A Wild Day with Michael Brune

Last week my husband and I were happy to learn that Sierra Club's director and his family were coming to our very tiny town of Index, WA on their way to visit the Wild Sky Wilderness. As members for over 30 years, we had never been invited to meet the Sierra Club’s national director! Eager to meet Michael Brune and his family, we decided to jump on the invitation to join them and a small crew of Wild Sky advocates for lunch and a hike to Barclay Lake – a popular destination surrounded by the Wild Sky.   

Wild Sky Wilderness_2

A decade ago my husband and I had the opportunity to see the beginning of a proposed wilderness, practically in our back yard.  The Wild Sky Wilderness was designed as a different type of wilderness, preserving low-elevation forest easily accessible for young families to enjoy hiking, camping and all kinds of outdoor recreation.  While the heavy lifting was done by others, we lent support locally through writing letters and staffing information booths at local events.  We were thrilled to see the wilderness bill passed and signed into law six years ago.  Our state has been heavily logged and it is right that we save some wild places for our kids and grandkids to enjoy. Our excitement to show the Brune family this backyard treasure and tell old stories about conservation was only surpassed by our eagerness to get outside and hike with the family. 

Sitting on a deck at the Outdoor Adventure Center’s River House in Index on an uncharacteristically warm and humid afternoon, we talked about matters from local to national import.  It was energizing to speak with others who never stop thinking about the health of our planet.  I was struck by the friendliness and openness of this group; their interest in our local efforts and the sharing of successes and challenges. 

After lunch we drove to the trailhead.  Michael and his wife Mary have three great kids, who are total troupers on the trail.   Ferns, nurse logs, and a shady trail led to Barclay Lake, a cold mountain lake that is surrounded by the towering peaks of Mt. Index and Barring Mountain. Volunteers and staff loved splashing in the afternoon sunshine, while socializing and strategizing together. Watching some of the seasoned activists explain the importance of snags, or the characteristics of the great Cedar trees was a real treat. We passed countless young families taking their kids to Washington’s newest wilderness, demonstrating the deep attraction people have to these wild places.

Our time with Michael and his family was a treat. It was with great satisfaction that we were able to share the beloved Wild Sky Wilderness with him and his family, and hope the family will keep returning to this special place.

-- by Susan Cross, Washington Sierra Club member 

Wilderness Wednesday: Mt. Shasta Wilderness Celebration

This year marks the 50-year anniversary of the creation of the National Wilderness Preservation System and the 30 year anniversary of the passage of the California Wilderness Act.  With the addition of 38,200 acres on Mt. Shasta, we are fortunate to be surrounded by the magnificent beauty of the Mt. Shasta Wilderness.

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Photo courtesy George Wuerthner, wilderness.net 

The earliest effort to protect Mt. Shasta began with the Sierra Club founder John Muir’s 1888 proposal for a three to four-thousand acre national park.  John Muir wrote “…The Shasta region is still a fresh unspoiled wilderness, accessible and available for travelers of every kind and degree.  Would it not then be a fine thing to set it apart like Yellowstone and  Yosemite as a National Park for the welfare and benefit of all mankind?...” Muir escorted President Theodore Roosevelt through Yosemite in 1903.  Muir also lobbied for Mt. Shasta.  The next day Roosevelt directed the “Sierra Forest Reserve” to be increased all the way northward to Mt. Shasta.  On a later visit, Roosevelt exclaimed:  “I consider the evening twilight on Mt. Shasta one of the grandest sights I have ever witnessed.” 

Continue reading "Wilderness Wednesday: Mt. Shasta Wilderness Celebration " »

Fighting Illegal Logging with Your Cell Phone

Courtesy of Rainforest Connection 

Illegal logging accounts for up to 30 percent of all timber traded worldwide, harming communities, undercutting American jobs, and increasing carbon pollution. With criminal operations moving deep into remote areas of forest, fighting back may seem impossible. However, a new startup is proving that it’s possible to fight illegal logging with used cell phones. Rainforest Connection, based in California, has partnered with the Zoological Society of London to develop a real-time monitoring system that will be deployed in vulnerable African forests.

So how does the monitoring system work? The company, Rainforest Connection, recycles used Android cell phones, then powers them with a unique solar array that can generate power in the shade - key to operating in the understory of a rainforest. The phones are then placed throughout a forest, generally high in trees to avoid detection, where they function as listening devices. Each device detects the sounds of chainsaws up to two-thirds of a mile away and relays the data to Rainforest Connection’s online system, which is able to pinpoint the location of the sound. Once the location is identified, an alert is sent to local officials responsible for policing illegal logging, allowing them to respond immediately.

Continue reading "Fighting Illegal Logging with Your Cell Phone" »

Wilderness Wednesday: The Spirit of Waldo

It’s 4 AM, and my Grandpa is waking me up telling me to get dressed so we can eat breakfast and leave for the mountains. It’s 1959, I am 5 years old, and to me, my head had just hit the pillow to go to sleep when Grandpa started to wake me up. Surely there must be some mistake; surely I can sleep longer. I can smell the bacon cooking in the kitchen as Grandma gets breakfast ready and packs lunch for Grandpa and me, and I know it is time to get up. As I wake up, I remember Grandpa getting the boat ready and packing the camping gear in his 55 Chevy pickup the day before for our annual trip to Waldo Lake. It’s dark outside, and it seems like we are leaving in the middle of the night; something I would come to get very familiar with on the many trips like this I had with Grandpa going on fishing, hunting, and camping trips in my youth.

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My times with my Grandfather going on these adventures are my most cherished memories, and though I didn’t know it at the time, they formed the foundation of who I would become as a man. How very fortunate I am to have his ever present patient guiding hand to show me the way through the mystery of life. Through him, I learned about the forest and the wisdom of learning through observation. Through that observation in the solitude of countless trips, the forest revealed its secrets to me, and my connection with nature was made.

Continue reading "Wilderness Wednesday: The Spirit of Waldo" »

Organizations Come Together to Celebrate Kids and Youth in the Great Outdoors

GOA week tent

Members of NOLS Expedition Denali teach young campers how to pitch a tent 

During my second full week as a Sierra Club intern I was lucky enough to participate in Great Outdoors America Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness around outdoor issues by advocating for public lands and connecting people with nature to members of Congress and the Administration. I had a great time educating leaders on Capitol Hill, especially spreading the word about the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act!  I met wonderful volunteers from Sierra Club chapters across the country and became acquainted with some of our nation’s leaders in outdoor recreation, education and health. Though I loved every action-packed second of GO America Week, my favorite event hands down was the Outdoors Alliance for Kids’ Youth and America’s Great Outdoors event.    

The OAK youth event was held along the Anacostia River at Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Maryland. The scenic Bladensburg Waterfront Park, maintained by the Prince George’s County Department of Park and Recreation, provided an ideal backdrop for the day's activities. 

Spearheaded by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids and Minneapolis-based adventure travel organization Wilderness Inquiry (an OAK member), the event served to spread a message of ensuring outdoor opportunities for kids, youth, and families everywhere.

 Check out a round-up of the day on Storify! You can also read a full write-up of the day from the Outdoors Alliance for Kids

We hope to see you at next year's Great Outdoors America Week!

-- by Tia Watkins

 

 

Wilderness Forward

Brune road tripThis year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, one of our country's greatest tools for protecting America's wild places. Signed into law on September 3, 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Wilderness Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System and set aside an initial nine million acres of wild lands for the use and enjoyment of the American people.

Over the past 50 years, and as a result of America's support for wilderness, Congress has added nearly 100 million more acres to this unique land preservation system - in 44 out of 50 states and Puerto Rico.    

The 1964 Wilderness Act defines "Wilderness" as areas "where the earth and its community of life...appear to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable..."

Today, this original idea of wilderness is as salient as ever. Wild lands and natural systems filter the air we breathe and the water we drink; they generate fertile soils, control pests that destroy crops, provide habitat for wildlife, sequester carbon pollution and control floods. They also contribute to the multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation economy and provide important opportunities for people from all backgrounds to connect with nature. In today's busy world, protected wild places provide solace and peace.

As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune embarks on a family summer road trip this week through wild places in the Pacific Northwest (follow along right here!), he'll get to experience some of these scenic wild places first hand -- though with three kids the solace and peace may be harder to find. Thanks to the enduring legacy of the Wilderness Act his family, and countless others, will hike, camp and enjoy spending time together away from it all in our great outdoors.  

Prairie creek state parkThere remains an urgent need to safeguard places "untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." But as we look to the next 50 years of protecting our wild places the idea of wilderness must also grow and evolve.

Mounting threats, from climate disruption, dirty fuel extraction, and an increasing disconnect between Americans and the outdoors, make it necessary to expand our thinking about protecting special places. In the coming years, our country's leaders must prioritize protecting  local parks and nature closer to home,  national monuments and new formally designated Wilderness areas. All of these areas play a critical role in the future of America's natural heritage.

My first Wilderness experience was as a Boy Scout in California. Spending four days on a Wilderness backpacking trip in the Klamath Mountains at the age of 13 changed my life forever and put me on a path to be a conservationist. The art of survival during those days in the wild also built a sense of confidence that I could take on seemly insurmountable challenges and prevail.

Wilderness is a living legacy. For it to continue to thrive, it's time to recognize that wild is where you find it. We need to increase opportunities for all Americans to explore the country's wild places, whether on a family road trip like the Brunes or an afternoon picnic at the neighborhood park. Once someone has experienced the power of the great outdoors, near or far, it's hard not to be moved to protect and defend it.

-- Dan Chu, Sierra Club Our Wild America director

Wilderness Wednesday: Journey Through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Arctic regufe coastal plain

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune this week will embark on a journey through the winding rivers in one of our nation’s greatest wilderness icons, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Joining him will be composer, writer, musician and 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer Paul D. Miller, known as DJ Spooky; and Rue Mapp, Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a national and social network designed to help re-reconnect African Americans to nature.

The only refuge specifically designed for wilderness purposes, the Arctic Refuge is home to spectacular scenery and some of our most beloved wildlife, including polar bears, caribou and birds from all 50 states. The group will share stories with the Gwich’in residents of Arctic Village, then raft through the Brooks Range on the Aichilik River all the way to the Arctic Ocean, and there they will meet with the Inupiat people in the village of Kaktovik to learn more about their sacred connection with the land and wildlife.  The journey will be a testament to both the enduring legacy of the Wilderness Act but also the ongoing need for it, as they will float through a landscape protected for future generations in the Mollie Beattie Wilderness area, but end up in one of the areas most threatened by oil and gas exploration— the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.

Right now the Porcupine Caribou Herd is traveling through the Aichilik River region, according to reports in the field. The caribou herd is nearly 170,000 animals strong, and each year they migrate 1,500 miles from their wintering grounds in Interior Alaska and Canada, to the coast of the Beaufort Sea, and back.  On our trip we’re hoping to see the caribou herd as it heads to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—the crown jewel of the refuge. These caribou come to the coastal plain each year to birth their young, and they’re far from alone. Millions of birds nest of the coastal plain and it's where polar bears den their young.

Over the past fifty years the Wilderness Act has protected nearly 110 million acres of public lands for all Americans to enjoy. Worthy in their own right, these lands also provide clean air and water for communities, provide landscapes for wildlife, help fight climate disruption, and contribute to the $646 billion outdoor recreation economy.   Wilderness areas provide opportunities for people to reconnect with the outdoors and with each other in an increasingly disconnected world.

Follow their trip online.  

Trading Human Rights for Timber

 

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Siakor gives his account of illegal logging in DC.

Earlier this month, environmental activists from Liberia and Peru came to the U.S. to share first-hand accounts of illegal logging, the destruction it brings to their communities and forests, and what we can do to bring the harmful practice to a halt.

Speaking at a series of lectures in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, including Senate and House briefings on Capitol Hill, Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor of Liberia and Julia Urrunaga of Peru highlighted the Lacey Act, a historic piece of U.S. legislation and the most effective tool we have to stop illegal logging and associated trade.

 

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Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor

Siakor is a local hero and a global award-winning figure. In 2006, he received a Goldman Prize, the world’s largest prize honoring environmental activists, after risking his life to expose that Liberian
President Charles Taylor used proceeds from illegal logging to fund civil war. As founder of the Sustainable Development Institute in Liberia, he still works to rally grassroots activists to empower communities and expose corrupt environmental practices.

Julia Urrunaga, Peru Director for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), also works to bring forest crime to the light of day. In Peru, she helps to give voice to locals and promote policies that help eliminate illegally sourced timber and forest products from global markets. After years of investigation, Urrunaga and EIA released “The Laundering Machine,” a report uncovering illegal logging and timber laundering throughout the Peruvian Amazon.

Across the world, criminals are taking advantage of otherwise unprotected forests with illegal logging, engaging in illicit activities along the way. The illegal logging process begins when companies and crime syndicates cut trees without authorization, launder them with counterfeit or mismatched permits, and send them to unsafe sawmills. Eventually, the timber or wood products are then shipped, with none the wiser as to where it came from or what was sacrificed to make your coffee table. 

Continue reading "Trading Human Rights for Timber" »

BLM Decision Keeps Dirty Fuels in the Ground

Gunnison sage grouse_BLMphoto courtesy BLM

The Obama Administration is on a roll lately. First, the President proclaimed the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks a National Monument, and then the EPA proposed ambitious new standards for carbon emissions from power plants. Just a few days ago, the Denver Post reported that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a moratorium blocking oil, gas and coal leasing on 800,000 acres of public land in southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah.

This land is home to the Gunnison sage grouse, a type of bird that lives in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah. Due to habitat loss, the population of Gunnison sage grouse has been reduced to approximately 4,500 – about one-tenth of its original size.

The moratorium described in the BLM memo prevents agency officials from offering and selling new leases, and requires that land-use plans be updated. Given that almost a quarter of our country’s annual carbon dioxide emissions currently originate from federally managed oil, gas, and coal production, keeping dirty fuels in the ground is a major part of addressing climate disruption.

As outlined in a recent report by the Sierra Club, developing just a few of the major potential sources of carbon pollution under our public lands, could dramatically alter the world's climate and more than negate other positive climate action.  Decisions, like that of the BLM, to keep these dirty fuels in the ground are a necessary piece of an effective climate strategy.

BLM’s decision protects our nation’s open spaces from fossil fuel extraction, safeguards vital habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse, and moves the country in the right direction on climate. We applaud the agency's recognition of the importance of protecting America’s wild legacy – and urge BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service to aggressively protect the greater sage grouse and its habitat in 2015.

We hope President Obama continues this trend with more decisions that move our country further away from fossil fuels - such as withdrawing plans to allow offshore drilling and leasing in the Arctic Ocean.

-- by Marni Salmon, Our Wild America campaign representative

Marine Sanctuaries and the Future of Our Ocean

 

Johnston AtollJohnston Atoll National Wildlife (courtesy Jim Maragos/USFWS)

On Tuesday, President Obama announced his proposal to expand a marine sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean, a move that could double all of the world’s protected ocean.

By using his executive authority to add protected areas to the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the President intends to create the world’s largest marine sanctuary in a threatened expanse of the south-central Pacific Ocean. According to The Washington Post, the existing protected areas in the monument may be enlarged by nearly 700,000 square miles. The plan will not be finalized before the White House consults with outside groups, including environmentalists and the fishing industry.

“The Pacific Remote Islands Monument is an important part of the most widespread collection of marine life on the planet under a single country's jurisdiction,” describes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The monument includes seven small islands controlled by the U.S. and some of the most diverse coral reefs in the central Pacific. Protections would extend 200 miles offshore of each of the islands, blocking fishing and other tampering activities in these pristine ecosystems.

Many endangered species of fish, crustaceans, turtles, and marine mammals in need of protection exist in this unique ecosystem. It is only the latest of the President’s efforts to safeguard natural environments, though his first major step for marine conservation.

Continue reading "Marine Sanctuaries and the Future of Our Ocean" »


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