Sierra Club Home Page   Environmental Update  
chapter button
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
Click here to visit the Member Center.         
Take Action
Get Outdoors
Join or Give
Inside Sierra Club
Press Room
Politics & Issues
Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Books
Apparel and Other Merchandise
Contact Us

Join the Sierra ClubWhy become a member?

Planet Main
In This Section
pdf September/October 2006
e-mail June 30, 2006
e-mail April 28, 2006


Studying for the Midterms
Renewables in Action
Just Transition
Blue and Green in Ohio
Battle of Blair Mountain, Again
Unseating an Environmental Foe
Gaining Ground
America's Wild Legacy
Car Talk, Sierra Club Style
Sierra Club Insider
Who We Are:
Loyd Cortez
Christine Williamson
Erica Langenbahn


Sewage 101
States Take Lead on Mercury, Global Warming
I Want My MPG
Postcard from Puerto Rico
The Birdman of Baghdad
Advocate for Safe Weapons Disposal Honored
Stop I-3
Family Planning Key to Sustainable Future
Sierra Club Insider
Who We Are
Ken Smokoska
Larry and Vicki Patton
Claudia Hilligoss
Search for a Story
Back Issues

The Planet
Gaining Ground

Utah, Hawaii, and California make wilderness gains in 2006; campaigns on the move in Idaho, Oregon, Vermont, Maine, and South Dakota

by Tom Valtin

Protecting America’s wild places has been at the heart of the Sierra Club’s mission since its founding in 1892 as a hiking club to protect the landscapes and ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada. Keeping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off-limits to drilling and preserving the nation’s 25-year-old offshore drilling moratorium have grabbed most of the headlines of late, but the Club is involved in a host of wildlands-related campaigns around the country. The last five years have been tough for getting new wilderness protected. Yet the Sierra Club and its allies pushed through more than 768,000 new acres of wilderness additions in Nevada in 2004, a 100,000-acre Cedar Mountain Wilderness in Utah this January, and in June President Bush signed into law the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine Sanctuary, a 140,000-square-mile protected area stretching along a 1,200-mile-long cain of islands, atolls, and coral reefs. In July, Congress designated 277,000 acres of new wilderness in far-northern California, and wilderness bills for Oregon and Idaho passed the House and now await Senate action.

Here are three wildlands campaigns the Sierra Club is currently working on:

More Green for Vermont
The Vermont Chapter’s top priority for the last four years has been promoting new wilderness in the Green Mountain National Forest. In April, its efforts paid off when Vermont’s congressional delegation introduced the Vermont Wilderness Act of 2006, proposing more than 48,000 new acres of wilderness in the state.

As a charter member of the Vermont Wilderness Association, the chapter has spread the word about the values of wilderness to the public and the delegation. Hundreds of Club activists contacted their representatives in Congress and lobbied the Forest Service to increase the amount of wilderness in its new management plan. As a result, the Forest Service upped its recommendation from 17,000 acres of new wilderness to more than 27,000.

Greener Green Mountain State: Skiers pause in the Battell Wilderness in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest, not yet officially protected but included in the Vermont Wilderness Bill of 2006.

“Our members attended every public meeting on the draft management plan, enlisted their state representatives in support of wilderness, went door-to-door, and sent letters-to-the-editor to every daily and weekly newspaper in the state,” says Vermont Chapter Chair John Harbison. Chapter members responded to every letter-to-the-editor critical of more wilderness, and the campaign focused on towns most affected by management of the national forest, driving home the point that wilderness is good for local economies.

The bill introduced by Senators Jim Jeffords (I) and Patrick Leahy (D) and Representative Bernie Sanders (I) proposes nearly double the amount of new wilderness recommended by the Forest Service. Jeffords says that while some Vermonters dispute the need for more wilderness, “I recognize the intent of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and believe deeply in the benefits of managing some areas so that the forces of nature hold sway.”

Harbison is quick to credit the New Hampshire Chapter for helping promote the Vermont bill—the chapters have been working together as members of the Northeast Wilderness Team, which includes New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Canada’s Maritime Provinces. “A New Hampshire wilderness bill was introduced two weeks before the Vermont bill,” he explains. “New Hampshire’s congressional delegation is Republican, Vermont’s is Democratic—or at least votes that way—and we hope the bills go forward together as a bipartisan package, helping the chances that both will pass.”

100-Mile Wilderness
Next door, the Maine Chapter has been working with the Club’s national wildlands campaign to protect Maine’s North Woods, at 10 million acres the nation’s largest expanse of contiguous northern forest east of the Mississippi. Most of Maine’s forests are in private hands, mainly timber and investment companies, meaning land purchases by the state and conservation groups are often the best way to protect land.

Two top concerns in the Pine Tree State are protecting the Wild Allagash River Waterway and bolstering protections along the “100-Mile Wilderness” section of the Appalachian Trail. The 100-mile corridor south of Baxter State Park is the longest stretch of the trail uninterrupted by a paved road, but timbering and development are permitted within a few hundred feet in many places.

Quiet Up North: A canoer glides across Katahdin Lake in Maine, near the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail—the Sierra Club is working to protect the lands around the lake, as well as the nearby “100-Mile Wilderness.”

The Club’s Maine Woods campaign has built statewide support for beefing up this buffer zone and protecting a wilderness core on both sides of the trail. The Club’s leadership has resulted in nearly 100,000 acres of protection over the past five years, with another 60,000 acres now in negotiations. Maine Governor John Baldacci (D) last year publicly commended the Club for its work to protect the 100-Mile Wilderness.

In 2004, chapter members in the northern part of the state formed the Wilderness Project, to empower rural northern Mainers to protect the wilderness in their back yard. No sooner had they organized than in January 2005, Seattle-based Plum Creek Corporation released a plan for the largest development ever proposed in the state. Slated for the Moosehead Lake area, renowned for its scenery, outdoor recreation, and sporting camps, the development would build more than 1,000 second homes, three RV parks, and two luxury resorts on the shores of the still-rustic lake.

Wilderness Project leader Darci Schofield has organized opposition to the proposal, encouraging locals to speak out and putting together workshops to train them in effective public speaking. “All of our workshop participants have given powerhouse comments at public meetings so far,” Schofield says. “At the first meeting, our people arrived early and signed up to speak first, which really helped set the tone.”

Fellow volunteers Arlene LeRoy and Jayne Lellow have joined Schofield in leading tours of the Moosehead Lake area, and chapter activist Bob Guethlen helped establish the Moosehead Region Futures Committee to promote citizen solutions for the area.

“This will be a lengthy process, with many hearings and opportunities for public comments along the way,” says Maine Woods campaign director Karen Woodsum. “That’s why the Wilderness Project will continue to be so crucial—it exemplifies the importance of rural outreach and organizing people who live in remote areas. This is something the Sierra Club is very good at.”

Wild Dakota Grasslands
In South Dakota, the Club is working to protect a very different kind of ecosystem—the grasslands of the Great Plains. Working with the 5-year-old South Dakota Grasslands Wilderness Coalition of sportsmen, ranchers, conservationists, Native American tribes, and businesses, the South Dakota Chapter is promoting 70,000 acres of national forest grasslands as wilderness in the southwestern part of the state.

The Cheyenne River Valley Grasslands Wilderness Heritage Proposal would protect four units of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland—Indian Greek, Red Shirt, Cheyenne River, and First Black Canyon—chosen for their ecological significance, wilderness character, and geological and archeological resources. “This would be the country’s first grasslands wilderness,” says South Dakota Sierra Club organizer Heather Morijah. “It’s very different from other designated wilderness out there.”

Great Plains Wilderness: The Indian Creek area in western South Dakota includes a vast array of landforms and plant life, providing hikers, horseback riders, hunters, birdwatchers, and scenery lovers with one of the most diverse wilderness experiences remaining on the Great Plains. The area is part of a Sierra Club-backed proposal for the nation’s first grasslands wilderness.

The areas were designated roadless in 1979 under the Forest Service’s RARE II roadless area inventory. “But this protection could be wiped out at any time with the stroke of a forester’s pen,” says Black Hills Group activist Sam Clauson. “They’re getting increased use by off-road vehicles, and we’re concerned the Forest Service may swap lands with adjacent landowners, which has happened elsewhere.”

In 2002, two of the areas were recommended for wilderness by Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables. But the 2004 defeat of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) by John Thune (R) caused the process to stall. The Club is now working to convince ranchers, legislators, and county commissioners in the three affected counties to support wilderness and oppose a new coal-hauling rail line proposed for the area.

“We meet with people one-on-one or in small groups and explain that grazing can continue on federal wilderness—it can actually help ranchers keep their grazing permits,” Clauson says. “We’ve convinced some staunch Republican ranchers that wilderness is a good idea. The majority of western South Dakotans aren’t ranchers, but the state Stockgrowers Association is opposed, and non-ranchers don’t speak out.”

Club volunteers are leading field trips to the area to show people—including legislators—what’s at stake. “We’re making inroads with local governments and county commissioners,” Clauson says, “and more and more hunters are on board. I’m a hunter myself, so I understand their concerns.”

These efforts have generated supportive press and letters-to-the-editor in recent months. “If we can get people see the economic benefits of wilderness I think we’ll get this passed,” Clauson says. “I’ve been involved with this since we started the Black Hills Group in 1972—it’s been my life’s work.”


Photo credits: Vermont (Don Dickson), Maine (Jerry Monkman), South Dakota (Heather Morijah)

Up to Top