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Sierra Magazine
Core of Discovery

34 wild and endangered places in Lewis & Clark country

The Sierra Club is commemorating the 200-year anniversary of Lewis and Clark's expedition with a five-year campaign to protect significant wild places in eight of the states along the explorers' route. Among our goals: double the number of designated-wilderness acres, encourage land acquisition and restoration, work for smart-growth laws to manage development, and end commercial logging on national forests and other public lands. The Sierra Club has targeted 34 glorious places that capture the essence of Lewis and Clark country - and that need immediate help if we are to leave a legacy for the next two centuries of explorers. On the following pages we highlight a few of those wild lands. We hope they inspire the adventurer, and activist, in you.

For more information, call the Sierra Club at 1-800-OUR-LAND.

Owyhee Canyonlands

The greater Owyhee Canyonlands, a 3-million-acre swath of remote and rugged land where Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada meet, is the largest still-unprotected parcel in the lower 48 states. Deep gorges slice through the Canyonlands' vast sagebrush steppe, which supports one of the largest concentrations of California bighorn sheep in the West. But haphazard administration by the Bureau of Land Management places the area at risk from overgrazing and off-road vehicles. The Sierra Club is now leading the effort to permanently protect the region as a wilderness area.

Little Missouri Badlands
North Dakota

When Lewis and Clark crossed the Great Plains, native prairie covered more than 400 million acres of America. Today a fraction remains. The Little Missouri Badlands, most of which is managed by the Forest Service as the million-acre Little Missouri National Grassland, is one of the few places where you can still see the rumpled hills, wild grasses, wildflowers, bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs that the Corps of Discovery encountered. Yet none of it is protected as wilderness, and oil-and-gas development is steadily encroaching onto the Badlands' roadless areas. Sierra Club activists are working to secure permament protection for all remaining wild areas in the Badlands.

Missouri Wild & Scenic River
Nebraska/South Dakota

Two segments of the last free-flowing stretches of the Missouri River in Nebraska and South Dakota - the only vestiges of the natural Missouri in the Northern Plains - have been designated as "wild and scenic." Endangered and threatened species - including the interior least tern, piping plover, pallid sturgeon, and bald eagle - all thrive here. But the Missouri's protection is only nominal. The National Park Service has not made conservation a priority, and Congress has failed to appropriate funds for land acquisition, easements, and access points along the waterway - key issues for Sierra Club activists in the region.

Black Hills National Forest
South Dakota

West of Lewis and Clark's route into the Dakotas rise the Black Hills, sacred to the Sioux and the highest mountains east of the Rockies. Unfortunately, Black Hills National Forest is the most heavily developed and logged forest in the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain region, with a mere one percent designated as wilderness. Approximately 50,000 acres, replete with old-growth ponderosa pine, spruce, and rare arctic-like spruce swamps, could be added to the wilderness system - or left to loggers and off-road vehicles. Sierra Club activists have been working for a quarter century to gain wilderness protection for these roadless areas, and to restore near-wild areas in the national forest, which is crisscrossed by 8,000 miles of roads.

Gallatin Range

North of Yellowstone National Park, Gallatin National Forest is a land of jagged peaks and glacial lakes, wildflower meadows, and trout-filled streams - as well as some of the largest elk and moose herds in Montana. The streams that course through these mountains are home to our last populations of westslope and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. But logging and other uses tear up the Gallatin - where fully 90 percent of trails outside designated wilderness areas are open to motor vehicles. To save the Gallatin, Sierra Club activists are calling for permanent protection of wild areas now languishing as "wilderness study areas."

Lemhi Mountains

When Sacagawea led the Corps of Discovery to the Great Divide, the explorers found not the hoped-for Pacific but a seemingly endless panorama of ranges and ridges. These included the Lemhi Mountains, Idaho's longest range not bisected by a road. Today the Lemhis remain remarkably intact. The Sierra Club proposes wilderness protection for some 400,000 acres, and safeguards against destructive grazing, logging, and off-road-vehicle use in another 200,000 acres of the land of Sacagawea's people, the Lemhi Shoshoni.

Bitterroot Range

The Bitterroot Crest threads through unprotected wildlands that are critical to connecting the wild country of western Montana and central Idaho. One key section, the 200,000-acre Great Burn, has already been recommended by the Forest Service for wilderness protection. Though the area has largely recovered from a devastating 1910 fire, new threats abound, including a huge increase in snowmobile use, which is noisy, pollutes, and disrupts animal migration. In addition, there is pressure to log old-growth cedar and hemlock groves. The Sierra Club is working for wilderness designation in all of the Bitterroots' roadless areas and restoration of logged sites to link important wildlife habitat.

Kettle Range

For thousands of years, Indians of the upper Columbia Basin used the land of present-day Colville National Forest for fishing, hunting, and foraging. The salmon runs at Kettle Falls, like those at Celilo Falls farther down the Columbia, provided a major source of food; wildlife was so abundant that the Hudson Bay Company established a fur-trading post at Fort Colville in 1825. Today's Kettle Range is an island of wildness surrounded on the south by the wheat fields of the Columbia Basin and by clearcuts, roads, and farms to the west and east. Over the past three decades, the Forest Service has allowed commercial development to encroach upon the roadless expanses. Despite its ardent wilderness advocates, eastern Washington's Kettle Range was omitted from the Washington Wilderness Act in 1984; those activists have been working ever since to give the area the protection it deserves.

Hanford Reach

Protected from development as part of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the last free-flowing nontidal stretch of the Columbia River runs for 51 miles in Washington State. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls Hanford Reach one of the two most important fish and wildlife habitats in Washington. Just as impressive is its surrounding 90,000 acres of upland sagebrush steppe, which once predominated in the Columbia Basin. Last year, management of Hanford Reach was transferred from the Department of Energy to the Department of Interior. Activists are now aiming for the next step: permanent protection for the river and adjacent lands.

Steens Mountain

Steens Mountain's phantasm of jagged outcroppings, sheer cliffs, hot springs, and steam vents rises dramatically from southeast Oregon's high desert. Little seems to have changed here in 200 years -  except for the threats from overgrazing, destructive off-road-vehicle use, geothermal development, and mineral exploration. To protect the area's wild character, the Sierra Club supports designating Steens Mountain a national monument.

More Places to Protect

The Sierra Club's Wild America Campaign to preserve wildlands in Lewis and Clark country also includes:
  • Nebraska Sand Hills Region, Niobrara River
  • South Dakota Fort Pierre National Grasslands, Buffalo Gap National Grasslands
  • North Dakota Sheyenne National Grasslands, Garrison Reach of the Missouri River
  • Wyoming Beartooth Plateau, Little Bighorn, Red Desert, Mt. Leidy Highlands
  • Montana Pryor Mountains, Rocky Mountain Front, Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem
  • Idaho Boulder Mountains-White Clouds Peaks, The Lochsa Face, Mallard-Larkins Roadless Area
  • Oregon Mt. Hood National Forest, Tillamook State Forest
  • Washington Lower Snake River, Meadows Roadless Area, Dark Divide Roadless Area
  • Oregon/Washington Columbia River Gorge, Columbia River Estuary
  • Oregon/California Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

For more information, see the Sierra Club's Lewis and Clark website.

Sierra Club Outings leads trips along the trail of Lewis and Clark.

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