilderness changed greatly over time,” wrote Bob Norman, a long-standing member of the Sierra Club. When he was about seven his family made several trips to a park in Northern Indiana. “I was aware that this area was protected from incursions by roads, machines, buildings. I was fascinated with its geology, its tall forest trees. I loved hiking its up-and-down trails.” His interest broadened during other trips. “The back country of the Tetons was probably my first experience in an area in the U.S. that qualified for wilderness as defined by the 1964 Wilderness Act. … I was interested in how the geological features came to be, and how they were changing, watching water flow and carry sand and rocks, forming new routes, wearing down channels. I liked comparing plants in high altitudes growing wild with domestic plants familiar to me [and] how types of trees growing were influenced by environmental causes. It would be important to keep areas in their natural state so that others after me could experience the same thing I was experiencing. I think I also felt that we would be preserving plant specimens for use by posterity,” he wrote.
He experienced curiosity that was paralleled, even surpassed, by that of Denis Rydjeski and his partner Betsy Eldredge, dedicated Sierra Club members with Denis serving as secretary of the Upper Valley Group. After finishing graduate school, that couple hitchhiked to South America where their extraordinary explorations included canoeing on the Amazon and climbing 5,000-meter extinct volcanoes in Ecuador, even as they mastered Spanish and Portuguese and worked with local people. They felt awe, humility and wonder as well as an urge to know better the remote areas of the United States.
Hoover interjected a caution. “When people have direct experiences of nature it forever alters them. The mere fact of a person having a cell phone irrevocably and irretrievably has changed the wilderness experience, the essence of which used to be … disconnecting from civilization.” However, when she queried her college student grandson about this he replied that it is precisely because he and his friends spend so much time connected to their electronic devices that some outings to get away from that world … are especially welcome and energizing and refreshing.
For five respondents, being in the wild stirred a profound recognition of the limited role of individual humans in the world. “It teaches us that we are not the center of the world, helps create empathy for plants, animals, [other] humans,” wrote Ostfeld. She recalls a night lying on the rocks on Vermont’s Long Trail during which she watched the Milky Way and myriad shooting stars. “I felt humbled; I felt sheer joy,” she recalls. In a similar vein McKibben recalled his awareness “that I was something small in something very large. In a human-centered world that seems so key.”
“Being in the woods as a child I would hear, smell and touch everything,” remembered Mark Nelson, Chair of the Executive Committee of the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club. “It was the experience of being next to and part of nature and close to God. … I have a strong emotion related to the being that created the earth and everything on it. Not necessarily a ‘religious’ experience but more a ‘spiritual’ experience”. Nelson’s view is almost echoed by MacDonald’s appreciation. “I am much more comfortable in wilderness than I am in most American cities” he wrote. “Humans are much more unpredictable than any animal I have encountered…The question of why does wilderness matter is answered with the question of why do churches matter. … I am not a religious person, but when I am in the wild there is a spiritual connection to my surroundings that I do not get anywhere else … a peace that is healing, rejuvenating, unpredictable.”
Dickson concluded: “Wilderness areas have intrinsic value: these sanctuaries of wild nature simply have a right to exist for their own sake”.
-- By Audrey McCollum, Sierra Club volunteer, Etna, NH.
"This stretch of beach is where Leatherback turtles lay their eggs, and the other stretch of beach is where Hawksbill turtles lay eggs," our local volunteer Ricardo pointed out to us as we stood on the wide sandy beach northeast of Luquillo, Puerto Rico. This is the Northeastern Ecological Corridor, eight miles of beach and over 2,000 acres of forest, critical to the survival of leatherback and hawksbill turtles.
Leatherback turtles are an ancient species that have been in our oceans for over 50 million years. Adults can be eight feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds. They are deep sea divers and have a flexible "leather" shell that withstands the crushing pressure of water thousands of feet underwater as they pursue jellyfish and other deep sea delicacies. Annually, female leatherbacks labor onto Puerto Rico's beaches to lay up to one hundred eggs some three feet under the sand. Sixty to seventy days later, baby leatherbacks emerge from the sand at night and make their way down the beach into the ocean.
Unfortunately, over the last 30 years, leatherback populations worldwide have declined from an estimated 115,000 nesting females in 1980, to 35,000 today. In addition to the loss of beach habitat, ingestion of floating plastic bags, which look like jellyfish, is a likely factor in this decline. Light pollution from homes and resorts by nesting beaches can disorient turtles that rely on stars for navigation.
My family was extremely lucky to actually see a leatherback turtle hatch. We were on an evening walk on the beach and noticed in the distance two baby turtles making their way towards the sea! We ran over to a nest where eventually fourteen emerged. The joy of seeing this gave my wife and I one of the greatest highlights of the trip, watching our daughter and son hugging each other, overwhelmed with the happiness and wonder of seeing such an ancient and hopeful sight.
A stunning beach with turquoise waters, wide sandy beach and breathtaking vistas, the Northeastern Ecological Corridor Reserve attracts not only turtles, but also investors with dreams of exclusive resorts. This area has for years been under threat of development due to its raw beauty. Fortunately a coalition of turtle advocates, community leaders, and biologists came together to form a grassroots coalition to protect the Ecological Corridor. Sierra Club volunteers, such as Cristobal, Alberto and Ricardo lead outings to educate and build community support for protecting this area in its natural state.
The dedication and hard work of local Puerto Rican community leaders and Sierra Club staff and volunteers paid off and last year the Corridor became a nature preserve. Yet much remains to be done. The 2,000 acres of the Corridor is a patchwork of public and private lands. The government has eight years to put together land deals and management plans to realize the intent of a protected nature preserve, or it could revert back to unprotected status. The Sierra Club is committed to continuing to build community support and government commitment to create a nature preserve that balances public access with turtle conservation and economic growth for surrounding communities.
Seeing those baby leatherbacks struggle down the beach instilled in me an enormous sense of responsibility and hope -- responsibility to continue the 50 million year legacy of survival for leatherbacks, and hope from the deep commitment of many Puerto Ricans to protecting their natural heritage.
-- Dan Chu, Our Wild America director. Photo by Dan Chu of the turtles he and his family saw hatching.
Idaho's Boulder-White Cloud Mountains form one of the largest unprotected National Forest roadless areas in the lower forty-eight states. A land of superlatives, they contain some of the state's highest peaks, beautiful mountain lakes, and abundant wildlife. Adjacent Bureau of Land Management lands to the east are a drier, more austere country whose mountains, such as Jerry Peak, contain sagebrush habitat which offers wintering areas for big horn sheep and other animals. All told, this rich region provides habitat for the Canada lynx, wolverines, bighorn sheep, elk, bear, mountain lion, and wolves. Its mountain goat herd is one of the most southerly naturally occurring herds in the nation and has historical significance as the livelihood of the Sheepeater Indians, who were driven from the area in the 19th century. Salmon, which travel the farthest inland and to the greatest elevation of any Pacific salmon run, use the Boulder-White Clouds to spawn. Such diversity of wildlife and habitat is a rare and precious resource in America today.
Idahoans have sought Wilderness protection for the Boulder-White Clouds for over thirty years,yet the area remains unprotected.
Today we have a chance to protect the Boulder-White Clouds as a presidentially proclaimed national monument. Monument designation would allow the entire region, including almost all of the East Fork Salmon River drainage to be managed under one comprehensive plan, instead of being governed by multiple Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management plans. A monument could attract greater resources enabling managers to restore and protect habitat in a comprehensive way, manage recreation better, provide historical and scientific interpretation, and protect the area's wilderness values. It would also withdraw the area from future mineral leasing. County governments in the closest communities of any size, Ketchum and Hailey, support a monument designation, as does public sentiment in Boise, Idaho's largest city.
Just three days ago Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune visited the Boulder-White Clouds with his family. There, we showed him our Idahoan hospitality and got to give him a tour of this area that so badly needs protection. The gorgeous and stunning scenery cannot fail to make an impression on anyone who sees it. Hopefully, the next time he visits the area it will be one of our country’s newest national monuments.
- By Alan Hausrauth, Sierra Club Idaho volunteer
In June, Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Carl Graham, Director of the Sutherland Institute, took the stage at the Heritage Foundation’s “Coalition for Self-Government in the West” panel where they jointly argued that all federal, multiple- use land should be immediately transferred to state control. The coalition’s argument is based on the idea that states can manage public lands better than the federal government because they live there.
A seemingly compelling argument; however, let's take a quick stroll down memory lane. Early western states sold their new frontier (much of which rightfully belonged to indigenous communities) to the federal government because they didn’t know how to manage it. When those same lands were opened to private use in the early 20th Century, clear-cutting and unsustainable forest management scoured the West and nearly obliterated species habitat and fouled waterways.
These lands are public because they are jewels of the American heartland to be preserved for all people throughout the nation. People in New York and Tallahassee have an equal right to visit and preserve places like Yosemite and Big Sur, and other forests and wild lands in between. If states gobbled up these shared spaces they would take with them the unity of the United States. It’s not just Americans in the East who want to keep western land public; in a recent study done by Colorado College, western states demonstrated a strong and growing support of federal public lands.
In that same study, voters agreed with Senator Bishop’s grievance towards the government shutdown’s implication for public lands. When the government shuts down it should not be parks and land access that is cut first! But taking away public lands is not the answer to that fight either! Local communities were estimated to have suffered $76 million dollars per day due to the last shutdown because of the loss of access to parks, monuments and other public lands.
One of the many reasons public lands should stay open and available to all Americans is because they generate huge economic benefits for local communities. Western public lands have generated a 345% increase in jobs in their bordering counties, whereas counties without federal public lands only saw an 84% increase. Locals who benefit from public lands also reap an average income of $2,180 more than their counterparts without public land. Property values also increased in areas that have public land because of the enhanced quality of life and recreational opportunities. A renewed study in 2014 of 17 national monuments confirms that even after the recession, the presence of these monuments is consistent with economic growth in their neighboring communities. The social, environmental, and economic advantages of public land literally run wild!
Though the Heritage Foundation and the Sierra Club may never see eye to eye on public lands issues, we can at least share and discuss our differing opinions. For the Coalition, lands are a means to resource extraction—timber and fossil fuels. For all Americans, federal public lands provide benefits for local residents and visitors alike, while safeguarding clean and healthy places for generations of Americans to come.
-- By Lauren Van Vliet, Public Lands Protection campaign intern
Last week my husband and I were happy to learn that Sierra Club's director and his family were coming to our very tiny town of Index, WA on their way to visit the Wild Sky Wilderness. As members for over 30 years, we had never been invited to meet the Sierra Club’s national director! Eager to meet Michael Brune and his family, we decided to jump on the invitation to join them and a small crew of Wild Sky advocates for lunch and a hike to Barclay Lake – a popular destination surrounded by the Wild Sky.
A decade ago my husband and I had the opportunity to see the beginning of a proposed wilderness, practically in our back yard. The Wild Sky Wilderness was designed as a different type of wilderness, preserving low-elevation forest easily accessible for young families to enjoy hiking, camping and all kinds of outdoor recreation. While the heavy lifting was done by others, we lent support locally through writing letters and staffing information booths at local events. We were thrilled to see the wilderness bill passed and signed into law six years ago. Our state has been heavily logged and it is right that we save some wild places for our kids and grandkids to enjoy. Our excitement to show the Brune family this backyard treasure and tell old stories about conservation was only surpassed by our eagerness to get outside and hike with the family.
Sitting on a deck at the Outdoor Adventure Center’s River House in Index on an uncharacteristically warm and humid afternoon, we talked about matters from local to national import. It was energizing to speak with others who never stop thinking about the health of our planet. I was struck by the friendliness and openness of this group; their interest in our local efforts and the sharing of successes and challenges.
After lunch we drove to the trailhead. Michael and his wife Mary have three great kids, who are total troupers on the trail. Ferns, nurse logs, and a shady trail led to Barclay Lake, a cold mountain lake that is surrounded by the towering peaks of Mt. Index and Barring Mountain. Volunteers and staff loved splashing in the afternoon sunshine, while socializing and strategizing together. Watching some of the seasoned activists explain the importance of snags, or the characteristics of the great Cedar trees was a real treat. We passed countless young families taking their kids to Washington’s newest wilderness, demonstrating the deep attraction people have to these wild places.
Our time with Michael and his family was a treat. It was with great satisfaction that we were able to share the beloved Wild Sky Wilderness with him and his family, and hope the family will keep returning to this special place.
-- by Susan Cross, Washington Sierra Club member