San Gabriel Mountains National Monument -- The Wild Is Where You Find It


In a wise move, President Obama recently designated about 350,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains, east of Los Angeles, as our country’s newest national monument. It's a decision that came as the result of years of collaboration amongst a vibrant and diverse network of community leaders, a reflection of the many important roles the area's mountains and rivers play for local communities. One hundred and fifty years ago, Sierra Club founder John Muir explored the steep and picturesque peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains and marveled at their beauty.

The new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument affirms that protecting wild lands is still a popular endeavor for many Americans today. The wild is where you find it, whether that be an urban park or the vast wild spaces that make up much of our country's public lands. And no matter where it's found, the wild is worth protecting.

The San Gabriel mountains are a dramatic landmark in the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests. These National Forests are within an hour's drive of more than 17 million people in Southern California, San_Gabriel_Mountains_3,_CAmaking them a popular and accessible outdoor recreation destination.The Angeles National Forest provides more than 70 percent of Los Angeles County's open space. Each year more than three million people visit the Angeles National Forest to be physically active and connect with nature. That's important for everyone, but especially for children in the San Gabriel Valley communities with few or no public parks. Park-poor communities in the San Gabriel Valley have child obesity rates of 30 to 40 percent, nearly twice the national average.

Yet for years this beautiful area has been underfunded and underserviced. A new national monument designation will improve visitor services with new bathrooms and trash cans, trail signs, and culturally-appropriate visitor information and education programs.

The San Gabriel Mountains also provide one-third of Los Angeles County's drinking water. Despite their proximity to Los Angeles, they provide homes for wildlife like Nelson's bighorn sheep, the California spotted owl and the San Gabriel mountain salamander. And they offer the chance for quiet recreation and communion with nature in its most pristine state.

Fifty years after the creation of the Wilderness Act it’s clear that protecting big, wild places has provided essential clean air, clean water, and healthy economies for hundreds of  communities across the country. Protecting nature close to where people live and work is becoming increasingly important. For most Americans, the bulk of our experience with nature is close to home. They're accessible places where we can unwind, connect with each other and with nature. It's here where many get a first taste of the need to protect our wild places and where others are reminded of the importance of our outdoors.

The new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument demonstrates the value in protecting both our outdoor "backyard," and our wild places further afield. As we look ahead to an increasingly hectic and developed future it's important that we all come together to protect nature both near and far, big and small. Thank you, President Obama!

-- Dan Chu, director of the Sierra Club Our Wild America campaign. Photos courtesy of Wikimedia creative commons.

Secrets of the Past in a Rugged Landscape

The archaeological case for protecting Greater Canyonlands

"Greater Canyonlands holds some of the most scientifically important cultural resources to be found anywhere in North America," says professional archaeologist and author Jerry D. Spangler. "To venture into this landscape - as anyone willing to tread lightly and respectfully can do - is to walk through time with wonder and awe, marveling at the secrets of our collective past."

Secrets of the Past in a Rugged Land: The archaeological case for protecting Greater Canyonlands takes the reader through 12,000 years of human history embedded in that landscape, offering highlights of the remarkable artifacts left behind by ancient inhabitants. The publication also outlines the numerous threats to this extraordinary region - from encroaching development and resource extraction to poorly regulated off-road vehicle use - and calls for monument designation to protect the area's cultural treasures.


Greater Canyonlands in southern Utah is not only one of the last great untouched frontiers of the American West. It is also a remarkably well-preserved library of almost 12,000 years of human history -- from Ice Age mammoth hunters, to ancient cliff dwellers, to infamous outlaws. Photo © Grant Collier.


The dry climate of Greater Canyonlands has preserved rare archaeological evidence of America's earliest hunters - called Paleoindians - who first occupied the area about 11,000 years ago, hunting mammoths with Clovis points. Photos by © Ray Bloxham, Public domain, NHMU.


Scores of alcoves in Greater Canyonlands contain ancient artifacts representing thousands of years of human history, including basketry, sandals, and figurines made by Archaic hunters and gatherers. Ghostly life-sized figures – characterizing some of the most elaborate and well preserved Archaic rock art in North America -- stare down at today's visitors from towering sandstone cliffs. Photos by © Jerry Spangler, Steve Manning, NHMU.


Intricately woven baskets and millions of pottery sherds, left behind by the "Basketmakers," offer insight into the fundamental shift from hunting and gathering to a more settled lifestyle of farming corn and squash that occurred throughout the American Southwest at about B.C. 500. Photos by © Ray Bloxham, Bruce Hucko.


Hundreds upon hundreds of rock walled ruins cling to cliffs and rest on mesa tops, reminders of the Ancestral Puebloan people who successfully farmed southern Greater Canyonlands until a series of prolonged droughts compelled them to abandon the area. To venture into this landscape – as anyone willing to tread respectfully can do – is to walk through time with wonder and awe. Photos by © Ray Bloxham, Bruce Hucko.


The distinctive rock art style of the Fremont people, who lived north of the Colorado River in Greater Canyonlands, continues to amaze modern visitors. Not yet studied in depth, Fremont sites offer unexplored storehouses of scientific information that could help explain how ancient farmers could grow corn, beans and squash in such an arid environment. Photos by © Scott T. Smith, NHMU.


Although Greater Canyonlands was largely abandoned by about 700 years ago, the region continues to hold deep spiritual significance to modern-day Native Americans.  Archaeological evidence supports the claim that some modern day tribes are direct descendents of the ancient ones who lived in Greater Canyonlands centuries before. Photos by © David Muench, World Monuments Fund.


Over the last 200 years, Greater Canyonlands attracted dreamers and schemers who sought to explore and exploit the land, including famed explorer John Wesley Powell and notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy.  But the rugged nature of the region ultimately defied efforts to tame or settle the land. Photos by © Scott Braden, Public Domain.


Today, encroaching dirty energy development, resource extraction and poorly regulated off-road vehicle use imperil Greater Canyonlands. Unless action is taken, the area's cultural treasures -- as well as its stunning scenery, exceptional recreational opportunities, and ecological health -- will only continue to be degraded and destroyed. The irreplaceable cultural treasures of Greater Canyonlands should be protected through presidential monument proclamation. Photos by © Ray Bloxham, Terri Martin, Heidi McIntosh.

Learn more about what this amazing area has to teach us in the full report, "Secrets of the Past in a Rugged Land: the archaeological case for protecting Greater Canyonlands." (PDF)

-- Dan Chu, director of the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign

Yosemite, You Rock!


October 1 is Yosemite National Park's 124th anniversary. World-renowned for its towering granite monoliths like Half Dome and El Capitan, its waterfalls -- including Yosemite Falls, North America's highest -- and the unique grandeur of Yosemite Valley, the park's establishment in was arguably the most notable conservation achievement in the career of Sierra Club founder John Muir, pictured above with President Theadore Roosevelt at Glacier Point.

Muir first visited Yosemite in 1868 and advocated tirelessly for the park's creation for the next two decades. In 1889, he took Century Magazine editor Robert Underwood Johnson to Tuolumne Meadows, in what was then the Yosemite Grant -- California's first state park, established in 1964 -- to show him how sheep grazing was damaging the land. Muir convinced Johnson that the area could only be saved if it was incorporated into a national park, and Johnson's subsequent publication of Muir's articles led to congressional action establishing the federally-administered Yosemite National Park in 1890. Muir founded the Sierra Club two years later.

Share the Happy Birthday card below far and wide!


Wilderness Wednesday: Discovering the Wild in Los Angeles' Backyard

As a child, I spent a lot of time traveling with my family to different national parks, national monuments and other beautiful areas. It was something we enjoyed doing together and something that brought us closer together. Although we loved to get outdoors and explore new places, visiting the San Gabriel Mountains was one thing we never did. We would always travel to other parts of California or to other states to experience nature. It wasn't until I started college that I visited the San Gabriel Mountains for the first time.  It took me that long to visit the mountains I grew up so close to. It turned out that the San Gabriel's are absolutely amazing and beautiful. 

My personal experience is one of the reasons I became so passionate about the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign. I want there to be increased awareness among the Los Angeles basin of this precious resource we all have available to us. I want children to grow up thinking about the San Gabriel Mountains in the same way they think about popular places such as Yosemite. These mountains are so close to such a large, diverse population and I believe they deserve to be taken as seriously as other natural areas throughout the United States. They provide such an overcrowded area with much needed open space. They have the ability to provide a place for healthy recreation and to connect youth with nature, despite the fact that we live in one of the largest cities in the country. 

The San Gabriel Mountains Forever's vision of establishing the mountains as a national monument will provide long term recognition and protection. It will give the mountains the world class designation it deserves. After attending the most recent public meeting regarding this issue, it was very satisfying to see the amount of support present. It brought a strong sense of community to the campaign which is the backbone as to why this campaign was created in the first place. I am excited for what is to come regarding the San Gabriel Mountains. I hope that with the hard work coming from the people involved with the campaign, Washington can realize the beauty and importance these mountains have for the community. 

-- By Laurie Aguilar, San Gabriel Mountains Forever volunteer and Leadership Academy graduate

Illegal Logging in Peru Takes a Deadly Turn

Often we think of illegal logging as a threat to ecosystems and wildlife. However, this week provided a tragic reminder that illegal logging harms not only harms plants and animals, it also threatens people and communities around the globe. In a remote region near Peru’s border with Brazil, a prominent activist, Edwin Chota, was shot and killed, along with three community leaders. Suspected in the killings were illegal loggers, who have long tried to extract tropical hardwoods in nearby forests.

A Ka’apor Indian watches a group depart on a jungle expedition. Lunae Parracho/Reuters

Unfortunately, these slayings are not an isolated occurrence. According to a recent report by Global Witness, more than 900 people were killed from 2002 to 2013 while trying to protect the environment and land rights. While this violence has spread around the globe, Latin America has been particularly impacted, with Brazil accounting for nearly 450 of these cases.

Continue reading "Illegal Logging in Peru Takes a Deadly Turn" »

Wilderness Wednesday: J.N. “Ding” Darling Wilderness, Every Birdwatcher’s dream

Situated on Florida’s Sanibel Island in the Gulf of Mexico lies the 6,400 acre J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge’s northern part is where visitors can find the 2,619 acre J.N. “Ding” Darling Wilderness. Both the national wildlife refuge and wilderness area are named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, for his extraordinary work in urging President Truman to create this refuge.

Ding DarlingStone, Lynn,

For visitors, this wilderness area is a mass of mangrove islands, which is part of a large mangrove system that still needs to be matured in the U.S. They can also see red mangroves, hardwood groves, seagrass beds, cordgrass marshes, and West Indian hardwood hammock.

J.N. “Ding” is home to American alligators, bobcats, river otters, snakes, turtles, armadillos, frogs, lizards, fish, and Northern raccoons. But what is truly spectacular and famous about this area is the variety of migrating birds present. The J.N. “Ding” Darling Wilderness serves as a shelter, where they can get food, raise their babies, and rest.  Over 220 types of birds call this area home, including endangered and threatened ones that may be gone in the future.  Some of the interesting birds to look out for are roseate spoonbills, which are bright pink birds with a spoon-shaped bill; egrets, white birds whose long feathers will puff out and down its back during breeding season; double crested cormorants, black birds whose feathers are not waterproof and so they are usually seen during the day standing on something with their wings spread wide; and recently endangered wood storks with their bare heads and long beaks.

To really get a good experience from this majestic wilderness area, visitors should definitely bring binoculars for bird watching when the tide is low, during this time what this area is famous for can truly be seen, hopefully, in its entirety. 


-- by Fionna Poon

Federal agencies fail grizzlies once again in the Upper Green

For the third time in five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has increased the 'incidental take,' or the number of grizzly bears they anticipate will be killed, as a result of conflicts with livestock in the Upper Green area of the Bridger Teton National Forest in northwest Wyoming. The Upper Green has the highest number of conflicts in the entire Greater Yellowstone region, yet the agency has once again failed to require any meaningful measures to reduce those conflicts with livestock being grazed on public land. At least fifteen grizzly bears have been intentionally killed in the Upper Green because of conflicts with livestock since 2010.

Grizzly-bear-in-yellowstone_USFWSphoto courtesy National Park Service

Because Yellowstone grizzlies are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), any federal action that could jeopardize the continued existence of the species and/or its habitat must be evaluated. If it is determined that the action (in this case, livestock grazing), will not jeopardize the species but could result in ‘take’ of the species, the take must be quantified and an exemption from the Act is granted.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly raised the number of bears that can be killed in the Upper Green while failing yet again to require measures to reduce conflicts. The title itself of the just-released decision tells the story: “Biological Opinion for the 2014 Supplement to the 2013 Supplement and 2010 Amendment to the 1999 Biological Assessment for Livestock Grazing on the Northern Portions of the Pinedale Ranger District.” In 2011, the incidental take limit of six bears was exceeded the following year, even though the term of the take statement was 10 years, through 2020. In 2013, a new take statement upped the take to 11 bears, which was supposed to be through 2017, but by earlier this month, six grizzlies had already been killed. And now in 2014, the agency has allowed another 11 bears to be killed in the next three years. According to the agencies, the Yellowstone grizzly population is ‘recovered,’ (though it remains on the Endangered Species List), and the Upper Green grizzlies are viewed as ‘extra’ bears.

Continue reading "Federal agencies fail grizzlies once again in the Upper Green " »

Wilderness Wednesday: 50 years of Wilderness

Today marks 50 years since President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law, establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System and setting aside 9.1 million acres of wild lands for the use and enjoyment of the American people. As a result of America’s support for wilderness, Congress has since added nearly 100 million more acres to this unique land preservation system—in 44 out of 50 states, and in Puerto Rico. 

Labor Day 2014: Preserving Labor’s Pullman Legacy

Labor Day marks not only the end of summer, but a momentous moment in our nation's history-- a moment that began at the Pullman Historic site in Chicago, Illinois.

Pullman was the nation's first planned industrial town, built around the Pullman Palace Car Company.  Known for the development of the sleeping car, the company operated during the U.S. railroad boom from the late 1800's to the early 1900's.

It was here that the members of the American Railway Union (ARU) launched a wildcat strike in 1894, provoked by reductions in poverty wage that pushed them ever deeper into debt to George Pullman, the “benevolent” overlord of the company town, who owned the workers’ homes and the stores where they purchased their daily needs.  ARU leader Eugene Debs initially opposed the strike. However, after seeing the abysmal conditions in the company town first hand, Debs resolved “to do everything in my power that was within law and within justice to right the wrongs of those employees."

After the union decided to support the strike, Pullman received a sweeping court injunction against the ARU. The next day President Cleveland ordered 20,000 federal troops to crush the strike and run the railways. Debs and ten other ARU leaders were arrested and convicted for conspiracy to halt the free flow of mail. The strike was violently crushed while Debs and the rest of the union leaders were sitting in jail.  In the wake of the strike Congress honored the slain workers by designating Labor Day as a national holiday.

Continue reading "Labor Day 2014: Preserving Labor’s Pullman Legacy " »

No New Oil Drilling in our Oceans

Photo from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

Labor Day represents the end of summer-- and nothing says summer quite like a trip to the beach. At the beginning of summer, my family spent a few wonderful days exploring the beaches lining a small South Carolina coastal town.  Enjoying the catch of the day at a local crab shack, we gazed at a sign across the road at a grocery store that pleaded "Don't ruin our ocean with sonic cannons."  As we talked to long -time residents, we were struck by the deep concern they have that drilling for oil offshore would kill this community’s tradition of great seafood, clean beaches, and sea turtle nesting.  

Recently the Obama administration opened up the waters off the Atlantic coast to seismic testing, the first step towards offshore drilling. Opening up pristine areas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans for drilling is being proposed  in the Obama Administration's new five year Outer Continental Shelf Oil & Gas Leasing Program. New offshore drilling not only threatens our communities and beaches, it also severely undercuts President Obama's plans to fight climate disruption.  

The planet is heating up, from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas. Though President Obama and this Administration have done more to combat climate disruption than any other president, true progress can't be made if offshore drilling is expanded.  If we are serious about avoiding the catastrophic impacts of climate disruption, we have to keep dirty fuels like oil and gas in the ground and scrap any plans that would allow new offshore drilling off of our coasts.

Oil and gas from new offshore drilling dumps more carbon pollution into the air, increasing sea level rise that destroys coastal communities and beaches. More major cities such as New York will flood – as we saw during super storm Sandy -- as well as other cities such as Miami, Norfolk, New Orleans, and Boston. The Everglades and the marshes of Louisiana will melt into the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Keys, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, barrier islands from New Jersey to Florida, and beaches across America could simply disappear. Some communities, like those in Norfolk, are already dealing with increased flooding from rising seas.

New offshore drilling threatens our coastal economies. Every summer millions of Americans vacation at our coasts and beaches. They spend time with their families, and spend billions of dollars supporting coastal economies that create millions of jobs.  Those jobs depend on clean, healthy beaches that could be lost to a single accident.
Image from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

Drilling means spilling. True recovery after a devastating oil spill is a myth spun by Big Oil.  The Gulf of Mexico has still not recovered from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster; oil continues to wash ashore on Gulf beaches; commercial fisheries and marine populations have not rebounded.  

Opening new areas such as the South Atlantic for offshore drilling sets us up for more devastating oil spills and ties our nation into the dirty energy of the past.

Currently, there is no offshore drilling infrastructure on the east coast of the United States. Even if new leases are issued as early as 2017, it will take at least 15 years to develop the facilities - first exploratory rigs that are replaced by permanent drilling rigs, pipelines, support vessels and ports, etc. – to exploit any commercially recoverable oil or natural gas. That will mean that development of fossil fuels off the coast of Virginia or South Carolina would lock us into dirty fuels for the next twenty years and likely much longer.

This is not the legacy that the President, or we as Americans, should leave behind. New fuel economy standards and cleaner power plant rules are important and positive steps towards cleaning up our energy and combating climate disruption. However, to truly combat climate disruption, the President must also protect our coasts and beaches from oil drilling. Put the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans off-limits to offshore drilling and leave those dirty fuels in the ground.

-- Dan Chu, director of the Sierra Club Our Wild America campaign

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