Wilderness Has Deep Value In Hard Economic Times

amargosa river scene blm photo

Amargosa River Natural Area, California; 2009 addition to National Landscape Conservation System. Image credit:BLM,Barstow Images

The roots of my organization are embedded in land preservation, and nowadays that puts our focus on finding a solution to climate change; if we don't fix that problem, there will be no land to preserve, and no future generations to preserve it for.

But something rather traditional happened on Monday that would make our founder, John Muir, very pleased indeed. That's the day President Obama signed the most extensive lands protection bill in 20 years, a bill that includes all of the Clinton/Babbitt-era national monuments, wilderness study areas, and other sites, totaling 26 million acres. (Treehugger readers in California, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia woke up Tuesday morning with a new wilderness area nearby.) The bill also provided five important ocean protections, and will keep more than 1 million acres of the Wyoming Range from oil and gas development. (See the complete list of protections here.)

Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club's Director of Public Lands, was fortunate enough to be there for the bill signing on Monday. His write-up brought tears to my eyes, and I'd like to share some of his words with you:

"The actual ceremony took place in the East Room. The last time I was in that room was in early January 2001, when then-President Clinton gave us some good news-that he was establishing the Missouri Breaks National Monument in Montana-but mainly bad news, that he was NOT going to name the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a monument.

Many of us left that ceremony disappointed and worried about the looming anti-environmental presidency of George Bush.

"We survived the Bush years, and, for instance, won votes to keep the Arctic Refuge off limits. But those were votes to stop something bad. How great to revisit that room eight years later to watch President Obama sign a bill that we loved. I can't describe how good it felt to see him sign into law a bill that makes things better as opposed to stopping a bill that makes things worse.

"I was also struck by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose speech reminded everyone that in moments of national peril, American presidents and people have often looked at the land to bring us together and fuel our spirit. Salazar touched on Lincoln protecting Yosemite (before it was actually a national park) during the Civil War, on Teddy Roosevelt expanding the national park system at the dawn of the 20th century, and how Franklin Roosevelt, as the nation struggled during the Depression, gave millions of Americans jobs through Civilian Conservation Corps. He concluded by saying that "America's national character -our optimism, our dreams, our shared stories-are rooted in our landscapes."

In these tough economic times, our public lands are more crucial than ever. Wilderness, rivers, trails and parks support important tourist economies across the country. This legislation will help protect the tourist dollars and jobs that hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation generate.

As global warming changes wildlife habitat and food sources, it's more important than ever that we take care of our last remaining wild forests and rivers. If we hope to help wildlife adapt and survive global warming, we have to protect the corridors where they migrate and the places where they raise their young.

For those who haven't seen it yet, here's what the lands bill did:

-The bill codifies and adds permanence to the National Landscape
Conservation System, which includes all of the Clinton/Babbitt-era national
monuments, wilderness study areas, and other protective designations,
encompassing more than 26 million acres.

-The bill will protect more than 1 million acres of the Wyoming Range from
oil and gas development.

-The bill also includes the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act.

The package includes five important ocean protections:
1. NOAA Undersea Research Program Act
2. The Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act
3. The Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act
4. The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act
5. The Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program.

Wilderness Protection includes:
1. Wild Monongahela Wilderness - WV
2. Virginia Ridge and Valley Wilderness - VA
3. Mt. Hood Wilderness - OR
4. Copper Salmon Wilderness - OR
5. Cascade Siskiyou National Monument (Includes Soda Mt. Wilderness) - OR
6. Owyhee Public Land Management - ID
7. Sabinoso Wilderness - NM
8. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Wilderness - MI
9. Oregon Badlands Wilderness - OR
10. Spring Basin Wilderness - OR
11. Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wilderness - CA
12. Riverside County Wilderness - CA
13. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park Wilderness - CA
14. Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness - CO
15. Washington County - UT

More wilderness posts on TreeHugger.
New Map Shows Wilderness Disappearing
500 Square Miles of Montana Wilderness Bought Up, Protected From ...
Congress Passes Omnibus Public Lands Protection

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