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The Planet
Sierra Club's Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Message
By Mary Kiesau
Lewis & Clark Campaign Coordinator
Kathleen Casey
Northwest Regional Representative

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Sierra Club's Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Message-Protect Remaining Wildlands and Wildlife

Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson was our young country's president, the Louisiana Purchase was about to become one of the most influential land acquisitions in our history, and Meriwether Lewis was preparing for the camping trip of his life.

Now, in 2003, our country is entering the bicentennial commemoration of Lewis and Clark's cross-country expedition. The Sierra Club is a visible and positive part of this bicentennial, with a clear message-protect the lands explored by Lewis and his co-captain, William Clark.

In January, the Sierra Club was prominently featured at "Jefferson's West," the national launch of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Bicentennial in Charlottesville, Virginia. The opening day program featured the Club's new "Wild America" film, a video speech by Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), and a panel that included three Club representatives-President Jennifer Ferenstein, Executive Director Carl Pope, and Spokane volunteer Dr. John Osborne-as well as author and activist Rick Bass, and Gros Ventre tribal leader Darrell Martin.

"We can look to Lewis and Clark not simply to help us remember what once was, but to help us see the wildlands and wildlife that are still America. There is no better way to commemorate the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, or the explorer in each of us, than to protect and restore wild America," said Ferenstein.

Participation in this event was part of the Club's ever-expanding Lewis and Clark Wild America campaign, which aims to permanently protect millions of acres of wilderness-quality land in states explored by Lewis and Clark, preserve and restore key wildlife habitat, and protect threatened, endangered, and other critical species like salmon, wolves, bison, and grizzly bears. Lewis and Clark's detailed journals give us a historical gauge to contrast what our country looked like 200 years ago with what it looks like today. We can accurately measure what we have lost, what remains, and most importantly, the places we can still save.

More than 25 million Americans are expected to "rediscover" the lands traveled by the Corps of Discovery in the coming years, and the Sierra Club is encouraging these 21st Century explorers to actively engage in protecting the remaining wild places. Among the special places deserving of protection are the last tallgrass prairies of the Plains, the wild reaches of the Missouri River, the wild forests and grizzly-bear habitat of the Rockies, critical salmon habitat such as the Lower Snake River, roadless areas such as Washington's Dark Divide, and the scenic Columbia River Gorge.

The Club's 22-minute film, narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Sissy Spacek, debuted in Virginia and is now available to Club chapters and groups for screenings. In the film, Spacek examines the conservation challenges faced in the regions explored by Lewis and Clark through the eyes of many different people, including Club conservation volunteers, Native Americans, fishermen, and families. The film touches on the optimism in all of us by profiling these modern-day heroes working to preserve a priceless piece of our natural heritage for the explorers of tomorrow.

The Lewis and Clark Wild America campaign wants everyone in the Club to have the chance to see the film, and to help with outreach and advocacy to the public. Chapters and groups can request a copy at lewisand and previews or the entire film can be downloaded at

In other campaign news:

  • Sierra Club Books recently released, Adventuring Along the Lewis & Clark Trail. Groups from Iowa to the Pacific coast are hosting programs with the author and inviting the public to "explore, enjoy and protect" the lands explored by Lewis and Clark.
  • In March, volunteers and staff lobbied on Capital Hill to gain protection of Lewis and Clark landscapes through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Club began building a federal, multi-state Lewis and Clark wildlands protection package.
  • Dozens of outings are being offered across the landscapes Lewis and Clark traversed, and the Club is hosting its third annual summer extravaganza of "Lewis and Clark Days" in June.
  • The Club's on-line Lewis and Clark Fishing Guide will be published this summer.

Take Action: Write or call Senator Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington). Ask Senators Daschle and Murray to commemorate the Lewis and Clark bicentennial by urging federal land-management agencies to: permanently protect our wild forests and grasslands; acquire wildlife habitat and open space in the states where the expedition traveled; and safeguard existing habitat for keystone species like the bison, grizzly bear, wolf, and salmon.

For more information about the campaign, please visit the Sierra Club's Web site at The site contains guidebooks and trip stories, photo galleries, detailed information about imperiled special places and wildlife, modern-day nature journals, quotes and news clips dating back to the expedition and the centennial, and opportunities for citizens to take action to protect the lands and creatures Lewis and Clark encountered.

salmon stream
Still Wild

Clockwise from top left:
Two hundred years ago, when Lewis and Clark explored the Northwest, an estimated 16 million salmon crowded the Snake and Columbia rivers each year. Since then, these river systems have been altered from their headwaters to their estuaries. Salmon face a gauntlet of barriers on their epic journey from stream to sea and back again, including killer dams, degraded spawning areas, pollution, non-native predators, unnaturally warm water, and inadequate water flow. Today, only 1 percent of our wild salmon population is left.

In December 2000, the National Marine Fisheries Service released its biological opinion for recovering salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake river basins. The Salmon Recovery Plan is a 10-year plan that details some 200 measures necessary to ensure the survival of endangered fish. The goal is for self-sustaining and therefore harvestable numbers of fish. The Sierra Club supports full funding and implementation of the Salmon Recovery Plan, as well as removal of the four Lower Snake River dams to recover wild salmon. For the second year in a row, however, the Bush administration and its federal agencies have failed to implement the Salmon Recovery Plan. According to a report card issued in February by conservationists and members of the sport and commercial fishing industries, the government failed to implement more than 70 percent of the plan's required 150 measures.

The Buffalo Gap National Grassland is South Dakota's largest remaining grassland in public ownership. It includes more than 500,000 acres and is home to many rare species of prairie wildlife including the endangered black-footed ferret. The extraordinarily beautiful Cheyenne River watershed in Buffalo Gap includes some of the finest examples of potential prairie wilderness left in the nation, including the largest remaining roadless area in the entire Great Plains.

Although the spectacular Badlands National Park lies just to the east of the Cheyenne River, the Cheyenne area is much more pastoral in nature than Badlands National Park. The Cheyenne River Valley badlands and breaks are more solitary and isolated, inviting the backcountry visitor. The South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club is working to protect these roadless lands as wilderness areas, and the Forest Service has recommended the two largest areas for wilderness designation.

Lewis and Clark called the gray wolf the "large wolf" to distinguish it from the smaller coyotes, which they dubbed the "prairie wolf." Clark wrote, "The large Wolves are very numerous," and they saw and heard wolves throughout the western part of their trip, feeding on bison, stalking wild turkeys, and howling through the night.

In 1967, the gray wolf was designated as endangered. In 1995 and 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduced wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. The newly released wolves encountered a world different from that of their Lewis and Clark-era ancestors. The oil, gas, and timber industries pose great potential threats to the areas around Yellowstone National Park, the Rocky Mountain Front, and the mountains of central Idaho where wolves are attempting to stage a comeback. Still, the number of wolves in and around Yellowstone has increased steadily since 1995, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to downlist the gray wolf from "endangered" to "threatened" in March 2003.

More than ever, state management plans for the wolf are critical to its survival. The Sierra Club is working to protect wolf habitat in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana; educate the public about wolves; and partner with state governments to draw up plans ensuring that the wolves have adequate protection.

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