Wilderness Wednesday: Virginia's First Wilderness

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_Steve BoutcherJames River Face Wilderness, Steve Boutcher, wilderness.net

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Restoring our Urban Waters: A Spotlight on New Orleans’ Bayou Bienvenue

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. 

Bayou Bienvenue wetland history

A Wetland in Crisis: A time lapse of aerial pictures of Bayou Bienvenue in 1952, 1960, and 1976. 

Continue reading "Restoring our Urban Waters: A Spotlight on New Orleans’ Bayou Bienvenue " »

Wilderness Wednesday: Warriors and Film in the North Cascades

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.

Watch their moving films and learn more about trip.

Military Outdoor Adventure Film School

Time to Create an ECHO Across America: Every Child Healthy Outdoors

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.

Continue reading "Time to Create an ECHO Across America: Every Child Healthy Outdoors" »

Wilderness Wednesday: High Uintas Wilderness, Utah’s Land of the Lakes

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. 

High Uintas WildernessPhoto 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.

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Senators Call on President Obama to Protect Greater Canyonlands

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.

Greater Canyonlands_Tim Peterson_Stephanie Smith_Grand Canyon TrustPhoto courtesy Tim Peterson and Stephanie Smith, Grand Canyon Trust

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.”

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Legislation Advances to Protect Colorado’s Browns Canyon

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

Moving Wilderness Forward

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 a couple 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 military overflights. As Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3) pointed out, this amendment could undermine the values of 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.

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 a 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

Wilderness Wednesday: Does Wilderness Matter?

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, VT 

Little Rock Pond, White Rocks National Recreation Area, VT.  Photo: Don Dickson

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A Haven for Ancient Turtles

Turtle hatch puerto rico

"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.


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