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Recent Issues

WW Challenges Wolf Extermination in Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness: Updated 8/14 (1/14)
Airstrip Plan Violates Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness: 8/14
Drakes Estero Protected as Wilderness, DBOC Sues NPS: Updated 8/14 (11/11)
Wolverine Recovery Plan a Step Forward: 6/14
More Helicopters, Predator Killing Proposed for Bighorn "Management" in Arizona: 6/14
A Wilder Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge? 6/14
Land Exchange A Bad Deal for Lake Clark National Park: 5/14
Zion: Bighorn Farm or Wilderness? 4/14
Maintain Cumberland Island's Visitor Level4/14
Olympic National Park Release Preliminary Alternatives: 4/14
Wolves and Isle Royale: Manipulated Zoo or Wild Wilderness? Updated 4/14 (12/13)
Passage of Green Mountain Bill Strikes a Blow to Wilderness: Updated 4/14 (7/10)

Removing Some Non-Native Fish While Adding Others: 2/14
Commercial Fishing Application in Alaska Raises Concerns: 2/14
Wilderness Wins—Road through the Izembek Wilderness Rejected: Updated 1/14 (4/12)
National Park Service Plans to Poison Sequoia and Kings Canyon Lakes: 1/14

Coronado National Forest Plan Threatens Wilderness: 1/14
Cabins to be Removed from the Tongass Wilderness? 12/13
Texas Chainsaw Massacre—Forest Service Takes Aim at Five Wildernesses in Texas10/13
Speak Up to Quash New Wilderness Access Fee10/13
BLM Proposing Livestock Water Reservoirs in the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness10/13
Will Fishers Again Roam Mt. Rainier and North Cascades Wildernesses? 10/13
Prescribed Burning Proposed for Linville Gorge Wilderness: Updated 9/13 (1/13)
ALERT—National Wildlife Refuge Plan Unduly Caters to Hunting Interests, Downplays Others: 8/13
WW Questions Tree Planting Proposal for the Pasayten Wilderness: 8/13
Damming Wilderness: Updated 7/13 (5/11)
Free Glacier Peak Wilderness from More Helicopters: 7/13
Wilderness Watch Advocates for Wilderness/Public Lands Grazing Reform: 7/13
WW Challenges Commercial Pack Stock Plan for Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wildernesses: Updated 7/13 (10/10)
NPS Proposes Fish Poisoning for North Cascades National Park: 6/13

Wilderness Watch Pushes to Fix Flaws in National Parks Wilderness Directive:Updated 6/13 (3/11)
Re-Wild the Everglades: 5/13
WW Urges BLM to Strengthen Owyhee Wilderness Plan: 5/13
Lake Clark Wilderness Threatened by National Park Service Proposal5/13
WW Opposes Teton to Snake Fuels Management Project: 4/13
Olympic Wilderness Plan Launched: 4/13
Merced River Plan Fails to Protect Wilderness: Updated 4/13 (2/10)
Montanore Mine Threatens Cabinet Mountains Wilderness: Updated 4/13 (5/09)
Towering Wilderness Fight: 3/13
Wilderness Wins—FS Drops Plan for Helicopter Use in Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness: 3/13
Forest Service Proposes Massive Firebreaks in the Ventana Wilderness: 3/13 
WW Opposes Helicopter Use in Chemehuevi Mountains Wilderness: 3/13
Rein in Unlimited Use in Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness: Updated 3/13 (8/11)
WW Supports FS Pemigewasset Wilderness Bridge Removal Project: Updated 3/13 (6/09)
Nipping Boundary Waters Herbicide Proposal in the Bud: 3/13
Mountains with Handrails: Cables to be Retained in Yosemite Wilderness: Updated 2/13 (8/10)

WW Challenges Fish Stocking in California: Updated 12/12 (2/10)

Tombstone's Water Grab Not O.K.: Updated 12/12 (7/12)
California Grazing Reform Project's 2012 Field Season Summary: 12/12
Boundary Waters land exchange threatens Superior National Forest: Updated 9/12 (7/12)
Proposed Mining Threatens Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness: (8/12)
No Place in the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness: Updated 8/12 (12/10)

Tower-Less Views Not Replaceable in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: Updated 7/12 (8/11)
Upper Chattooga Wild & Scenic River Plan Would Lessen Protections: Updated 7/12 (9/11)
Sportsmen’s Heritage Act (HR 4089) Will Effectively Repeal the 1964 Wilderness Act
4/12
Keep the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wild: Updated 10/11 (4/10)
Wilderness Wins—Silver King Creek Poisoning Plan Stopped: Updated 9/11 (4/09)
Guzzlers Don't Belong in Mojave Wilderness: 8/11
Cumberland Island, a Little More, A Little Less, Wild: 8/11
Heavy-Handed Wildlife Management Proposed in Wildernesses in California: Updated 8/11 (4/11)
Court Upholds Helicopter Training in Wildernesses in Nevada: Updated 8/11 (2/09)
National Park Service Proposes Weakened Wilderness Standards: Updated 8/11 (3/11)
In Glacier National Park, History Trumps Wilderness: Updated 6/11 (7/10)
Cabeza-Prieta Wilderness Threatened by Development: 6/11
Proposed National Forest Planning Rule Ignores Wilderness: Updated 5/11 (2/10)
Forest Service Protects Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Chain of Lakes Decision: 4/11
Montana Proposes Wolf Killing in Wilderness 4/11
Remote Arctic Wildernesses to Become Less Wild: Updated 4/11 (7/10)

Wilderness Wins: Fish & Wildlife Service Rejects Alaska's Wolf Killing Plan for Unimak Wilderness: Updated 3/11 (10/10)
A Second Chance to Get it Right: Updated 1/11 (9/10)
Wilderness Wins: Court Rules Guzzlers in Kofa Wilderness Illegal: Updated 3/11 (2/09)
Gates of the Arctic Wilderness Threatened: Updated 11/10 (3/10)
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest Blown Up: 11/10
WW Urges Restoration of Lone Peak Wilderness Through Breaching Silver Lake Dam: Updated 11/10 (2/10)

Perseverance Pays Off in the Emigrant Wilderness:
10/10
A Foul Plan for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: 10/10
Help Protect the Natural Soundscape of Zion Wilderness and National Park: 8/10
WW Concerned with Proposed Bighorn Sheep Study in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks: 7/10
WW Battles Against Wolf Collaring Project in the FC-River of No Return Wilderness: Updated 7/10 (2/10)
New Forest Service Rules Allow Commercial Filming in Wilderness: 6/10
A Chance to Remove a Dam in Wilderness: Updated 5/10 (6/09)
Help Keep the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wild!: 4/10
WW Urges FWS not to Approve Communications Tower in Cabeza Prieta Wilderness: Updated 3/10 (2/10)
WW Voices Concern Over Water Tank Maintenance in Kofa Wilderness: Updated 3/10 (12/09)
NPS Plans to Build Cabin in Katmai Wilderness: 2/10
WW Weighs in on Proposed Water Developments Expansion in Cabeza Prieta Wilderness: 11/09
WW Opposes Chainsaws/Logging in Sandia Mountains Wilderness: Updated 10/09 (3/09)
WW Comments on Apostle Islands Draft General Management/Wilderness Plan: 10/09
Camera Data Shows Bighorns Are Not Using Kofa Wilderness Guzzlers: 9/09
Let it Rust in Peace in the Bob Marshall Wilderness: 7/09
Oppose H.R. 2809, which would Amend the Wilderness Act: 6/09
Congress Takes Up the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act: 5/09
WW Supports Removing Deteriorating Cabins in South Baranof Wilderness: 3/09
DOJ Withdraws Proposed Rule on Mobility Devices: 1/09


  • WW Challenges Wolf Extermination in Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness: UPDATED 8/14 (Posted 1/14)
    Frank Church-River of no Return WildernessOn January 7, 2014, Wilderness Watch, along with other conservation groups and Idaho wildlife advocate Ralph Maughan, asked a federal judge in Idaho to stop IDFG's program (which had the support of the U.S. Forest Service (FS) to exterminate two wolf packs deep within the FC-RONRW. Earthjustice is representing WW and the other plaintiffs in the case. Faced with a looming deadline to defend its actions before a federal appeals court, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) announced on January 27, 2014 that it was halting its wolf extermination program in the Middle Fork region of the FC-RONR. In August 2014, ahead of the first scheduled court hearing, Idaho announced it would not kill any wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (FC-RONR) before November 1, 2015.

    In mid-December 2013, IDFG hired a hunter-trapper to pack into central Idaho's 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to kill all the wolves in the Golden and Monumental packs, to artificially inflate elk populations for outfitters and recreational hunters. The FS, which administers the Wilderness, approved the extermination program by authorizing the use of a FS cabin and airstrip to support the hired killer.
     
    The state’s program to destroy wolves in the Wilderness stomps all over the Wilderness Act, which requires land managers to protect and administer designated Wilderness so that it remains wild. By manipulating the wolf population, and changing the conditions in the FCRNRW, the Forest Service is allowing Idaho Fish and Game to destroy the area’s wild character, in violation of the Wilderness Act. Wildlife within the FCRNRW (and all Wildernesses) should be allowed to interact naturally, regardless of whether humans like the outcome of those interactions. In allowing IDFG to carry out its wolf eradication mission, the FS had abandoned its required responsibility under the 1964 Wilderness Act to protect the wild character of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

    We filed for an emergency injunction to immediately halt the killing until the case could be heard in court. Unfortunately, a federal judge in Idaho denied the injunction on January 16. On January 23, we appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Idaho Fish and Game's January 27 announcement represents a stay of execution for the remaining wolves in the Golden Creek and Monumental Creek wolf packs. 

    Nine wolves from the packs were killed by the hired trapper. It is unknown how many wolves remain in the two packs.

    We will continue to pursue our challenge through the courts because Idaho will undoubtedly pursue more wolf killing, and the Forest Service failed to protect the wilderness character of the FC-RORNW as required by the 1964 Wilderness Act. Idaho's "predator management plan" calls for reducing wolf numbers by 60 percent through several years of professional hunting and trapping efforts.

    We encourage you to write to the Forest Service and Idaho Department of Fish and Game and express outrage over this wolf extermination program in the heart of America's largest forested Wilderness in the lower-48 states.

    Contact the FS regional forester Nora Rasure: nrasure@fs.fed.us
    Contact the FS chief Tom Tidwell: ttidwell@fs.fed.us
    Contact IDFG director Virgil Moore: vmoore@idfg.idaho.gov

    Read our press release on the lawsuit
    Read a press release on the IDFG announcement halting the extermination
    Read our blog, "Of Wolves and Wilderness," by George Nickas

    Photo: Rex Parker

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  • Airstrip Plan Violates Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness: 8/14
    Fish Lake Airstrip, Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, IdahoWilderness Watch and Friends of the Clearwater have filed a 60-day Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue the U.S. Forest Service (FS) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service over the potential impacts to imperiled bull trout and other rare species from the planned expansion of the Fish Lake Airstrip in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho. The FS has inappropriately issued a categorical exclusion for the plan. The proposal includes lengthening the airstrip by nearly 400 feet and reconstructing a portion of it, despite the fact that no monitoring (as required by the Forest Plan) has been done to assess use or condition. We are equally concerned about impacts to the area's wilderness character. The Wilderness Act grants federal agencies the authority to allow pre-existing airstrips to remain, but it does not require that they remain or be maintained. The agency needs to revisit this plan by assessing impacts to Wilderness, bull trout, and other rare species, and ensure its actions conform to the Forest Plan.

    Read our press release

    Photo: WW file photo
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  • Drakes Estero Protected as Wilderness, Oyster Company Sues NPS (California)UPDATED 8/14 [Posted 11/11]
    Philip Burton Wilderness In a notable victory for Wilderness and the public interest, Drakes Estero will finally be added to the Phillip Burton Wilderness in Point Reyes National Seashore in California, as promised to the American people nearly 40 years ago. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar decided to uphold the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act and announced at the end of November 2012 that the operating permit for the Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) will expire, the commercial operation will be closed down, and the area protected as Wilderness as Congress intended so long ago. Wilderness Watch worked with the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin and other groups to garner public support for the area's protection. The public, by a vast majority, spoke in favor of wilderness protection. We thank everyone who took action to help protect this special place.

    The DBOC responded to the decision by filing a lawsuit against the National Park Service and requesting a preliminary injunction to allow the operation to continue past the February 28, 2013 shutdown date, while the lawsuit is being heard. In February 2013, Federal Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied the injunction, deciding the courts don't have jurisdiction to overrule the Secretary's decision. Judge Gonzalez Rogers also invoked the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act, which designated Drakes Estero as "potential wilderness" and gave the Secretary of Interior the power to decide when the potential wilderness would become designated wilderness. In September 2013, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 against DBOC's request for a preliminary injunction. On January 14, 2014, the Appeals court denied the company's request for a rehearing en banc, meaning before a full judge panel. Unfortunately, in late January the Ninth Circuit court granted the company's request to remain open for three more months while it asked the Supreme Court to consider its case. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in June 2014. As of the end of August 2014, the copany is still harvesting oysters, although retail sales and the cannery are closed. Drakes Bay Oyster Co. also faces a cease-and-desist order handed it by the California Coastal Commission in 2013 based on numerous infractions of environmental and other rules.

    Download the Federal Register notice announcing Drakes Estero has been officially added to the Phillip Burton Wilderness.

    Background/Action Alerts:
    November 2012: Stand with thousands across the country to protect the wild ecological heart of the Point Reyes National Seashore!
     The 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act is under attack by industry special interests that want to delay creation of the West Coast’s only marine wilderness area. It is time for Secretary Salazar to stand with wilderness and national park advocates to protect the integrity of our National Wilderness Preservation System from takeover by these power politics and special interests. If we allow profiteering at the expense of Point Reyes National Seashore, no national park or wilderness area will ever be truly safe.
     
    A deal is a deal. Everyone knew the Drakes Bay Oyster Company lease had an expiration date of November 30, 2012, at which time the Park Service is required, by the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act, to protect Drakes Estero as designated wilderness.  The current owners of the oyster company knew this when they acquired the permit in 2005.  But they are hoping to use their connections to powerful politicians to subvert the public’s will.  First, they convinced Senator Dianne Feinstein to pass special interest legislation that waived the 1976 law’s requirement that the oyster farm permit be terminated and the area become fully protected Wilderness.  Now, they’re trying to convince Secretary of Interior Salazar to extend the permit, thereby precluding Wilderness status for Drakes Estero. It’s unfair to the American people to rewrite the rules at the last minute for one person’s private gain.
     
    Protect your national heritage and our public trust lands and send a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today: exsec@ios.doi.gov! (Please feel free to customize the letter below.)
     
    For more information:  www.savepointreyeswilderness.org

    Dear Secretary Salazar,
     
    I write to you today along with thousands of others across the country who want you to protect Drakes Estero, the ecological heart of Point Reyes National Seashore. The decision to follow our nation’s laws and protect wilderness within our National Seashore is important not only to the people of California, but to the entire United States. The real issue at stake is the integrity of ALL of America’s national parks and Wilderness.  Please, follow the rule of law and give Drakes Estero the full wilderness protection it deserves under law and was promised to the American people in 1976 with passage of the Point Reyes Wilderness Act.  Drakes Estero is one of America’s most special places and is too important to sacrifice to power politics and special interests.
     
    Please honor the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act and protect Drakes Estero as wilderness.We and future generations thank you for your upholding the National Park System and National Wilderness Preservation System.The National Park Service (NPS) has completed a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and is seeking public comments on a proposal to allow a commercial oyster farm to operate in Drakes Estero in the Phillip Burton Wilderness in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
     

    December 2011: The 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act mandates the addition of Drakes Estero to the Phillip Burton Wilderness in 2012, when a commercial oyster farm lease expires. Unfortunately, a rider attached to an Interior Appropriations bill granted the Secretary of the Interior the authority to extend the Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s lease beyond its expiration. The NPS’s draft EIS addresses whether to extend the permit another 10 years. Please urge the NPS to preserve Drakes Estero as Wilderness in 2012, rather than continue to allow commercial activity in this important wildlife area.

    To comment on the draft EIS go to the Park Service website:  http://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?parkID=333&projectID=33043&documentID=43390
    The comment deadline is December 9, 2011!
     
    The Draft EIS makes clear that allowing the private, commercial oyster company to exploit Drakes Estero for ten more years would have numerous adverse impacts—most notably from the invasive species—on eelgrass habitat, native fish, harbor seals, resident and migratory birds, endangered species, wilderness values and the National Park experience.

    Critical Talking Points:
    • Support the NO ACTION Alternative. It is the Environmentally Preferred Alternative and would provide for the area to become Wilderness in 2012 as Congress intended since the 1970s.
     • The Action Alternatives have significant long-term adverse impacts to the Drakes Estero environment, including to wetlands, birds, fish, harbor seals, native mollusks, endangered species, eelgrass beds and to wilderness and the national park experience.
     • The Action Alternatives are a direct attack on the Wilderness Act of 1964, run counter to the 1962 Point Reyes enabling legislation and the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act, and set a dangerous precedent for future commercialization of National Parks and Wilderness around the county.
     • The oyster operation involves 3,700 motorboat trips per year through harbor seal and eelgrass habitat; promotes the spread of invasive species impacts to native oysters, eelgrass beds, bird, fish and endangered species habitat; and litters remote Point Reyes beaches with thousands of pieces of plastic trash.

    Many thanks to the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin for the information in this alert.

    • For more information and to read the draft EIS, click here.
    Click here to read a letter urging protection of the Phillip Burton Wilderness, submitted by Edward O. Wilson, Sylvia Earle, Jean-Michel Costeau, Tundi Agardy, and Thomas Lovejoy

    Photo: Bill Ingersoll

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  • Wolverine Recovery Plan a Step Forward: 6/14
    WolverineWilderness Watch and Friends of the Clearwater are viewing Idaho's draft wolverine recovery plan as a good start to improving the survival of this imperiled species. The plan recognizes that the large Wildernesses of Idaho—the Selway-Bitterroot, the Frank Church-River of No Return, the Gospel Hump, Hells Canyon, and the Sawtooth Wildernesses—all provide crucial wolverine habitat. Nonetheless, wolverines are very rare even in Idaho's "Big Wild." This draft plan should not replace listing the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act (once proposed but now withdrawn by the Fish and Wildlife Service).

    We are encouraging the state to preserve wilderness character in any research or monitoring that might take place in Wilderness. We are also urging the agencies to adopt measures to reduce the serious threats to wolverine recovery from incidental trapping of wolves and other wildlife and winter recreation use (mainly snowmobiles).

    Read our comments

    Photo: Wikipedia

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  • More Helicopters, Predator Killing Proposed for Bighorn "Management" in Arizona: 6/14
    Four Peaks Wilderness, ArizonaWilderness Watch is opposing Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) proposals to land helicopters in six national forest Wildernesses in Arizona to capture, collar, translocate, and conduct other activities related to "managing" bighorn sheep, including possibly killing predators.

    The proposal for the Pusch Ridge Wilderness in the Coronado National Forest will last at least four years with up to 160 helicopter landings and countless overflights. The proposal for five Wildernesses on the Tonto National Forest—the Mazatzal, Hells Gate, Four Peaks, Salt River Canyon and Superstition Wildernesses—will last at least a decade with 500 helicopter landings and countless overflights.

    AGFD must get approval from the Forest Service for the projects. Wilderness Watch is urging the FS to complete environmental impact statements on the projects to assess the full, long-term impacts to Wilderness and whether the Pusch Ridge area can support a viable bighorn herd. Many researchers blame the recent extirpation of the species on the loss of habitat in the area.

    Read our comments

    Photo: Four Peaks Wilderness by Tom Dyer

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  • A Wilder Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge? 6/14
    Great Swamp National Wildlife RefugeWilderness Watch recently commented on the draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. The 3,660-acre Great Swamp Wilderness, located within the Refuge's boundaries, was the first national wildlife refuge Wilderness, designated in 1968. Located in one of the country's most densely populated regions, it provides important habitat for more than 200 species of migratory birds, in addition to other wildlife. The draft CCP recommends expanding the Wilderness by 161 acres, which we supported in our comments.

    Read our comments

    Photo: Michael Stadelmeier

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  • Land Exchange A Bad Deal for Lake Clark National Park: 5/14
    Lake ClarkWilderness Watch is opposing a proposed land exchange in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Land exchanges are sometimes desirable to eliminate inholdings from public land, but this proposal does the opposite. We’re concerned about a new 28-acre inholding the exchange will create within the park on lands proposed for wilderness designation. In addition to adding this inholding, the Park would lose some of the shoreline of Lake Clark it currently protects, as this would be transferred to the new private owners.

    Read our scoping comments

    Photo: Jeanette Mills

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  • Zion: Bighorn Farm or Wilderness?  4/14
    ZionWilderness Watch is opposing a National Park Service (NPS) proposal to allow the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) to use helicopters and other invasive methods to reduce bighorn sheep numbers in the Zion Wilderness. The project is intended to farm bighorn sheep and supply them for transplant rather than allow bighorn sheep to remain wild in Zion National Park.

    In our scoping comments, we pointed out the lack of scientific evidence that there are too many sheep in the Park. There is no need for Zion to reduce bighorn numbers, as other national parks don't routinely trap and transplant their bighorns. Predators and other natural factors regulate bighorn sheep numbers.

    The NPS claims the project would be carried out to prevent fatal diseases from spreading to bighorns from domestic sheep. However, with no grazing allotments in the immediate area, this threat seems unfounded.

    Predator-prey cycles and natural conditions should be allowed to determine wildlife populations in Wilderness, which should be free of such heavy-handed manipulation as the NPS is proposing. We urged the NPS to complete an Environmental Impact Statement. We also let the agency know that, if they do decide to carry out such operations, they must first consider locations for bighorn capture outside of Zion National Park and Wilderness. (The bighorn herd is found both within and outside of Zion.)

    Click here to read WW's scoping comments.

    Photo: National Park Service
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  • Maintain Cumberland Island's Visitor Level4/14
    Cumberland IslandThe National Park Service (NPS) recently announced it will accept bids for a new ferry service to Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast. Now officials and local entrepreneurs in both St. Marys, GA and Fernandina Beach, FL are pushing to increase the number of daily visitors to the island in the hopes that more tourism will stimulate their economies.

    Wilderness Watch and its Wild Cumberland chapter oppose an increase in the number of daily visitors to the island—to protect both the health of the island and visitors' experiences. 

    When Cumberland Island was made a National Seashore, Congress directed the National Park Service that "no development…or plan for the convenience of visitors shall be undertaken which would be incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna." Increasing the number of visitors will directly increase the human impact on the island's already fragile ecosystems and would contradict the very purpose for which Cumberland Island was preserved as a national seashore

    Almost a third of Cumberland Island is designated Wilderness. The Wilderness Act indicates that Wilderness "has outstanding opportunities for solitude" (section 2c). The Cumberland Island Wilderness offers an increasingly rare opportunity to enjoy the peace and quiet of lands not dominated by the impacts of tourism and development.

    The visitor limit of 300 people/day on Cumberland has been in place for many years. Adding another ferry and raising this limit is unnecessary and would put more pressure on this rare wild barrier island. Please take a minute to sign Wild Cumberland's petition opposing raising the visitor limit, or even better, let the interim superintendent, Gary Ingram, know you support the current visitor level of 300 people/day:

    Cumberland Island National Seashore
    Gary Ingram, interim superintendent
    Gary_Ingram@nps.gov
    101 Wheeler Street
    St Marys, GA 31558
    Phone: 912-882-4336
    FAX: 912-882-6284

    Photo: Jerome Walker
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  • Olympic National Park Release Preliminary Alternatives: 4/14
    Olympic WildernessThe National Park Service (NPS) has released preliminary alternatives for its wilderness stewardship plan for Olympic National Park in Washington. A draft EIS (environmental impact statement) will be prepared soon for public comment.

    There are some good elements to the preliminary alternatives. Unlike in the past, the NPS is not planning to maintain unneeded structures under the ruse of historic preservation. In most alternatives, there is a commitment to reduce Park Service reliance on motorized and mechanized transport as well as to avoid building new structures for wilderness administration. Also, most of the alternatives have measures to eliminate overuse.

    The NPS should offer an alternative that emphasizes untrammeled Wilderness. Such an alternative would allow nature to deal with the cards it is dealt, through natural processes rather than human manipulation in the Olympic Wilderness.

    A public comment period for the preliminary alternatives ends on May 17. Click here to read more about the draft alternatives. Click here to comment online.

    Read our comments

    Photo: George Wuerthner

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  • Wolves and Isle Royale: Manipulated Zoo or Wild Wilderness? UPDATED, 4/14 [Posted 12/13]
    Isle RoyaleThe National Park Service (NPS) has announced that it will begin a comprehensive planning process to study the issue of Isle Royale's dwindling wolf population, and for now, it will not try to "genetically rescue" the population by transplanting wolves to Isle Royale. Wilderness Watch has been urging the National Park Service (NPS) to reject pressure from researchers to "save" the wolves on Michigan's Isle Royale National Park and Wilderness. Wolves established a population on Isle Royale, the largest island in Lake Superior's archipelago that comprises the park, decades ago after crossing a 14-mile ice bridge from Ontario. They became part of the world's longest-running and most famous predator-prey study (along with the island's moose). The wolf population has averaged 25, but in 2013 was down to eight, until the NPS announced last fall that at least two, maybe three, wolf pups had been born earlier in the year.

    Some biologists are calling for transplanting wolves from the mainland to "freshen up" the gene pool and "save" the iconic wolves. Proponents of manipulation claim wolf numbers have dropped and decades of inbreeding have flattened the population's genetic diversity.

    Nearly all of Isle Royale's 134,000 acres is Wilderness, a fact that should guide any future management decisions, including a possible reintroduction. Wilderness Watch is strongly urging the NPS to refrain from reintroducing wolves, and rather let Nature take her course, even if that means the wolf population might become extirpated.

    In June 2013, the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Wisconsin's Northland College and the National Parks Conservation Association hosted a forum about the future of the Isle Royale wolves. Wilderness Watch's conservation director, Kevin Proescholdt, participated as a panelist and urged the NPS to not intervene, but to let Nature determine the wolves' fate. Click here to watch the forum. (Kevin speaks starting at about 1 hour 12 minutes.)

    Click here to read WW's blog post on the issue
    Click here to read the NPS announcement
     
    Take Action: We encourage you to urge the NPS to NOT intervene and transplant wolves to the island wilderness. Please also ask the agency to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) related to transplanting wolves. Email: ISRO_wildlife@nps.gov

    Photo: National Park Service
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  • Passage of the Green Mountain Lookout Bill Strikes a Blow to Wilderness: UPDATED 4/14 [Posted 7/10]
    Glacier Peak "lookout"On April 15, President Obama signed into law the Green Mountain Heritage Protection Act. Despite its lofty title, this bill will do more to destroy America's wilderness heritage than will saving any so-called "historic" building. 

    This law allows a new replica fire lookout building, illegally constructed in 2009 by the U.S. Forest Service, to remain atop Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington. The bill in effect overturns a federal district court ruling in 2012 that found the new structure to violate two bedrock federal environmental laws, the 1964 Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This new law marks a distressing turn for Wilderness in this country, ironically just as the nation gears up to celebrate this year's 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
     
    This law portends many deep problems for the future of Wilderness in this nation. They include:  
    • Loss of permanent protection for designated Wildernesses.  The Wilderness Act proclaimed its stirring intent to provide lasting protection for Wildernesses, so that they will constitute  "an enduring resource of wilderness."  The Green Mountain bill greatly damages that hope of permanent protection and makes an empty promise of the Wilderness Act's proclamation to protect these national treasures "for the permanent good of the whole people."  
    • Loss of national standards for Wilderness.   One of the benefits of a national system of Wilderness, and a Wilderness Act protecting all designated areas, is the idea of national standards of wilderness protection, to guard against short-sighted, provincial attempts to degrade Wilderness. By weakening these standards for Wilderness via the Green Mountain bill, the Washington delegation's actions open the door to other local Congressional delegations to weaken wilderness standards to suit local demands. 
    • Loss of commitment to Wilderness.  This new law demonstrates a profound loss of commitment to Wilderness. This loss of commitment comes from many sides, including the U.S. Forest Service, which flagrantly violated the Wilderness Act and NEPA in constructing the new lookout building, Congress (and in this case, the Democrats in Congress who have been less antagonistic to Wilderness than the Republicans), and some environmental groups like the Wilderness Society, which campaigned for the Wilderness-damaging bill.  
    • Loss of commitment to following the Wilderness Act.  With passage of the Green Mountain law, lax federal wilderness managers will be emboldened to violate the Wilderness Act, knowing they can get Congress to bail them out of unlawful actions when they are caught. This corrupt incentive bodes badly for the future of Wilderness.

    The misinformation spread by the bill's proponents makes the legislation more noxious and the process of passing it more perverse. The facts include:  
    • The replica Green Mountain Lookout is not the historic structure from 1933.  The new Green Mountain building was built anew in 2009 with an entirely new foundation and support structure, new posts, beams, joists, studs, catwalk, railing, rafters, and roof. By the 1980s, the Forest Service itself rejected nominating the lookout for national historic register listing due to it having received so many modifications over the years. 
    • Dozens of lookouts remain in Wilderness.  Proponents also misled Congress by claiming there are only six lookouts left in Wilderness in the U.S. while in fact there are dozens. 
     
    The Green Mountain building is not still used as a fire lookout.  Proponents claimed this lookout was still being used as a fire lookout, even though it hasn't been used as a lookout in decades.
     
    Wilderness Watch filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service over the construction of the new replica building. In 2012, Federal District Judge John Coughenour ruled in our favor and against the new structure, finding the Forest Service to have "egregiously" violated the law. The new Green Mountain bill overturns Judge Coughenour's well-founded decision.

    Passage of the Green Mountain bill will permanently impair the Glacier Peak Wilderness and it strikes a telling blow against the Wilderness Act on the eve of its 50th anniversary.

    Background:
    On March 27th 2013, Federal District Judge John Coughenour in Seattle ruled in favor of wilderness conditions in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington State and ordered the U.S. Forest Service to remove its reconstructed lookout from Green Mountain. Wilderness Watch filed the lawsuit against the agency in 2010.

    But three months later, on June 27th, U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA), whose district included the Glacier Peak Wilderness, introduced a bill in the previous Congress (H.R. 6039) to overturn the court ruling and retain the new building in the Wilderness. Larsen's problematic bill failed to pass in 2012. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) has reintroduced the bill this year (H.R. 908), but it has yet to be released from the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate—S. 404—also still in committee.

    Wilderness Watch filed the case alleging the Forest Service had violated the 1964 Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by reconstructing the long-abandoned lookout, and by using helicopters to haul out the old building and haul in the new one. The project was done without public notice or environmental review as required by NEPA. The judge agreed with Wilderness Watch on every major point of contention in the suit.

    One of the key issues involved with this case revolved around historic preservation of the lookout versus the Wilderness Act's mandate to preserve wilderness character. The Forest Service alleged that its directives for the preservation of historic structures under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) require it to ignore the Wilderness Act's mandate. Judge Coughenour, citing numerous legal precedents and the plain language of the Wilderness Act, repudiated the agency's contention on this point.

    In addition to violating the Wilderness Act's prohibitions on structures and installations, the judge also ruled that the Forest Service had failed to make a finding that the reconstructed lookout was "necessary to meet the minimum requirements for the administration of the area" as Wilderness under the 1964 law. "The Forest Service erred egregiously by not conducting the required necessity analysis before embarking on such an aggressive course of action," the judge wrote.

    Judge Coughenour granted Wilderness Watch's request for an injunction against the Forest Service and ordered the agency to remove the new structure from Green Mountain. Wilderness Watch was represented by Peter Frost, Western Environmental Law Center, in Eugene, Oregon.

    Rep. DelBene's bill in Congress, however, seeks to legislatively overturn the judge's careful decision. H.R. 908 would set a terrible national precedent. The bill would go back and amend the 1984 Washington State Wilderness Act nearly three decades after it passed to "grandfather in" a non-conforming structure. H.R. 908 could open the floodgates for many other bills grandfathering in non-conforming uses or structures long after the wilderness bills initially passed. Wilderness Watch urges its members to write to their U.S. Representative and both U.S. Senators and ask them to oppose H.R. 908.

    Also in 2013, the Forest Service issued a scoping letter announcing it will prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) on its plan to remove the lookout in compliance with the Court order, and it is seeking public comments on the proposal. 

    Click here to view our 12/13 action alert on S. 404
    Click here to read a letter urging Congress not to pass S. 404
    Click here to view our action alert on the FS' Green Mountain lookout Removal EIS
    Click here to read a WW Op-ed on Larsen's bill
    Click here to read more about the court case in a news release
    Click here to download the Decision
    • Visit WW's blog for background information

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  • Removing Some Non-Native Fish While Adding Others2/14
    GlacierWilderness Watch recently asked the National Park Service (NPS) to revisit its proposed actions for removing lake trout from two lakes within recommended wilderness in Glacier National Park in Montana. The proposal is completely at odds with wilderness values in that it would allow use of motorboats on remote backcountry lakes (where there currently is no motorboat use) 16 weeks of the year, every year into perpetuity, and it calls for introducing bull trout to waters it did not historically inhabit. The NPS is also proposing helicopter landings to haul in those boats and other equipment.

    While the program may be well-intended since it seeks to protect bull trout, in part by removing a non-native species planted downstream years ago, the NPS needs to seriously look at the impacts from the proposal and come up with alternatives that are consistent with wilderness administration. NPS's proposal to transplant bull trout into Grace Lake, where the species does not naturally exist, fails to look at the impacts to the aquatic ecosystem from introducing bull trout into the lake. Finally, given the extensive nature of the proposal, Wilderness Watch told the NPS that a full environmental impact statement was needed.

    Read our comments

    Photo: National Park Service
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  • Commercial Fishing Application in Alaska Raises Concerns2/14
    Wilderness Watch recently submitted comments on a permit application to moor structures and store net pans in Crawfish Inlet at the edge of the South Baranof Wilderness in Alaska. The South Baranof Wilderness is an island Wilderness of glaciers, saltwater fjords, hanging valleys, peaks, and coastal forests. We let the Army Corps of Engineers know of our concerns with Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association's application, including impacts to visitors expecting to have a wilderness experience and instead being confronted with a barge, net pens, and associated traffic; impacts to the area's wilderness character; and impacts on plant and wildlife species. If any of the project were to occur in the South Baranof Wilderness, it would violate the Wilderness Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

    Read our comments


  • WILDERNESS WINS: Road through the Izembek Wilderness (Alaska) Rejected: UPDATED 1/14 [Posted 4/12]
    Izembek Wilderness
    In a great victory for Wilderness, in January 2014 Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected a proposed road through the Izembek Wilderness in Alaska. The contentious proposal had placed at risk one of the nation's premier Wildernesses and the rich wildlife it supports.

    Jewell's decision supported a February 2013 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFS) recommendation. The USFS's Final Environmental Impact Statement studied a proposed land exchange and a 20-mile road to be constructed through the Izembek Wilderness in Alaska. The agency announced its preferred action to not approve the exchange and road. A final Record of Decision was due in early March 2013.

    But Alaska politicians, led by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), mounted a furious attack in response, hoping to convince outgoing Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar to reverse this decision. Murkowski had authored an amendment to require this study in the 2009 public lands omnibus bill that designated 2.1 million acres of Wilderness in nine states. Some in the environmental community supported Murkowski's amendment as a means to pass the full bill.

    Wilderness Watch wrote to Sec. Salazar, and encouraged its members and supporters to as well, and asked him to support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recommendation to protect the Izembek Wilderness. Unfortunately, Sen. Murkowski struck a deal with Sec. Salazar that required the FWS to conduct additional reviews of the proposal (In exchange, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to advance Sally Jewell's nomination for Sec. of Interior.). Further controversy surrounds the issue as it has been speculated that the real reason for the road is to move seafood for commercial export, not just for medical evacuations as is commonly stated.


    Background/Action Alerts
    4/12/12
    : The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) entitled Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Land Exchange and Road Corridor. The draft included two alternatives for a road to be built connecting the villages of King Cove (pop. 744) with Cold Bay (pop. 84) where a long airport runway exists. The road alternatives would run through 10.8 or 12.5 miles of Wilderness lands and fragment the ecologically sensitive isthmus between Izembek Lagoon and Cold Bay. Although the building of roads is prohibited in Wilderness, Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) succeeded in adding special language to the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (PL 111-11) that requires an environmental impact analysis of a proposed land exchange which, if consummated, would remove road corridor lands from the Izembek Wilderness and facilitate road construction in what is now designated Wilderness. The law also required the Secretary of Interior, upon completion of the EIS, to determine if the land exchange and road are in the public interest. Unfortunately this maneuver was not opposed by some conservation groups supporting the Omnibus Public Lands bill. It now falls on those who don’t believe in compromising away our nation’s wilderness lands to say “NO” to the land exchange and yes to preserving for all time the 300,000-acre Izembek Wilderness.

    This issue was previously debated in the late 1990s when residents of King Cove and the Aleutians East Borough requested a road through the Izembek Wilderness, ostensibly for the health and safety of village residents who might need to reach the Cold Bay airport for medical evacuation to Anchorage. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (remember the “bridges to nowhere”) attempted to insert a rider into legislation, which would have authorized construction of this road through the Izembek Wilderness. Congress ultimately addressed the concerns of King Cove by passing the King Cove Health and Safety Act (Section 353) of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1999 (Public Law 105-227). This law provided an appropriation of $37.5 million in federal funds for the Aleutians East Borough to construct a marine/road link between the communities of King Cove and Cold Bay that would utilize a hovercraft ferry, and avoid building a road through the Wilderness. It also funded improvements to the King Cove airport and village health clinic.

    Proponents for the proposed road in the Izembek Wilderness are once again pushing for its construction, claiming that the hovercraft is too expensive and not feasible. The record however, shows that in all instances of medical emergency since the hovercraft was available, patients were successfully transported to Cold Bay in a timely manner.

    The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness represent one of our nation’s finest examples of critically important wildlife habitat that exists in its original ecological context. Izembek Lagoon harbors the world’s largest eel grass beds and is a crucial staging habitat for nearly the entire population of Pacific brant (a species of goose), as well as for unique Emperor geese that are found only in the Bering Sea region, Cackling Canada geese and numerous other waterfowl species. Located near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, Izembek is a major crossroad for international migrations of many bird species. It is also home to the famous Alaskan brown bear, rich salmon spawning areas, caribou, wolves, wolverine, seals, sea otters, and other mammal species making a complete ecosystem of high biological diversity and productivity.

    A road slicing through this wild masterpiece would be an unspeakable travesty and set a dangerous precedent for using land trade schemes to develop our precious Wilderness lands

    WHAT YOU CAN DO:
    Please help by sending your comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service, telling them that you support the No Action Alternative. Here are some additional points we suggest for your consideration:
    • Wilderness must remain permanently protected and never bartered away for political or other purposes.
    • The proposed road would damage forever one of the world’s most vital habitats for internationally significant wildlife.
    • Lands that this scheme proposes to add to the refuge Wilderness are of lower quality and fail to compensate for the unique values that would be lost.
    • The health and safety concerns expressed by King Cove residents were fully addressed by Congress in 1999 and there is no justification for road building in the Wilderness.
    • The costs for construction and maintenance of this road are not justified economically, even if there were no environmental impacts.

    We encourage you to speak in your own words for the Izembek Wilderness.
    Comments can be sent via email to: izembek_eis@fws.gov or via fax to: 907-786-3965
    Or via mail to:
    Stephanie Brady, Project Team Leader
    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    1011 East Tudor Rd, MS-231
    Anchorage, AK 99503
    Comments must be received no later than May 18, 2012.

    5/2013: We encourage you to email Sec. Jewell (exsec@ios.doi.gov) and ask her to stand firm against the intense political pressure and to approve the Record of Decision against the exchange and road as soon as possible. Please cc Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: dan_ashe@fws.gov.

    THANK YOU!

    Read the DEIS
    Read comments submitted by Wilderness Watch and 21 other conservation groups
    Read a press release announcing that 50,000 comments support the No Action Alternative
    Read WW's letter supporting the FWS's decision to select the No Road option as its preferred alternative for the Izembek EIS.
    Click here to link to the FWS's site which contains the final EIS.

    Photo: Christine Sowl (USFWS)
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  • National Park Service Plans to Poison Sequoia and Kings Canyon Lakes1/14
    SEKIOn December 17, Wilderness Watch and three allied organizations submitted a 30-page comment letter opposing the National Park Service's (NPS's) Draft EIS and Plan for Restoration of Native Species in High Elevation Aquatic Ecosystems in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California. While we support the goal of removing nonnative fish from high elevation lakes, the plan relies heavily on poisoning these wilderness lakes with a chemical (rotenone) that kills not only fish but also many native aquatic organisms. We asked the NPS to withdraw the plan, conduct a better and more thorough NEPA-compliant analysis of impacts and effects, and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to insure protection of threatened and endangered species.

    Read WW's comment letter on the Draft EIS
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  • Coronado National Forest Plan Threatens Wilderness1/14
    Chiricahua WildernessWilderness Watch has expressed serious concerns with the draft revised Coronado National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) and draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Forest contains eight Wildernesses covering about 340,000 acres. The LRMP provides some direction for wilderness administration, including guidance for specific Wildernesses, and specific plans will be developed later as well. The plan also prohibits bridges, making the Wildernesses wilder than some other places (admittedly, bridges are rare in national forests without large rivers). However, we are very concerned with the Plan's emphasis on preserving structures, allusions to gardening or manipulating Wilderness, and its lack of adequate alternatives.

    Read WW's comments on the Draft EIS

    Photo: Chiricahua Wilderness by Deidre St. Louis

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  • Cabins to be Removed from the Tongass Wilderness?  12/13
    Cabin in the Tongass WildernessWilderness Watch is asking the U.S. Forest Service (FS) to remove nine cabins in the Tongass Wilderness in Alask. The FS's Environmental Assessment (EA) on Sustainable Cabin Management on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska deals with a total of 12 cabins, nine within designated Wildernesses. The agency proposes to completely remove nine of the cabins (seven within Wilderness) and to convert or replace three cabins to shelters (two within Wilderness). We support the agency's proposal to remove the seven cabins from within Wilderness, and are urging the Forest Service to also remove the remaining two cabins in Wilderness (Big Goat and Distin Lake), rather than converting them to shelters.

    Click here to read the EA.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments

    Photo: US Forest Service
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  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre—Forest Service Takes Aim at Five Wildernesses in Texas10/13
    Indian Mounds Wilderness, TX: proposed for loggingThe Forest Service (FS) has released a proposal to log in five Wildernesses in eastern Texas— Big Slough, Little Lake Creek, Indian Mounds, Turkey Hill, and Upland Island Wildernesses—for the purported purpose of controlling a Southern pine beetle infestation. Wilderness Watch and the Sierra Club have noted serious problems with the proposal including the fact there is no pine beetle outbreak in Texas; the nearest infestation is in Mississippi. Importantly, pine beetles are natural agents of change in these Wildernesses, part of determining the composition and structure of southern pine forests. The snags created by the pine beetles contribute to the wilderness character and ecological diversity in these Wildernesses. This diversity makes a pine beetle outbreak much less likely.

    While the Wilderness Act includes a limited allowance for control of insects in Wilderness, deliberate human manipulation of Wilderness compromises the area from being truly wild as the Act intended. Wilderness Watch asked the FS to drop its plan to log these Wildernesses, and to adopt alternatives that keep all intensive management outside of Wilderness if the project goes forward at some future date.

    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments

    Photo: Indian Mounds Wilderness by Kirk Johnson
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  • Speak Up to Quash New Wilderness Access Fee:  10/13
    King Range Wilderness: proposed Wilderness feeThe Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed a new wilderness access fee for the King Range Wilderness. Part of the King Range National Conservation Area, the 42,694-acre King Range Wilderness lies along the Pacific Coast in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties of northern California. In its "business plan" for the King Range Wilderness BLM wants to institute a first of its kind $5/person/day fee to visit the area. Please contact the California BLM before Oct. 18 to register your opposition to this proposal. Write in your own words, but consider including the following points:

    • The proposed fee would violate the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), which prohibits fees for parking at, hiking through, or camping in undeveloped federal sites such as Wildernesses.  
    • The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2012 case involving the Mount Lemmon area on the Coronado National Forest in Arizona against the imposition of such fees for undeveloped areas.
    • The proposed fee would violate the intent and spirit of the Wilderness Act, including protecting Wildernesses from commercialization and commodification.

    Click here to read the 68-page King Range Business Plan that proposes the new fee
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments

    Email your comments by Oct. 18th to: ca338@blm.gov, or mail them to:  
    BLM Arcata Field Office
    1695 Heindon Road
    Arcata, CA 95521

    Photo: Bob Wick

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  • BLM Proposing Livestock Water Reservoirs in the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness10/13
    Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, CO: propsed livestock watering tanksThe Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has prepared a draft Resource Management Plan for the Dominguez Canyon Resource Area in Colorado, which includes the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness. Unfortunately, BLM is planning to conduct extensive habitat manipulation projects and seems ready to approve anywhere from seven to seventeen new livestock water reservoirs within the Wilderness. The tanks would likely be constructed using backhoes or other large earthmoving equipment. New facilities and motorized equipment have no place in Wilderness. Furthermore, the draft plan comes up with all sorts of ideas to manipulate Wilderness under the guise of protecting naturalness or other values, including building barriers to protect rock art from what is presumably the threat of vandalism. While the plan itself doesn't authorize any of these destructive proposals, it lays the groundwork for decisions in the future.

    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments.

    Photo: Bureau of Land Management
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  • Will Fishers Again Roam Mt. Rainier and North Cascades Wildernesses?  10/13
    Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, CO: propsed livestock watering tanksThe National Park Service is analyzing a proposal to reintroduce fishers into Mt. Rainier and North Cascades national parks. At one time fishers played an important ecological role in the Cascade Range. Where human actions have eliminated an indigenous species like the fisher, where habitat conditions are suitable, and where the population will be self-sustaining, Wilderness Watch supports reintroduction of extirpated species. Natural recolonization is preferred to overt reintroduction in Wilderness.
     
    In our comments we suggested any fishers reintroduced in Wilderness be moved by nonmotorized means and that monitoring be conducted in non-invasive ways. We also asked the Park Service to analyze the suitability of the habitat to ensure greater success.

    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments

    Photo: www.ForestWander.com
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  • Prescribed Burning Proposed for Linville Gorge Wilderness (North Carolina): UPDATED 9/13 [Posted 1/13]
    Linville Gorge WildernessThe U.S. Forest Service (FS) is requesting public input on a plan to burn the entire 12,000-acre Linville Gorge Wilderness (LGW) in North Carolina two to three times in the next 10 years using manager-ignited "prescribed fire." The proposed burns are part of a much larger forest and landscape restoration project on the Pisgah National Forest.  

    This comment period is an important first step in determining the issues that will guide the environmental review so citizens should to let the Forest Service know of their concerns.

    In developing the project, the FS has so far ignored any impacts to the untrammeled, unmanipulated wilderness character of the Linville Gorge Wilderness. While restoring fire to a wilderness ecosystem may bring some ecological or species-specific benefits, human-ignited fire in Wilderness is a significant manipulation or trammeling of the area. The FS plan has the potential to turn the LGW from a wild Wilderness into a heavily manipulated, managed forest. Allowing the area to evolve of its own accord and letting lightning-caused fire play its natural role in Wilderness is a much better alternative.

    Wilderness advocates who live in the area are rallying to challenge the FS plans, but they need your help. Please consider sending comments to the FS before Jan. 31, 2013. You may want to include the following points:
    • The distinctive and distinguishing characteristic of Wilderness is its wildness. This fundamental tenet must guide the analysis and decision.
    • The FS should fully analyze the negative impacts to wilderness character from the extensive manipulation and trammeling of the LGW, including cutting fire lines within the Wilderness and using fire retardants.
    • The FS should first conduct its burns outside the Wilderness, so the effects can be studied before harm is done to the Wilderness. Further, reducing fuels outside the Wilderness should allow natural fire to play its role in the Linville Gorge Wilderness.
    • All burning plans should include measurable and quantifiable objectives, with a mandated monitoring plan, so the success of any burns in achieving the project's goals can be readily determined.
    • The analysis under the proposed-burning plan should clearly determine when human-ignited burns will have accomplished their goals and only lightning fires will be allowed to burn.
    • The environmental analysis should assess whether the agency's plan for prescribed fire matches the area's historic fire regime in terms of fire intensity, fire frequency, and time of year. 
    • The FS should conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) for this project rather than the much shorter environmental assessment (EA). The extensive impacts to the LGW require a more in-depth analysis.
    • The plan should require a Minimum Requirements Decision Guide/minimum tool analysis for every non-conforming use that the agency proposes, for example, for chainsaw use within the Wilderness or aerial ignition via plane or helicopter.
    • The environmental analysis should analyze why natural lightning-caused fire alone cannot be used to restore fire to the ecosystem. The FS should analyze whether lightning fires alone could benefit the Table Mountain, pitch, and shortleaf pines and oak woodlands.

    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments.

    Please send your comments by Jan. 31, 2013 to: comments-southern-north-carolina@fs.fed.us and include "LGW Prescribed Fire Project" in the subject line.  Comments can be sent via U.S. Mail to: USDA Forest Service, National Forests in North Carolina, ATTN: Heather Luczak, 160A Zillicoa St., Asheville, NC 28801.

  • [UPDATE, 10/13]: The FS appears to be listening to the objections of WW and the local Save the Linville Gorge Wilderness group to the agency's proposal to conduct prescribed burns. At the end of September, the prescribed burning plan was put on hold. The agency may decide to go ahead with the plan at a later date, and could include the plan in an update to the Forest Plan it is working on. Save the Linville Gorge Wilderness has initiated an online petition urging the Forest Service to back off its burning plans. You can sign the petition here.
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  • ALERT—National Wildlife Refuge Plan Unduly Caters to Hunting Interests, Downplays Others: 8/13

    National WIldlife Refuge SystemBackground: The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has released for public comment one recommendation from a draft plan for our nation's National Wildlife Refuges. The plan is part of a "re-visioning" process for the National Refuge System called "Conserving the Future," and will affect, among other things, more than 20 million acres of Refuge Wilderness. This draft recommendation focuses on increasing hunting and fishing opportunities on refuges, but it and the other recommendations mostly ignore activities the public increasingly enjoys, such as wildlife observation, photography, and hiking. Wilderness is not even mentioned in any of the 24 recommendations, even though the public suggested many wilderness recommendations during the first planning phase two years ago. Instead, the recommendation proposes inappropriate levels of influence by State game agencies bent on maximizing game harvests on National Wildlife Refuges. Wilderness Watch has already witnessed a growing collusion between the FWS and State game agencies. The illegal construction of water facilities in the Kofa Wilderness in Arizona in an attempt to increase huntable populations of desert bighorn sheep is just one example; the proposal—later withdrawn due to public outcry—to aerial gun wolves and gas wolf pups in their dens in the Unimak Wilderness in Alaska is another. FWS is endorsing the controversial so-called "North American Model of Wildlife Conservation" which has a disproportionate emphasis on hunting and minimizes the importance of Wilderness, as well as other wildlife uses and values, including threatened and endangered species, biodiversity, and non-consumptive recreation.

    What you can do
    • Urge the FWS to develop a strategic plan that recognizes the diversity of public uses the Refuge System can provide, such as wildlife viewing, photography, and hiking and to stop catering to the agenda of State fish and game agencies.
    • Urge the FWS to not adopt the hunting-focused "North American Model of Wildlife Conservation" and instead return to emphasizing the importance of biodiversity, ecosystem function, and endangered species. National Wildlife Refuges should not be converted into State game farms.
    • Urge the FWS to include in the strategic plan measures that foster the unique experiential values of untrammeled Wilderness—such as natural wildlife populations in an unimpaired and unmanipulated setting—for those engaged in all forms of recreation in refuge Wilderness.
    • The plan should take into account the changing trends of public uses and interests rather than granting an inappropriate priority to hunting and fishing.

    Comments must be received by September 15, 2013!  
    Email to: conservingthefuture@fws.gov  
    or mail to:
    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
    NWRS-DVSC.  Suite 634
    4401 North Fairfax Drive
    Arlington, VA 22203
    Attn: Vision Implementation Coordinator
     
    National Wildlife Refuge SystemContact:  Fran Mauer, Alaska Chapter, Wilderness Watch (907-455-6829)  fmauer@mosquitonet.com

    THANK YOU for taking action.

    Photos: US Fish and Wildlife Service; Bottom photo is Great Dismal Swamp NWR, Virginia.
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  • WW Questions Tree Planting Proposal for the Pasayten Wilderness: 8/13
    Pasayten WildernessWilderness Watch is urging the Forest Service (FS) to abandon its proposal to plant whitebark pine in the Pasayten Wilderness in Washington. None of the reasons the FS gives in its Quartz Mountain Whitebark Pine Preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) appear to be valid. The EA states, "There is a need to establish a whitebark pine seed source…for natural regeneration to occur." It also notes, "…no tree seedlings were observed on the former whitebark site and it is therefore unlikely that whitebark pine will naturally regenerate in the area." This clearly leads the public to believe there are no living whitebark pines in the area. However, the EA goes on to contradict the earlier statement by saying there are "surviving whitebark pines in the Quartz Mountain area."

    The Quartz Mountain fire that killed whitebark pines was a natural event, and it may take decades for seedlings to be reestablished (a fact recognized by the Whitebark Pine Foundation). The project would have a significant negative impact on the Pasayten Wilderness. Wilderness Watch told the Forest Service to let natural processes—fire, Clark's nutcrackers, rains, and wind—determine the extent of whitebark pine regeneration, . Wilderness is about wildness and that includes letting nature determine when and where seedlings will be re-established. Any experiment of this type should be confined to non-Wilderness lands.

    • Read our comments by clicking here.
    Photo: Steve Boutcher

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  • Damming Wilderness (Montana/Idaho): Updated 7/13 [Posted 5/11]
    Fred Burr High Lake Dam catwalkFederal Judge Donald Molloy recently ruled the Forest Service (FS) could authorize a private irrigation company to use a helicopter to transport less than 700 lbs. of materials for a minor repair to the Fred Burr High Lake Dam in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Montana. Wilderness Watch argued that the company should be required to haul in the materials with pack stock or by foot. The FS had rejected the pack stock alternative claiming it would require upgrading the final one-and-a-half-mile of trail to the lake, despite the fact irrigators and many recreationists routinely access the lake with stock. Wilderness Watch also suggested the materials could be carried on foot over the last mile and a half since the heaviest items would weigh less than 25 pounds. The FS refused to consider this option.

    In his order, Molloy echoed the Forest Service argument that the use of a helicopter will have less impact than the use of pack stock, ignoring that motorized access is prohibited while pack stock use is not. Molloy's ruling, like the decision of the FS, reflects a disturbing line of reasoning that is creeping into many agency decisions; that a prohibited use like motor vehicles or aircraft is preferable to an allowable use, like pack stock, if the prohibited use will have "less impact." Such flawed reasoning has led to significant increases in motorized use in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and other Wildernesses in recent years. Wilderness Watch is appealing Molloy's ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Background: Wilderness Watch is challenging the escalating use of motorized vehicles and equipment on dam-related projects in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (SBW) in Montana and Idaho. These projects are having a significant impact on the wilderness character of the SBW, turning one of America's premier Wildernesses into one of its most motorized. Taken together, the cumulative effects of the authorized motorized activities and the proposals for additional use have caused and threaten to continue to cause significant impacts to the SBW.

    On June 19 2012, Wilderness Watch (WW) and Friends of the Clearwater (FOC) filed a complaint in federal district court against the FS for its decision to approve two helicopter flights to airlift 700 pounds of materials to the Fred Burr High Lake Dam to rebuild a deteriorating catwalk and log boom. Wilderness Watch (WW) and FOC have also appealed a Forest Service (FS) decision to allow a local irrigation company to use helicopters and heavy equipment to maintain the Tamarack Lake dam. The FS's environmental assessments (EAs) for these projects fail to include an alternative that protects wilderness character by using non-motorized, non-mechanized equipment as was done for almost a century, including for several decades after the SBW was established by the 1964 Wilderness Act.

    In our comments we noted the challenge for wilderness managers (and the dam owners) is to administer these legally permitted, non-conforming structures in a way that doesn’t further degrade the area’s wilderness character. Using traditional skills without relying on motorized equipment upholds the spirit of the Wilderness Act, while invading Wilderness with helicopters strikes at the heart of Wilderness as a place set apart.

    Fred Burr:
    Click here to read Judge Molloy's Decision
    Click here to download Wilderness Watch's Complaint
    Click here to download the Preliminary Injunction denial
    Click here to download Wilderness Watch's request for a Preliminary Injunction
    Click here to download Wilderness Watch’s Appeal of the Decision
    Click here to download the Decision
    Click here to download Wilderness Watch’s comments on the EA
    Click here to download the EA

    Tamarack Lake:
    Click here to download Wilderness Watch’s appeal of the Decision
    Click here to download Wilderness Watch’s comments on the EA
    Click here to download the EA and Decision
    Photo: The Forest Service has decided to allow the use of helicopters to transport materials to replace this simple catwalk at Fred Burr High Lake Dam in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
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  • Free Glacier Peak Wilderness from More Helicopters7/13
    Glacier Peak WildernessWilderness Watch has voiced concerns with the Forest Service (FS) plan to authorize extensive helicopter use on two projects in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington: the operation of USGS South Cascade Glacier Research Station and a maintenance project on Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
     
    The FS is proposing to issue a 20-year permit for the continued operation of the research station.  The scoping letter indicates that in the past operating the station has included the use of aircraft, permanent structures and permanent installations.  It is unclear whether any of these activities have ever been subjected to the requirements of NEPA or reviewed for their consistency with the Wilderness Act.  WW urged the FS to prepare an environmental assessment (EA) and to explore ways to reduce the impact of the research activity on the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

    We also let the FS know of our concerns regarding the plan to shuttle trail crews and tools with helicopters to repair a section of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Some of the concerns we raised include:

    • The FS claims crews would have to walk 25 miles to the work site, but the actual distance is more like 12 miles since the FS has access to the Suiattle River Road (closed to the public), and could utilize pack stock once inside the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
    • The agency fails to explain why crews can't walk up to 25 miles if necessary. Crews in other regions are able to.
    • The FS proposal fails to justify or explain why it can't use pack stock to transport tools and supplies. If the ranger district lacks either stock or the skills needed to use stock, it should consult with other FS units that can help.
    • The agency is proposing to use a helicopter and power drill in Wilderness when viable wilderness-compatible alternatives exist.

    Click here to read our letter on both projects
     Photo: Steve Boutcher
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  • Wilderness Watch Advocates for Wilderness/Public Lands Grazing Reform: 7/13
    Wilderness Watch is supporting The Rural Economic Vitalization Act, H.R. 2201, introduced by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), which would address the environmentally damaging and economically inefficient federal grazing policy on our public lands. “REVA” as it’s known, would allow ranchers to voluntarily relinquish their federal grazing permits to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service (FS) in exchange for private market compensation. The BLM and FS would then be required to permanently retire these grazing permits.  WW’s executive director, George Nickas, stated upon the bill’s introduction: “Many thanks to Congressman Smith for introducing this forward-looking legislation. It is one of the more important, positive pieces of public lands legislation introduced in many years. Even some of our nation's designated Wildernesses are suffering serious harm due to inappropriate livestock grazing. This bill offers the best opportunity we currently have to address this problem. We look forward to working with Congressman Smith and his staff toward its passage."

    • Read Congressman Smith’s press release by clicking here.
    • Read the legislation by clicking here.

    Please contact your members of Congress today and ask them to support REVA:
    To find and contact members of Congress, visit www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml. You can write your senator or representative at: Senator (Name), US Senate, Washington D.C. 20510 or Representative (Name), US House of Representatives, Washington D.C. 20515.
    Photo: George Wuerthner
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  • WW Challenges Commercial Pack Stock Plan for Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wildernesses:  UPDATED 7/13 [Posted 10/10]
    Lake Chelan-Sawtooth WildernessThe Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wildernesses in Washington form part of a million acre Wildeness complex in the North Cascades. One of the wildest regions left in the lower 48 states, it has been identified as one of the key recovery areas for grizzlies, wolverine, and other solitude-seeking species. Unfortunately, the administration of the Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wildernesses had fallen short of what one would expect. Some commercial pack stock operators in particular have been allowed to cause excessive damage in the backcountry, bring in too many stock, retard natural restoration of past damage, and exceed the level of impact allowed by forest plan standards. But in its recently approved commercial pack stock management plan, the Forest Service opted to change the standards to allow much more damage to the backcountry, and to allow a substantial increase in use by commercial operations, contrary to the rules of the Wilderness Act.
     
    Wilderness Watch challenged the new management plan and the Forest Supervisor responded by withdrawing her decision. The FS will likely release a draft supplemental EIS.
    Click here to read our appeal.

    Background, 10/10: The Forest Service (FS) recently issued a long-awaited “Pack and Saddle Stock Outfitter-Guide Special Use Permit Issuance Draft Environmental Impact Statement” (DEIS) for the Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wildernesses. Wilderness Watch let the FS its DEIS fails to comply with the Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In the DEIS, the Forest Service proposes to more than double the amount of commercial pack stock use in the Pasayten, and to substantially increase commercial pack stock use in the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth. This, despite documented damage from already too-high use levels in these areas, particularly in the Pasayten. In addition, the DEIS proposes to amend the forest plan standards for barren-core areas at outfitter camps from the current standard of 400 sq. ft. to up to 5,000 sq. ft. So much for “minimum impact” or “no trace” ethics!

    Some background on the Pasayten
    : Located in Washington, on the Canadian border and adjacent to the Stephen Mather Wilderness, the 529,000-acre Pasayten Wilderness is home to the largest population of lynx in the Lower 48 and is essential to grizzly recovery in the North Cascades. It provides habitat for numerous other threatened and endangered species such as wolves and wolverines. The Wilderness has 150 peaks over 7,500 feet in elevation, hundreds of lakes and streams, and 600 miles of trails.

    For more information:
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch’s comments on the DEIS.
    Click here to read “The 1999 Report on the State of the Pasayten Wilderness” by Martha Hall (sponsored by North Cascades Conservation Council and Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, and documenting many issues which are still occurring).
    Click here to read a column by Birch Berman, who ran an outfitting business in the Pasayten for 25 years.
    Photo: Paysayten Wilderness by Steve Boutcher
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  • NPS Proposes Fish Poisoning for North Cascades National Park:  6/13
    North Cascades National ParkWilderness Watch is questioning the National Park Service's (NPS) proposal to use rotenone to kill stocked brook trout in Sourdough Lake in the Stephen Mather Wilderness, which is within North Cascades National Park in Washington. Sourdough Lake was originally a naturally fishless lake, but it was stocked with brook trout decades ago. The NPS proposes switching to a liquid form of rotenone (CFT Legumine) from its previous use of antimycin as the piscicide to remove the brook trout.  Brook trout have worked their way downstream from Sourdough Lake to Ross Lake and are beginning to hybridize with endemic bull trout in Ross Lake. While Wilderness Watch supports efforts to end fish stocking in and to remove fish from naturally fishless lakes, we raised a number of questions about wilderness values, efficacy of treatment options, and whether perpetual poisonings would be required. 

    • To read our comment letter, click here.
    Photo: Terry Fensler

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  • Wilderness Watch Pushes to Fix Flaws in National Parks Wilderness Directive: Updated 6/13 [Posted 3/11]
    Wilderness Watch, along with several other conservation groups, has sent a letter to National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis, voicing concerns over a new NPS directive purportedly designed to protect national park Wilderness, but which does the opposite in some very important respects. The NPS is updating Director’s Order #41 (DO 41) for consistency with its 2006 wilderness stewardship policy revisions. DO 41 deals with wilderness stewardship, including management of NPS recommended Wilderness. While this order is only a subset of wilderness stewardship policy, it allows some activities contrary to the Wilderness Act.

    We are asking Director Jarvis to rescind DO 41 to remedy flaws that will otherwise lead to controversy and litigation. The problems created by the new Directive include:
    • Illegal authorization of placing fixed climbing anchors in Wilderness. The Directive adds the hopelessly vague caveat that such installations should only be "occasional";
    • Carving road corridors out of Wilderness for unpaved roads up to 100 feet—more than three times the current guidance of 30 feet. This wilderness exclusion, for which no justification was offered, fragments wilderness by facilitating more construction along unpaved roads; and
    • Confusing direction on preserving cabins, shelters and other "cultural resources," and inappropriate language regarding Native American rights of access, which will likely spark needless disputes.

    Click here to read our letter to Director Jarvis
    Click here to read our news release

    Click here to read Wilderness Watch’s comments on the draft DO 41
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    Re-Wilding the Everglades (Florida): 5/13
    EvergladesWilderness Watch, along with seven other organizations (including the South Florida Wildlands Association), is recommending that the National Park Service (NPS) strengthen its proposed new General Management Plan (and Wilderness Stewardship Plan) for Everglades National Park in Florida. At 1.3 million acres in size, the iconic Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness comprises 93 percent of the Park. Even though this is the largest Wilderness east of the Rockies, it is not as well protected as it should be.

    Our comments focused on ways to protect and improve the area’s wilderness character. One of our recommendations calls for making the famed 99-mile Wilderness Waterway a truly non-motorized wilderness route, whereas now it is open to motorized boats. We urged the NPS to limit airboats to designated routes in the East Everglades Wilderness addition and provide only non-motorized access in the Shark River Slough. We also asked NPS to exchange the right-of-way corridor (the East Everglades Power Line) owned by Florida Power and Light for land outside the Park.

    Click here to read our comments
    Photo: Mark Kinzer
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  • WW Urges BLM to Strengthen Owyhee Wilderness Plan (Idaho): 5/13
    Owyhee countryWilderness Watch recently urged the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to strengthen its proposed Owyhee and Bruneau-Jarbidge Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River Management Plan. The six separate Owyhee wildernesses consist of nearly 520,000 acres in 12 to 14 units separated by unimproved roads. The plan also includes several wild and scenic rivers in southwestern Idaho's remarkable Owyhee canyon country. The BLM only considered two options, minimal management and the proposed action.

    The BLM's proposed option has significant flaws—it approves prohibited actions like motorized use, it promotes extensive habitat changes ostensibly and ironically to improve naturalness, it fails to adequately deal with the impacts of livestock grazing, and it authorizes a whole host of commercial enterprises without an analysis of whether they are necessary or proper.

    Wilderness Watch supports the minimal management alternative with some additional protective measures to preserve the areas' wilderness character. We suggested setting use limits and monitoring campsites, which can show some of the most easily recognized impacts from recreation use. We also told BLM it needs to recognize and address the impacts caused by livestock grazing. Over the broad Owyhee region, the amount of forage allocated to livestock is many times that of wildlife. This has caused serious impacts in the Wildernesses of the remarkable Owyhee canyon country.

    Click here to read our comments
     Photo: John McCarthy
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  • Lake Clark Wilderness Threatened by National Park Service Proposal (Alaska) 5/13
    Lake Clark WildernessWilderness Watch has weighed in on the Preferred Alternative Newsletter for Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Alaska, which includes the Lake Clark Wilderness. Our comments raised concerns with the National Park Service's (NPS) plan to potentially build and/or restore cabins in Wilderness, create less protective zoning in Wilderness, allow development in critical bear habitat, and its failure to restore wilderness character in some areas impacted by visitor use. The NPS proposal is in conflict with the purposes for which Lake Clark NP was established, with federal law, and with NPS policy.
     
    Click here to read WW's comments
    Photo courtesy of wilderness.net
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  • Wilderness Watch Opposes Teton to Snake Fuels Management Project (Wyoming): 4/13
    Wilderness Watch is opposing a Forest Service (FS) fuels management project in the Palisades Wilderness Study Area (WSA) in Wyoming. The project has important implications for the Wilderness System since the legislation designating the Palisades WSA states the FS must protect the area's wilderness character, the same standard for Wilderness under the Wilderness act. The FS proposes extensive manipulation using prescribed fire and mechanical fuels reduction. The agency could potentially turn the Palisades WSA into a heavily manipulated, managed forest. In our scoping comments, we let the agency know that the proposed manipulation would destroy the area's wilderness character, a violation of both the 1964 Wilderness Act and the 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act, which created the Palisades WSA. The plan could involve motor vehicle use, which would also violate both laws. We also requested that the FS conduct additional environmental analyses.

    Click here to read our comments
    Photo: Howie Wolke
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  • Olympic Wilderness Plan Launched (Washington):  4/13
    Olympic WildernessThe Olympic Wilderness in Washington is one of the lower 48's largest Wildernesses and could be one of the wildest if the National Park Service (NPS) chooses the right course in its upcoming wilderness stewardship plan. Its rugged nature makes cross-country travel challenging, requiring stamina and in some instances skills in traversing snow and ice fields. Wilderness Watch encouraged the NPS to take this unique opportunity to produce a plan that commits to fulfilling the letter, spirit, and intent of the Wilderness Act. While that may require a change from current operations in the Olympic Wilderness, the agency has the opportunity and duty (and one would hope, the vision) to come up with such a plan for this remarkable area.

    In our scoping comments, we urged the NPS to remove the shelters and other buildings that are not necessary to manage the area as wilderness, or, to allow the truly old structures (as opposed to the rebuilt structures) to naturally fade away. We also encouraged the Park Service to develop a range of alternatives that will protect wilderness character through careful monitoring, by allowing natural processes to prevail, by prohibiting motorized and mechanized use, and by only allowing proper outfitting and guiding use as well as visitor levels.

    Click here to read our comments
    Photo: George Wuerthner
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  • Merced River Plan Fails to Protect Wilderness (California): UPDATED 4/13 [Posted 2/10]
    Yosemite from Merced RiverWilderness Watch has voiced concerns over the Merced Wild and Scenic River Draft Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). We let the National Park Service (NPS) know that by keeping the High Sierra Camps, the preferred alternative fails the Wilderness Act (which prohibits structures), Park Service policy, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the California Wilderness Act of 1984, and the National Park Service Organic Act. The DEIS lacks important information including the impact existing trails have on wilderness character and the degree of impact caused by self-guided vs. commercially outfitted visitors. It defers management decisions until after problems arise rather than taking a proactive approach to protect the Wilderness and fails to include measures to prevent pack stock from spreading weeds. It also seeks to expand commercial uses in the Wilderness rather than limit them as the Wilderness Act intends.

    Click here to read our comments

    Background: The National Park Service (NPS) released a plan for the Merced Wild and Scenic River in California in August 2000. Following several lawsuits and litigations, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided on March 27, 2008 that the plan needed to be revised. Wilderness Watch submitted scoping comments to the NPS. Our comments recommended removing the High Sierra Camps and restoring the sites, or, at a minimum, requiring the camps be used and managed in a manner compatible with the surrounding wilderness. We also recommended limiting stock use, and phasing out all commercial developments in and near the Merced River corridor and commercial services in the wilderness.
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  • Montanore Mine Threatens Cabinet Mountains Wilderness (Montana): Updated 4/13 [Posted 5/09]
    Philip Burton WildernessAn underground copper/silver mine is proposed for the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness south of Libby, MT. Similar to the proposed Rock Creek mine, the Montanore mine would extract ore from beneath the mountains, meadows, and alpine lakes of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. The mine would discharge untreated wastewater, impact three threatened species and their habitat—bull trout, grizzly bears and lynx—and divert a perennial stream. The mine proposal also includes a mountain of tailings behind a massive dam. A milling facility and support structures would be built as well.

    Wilderness Watch let the Forest Service know of our concerns with the proposed Montanore Mine in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwestern Montana. Our concerns include the following:
    • The Wilderness analysis in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) is inadequate due to unanswered questions, its failure to rely on data related to managing for wilderness character, and a lack of FS wilderness expertise to review its consultant’s assessment;
    • The SDEIS fails to consider the combined effects of climate change and the mine on the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and wildlife;
    • The project will degrade water quality and decrease availability in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness;
    • The mine will harm endangered species that live in the Wilderness, such as lynx, bull trout, and grizzly bears, and the proposed mitigation measures are likely inadequate

    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement

    In April 2013, a Lincoln County, Montana judge added a legal roadblock by ruling Montanore Minerals cannot use parts of its existing mine entrance because doing so would trespass on valid mining claims held by a citizen in Idaho. Barring permission from this claim holder, Montanore Minerals will not be able to use this adit (mine entrance) to access its proposed mine.

    For more information on the mine and how to take action, please visit Save Our Cabinets' website, call 406-544-1494 or email info@saveourcabinets.org. You can also visit Rock Creek Alliance's website.
    Photo: Steve Boutcher
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  • Towering Wilderness Fight: 3/13 
    Wilderness Watch and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) have been working for more than a decade to convince the National Park Service (NPS) to remove AT&T's microwave tower on Mormon Peak in Death Valley National Park in California. Mormon Peak is located within the 3.1 million-acre Death Valley Wilderness. We have argued that the tower violates the Wilderness Act because it's a commercial enterprise and a structure. Our efforts are beginning to pay off.  A letter from NPS Regional Director Christine Lehnertz announced the agency will undertake an analysis and environmental review this year to examine options for the tower, including relocating it outside of Death Valley Wilderness. We'll keep you posted when the NPS review is open for public comment.
    Click here to read WW/PEER's letter
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  • Wilderness Wins—Forest Service Drops Plan for Helicopter Use in Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (Idaho): 3/13
    Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, IdahoOn Feb. 22, the Forest Service (FS) withdrew its decision to use a helicopter to replace the bridge over Running Creek in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho. The action was taken in response to an administrative appeal filed by Wilderness Watch and Friends of the Clearwater. Rather than using a helicopter to haul in pre-assembled bridge stringers, the Forest Service agreed to use a packable design to create a new 55-foot long bridge. Wilderness Watch is extremely pleased with the new decision, which will help to keep alive the traditional skills necessary to administer Wilderness without motorized access and equipment. The project will also now serve as a positive example for wilderness stewards everywhere.

    Click here to read WW/FOC's administrative appeal.
    Click here to read the Forest Service's Decision.

    Photo: Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater
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  • Forest Service Proposes Massive Firebreaks in the Ventana Wilderness (California): 3/13 
    Ventana Wilderness, CaliforniaThe U.S. Forest Service (FS) has proposed a Strategic Community Fuelbreak Improvement Project for the Ventana Wilderness in California that calls for cutting and maintaining a seven-and-a-half-mile long, 150-foot wide swath of permanent fuelbreaks, created with chainsaws, heavy equipment, and motor vehicles, and maintained in perpetuity. Wilderness Watch is opposing this proposal as a violation of the Wilderness Act, including its prohibitions on motorized equipment and motor vehicles. This project would set a terrible precedent, not only for future managers of the Ventana Wilderness, but for the National Wilderness Preservation System.

    The issue is complicated by a series of special provisions that Congress added to laws that expanded the Ventana Wilderness over time. These special provisions authorized the use of some "presuppression" work within the Ventana additions, but none authorized chainsaws, heavy vehicles, or permanent 150-foot-wide firebreaks within an area that is supposed to remain "untrammeled by man." We pointed out that the special provisions are ambiguous and are not mandatory, meaning the FS is not required to conduct the project as proposed.

    We urged the agency to re-examine the appropriateness and effectiveness of fire suppression and
    presuppression in Wilderness, noting that our knowledge of the ecological role of fire has increased dramatically since the first special Ventana provision took effect in 1978. We also pointed out that the latest FS fire research shows that the most effective means of fireproofing homes in a wildland/urban interface is to remove fuels in the immediate vicinity of homes (not in forests miles away), and to fireproof individual structures with wraps, foam, sprinkler systems, use of fire-resistant materials, and creating defensible space around structures.

    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments against this proposal.
    Click here to read the FS Scoping Letter.
    Click here to view a map of the proposed project area.

    Photo: Tom Hopkins, Ventana Wilderness Alliance
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  • WW Opposes Helicopter Use in Chemehuevi Mountains Wilderness (Wyoming): 3/13
    Chemeuvi Mountains Wilderness, WyomingWilderness Watch opposed a BLM plan to allow the University of Wyoming (UW) to use helicopters to fly students and materials in and out of the Chemehuevi Mountains Wilderness in California to study the Chemehuevi Mountains Fault system. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) presented this proposal for public comment at the end of January.

    In our comments, we let the BLM know that:
    • It should have immediately denied the proposal since it is illegal;
    • Scientific research in Wilderness must be conducted in accordance with the Wilderness Act;
    • The Wilderness Act prohibits the landing of aircraft in Wilderness;
    • The proposal fails the National Environmental Policy Act because it lacks any alternatives accessing the site by foot rather than helicopter; and
    • We also requested documentation related to consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to the presence of critical habitat for the ESA-listed Desert Tortoise.

    In response to our letter of opposition, BLM announced that the helicopter had already flown before the agency notified the public of the action. A local BLM official acknowledged the agency screwed up the public notification and comment process, but remained firm that helicopter use was acceptable for such a project since "scientific" use is listed as one of the public purposes in the Wilderness Act. In our letter, we told BLM that the landing of helicopters in Wilderness was just as illegal as using all-terrain vehicles for "recreation", another public purpose of Wilderness listed in the Act. This issue may not be over, since the original proposal called for three years of research. 

    Click here to read WW's comments.
    Photo: Chris Barns, courtesy of wilderness.net
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  • Rein in Unlimited Use in Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness (California): UPDATED 3/13 (8/11)
    Sequoia-Kings Canyon WWilderness Watch has asked the National Park Service (NPS) to rein in
    unlimited commercial stock use in designated Wilderness in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks in California. Unlimited commercial stock
    use has become a heated issue in the Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness (SEKI). Most of our comments on the Preliminary Alternatives for the SEKI Wilderness Stewardship Plan focused on the need to better manage this use.
    In our comments we:
    • Urged the NPS to first conduct a needs assessment to determine whether and the extent to which commercial stock use may be necessary in the
    SEKI Wilderness, in accordance with the Wilderness Act;
    • Noted the NPS's proposed zoning scheme would create sacrifice zones where high impacts would be allowed;
    • Noted the Preliminary Alternatives fail to offer any limits on commercial stock use;
    • Urged the NPS to reduce group size limits (now as high as 35 people and 20 animals);
    • Asked the NPS to remove its own stock animals from the Wilderness when not being used, rather than allow them to graze SEKI's fragile meadows all summer.

    Background/Action Alert (4/11): We encourage you to voice your support for protecting Wilderness in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park (SEKI). The National Park Service (NPS) is developing a Wilderness Stewardship Plan for the park’s 800,000 acres of Wilderness, the crown jewel of the High Sierra with “giant Sequoia groves, sublime alpine lake basins, and the highest peaks in John Muir’s ‘Range of Light.’” The deadline for official "scoping" comments ended on 8/31, but comments can be sent at any time.

    Take Action Now!
    Click here to read WW's Scoping comments
    Photo: George Weurthner
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  • WW Supports FS Pemigewasset Wilderness Bridge Removal Project (New Hampshire): Updated 3/13 [Posted 6/09]
    Horses aid restoration work in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, New HampshireThe Forest Service is continuing its restoration of wilderness conditions in the Pemigewasset Wilderness in New Hampshire. In 2009, the agency decided to remove a deteriorating bridge over the Pemigewasset River, along with a second bridge in the Wilderness, a project that Wilderness Watch supported. It was a strong decision by the Forest Service, not only because it would restore the area's wilderness character and remove unnecessary structures, but also because the agency stood up to the opposition from some local and regional hiking/conservation groups. Most recently, draft horses removed some of the bridge materials, a great example of completing a project with the traditional ("primitive") skills and tools called for in the Wilderness Act. The bridges were also dismantled without using motorized equipment. Thank the Forest Service for restoring this part of the Pemigewasset Wilderness by emailing Forest Supervisor Tom Wagner: twagner02@fs.fed.us.

    This good FS work has drawn the ire of anti-wilderness members of the NH Legislature, who have promoted a non-binding state resolution urging the agency to retain all other bridges in Wilderness, blaze trees along trails in Wilderness, and other actions that restrict good wilderness stewardship. If you live in New Hampshire, you might want to contact your legislators urging them to oppose this ill-advised resolution (www.gencourt.state.nh.us/). Read the resolution at: www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2012/SCR0002.html

    Background (6/09)
    : A controversy is brewing over a Forest Service proposal to remove an unsafe and unnecessary bridge in New Hampshire’s 45,000-acre Pemigewasset Wilderness. White Mountain National Forest’s (WMFN) Pemigewasset Wilderness Bridge Removal Project seeks to address public safety concerns and at the same time, enhance the wilderness character in the Pemigewasset. The proposal to remove, rather than replace, the deteriorating bridge shows a commitment by the WMNF to uphold the intent of the Wilderness Act, our country’s most visionary land protection law. Wilderness Watch believes the Forest Service is doing the right thing for Wilderness and acting in accordance with the law...
    Click here to read the rest of this Op-Ed published in The Citizen of Laconia

    We encourage visitors to the Pemigewasset Wilderness and citizens throughout the area to lend support to the Forest Service’s efforts to enhance this unique area. Send your comments—
    by letter: Pemigewasset Ranger District
    ATT: John Marunowski
    1171 NH Rte 175, Holderness, NH 03245
    by fax: (603) 536-5147, ATT: John Marunowski
    or by email: jmarunowski@fs.fed.us

    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments
    Click here to read the USFS Scoping Letter

    [UPDATE, 9/09]: In a victory for Wilderness, we received notice recently that the White Mountain National Forest has decided to follow through with its plan to remove this bridge. The Decision Memo states, “As development pressures continue to increase in the Northeast, the value of a wilderness of this size, if it is managed more closely to the intent of the Wilderness Act, will increase…There would no longer be a substantial structure to remind visitors that man’s work extends deep into the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness… This decision reflects a desire for an enhanced wilderness experience for generations to come.” We applaud this decision to help re-wild the Pemi.

    The bridge has been dismantled and the Forest Service is now looking for volunteers with dog sleds and/or horse teams to help pack out the big materials. If you’re interested, please contact John Marunowski at 603.536.6106.

    Click here to read the USFS Decision Memo
    Click here to view photos of the bridge being removed
    Photo: US Forest Service

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    Nipping Boundary Waters Herbicide Proposal in the Bud (Minnesota): 3/13
    Chemeuvi Mountains Wilderness, WyomingWilderness Watch has recommended that the Forest Service refrain from using herbicides to control non-native invasive plants in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. The agency has identified a total of 14.3 acres of invasive plants throughout the 1.1 million-acre Wilderness, meaning the infestations are still relatively small, but many of the identified species are not easily treated by manual pulling due to rhizome-like root structures. We oppose starting even limited herbicide use since such use would be a new manipulation or trammeling of the Wilderness that could be expanded in the future and continue indefinitely. We instead backed an alternative that calls for expanded use of manual treatments since that will better protect wilderness character.

    Click here to read WW's letter
    Photo: Some native flora in the BWCAW, by Kevin Proescholdt
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  • Mountains with Handrails: Cables to be Retained in Yosemite Wilderness (California): UPDATED 12/12 [Posted 8/10]
    Half Dome, Yosemite WildernessIn a disappointing display of temerity, the National Park Service (NPS) has decided to retain the cables on Yosemite’s Half Dome in California and implement a daily permit limit of 300 hikers. Wilderness Watch had been urging the NPS to remove the steel cable system and to adhere to the law and the agency’s own policies, which state wilderness visitors must accept Wilderness on its own terms. Because of the cables, Half Dome and the trail leading to its top have become severely overcrowded. The decision reduced the number of people on the trail at one time from 1,200/day to 300/day, an “improvement”, but still far more than even the least attuned visitor would want to find any sense of solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation.

    Background/Action Alerts: The iconic Half Dome peak in Yosemite National Park and the trail leading up to it lie within designated Wilderness. For many years, the NPS has maintained a number of structures on the backside of Half Dome to assist visitors in reaching the summit. These structures include a steel cable system, stanchions that are drilled into the rock surface to hold the cables, some wooden steps, and some permanent anchors bolted into the rock.

    Without these structures, most visitors would not be able to reach the top. Visitors use the cables as they pull themselves or climb up the steep incline. In the fall at the end of each season, NPS removes the cables and stanchions and re-installs them every spring. Because of the cables, however, Half Dome and the trail leading to its top have become severely overcrowded. There is no solitude or sense of primitive and unconfined recreation, which are essential ingredients of Yosemite’s wilderness character. Up to 1200 hikers a day have used the trail during peak periods.

    To address the crowding problem, the NPS has released its Half Dome Trail Stewardship Plan Environmental Assessment. The EA examines five alternatives:
    Alternative A - No Action Alternative
    Alternative B - Limit to 400 People per Day
    Alternative C - Limit to 300 People per Day (NPS Preferred Alternative)
    Alternative D - Limit to 140 People per Day
    Alternative E - Remove the Cables

    Wilderness Watch encourages you to write to the NPS and support Alternative E. This alternative is the only one that would restore wilderness conditions on the Half Dome Trail and the backside of Half Dome. It is also the only alternative that complies with NPS policies that state, “Park visitors need to accept wilderness on its own unique terms….The National Park Service will not modify the wilderness area to eliminate risks that are normally associated with wilderness.” Though many current visitors to the top of Half Dome might not be able to reach the summit without the cables, those visitors prepared for wilderness conditions and technical climbing could still do so. The crowding problems would be alleviated, and the wilderness character of Half Dome and its trail would be restored.

    In 1980, Professor Joseph Sax wrote a book entitled Mountains Without Handrails: Reflections on the National Parks. In it Sax argues for preservation of wilderness in the national parks and urges the NPS to not build handrails to the top of mountains to allow mass visitation. Half Dome today is the literal opposite of his epigrammatic title.

    Please write to the NPS by March 15th to support Alternative E. Help us restore the wilderness of Half Dome as a Mountain Without Handrails.
    Click here to read WW's EA comments
    Click here to read the Half Dome Trail Stewardship Plan Environmental Assessment.
    For a chuckle, check out: www.savehalfdome.org

    In our EA scoping comments, Wilderness Watch urged the NPS to restore the area’s wilderness character by removing the cable system. We let the Park Service know we appreciate its efforts to address issues created by the cable system, including its incompatibility within designated Wilderness. We noted that the cable system is unnecessary to preserve the area as Wilderness and it conflicts with the Wilderness Act’s prohibition on structures and installations. We added that the cable system diminishes the area’s wilderness character by altering its natural, undeveloped condition and greatly decreasing opportunities for solitude. We encouraged the NPS to remove the cable system using non-motorized/mechanized tools and transport, and to determine an appropriate use level to preserve the area’s wilderness character. This is a good example of how a different perspective, one that accepts Wilderness on its own terms, is required to protect Wilderness.
    Click here the read Wilderness Watch’s EA scoping comments
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  • California Grazing Reform Project's 2012 Field Season Summary: 12/12
    Grazing Reform ProjectIn summer 2012, for the third consecutive year, Wilderness Watch joined with The Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) and the Environmental Protection Information Center on the Project to Reform Public Land Grazing Practices in Northern California. The project has been monitoring grazing practices, documenting impacts to water quality, wetlands, and habitat, and using that documentation to advocate for grazing reform. The project has found severe overgrazing in some areas along with the following persistent and widespread problems:

    • Riparian vegetation is damaged and revegetation is prevented where livestock congregate.
    • Water quality, including in High Quality Waters in Wilderness, is degraded by animal waste and bank trampling.
    • Sensitive lakes and wetlands that cattle did not historically access are now being degraded.
    • Recreational use of Wilderness is also impacting riparian areas and water quality.

    We wish to acknowledge KFA and its volunteers for all their work to move the project forward. Our groups are also beginning to work with interested parties on the return of the gray wolf and managing livestock-wolf interactions and conflicts.

    Click here to download the report.
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  • Wilderness Watch Challenges Fish Stocking in California: UPDATED 12/12 [Posted 2/10]
    Wilderness Watch has filed suit in federal court challenging the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) program of dumping fish and other effluents in Wilderness lakes in northern California.

    The lakes where the fish are dumped are naturally fishless. The suit alleges the "fish stocking" program violates the Clean Water Act (CWA) and seeks to prevent the agency from stocking the lakes unless and until it obtains the permits required by the CWA. Putting fish in naturally fishless lakes has been shown to dramatically impair natural aquatic ecosystems, altering food webs and
    the relative abundance of native organisms. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has chosen to ignore its wilderness stewardship responsibilities and let the State run roughshod over these wilderness ecosystems.

    The fish that Fish and Game stocks are biological materials that are a pollutant under the Clean Water Act, which prohibits discharging pollution without first obtaining a permit. We believe that once the fish stocking program is forced to undergo environmental and legal scrutiny it will likely be significantly, if not entirely, curtailed.

    Wilderness Watch is joined in the lawsuit by Felice Pace, a local resident and long-time wilderness advocate. We are represented by Julia Olson of Wild Earth Advocates.

    Background: In 2010, Wilderness Watch joined other conservation groups in litigation in California state court challenging California's fish stocking and hatchery management program, following the release of its EIR, which is the State's equivalent of an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The judge decided to uphold the State's hatchery and stocking program.

    The primary legal claims in that case were that CA Department of Fish and Game violated the CA Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by: 1) too narrowly stating the program's purpose and need, thereby limiting its review to exclude issues like impacts to wilderness character; 2) improperly using the mid-2000s as the environmental baseline against which the impacts of the alternatives are evaluated, which incorrectly leads to fewer findings of significant impacts; 3) failing to consider a reasonable range of alternatives to both the inland stocking and hatcheries program, including an alternative that ends fish stocking in Wilderness; 4) illegally deferring mitigation to later planning efforts; 5) ignoring potentially significant impacts, particularly to aquatic invertebrates; and 6) failing to evaluate the cumulatively significant impacts of stream and lake poisoning projects throughout CA to remove previously stocked fish.
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  • Tombstone's Water Grab Not O.K. (Arizona): Updated 12/12, [Posted 7/12]
    Sequoia-Kings Canyon WWilderness Watch has been working to prevent the city of Tombstone, Arizona, from having further motorized access to the Miller Peak Wilderness (MPW). Earlier this year, the Forest Service (FS) authorized Tombstone to use excavators, road graders, dump trucks, and other heavy equipment to dig out Miller Spring and construct a pipeline within the Miller Peak Wilderness. The city bulldozed an artificial dike 240 feet long, 20 feet wide, and eight feet high as a water collection box. Gardner Spring in the MPW was also subjected to Tombstone’s destruction, though not with all the heavy equipment used on Miller Spring.

    Tombstone followed up by suing the FS for additional access with heavy equipment, but two lower courts ruled against the city and the U.S. Supreme Court denied the city’s request for an emergency order to use motorized equipment again in the MPW. U.S. District Judge Frank Zapata ruled that the city’s water supply had been restored and “...cutting a path through a federally protected wilderness area with excavators and other construction equipment would have a significant impact.”

    Meanwhile, litigation continues in federal district court over the merits of Tombstone’s claims. The city claims not only access to, but fee title ownership of, more than 20 additional springs in the MPW in the Huachuca Mountains. The FS has opposed Tombstone’s claims in court. In December 2012, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the City of Tombstone’s request to immediately use heavy equipment and decided not to block the Forest Service (FS) from preventing the city from entering the Wilderness with motorized equipment. The federal court rejected Tombstone’s argument that the agency’s actions interfere with the state’s Tenth Amendment rights and also ruled that the city failed to prove it was entitled to an injunction for said “emergency repairs.”

    The issue has gained a fair amount of media coverage and political overtones. The conservative Goldwater Institute represents Tombstone in the litigation, and the city has intentionally employed a David-versus-Goliath press coverage framing, portraying Tombstone as David against the big bad federal FS. This approach plays well in many parts of Arizona, with its anti-federal government Sagebrush Rebellion elements, but doesn’t necessarily influence the federal courts.

    Wilderness Watch continues to oppose Tombstone’s destruction of the Miller Peak Wilderness and most recently sent the House Natural Resources Committee a letter strongly opposing H.R. 5791, the Emergency Water Supply Restoration Act. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced this legislation to try to grant Tombstone unfettered access to the MPW, though the bill is written so broadly that it could affect almost any of the more than 750 Wildernesses in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Flake does not represent the Tombstone area, but is running for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona.

    Click here to download WW’s letter oppposing H.R. 5791
    Click here to read a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision denying Tombstone an emergency injunction, 12/2012
    Photo: Bob Herrmann
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  • Boundary Waters land exchange threatens Superior National Forest (Minnesota): UPDATED 9/12 [Posted 7/12]
    On September 12, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5544, sponsored by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN), along mostly party lines. This bill would mandate the exchange of 86,000 acres of state-owned school trust lands inside the 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) for federally-owned lands outside the Wilderness in Superior National Forest. The federal government gave MN these lands in 1858 when it became a state, but these lands do not provide MN’s Permanent School Fund with revenue from logging or mining since they are within the Wilderness. Cravaack’s bill ignores the work of a state panel that has spent two years drafting a hybrid plan that proposes the federal government purchase two-thirds of the lands and exchange only one-third. H.R. 5544, in part, is an effort to convert National Forest lands outside the Wilderness to less-protected state ownership in order to facilitate the development of new copper-nickel sulfide mines. The bill received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee on June 8. Wilderness Watch is communicating with the MN Congressional delegation and working with allies to stop this bill.
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  • Proposed Mining Threatens Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness: 8/12Mining equipment
    The Forest Service (FS) is considering proposed gold mining exploration in the western part of the nearly 2.4 million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (FC-RNR) in Idaho, near Big Creek. The proposed work involves four miles of road construction in the Wilderness, up to 771 vehicle trips per year, and the use of large motorized equipment, including D-8 cats, dump trucks, and flatbed trucks.

    The area is part of the famed Middle Fork of the Salmon River drainage. Specifically, the Golden Hand mining claims are located between 6,800 and 7,600 feet near the headwaters of Coin Creek, a clear cold stream. Lynx, wolverine, wolf, boreal owl, bull trout, and steelhead live here.

    The claims have considerable history. The FS found them invalid in the 1980s. The claimant challenged this assertion. Judges then held that some were valid, others invalid. Eventually, the federal district court held that most claims were valid even with little research to prove validity.

    Please take action today to help protect the FC-RNR Wilderness from this proposed mining activity. Comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) may be emailed to: comments-intermtn-payette@fs.fed.us or sent via US mail to Payette National Forest, ATTN: Keith Lannom, 800 W. Lakeside Ave., McCall, ID  83638. Please try to submit your comments by the September 16th deadline. Some of the points you may wish to consider are:

    • The DEIS fails to propose an action alternative that would adequately protect the wilderness character of the FC-RNR, as required by the Wilderness Act. The DEIS’s two action alternatives are nearly identical as both allow roadbuilding, heavy equipment use, and 571 to 771 vehicle trips per year.
    • The DEIS fails to show that D-8 cats and other large motorized equipment are necessary.
    • The DEIS fails to propose an action alternative that does not involve the use of motorized equipment. Drilling is the major exploration activity and that can be done with small non-motorized equipment. The DEIS fails the National Environmental Policy Act by not providing a range of alternatives.
    • Since this is early exploration, such extensive use of heavy motorized equipment should be unnecessary. Other exploration work in Wilderness has been conducted by non-motorized means.
    • Unauthorized motorized routes are found within the Wilderness. The DEIS fails to adequately explain the origins of these routes, specifically whether the claimant constructed or has maintained these routes, and also, whether structures in the area were authorized.

    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments.

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  • No Place in West Chichagof/Yakobi Wilderness (Alaska): Updated 8/12 [Posted 12/10; Updated 8/11] 
    Heavens Peak Lookout, Glacier NP
  • In June, Wilderness Watch filed an Administrative Appeal of the Forest Service’s (FS) decision to rebuild the White Sulphur Springs Bathhouse in the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness in Alaska. White Sulphur Springs is a natural warm springs located on Chicagof Island overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Forest Service (FS) proposed in August 2011 to rebuild the bathhouse, but because of concerns raised by Wilderness Watch and other concerned citizens, including wilderness rangers, the agency earlier made the right decision: To improve the area’s wilderness character by removing the bathhouse. Those who wanted to rebuild the bathhouse filed administrative appeals to that decision, however, and the FS responded by changing its decision back to the original proposal—to replace the bathhouse.

    Open-air hot springs are a delight in Wilderness, but building a bathhouse to provide a resort or spa experience is anathema to Wilderness, and it is illegal. The official comment period ended on April 5th, but we still urge everyone to contact the Forest Service to express your concerns with this proposal. Public input at any time is always appropriate.

    What you can do:
    Please write a letter urging the FS to select Alternative 2-remove the bathhouse and restore the hot springs. Send your comments to: Forrest Cole, Forest Supervisor, Tongass National Forest, 648 Mission Street, Ketchikan, AK 99901, or email: fcole@fs.fed.us

    You may wish to make the following points:
    1) Building a bathhouse over a hot springs in Wilderness is both illegal and wrong. The EA acknowledges the bathhouse will degrade the area's wilderness character in a number of ways including its undeveloped, untrammeled, and natural qualities, and the opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation. Moreover, the Wilderness Act prohibits structures in Wilderness.
    2) Building and maintaining a bathhouse in Wilderness is a colossal waste of funds especially at a time when wilderness programs are starved for resources. Wilderness funds should be spent in ways that support and protect it, not on projects that degrade Wilderness.
    3) Any other points you want to make, but please write today!

    Background: Built a long time ago at a natural hot springs, the two buildings are in disrepair. An earlier plan called for replacing the bathhouse, reconstructing or replacing the 12 x 14' cabin and moving it 100 feet from the springs, and reconstructing the one-mile trail with a gravel surface. A helicopter would have been used to deliver the bulk of materials for the project, including gravel for the trail.

    After hearing from WW and other concerned wilderness supporters, the FS significantly revamped its proposal in ways to better protect the area's wilderness character. Specifically, the FS decision last year called for:
    • Removing the bathhouse and improving the natural appearance of the hot springs concrete pool;
    • Using local native materials for reconstructing the mile-long existing trail and 30 feet of new trail;
    • Using only traditional tools and skills;
    • Using no helicopters.

    WW had recommended that the cabin also be removed and the site restored, but the FS decided to replace it with a new one. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act allows for repair and replacement of public use cabins such as this one.

    This decision to remove the historic bathhouse would have stood out in an important way. Unlike several recent examples where the FS has unlawfully replaced or rebuilt unnecessary old structures in Wilderness, such as the Green Mountain Lookout in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, in this case the agency's decision to preserve the area's wilderness character by removing the buildings, while first documenting their historic values, would appropriately apply the agency's obligations under both the Wilderness Act and National Historic Preservation Act.

    Click here to download Wilderness Watch's Administrative Appeal of the FS's 2012 Decision
    Click here to download the 2012 Decision
    Click here to download Wilderness Watch's comments on the revised EA
    Click here to download the revised EA
    Click here to download the 2011 Decision
    Click here to download Wilderness Watch's EA comments
    Click here to download the EA
    Photo: Forest Service
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  • Tower-less Views Not Replaceable in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area WildernessUpdated 7/12 [Posted 8/11]
    Sequoia-Kings Canyon WIn a blow to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), the Minnesota Court of Appeals has overturned a Hennepin County District Court’s decision that blocked the proposed construction of an AT&T cell phone tower near Fall Lake at the edge of the BWCAW. The court has decided to allow AT&T to build its 450-foot, 24-hour blinking light cell tower, stating in its ruling that the tower would be visible from less than one percent of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The appeals court further justified its decision allowing part of the BWCAW to become a sacrifice zone by stating that signs of civilization, including a water tower, cabins, and other communication towers, are already visible in parts of the BWCAW.

    Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness (FBWW) had challenged the tower construction under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, which allows citizens to challenge actions that would harm natural resources of the state. In an August 2011 ruling against the tower, Hennepin County Judge Philip Bush wrote, “The affected natural resource, broad scenic views with no visible signs of man, is not replaceable.” The judge directly rejected AT&T claim’s that extending cell-phone service into the BWCAW was necessary. “[T]his Court could find no case law, congressional finding or FCC findings that there is a national need for extending cell-phone service into Wilderness areas for 911 purposes.” Rather, the judge found that “[v]isiting a wilderness area does pose some risk, but that risk exists because it is a wilderness -- users entering the wilderness accept these risks.” However, the judge did rule that a shorter non-lighted tower under 200 feet could be built at the proposed site, since such a tower would not mar the BWCAW’s scenic and aesthetic resources.

    The appeals court ruling denies wilderness values and the need to protect them from such visual intrusion. On July 12, the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness appealed the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
     
    Click here to download the Minnesota Court of Appeals Decision
    Click here to download the Hennepin County Decision
    Click here to view a video clip about policy attacks that threaten the Boundary Waters.
    Photo: Kevin Proescholdt
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  • Upper Chattooga Wild & Scenic River Plan Would Lessen Protections: Updated 7/12 [Posted 9/11]
    Sequoia-Kings Canyon WWilderness Watch, Georgia ForestWatch (GFW), and the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club (GSC) recently requested that the Chief of the Forest Service (FS) review the agency's denial of a joint administrative appeal the groups filed. The groups are challenging the FS's decision to open 16.5 miles of the Upper Chattooga Wild & Scenic River in Georgia and the Carolinas to boating for three months of the year. The area, which includes part of the Ellicott Rock Wilderness, has been closed to boating for the last 35 years. However, this closure has not been enough to protect solitude, natural conditions, and the wilderness character of one of the Southern Appalachian's last quiet places, due to its growing popularity for hiking, fishing, and other quiet pursuits. WW and our co-appellants have insisted the FS implement a plan to protect the area's wilderness character before the agency opens the area to additional uses. Unfortunately, the Chief declined our request. The groups are considering our next steps.

    • To learn more about this issue, visit GFW's website
    Click here to download WW/GFW/GSC's request/petition for discretionary review of decisions impacting Chattooga Wild and Scenic River Management on Appeal
    Click here to download the FS's denial of the Appeal
    Click here to download a press release
    Click here to download a news article
    Click here to download our comments
    Photo: Georgia ForestWatch
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  • Sportsmen’s Heritage Act (HR 4089) Will Effectively Repeal the 1964 Wilderness Act
    Bill Must be Blocked in U.S. Senate4/12

    On April 17, 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, supposedly “to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting.” The bill is a thinly disguised measure to gut the 1964 Wilderness Act and protections for every unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

    HR 4089 would give hunting, fishing, shooting, and fish and wildlife management top priority in Wilderness, rather than protecting the wilderness character and wilderness values, as is currently the case. This bill would allow endless, extensive habitat manipulations in Wilderness under the guise of “wildlife conservation” or for providing hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting experiences. It would allow the construction of roads to facilitate such uses, and would allow the construction of dams, buildings, or other structures within Wildernesses.

    Specifically, section 104(e)(1) strips away the Wilderness Act’s prohibitions on the use of motorized and mechanized vehicles, motorboats and aircraft, other motorized equipment, and structures and installations for any activity related to hunting, angling, recreational shooting, or wildlife conservation. For example, this would allow for any hunter, angler, or recreational shooter to drive their ATV in Wilderness as long as they were engaged in one of these activities. While the sponsors of the bill have stated this isn’t the law’s intent, an amendment to the bill to make certain this wasn’t the result was opposed by the bill’s supporters and defeated in a House vote.

    Section 104(e)(2) would waive “any requirements imposed by the Wilderness Act” for federal public land managers or state wildlife managers for any activity undertaken in the guise of wildlife management. In addition to allowing the construction of roads and unlimited use of motor vehicles and aircraft, this provision would allow any sort of wildlife habitat manipulation that managers desire to do. Logging would be allowed, for example, to create more forage for deer or elk. Reservoirs and watering holes could be bulldozed for bighorn sheep. Lakes and streams could be poisoned, and exotic fishes could be planted to provide more angling opportunities. Unlimited predator control, including aerial gunning, trapping, and poisoning would be allowed. There is literally no limit to what managers could do in Wilderness in the name of wildlife management. And if all this isn’t enough, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service points out that because Section 104(c) of the bill bars application of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), none of these activities will need to undergo any environmental review for their impacts on wilderness values, wildlife, or threatened and endangered species.

    The bill is backed by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, Safari Club International, and a coalition of hunting and gun-rights organizations, including the National Rifle Association. These groups are trying to rush this bill to the Senate floor for a vote. It is imperative that you contact your senator now and urge them to oppose HR 4089!

    HR 4089 must be blocked in the U.S. Senate!

    WHAT YOU CAN DO
    Write or email both of your U.S. Senators, and send a copy to your U.S. Representative. Ask your Senators to oppose HR 4089 at every step of the way and to never let it pass the Senate. Contact http://www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/congdir.tt if you need help finding the email or snail mail addresses for your Senators or Representative. You may want to consider including the following points in your message:
    1. OPPOSE HR 4089. It guts the Wilderness Act and strips protection from every single unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System across the country.
    2. Massive human manipulations of fish, wildlife, and habitat like those allowed by HR 4089 should not be allowed in our precious Wildernesses or they will cease to be Wildernesses.
    3. HR 4089 would allow roads and motor vehicles in Wilderness, and the construction of dams, buildings, and other structures with any connection to fish and wildlife.
    4. Environmental review under NEPA must not be waived by HR 4089.

    Click here to read the bill
    Click here to read WW's analysis of how HR 4089 would effectively repeal the Wilderness Act
    Click here to read WW's blog post on the bill
    • Click here to read WW's Op-ed:"GOP-backed bill is most serious attack on America's Wilderness Act in history," published in the Christian Science Monitor," 11/30/12
    Click here to sign WW's petition opposing HR 4089
    • Wilderness Watch recently joined with colleague organizations in Minnesota to highlight the damage to Wilderness contained in bad House-passed bills like the Sportsmen's Heritage Act and the Bishop Border Bill. Click here to view this video.

    In 2014, will we celebrate or will we mourn the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act? Please Act Today!
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  • Help Keep the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wild (Alaska) Updated 10/11 [Posted 4/10]
    Mollie BeThe Fish and Wildlife Service has released a draft environmental impact statement for revising the Arctic Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP). The final plan will guide stewardship of this iconic, magnificent wilderness for the next 15 years or more. A strong record of public support for preserving the exemplary wilderness character of Arctic Refuge is needed.

    The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is our "Geography of Hope," unmatched in its vast scale, remoteness, ecological integrity, and wilderness character. The Refuge is 19 million acres of America’s premier wildlands. In 1980, Congress designated 8 million acres as Wilderness. The CCP should recommend designating the remaining 11 million acres as Wilderness. But because wilderness designation alone does not guarantee protection of the Arctic’s special values, and since only Congress may designate additional wilderness, the standards set in the CCP for managing both the designated and potential Wilderness will determine whether these incomparable wildlands remain wild and pristine for years to come.

    The Refuge should set the benchmark for appropriate stewardship of our entire National Wilderness Preservation System. Now, more than ever, the Arctic Refuge needs your help to become what its founders envisioned.
    Click here to take action on the draft CCP
    Click here to read WW's comments on the draft CCP
    Click here to read a group sign-on letter advocating for Alternative E
     
    The Alaska Chapter of Wilderness Watch has assembled the collective knowledge of veteran Arctic Refuge activists and former agency stewards to identify detailed issues that must be addressed in an effective plan.
    Click here to see suggested provisions for Arctic Refuge CCP, and formulate your own scoping comments.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's scoping comments, prepared by our Alaska Chapter
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments, prepared by our Alaska Chapter, on the CCP review of Refuge rivers for possible Wild River designation
    Photo: Dusty Vaughn
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  • Wilderness Wins—Silver King Creek (Carson-Iceberg Wilderness) Poisoning Plan Stopped (California): Updated 9/11 [Posted 4/09]
    Wilderness Watch and co-plaintiffs, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and Friends of Silver King Creek, have successfully challenged the California Department of Fish and Game's proposal to poison 11 miles of Silver King Creek in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell, Jr. ruled to permanently stop the project, finding that poisoning an entire ecosystem to benefit one species over all others is incompatible with preserving Wilderness.

    California Fish and Game (CDFG) had proposed to poison Silver King Creek to kill non-native fishes introduced into the stream by CDFG for many years, so that Paiute cutthroat trout can be stocked in this reach of stream. The California Deptartment of Fish and Game considers the Paiute cutthroat trout a highly desirable sport fish. While Wilderness Watch and our co-plaintiffs do not oppose removing the non-native fishes by other means, we have vehemently objected to the use of poisons that will kill much of the native aquatic life including species that may be found only in Silver King Creek. Wilderness Watch and other organizations stopped the original poisoning plan in 2005.

    Click here to read the Decision.
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  • Guzzlers Don’t Belong in Mojave Wilderness (California): 8/11
    Mojave Wilderness water developmentWilderness Watch joined with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility to urge the National Park Service (NPS) to remove water developments (“guzzlers”) in the Mojave Wilderness as part of a plan to manage water sources throughout the Mojave National Preserve. All of the big game guzzlers and many of the small game water developments are within the 695,200-acre Wilderness. All of the developments were put in place prior to 1994 when the National Preserve was established and the Mojave Wilderness designated.

    In our comments we noted the Wilderness Act prohibits structures such as guzzlers unless they are the minimum required to administer the area as Wilderness. It would be a stretch for the NPS to conclude that artificially inflating the population of game animals and birds is necessary for preserving the area as Wilderness.

    We asked the NPS to address in its Environmental Impact Statement all structures that fail to meet the minimum requirement standard, and to at least make all of these structures inoperable and safe for wildlife. Those that can be removed without the use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment, or mechanical transport should be. All removal should be accomplished by applying the minimum requirement standard.

    Click here to read Scoping comments submitted by Wilderness Watch and PEER
    Click here to read the Scoping brochure
    Photo: National Park Service
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  • Cumberland Island, a Little More, A Little Less, Wild (Georgia): 8/11
    Toonahowie property in Cumberland Island WildernessWilderness Watch recently encouraged wilderness advocates to support the National Park Service’s (NPS) efforts to help re-wild part of the Cumberland Island Wilderness in Georgia and honor the intention of the Seashore’s original vision. The NPS is proposing to end the private use of seven properties on Cumberland Island National Seashore as required and agreed to when the Seashore was established nearly 40 years ago. In its Environmental Assessment (EA), the NPS is proposing to remove some structures and convert others to agency use.

    One of the seven properties—Toonahowie—is located in the Cumberland Island Wilderness and is the only developed site in the general area. The NPS plans to remove the structures on the 20-acre property, including a modern ranch house with an attached carport, a shed, and a dock on Mumford Creek.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments submitted by our Georgia Chapter

    Toonahowie property in Cumberland Island WildernessUnfortunately, Cumberland Island Wilderness will become a little less wild when motorized jeep tours begin. In 2004 Wilderness Watch won a lawsuit banning motorized vehicle tours in the Wilderness. The court’s ruling was a victory for this fragile and unique barrier island Wilderness, but unfortunately a short-lived one. Soon after, GA Rep. Jack Kingston attached a rider to a Congressional spending bill carving the Wilderness into pieces and mandating motorized tours along the carved-out routes. The tours are slated to begin in the near future.
    Photos: National Park Service/Jerome Walker
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  • Heavy-Handed Wildlife Management Proposal in Wildernesses in California: Updated 8/11 [Posted 4/11]
    Sierra Nevada bighorn sheepWilderness Watch let the Forest Service (FS) know of our concerns with a California Fish and Game (CFG) proposal to land helicopters in several Wildernesses in California’s Sierra Nevada range as part of a bighorn sheep capture and collaring plan. Wilderness Watch strongly supports the conservation and timely recovery of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, but all efforts must comply with federal and state laws, and include an environmental analysis and full opportunity for public review and comment.

    Our concerns include:
    • impacts to at least six areas’ wilderness character from dozens of helicopter overflights and landings for several years, and unnecessarily adorning more bighorns with radio collars;
    • the lack of an adequate alternative for studying the sheep using non-intrusive, Wilderness-compatible research methods;
    • the efficacy of this proposal for recovering bighorn sheep, and the risks posed to individual sheep from the extremely intrusive net capturing, tranquilizing, and collaring methods; and
    • the cumulative impacts of this proposal with that in adjacent National Park Service Wilderness and with CFG helicopter operations for managing other species on adjacent lands.

    Bighorn numbers have steadily climbed in recent years and there are many non-invasive management actions that could be taken to further benefit the sheep without the risks or harm to Wilderness and bighorns caused by the proposed helicopter operations. In our scoping comments, we requested a joint federal/state environmental impact statement/environmental impact report be prepared.

    Click here to read WW's Scoping comments submitted by our Eastern Sierra Chapter.
    Photo: National Park Service
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  • Court Upholds Helicopter Training in Wildernesses in Nevada: Updated 8/11 [Posted 2/09]
    A federal judge in Nevada has upheld the Bureau of Land Managment's (BLM) decision authorizing the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) to land helicopters hundreds of times each year in the La Madre Mountain Wilderness and Rainbow Mountain Wilderness as part of their search and rescue training exercises. Wilderness Watch challenged the decision in early 2009 because the Wilderness Act does not provide an exception for aircraft use for training purposes and because BLM acknowledges the training will have a significant impact on the area’s wilderness character.

    BLM’s decision authorizes helicopter landings at 33 sites within the Wildernesses. Up to 60 landings per training session could occur, resulting in more than 400 landings per year, in perpetuity. The decision represents the single largest motorized intrusion—by a factor of several-fold—ever authorized in a unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System. LVMPD chose the sites based on their proximity to Las Vegas and ease of access for rescue team members.

    In no other Wildernesses in the country are aircraft allowed to land as part of search and rescue training. BLM’s decision has created an unmitigated mess, with at least one BLM district contemplating allowing local search and rescue teams to ride ATVs through Wilderness as part
    of their training exercises.

    Wilderness Watch is deciding whether to appeal the district court ruling.

    Click here to read more about the lawsuit
    Click here to download the Decision
    Click here to read BLM's Environmental Assessment (1.8 MB)
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's Appeal to the Interior Board of Land Appeals of BLM's Decision
    Click here to read the Interior Board of Land Appeals Opinion
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  • In Glacier National Park, History Trumps Wilderness (Montana): Updated 6/11 [Posted 7/10]
    Heavens Peak Lookout, Glacier NPGlacier National Park has decided to move forward with its plan to stabilize the non-operational Heavens Peak Lookout, within recommended wilderness, despite the objections of Wilderness Watch, two retired Glacier NP rangers, and the majority of those who commented on the environmental assessment. The project includes repairing the roof, shutters and exterior wood surfaces, painting the exterior and stabilizing the masonry. The lookout was constructed in 1945 and abandoned years ago, as was the trail leading to it. A helicopter (up to 12 flights) and a generator will be used.

    Wilderness Watch objected to the plan based on its disregard for the Wilderness Act (which prohibits structures and the use of motorized vehicles/mechanized equipment in Wilderness) and Park Service policy (which requires recommended wilderness to be managed as Wilderness). Click here to read more about why this decision runs counter to the Act and NPS policy.

    Click here to read Wilderness Watch’s EA comments
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch’s Scoping comments
    Click here to read what a retired NPS biologist, who worked at Glacier for 25 years, has to say about the lookout stabilization project
    Click here to read the Environmental Assessment
    Click here to read the Decision
    Photo: National Park Service
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  • Cabeza Prieta Wilderness Threatened by Development (Arizona): 6/11
    Pronghorn feeding station on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife RefugeThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing an unprecedented habitat development scheme for the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness in Arizona, the largest wildlife refuge Wilderness outside Alaska. The plan calls for constructing five new water developments and enlarging five existing ones, each designed to hold approximately 11,000 gallons of water, along with at least three collection points that divert natural overland flows to the tanks via pipelines. Construction would require the use of a backhoe at six sites, plus 240 to 360 helicopter trips to fly in equipment, construction materials, and personnel, all in Wilderness. The FWS’s Environmental Assessment (EA) also includes a plan for an unspecified number of “temporary waters” (with up to 2000-gallon capacity) in undisclosed locations, requiring frequent truck or helicopter trips to refill them. Additionally, the FWS is proposing to install feeding platforms and storage pallets to provide bailed alfalfa and pellets for Sonoran pronghorn, requiring up to 15 helicopter and 10 truck trips per season.
     
    By any measure, this level of development, motorized use, and intentional manipulation of natural conditions makes a mockery of the refuge’s Wilderness status. But the matter is complicated because the project is ostensibly being done to benefit the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, a species that is certainly on the edge of survival.
     
    Sonoran pronghorn occupy approximately eight percent of their native range, which included most of southwestern Arizona, northwestern Sonora, Mexico, and southeastern California. Approximately 170 pronghorn live on Cabeza-Prieta, though 70 of the pronghorn are in a semi-captive, non-wilderness herd that is provided supplemental feed and water in a non-wilderness portion of the range.  The pronghorn recovery plan calls for 300 animals across 1.6 million acres of the Cabeza-Prieta, Organ Pipe National Monument and Goldwater military range.
     
    Wilderness Watch supports efforts to protect and recover Sonoran pronghorn, but those efforts also need to honor the Wilderness. The EA contains this “Action Plan” along with a “No Action Plan,” but it does not consider any real options to the proposed plan. Wilderness Watch believes the agency should first explore heavy-handed management actions on non-wilderness lands, including the Goldwater range, as well as expanding the captive-herd efforts until the pronghorns' natural habitat becomes more secure. Some of the main factors for its current precarious status include poaching in Mexico and a profusion of human activity associated with illegal border crossings and border patrol activities, which drive the pronghorn from their preferred areas.
     
    We believe the proposed project runs afoul of the Wilderness Act and is unnecessary.
    Take Action Now!
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch’s EA comments
    Click here to read the Environmental Assessment
    Photo: Fish & Wildlife Service
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  • Proposed National Forest Planning Rule Ignores Wilderness: Updated 5/11 [Posted 2/10]
    Wilderness Watch is urging the Forest Service (FS) to strengthen and greatly improve the Wilderness provisions in its proposed new National Forest Management Act planning rule. The proposed rule basically ignores Wilderness, even though one out of every five acres of national forest land is designated Wilderness. We urged the FS to provide direction in national forest plans to ensure the plans protect and preserve Wilderness on the national forests. As written, the proposed rule fails to provide this direction to preserve wilderness character or address Wilderness with any level of detail. In our comments we advocated for:
    • establishing agency monitoring and reporting on wilderness character, including defining a set of “minimum requirements” for preserving the wilderness character of each Wilderness;
    • requiring review and assessment of every administrative structure or installation to determine whether it is the minimum required to preserve Wilderness;
    • documenting administrative need for use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment, or mechanical transport;
    • limiting visitor use, where necessary, to preserve each area’s wilderness character;
    • providing standards for the need for trail systems and commercial services;
    • providing guidance for wildlife management activities to protect wilderness character and for search and rescue activities to lessen their impacts;
    • requiring each Wilderness to have appropriate funding and staff levels, along with staff trained in the use of traditional skills; and
    • requiring each Wilderness to have a fire plan that encourages natural fire to shape the ecosystem.

    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments on the DEIS
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's Scoping comments
    Click here to read the Federal Register Notice
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  • Forest Service Protects Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Chain of Lakes Decision: 4/11
    The Forest Service (FS) has decided to protect the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) from proposed increases in motorboat traffic on the so-called ‘Chains of Lakes.’ Wilderness conservationists have been engaged in this effort for the last 18 years.

    Congress allowed some motorboat traffic to continue on specific lakes when passing the 1978 BWCAW Act, but limited this use with daily entry point quotas not exceeding the average annual motorboat use prior to 1978.

    In 1993, the FS developed a new management plan with many changes to better protect the area’s wilderness character:
    • reducing overall visitor quotas to reduce crowding and better protect solitude,
    • eliminating signs and log canoe rests along portage trails,
    thus reducing human-built structures in the Wilderness,
    • reducing the maximum group size from 10 people to nine, and
    • capping the number of watercraft at four or less per party.

    But when a coalition of local entities appealed the plan as too restrictive, and wilderness advocates appealed other portions as not restrictive enough, the matter went to federal court.

    The BWCAW law had exempted homeowners and their guests and resort owners and their guests from the motorboat quotas on their particular lake partially in the Wilderness. However, the FS allowed these “exempt users” to run motorboats beyond their particular lake and on three Chains of Lakes deep into the Wilderness, exempt from the quota restrictions. This was far more motorboat use on interior lakes than Congress intended.

    In 1999, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the wilderness advocates on the Chain of Lakes issue. The FS then attempted to increase the motorboat quotas—by triple on all three chains of lakes and nearly quintuple on the Moose Lake Chain. Faegre and Benson law firm represented the wilderness advocates again as they challenged this.

    In 2006, the appeals court again ruled in favor of the wilderness advocates. Since then, the FS has been unable to find data to justify an increase in the motorboat quotas. Forest Supervisor Jim Sanders has brought this lengthy issue to a close by deciding that the quotas will remain as they were set in the early 1980s.

    Click here to read the Decision.
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  • Montana Proposes Wolf Killing in Wilderness4/11
    Wilderness Watch joined other conservation groups to urge the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to deny Montana’s request to kill wolves in the Bitterroot Mountains, including in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (SBW). The five wolf packs targeted by the “West Fork Lethal Wolf Control Plan” live almost entirely on national forest land. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MFWP) has asked to kill all but 12 wolves (there are currently 30), and have permission to further reduce the wolf population over the next five years. The State claims wolves are killing too many elk, preventing it from reaching its herd management goals. Yet it has steadily increased the population goal since wolves were reintroduced more than a decade ago. In reality, the wolf killing plan is nothing more than a reflection of anti-wolf agency culture and an attempt to appease vocal wolf-hating hunters in the Bitterroot Valley.
     
    Click here to read the groups’ letter.
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  • Remote Arctic Wildernesses to Become Less Wild (Alaska): Updated 4/11 [Posted 7/10]
    Fred Burr High Lake Dam catwalk[UPDATE, 4/11]: Despite the objections of Wilderness Watch and other wilderness advocates, the National Park Service (NPS) has decided to move ahead with its plan to install permanent remote automatic weather stations in designated Wilderness across the Arctic. Nine of the sites are in the Gates of the Arctic and Noatak Wildernesses and the remaining eight are on wilderness-eligible lands. Helicopters would be used in nearly all cases to transport stations to sites and for annual maintenance. In addition to violating the Wilderness Act’s prohibition on installations and the use of motor vehicles in Wilderness, the agency’s decision would result in permanent human-built modern installations in what remains of the most remote, pristine Wilderness in the world.

    The draft environmental assessment released on June 11, 2010:
    • does not include a reasonable array of alternatives for adequate evaluation
    • fails to acknowledge that installations are prohibited in designated Wilderness
    • lacks discussion of data from existing locations in the region and how extrapolation can be made to Wilderness areas without installing weather stations
    • underestimates the impact installations and helicopter flights will have on wilderness character
    • places the desires of researchers above those of Wilderness Act requirements and preservation of Wilderness

    For further information contact
    :
    Fran Mauer (Wilderness Watch AK Chapter Rep)
    907-455-6829

    Take Action Now!
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments, prepared by our Alaska Chapter
    Click here to read the Decision
    Photo: National Park Service
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  • Wilderness Wins: Fish and Wildlife Service Rejects Aerial Wolf Killing in the Unimak Wilderness (Alaska):  UPDATED 3/11 [Posted 10/10]
    Unimak WildernessIn a victory for Wilderness, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has decided to deny the State of Alaska’s proposal to shoot and kill adult wolves from the air and gas pups in their dens on Unimak Island. Part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Unimak lies just off the tip of the Alaska Peninsula and is the largest and easternmost island of the Aleutian island chain.  It’s home to waterfowl and shorebirds, brown bears, caribou, wolves, and wolverines. Ninety three percent (910,000 acres) is Wilderness. The only human community on the island is the village of False Pass (pop. 41).

    The FWS’s environmental assessment (EA) states the purpose for killing wolves on Unimak Island is to increase the number of caribou for subsistence hunting. The caribou population has declined recently, but causes for the decline are not known, with caribou numbers on the island having significantly fluctuated in the past. The EA reports caribou numbers fluctuating from an estimated 7,000 in 1925 to about 400 now.  The herd was estimated at 1,200 caribou in 2001 when the State of Alaska initiated its hunting program. Several times in the past 80 years the herd has been much smaller than now including years when no caribou were found, so this cycle does not seem atypical.

    According to subsistence studies, local hunters primarily hunt caribou from the nearby Southern Alaska Peninsula herd—more easily accessible by boat. All reported harvest of the Unimak herd since 1999 has been by non-local Alaska residents and non-residents.  The vast majority of hunting is done through two commercial guide services and is focused on killing trophy bulls.

    The EA acknowledges a lack of assessment of caribou habitat and forage on Unimak Island, but studies on the nearby Alaska Peninsula showed lichens, an important caribou food source, depleted and a likely cause of low caribou birth/survival rates and population decline. Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates about 20 to 30 wolves on Unimak Island, however the population experiences periodic rabies epidemics.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service cited public opposition (95,000 people commented on the EA) and a re-evaluation of applicable Refuge laws, regulations and policies as guiding its final decision to adopt the “No Action Alternative,” which was supported by Wilderness Watch. Citizens commented that the proposal violates the Wilderness Act and other federal laws and that the EA is inadequate. The decision memo states FWS’s initial inclination was to approve the State’s proposal. However, the agency concluded that killing wolves would negatively impact natural diversity and wilderness character, two purposes of the Refuge, and far outweigh the potential benefit of possible future subsistence hunting, a third purpose of the Refuge. The FWS also recognized that the use of helicopters would degrade wilderness character.

    There's just one catch, however. Alaska has the option of translocating bull caribou to Unimak Island from the Southern Alaska Peninsula, pursuant to a permit issued in May 2010. Any such action, unfortunately, would still result in a manipulation of wilderness character and have impacts to natural diversity. The Fish and Wildlife Service approved this permit with a Categorical Exclusion, and it remains valid through 2012.

    This exception aside, Wilderness Watch applauds the agency's selection of the no action alternative here and its resulting preservation of the wilderness character of Unimak Island.
    Click here to read our press release on the Decision
    Click here to read the Decision
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's Scoping comments
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's EA comments
    Click here to read what a researcher with 50 years of work, much of it with caribou and reindeer in island situations, including Unimak Island, has to say about this wolf-killing plan
    Click here to read more information and view our action alert
    Photo: Peter Stelling
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  • Wilderness Wins: Court Rules Guzzlers in Kofa Wilderness Illegal (Arizona):
    Updated 3/11
    [Posted 2/09]

    In December 2010 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled two guzzlers in the Kofa Wilderness are illegal. Wilderness Watch and other conservation groups had filed a lawsuit in June of 2007 after learning the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) had constructed one 13,000-gallon water development within the Kofa Wilderness and was planning to install another similar structure.

    Following a decline in the desert bighorn population in 2006, the USFWS issued a Categorical Exclusion (CE) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to construct the guzzlers. The agency provided no public notice of—or opportunity to comment on—the CE or the decision to construct the guzzlers. Arizona Game and Fish and the Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club partnered with the USFWS in the building of the guzzlers. In 2008, the District Court in Phoenix ruled in favor of the USFWS. In February 2009 Wilderness Watch, along with Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, Western Watersheds Project, and Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, filed an appeal of the District Court ruling. The Ninth Circuit’s decision reversed the District Court ruling.

    “The Appeals court found that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to show that constructing the tanks met the requirements of the Wilderness Act and were necessary to preserve Kofa’s wilderness character,” stated George Nickas, Executive Director of Wilderness Watch.

    Following the December 2010 Ninth Circuit decision, several hunting-related groups, including the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International, intervened in support of the FWS. The groups submitted a petition to the Ninth Circuit Court asking for a rehearing en banc. In March 2011 their petition was denied, so we will be back in District Court arguing that the guzzlers be removed and the Kofa Wilderness restored.

    Click here to read more in a news release
    Click here to download the Decision, 2010
    Listen to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals transcript, 2009
    Click here to read a news release on the District Court Appeal, 2009
    Click here to read the District Court Decision, 2008
    • MORE: Camera Data Shows Bighorns Are Not Using Kofa Wilderness Guzzlers, 2009
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  • A Second Chance to Get it Right: UPDATED 1/11 [Posted 9/10]
    Wilderness Watch recently joined other organizations in sending a letter expressing concerns about future northern border plans. The letter was drafted in response to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's intent to prepare four programmatic environmental impact statements (EISs) for the United States' entire border with Canada (including land extending 100 miles to the south of the line). The letter outlines concerns with the process, along with potential impacts to wildlife, wilderness and other public lands, Native American lands and interests, local economies and communities, and climate change.

    Much of the environmental disaster that has beset the southern border has been  exacerbated by Border Patrol activities. For example, the Cabeza-Prieta Wilderness in Arizona has become riddled with user-created roads, many of which were created by Border Patrol chasing footprints across the desert. Wilderness Watch will continue to work with other organizations pushing for a more Wilderness and wildlife compatible approach to the northern border.

    [UPDATE, 1/11]: Border Patrol recently announced a change in plans, and now intends to prepare a single programmatic EIS for the entire northern border. This approach makes sense in many ways. But the process continues to be plagued by Border Patrol's failure to identify what the proposed action might be. Without knowing what Border Patrol is planning, or any possible alternatives to a proposed action, concerned citizens or affected government agencies (like the Forest Service or National Park Service) won't be able to provide meaningful comments for Border Patrol's consideration in the draft EIS.
     
    Regardless of how one feels toward the activities of Border Patrol on our southern border, or the trade-offs involved, there is no dispute that its actions have wreaked untold damage on fragile Wildernesses like Cabeza-Prieta and the Otay Mountains.  To think that the same approach might be coming to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Glacier or North Cascades national parks, the Pasayten Wilderness and others, ought to give anyone pause.
    Click here to read Northern Border Programmatic EIS Scoping Comments
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  • Gates of the Arctic Wilderness Threatened: UPDATED 11/10 [Posted 3/10]
    The National Park Service is working on amending the General Management Plan for Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Its “preliminary alternatives” are weak and need to be strengthened if Gates is to continue as a preeminent Wilderness.
     
    Background:  It was the central Brooks Range of northern Alaska that inspired Robert Marshall during his visits there in the 1930's, and influenced his thinking about wilderness and its value to human kind. Part of Marshall's vision was achieved with creation of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in 1980 which included 7 million acres designated as Wilderness. At the time Gates NP was heralded as anchoring the wilderness end of the spectrum of our nation's park lands. 

    At four times the size of Yellowstone NP, Gates helps protect the stunning central Brooks Range, northern boreal forests, and rolling tundra. Caribou, grizzly and black bears, moose, wolves, Dall sheep, and eagles are among the wildlife that live here. Six Wild & Scenic Rivers flow through the park—the Alatna, John, Kobuk, Koyukuk, Noatak, and Tinayguk Rivers—and it borders the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Noatak National Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, and Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge.

    In the early 1980's wilderness advocates fought hard to achieve strong provisions in the General Management Plan to preserve and maintain the great wilderness qualities of Gates as Marshall knew them. Now, we find disturbing changes in how the NPS proposes to administer this iconic wilderness in the future.
    __________________________________
    The “preliminary alternatives” propose a range of concepts and zones that would degrade the wilderness character of Gates and defile Marshall's vision. In vaguely worded terms this document now out for review proposes for example: “more opportunities for those with less experience or less time” (Concept 3), “Limited permanent and temporary structures may be allowed” (Zone 3).  Such provisions would seriously erode the wilderness qualities of Gates. It represents the incremental erosion of wilderness character that is all too common these days. It has no place whatsoever in Gates. Furthermore, the NPS is inexplicably moving ahead with plans to install at least 4 automated weather monitoring stations within the Gates Wilderness, (and 5 more units in other Wilderness areas in northern Alaska) using helicopters for installation and annual maintenance. This action violates the Wilderness Act, which prohibits installations! (Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments on the NPS Arctic weather stations draft environmental assessment.)

    Take Action Now
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's scoping comments
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments on Preliminary Alternatives
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's letter reiterating support for Option 1

    Earlier in the year WW weighed in on the scoping process for amending the general management plan. We urged the NPS to consider wilderness as the central theme when amending the general management plan. We asked that wilderness character be preserved and serve as the primary consideration for evaluating potential agency actions, that the plan adopt wilderness stewardship principles, that no new developments or structure be allowed, that private visitors take precedence over commercial interests when use is limited, that snowmobiles and motor boats be prohibited, that helicopter use be limited to emergency situations, and that natural diversity and ecological processes be left alone and allowed to evolve as they may.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments, prepared by our Alaska Chapter
    Click here to visit the Park’s website for more information on the General Management Plan amendment
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  • Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest Blown Up (North Carolina): 11/10
    Despite strong opposition from Wilderness Watch and other organizations, the Forest Service used dynamite and chainsaws to fell and dismember old growth trees in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness. In the North Carolina part of the wilderness is the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, named for the poet who penned "Trees" ("I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree"). The memorial forest is 3,800 acres of “perhaps the single most impressive growth of eastern virgin forest in the United States, with many trees hundreds of years old.” A hemlock woolly ageldid (an introduced pest) infestation has killed eastern hemlocks, which led the FS to decide it needed to make the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Trail Corridor “safe” by blasting about 150 of the trees to prevent them from falling on visitors.

    Wilderness Watch urgently asked the FS, instead of exploding the trees, to respect the Wilderness Act, engage the public in education on the value of real Wilderness and to warn of the risks posed by visiting Wilderness, including the possibility of falling trees.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments
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  • WW Urges Restoration of Lone Peak Wilderness Through Breaching Silver Lake Dam (Utah): UPDATED 11/10 [Posted 2/10]
    Wilderness Watch is urging the Forest Service (FS) to restore a piece of the Lone Peak Wilderness by breaching the Silver Lake Dam to its natural level. The dam was built 100 years ago for irrigation purposes, enlarging the original 5.6-acre Silver Lake to its current 13 acres, and abandoned in 1960 following construction of the Silver Lake Flat Reservoir. The dam has been determined by a Utah state water engineer to be a “moderate hazard” that will eventually fail without stabilization, so the FS, in its Silver Lake Dam Stabilization Project, is proposing to “use drilling and blasting to lower the lake’s spillway by six feet from the crest of the dam and to plug the outlet works with concrete.” The proposal includes the use of an excavator, a cement mixer, and a helicopter. Wilderness Watch criticized the FS’ plan because it unnecessarily relies on motorized equipment, and because it stabilizes the lake at a higher than natural level and will continue to alter the natural hydrology. The FS and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources want a bigger lake in order to provide an artificial fishery. We reminded the agency that this structure is prohibited by the Wilderness Act, and should not be maintained, and also cited FS policy that supports breaching the dam.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch’s comments
    Click here to read the FS scoping letter

    [UPDATE, 11/10]: Wilderness Watch, joined by the Utah Environmental Congress, won its appeal of the Wasatch-Cache-Uinta National Forest decision to airlift heavy equipment into the Lone Peak Wilderness to "stabilize" the Silver Lake Dam. We supported breaching the human-made dam, but opposed the Forest Service's decision to use motorized equipment and to leave the lake at an artificially high level in order to maintain a non-native fishery (the lake is naturally fishless). In overturning the forest supervisor, the Regional Forester wrote the decision rationale "does not articulate why the authorization for motorized equipment and mechanical transport is necessary to meet the minimum requirements for the administration of the area as wilderness."
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  • Perseverance Pays Off in the Emigrant Wilderness (California): 10/10
    A poorly conceived trail project in the Emigrant Wilderness in California was recently modified as a result of persistent efforts by Wilderness Watch’s Central Sierra Chapter. The steep and rough primitive trail, consistent with the wilderness setting, accesses a relatively remote part of the Wilderness immediately adjacent to Yosemite National Park. From 1997 to 2004 Wilderness Watch repeatedly raised concerns and requested more detail about a proposed “reconstruction” project that would have fundamentally changed the area’s wilderness character.
    Click here to read the rest on our blog

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  • A Foul Plan for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (Minnesota): 10/10
    Wilderness Watch, along with several other conservation groups, voiced its concerns over a proposed snowmobile trail—the South Fowl Lake Snowmobile Access Project—adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in Minnesota. These include:
    • Locating the snowmobile trail on the cliff above Royal Lake in the BWCAW will create noise impacts to wilderness, however the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) fails to adequately analyze such impacts due to faulty testing methods and its failure to consider effects on wilderness character;
    • The poor precedent set by appeasing illegal motorized use as stated by “the intent of this new trail is to replace the old illegal trail;”
    • The DEIS’s bias for the Preferred Alternative supported with inadequate/inaccurate impact descriptions for the other Alternatives;
    • The failure to address the impact on rare and endangered plants, and the likelihood of spreading invasive weeds;
    • The failure to address the noise and habitat impacts on rare and endangered animals such as the Canada Lynx;
    • And, the DEIS’s failure to analyze the ineffectiveness of trail closures in preventing ORV use.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments
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  • Help Protect the Natural Soundscape of Zion Wilderness and National Park (Utah): 8/10
    Zion National Park needs your help in crafting an appropriate Soundscape Management Plan for its Wilderness Zone, which comprises 90% of the Park (84% is designated Wilderness and 6% is proposed Wilderness). Its preferred wilderness noise standards are too weak and fail to protect Wilderness values such as solitude, quiet, etc.

    This is not just a fight over excessive and mounting aircraft noise. It is a fight to ensure that the National Park Service (NPS) takes and retains a leadership role in preserving our parks. We need an outpouring of public comments urging the Park Service to assert its legal responsibilities under its Organic Act and the Wilderness Act and to follow its own management policies. This Management Plan has the potential to be precedent-setting, so please make your voice heard.

    Take Action Now!
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  • WW Concerned with Proposed Bighorn Sheep Study within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (California): 7/10
    Wilderness Watch has weighed in on a proposed study in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks that would involve capturing 40 endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep using helicopters and “net-guns.” We let the National Park Service know of our deep concerns with the proposal, including: 1) significant adverse effects to wilderness character (e.g., mechanized intrusion, noise, loss of solitude) due to the use of helicopters within designated wilderness; 2) there is no evidence that the project itself is necessary to meet minimum requirements to preserve the area as wilderness; 3) even if the project were necessary to preserve wilderness, the proposed actions are not the “minimum tool” for achieving the project’s objectives, and therefore are inconsistent with the requirements of the Wilderness Act; 4) direct injury to critically endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn, including the death of at least some individuals; and 5) significant adverse sub-lethal and/or indirect effects to Sierra Nevada bighorn, such as decreased long-term survival of captured animals, behavioral changes such as avoidance of key winter range, etc. In our scoping comments, we suggested alternative approaches that would respect wilderness, while promoting better habitat conditions for bighorns.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch’s comments


  • WW Battles Against Wolf Collaring Project in the FC-River of No Return Wilderness (Idaho): Updated 7/10 [Posted 2/10]
    Background
    :
    In another effort at predator control, Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) proposed as many as 20 helicopter landings in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (FCRNRW) to radio collar up to 12 wolves. A similar plan from IDFG was defeated in 2006, but the state agency landed a helicopter at least once last winter to collar a darted wolf, and believes it has “the legal authority” to land in the FCRNRW even without Forest Service approval. Given the State’s history, the project could help target wolves for extermination.
    Take Action Now!
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments
    Click here to read the FS's Scoping Letter

    Unfortunately, in December 2009, the Forest Service (FS) approved IDFG's request, despite the fact that the decision conflicts with the Wilderness Act, the majority of public comments opposed the plan, and in granting permission, the FS is excusing IDFG's prior unlawful Wilderness intrusions.

    Wilderness Watch and other conservation groups filed a preliminary injunction brief in the U.S. District Court in Idaho to stop IDFG. The case was heard on 2/18/10. Unfortunately, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill denied our request to stop the helicopter landings. In his ruling, he stated that the use of helicopters will help wolves, whose presence helps protect wilderness character. But he also stated, "The Forest Service must proceed very cautiously here because the law is not on their side if they intend to proceed with further helicopter projects in the Frank Church (sic) Wilderness." His ruling failed to address the issue of how the use of helicopters is the minimum required to preserve the area as Wilderness.

    Along with the other plaintiffs, Wilderness Watch moved for a summary judgment motion, which was heard in July 2010. Although Judge Winmill ruled the case moot, as the special use permit had terminated, some good things came out of the hearing.

    Laurie Rule of Advocates for the West represented Wilderness Watch. Ms. Rule highlighted the Wilderness Act’s statutory language and underscored that, regardless of IDFG's goals, the Forest Service failed to show that helicopter landings to collar wolves are necessary to maintain wilderness character.

    It seemed Judge Winmill understands our concern that he "lowered the bar" (in his words) for helicopter landings in support of so-called research that’s not necessary to preserve wilderness character. He gave the impression that he cares about the Wilderness Act and wants to get it right. In his order, Judge Winmill strengthened his earlier cautions about the incompatibility of helicopters in Wilderness, and he warned the FS it will have to do an EA or EIS on any future projects that involve using a helicopter in Wilderness.
    Click here to read the Ruling
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  • New Forest Service Rules Allow Commercial Filming in Wilderness: 6/10
    Following controversy over Idaho Public Television's request to film in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho, the Forest Service has released interim Wilderness filming rules. The agency initially made the right decision in denying the request, recognizing the station's commercial nature and the Wilderness Act's prohibition on commercial enterprise, but then bent to political pressure and granted the permit. The FS's new interim rules, effective for the next 18 months, essentially allow commercial filming in Wilderness as long as the Forest Service approves of the film's message. However, the content of the message has no relevance in determining whether the activity is commercial, nor is content-based speech regulation an appropriate role for the Forest Service. Indeed, an agency spokesperson basically conceded in a radio interview (starting about 1/3 of the way through) that the new policy is a total sham when asked if the new rules would allow James Cameron (of Titanic and Avatar fame) to shoot his next film in the Bob Marshall Wilderness—the answer was “yes”!

    The Wilderness Act bars commercial enterprise, including filming, because the Act’s framers saw the benefit, indeed the need, to protect Wilderness from being viewed and used as a commodity, and from having its management compromised by economic interests. Upholding this aspect of the law may not always be politically popular, and might sometimes seem like taking things to extreme, but a “bright line” is necessary, and it’s the job of the federal land management agencies to make sure they uphold the law.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's Op-ed on the commercial filming, published in the Idaho Statesman.
    Click here to read the Op-ed on our blog.
    Click here to read an article on the new rules.
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  • A Chance to Remove a Dam in Wilderness (Montana): Updated 5/10 [Posted 6/09]
    The Forest Service is proposing maintenance work on the Fish Lake Dam in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, citing its responsibility to comply with federal dam safety laws and regulations and to protect national forest lands. However, the Fish Lake Dam presents an extraordinary opportunity to restore a piece of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to a condition that existed prior to its degradation by humans. Wilderness Watch believes the proposed project is incompatible with Wilderness, as it seeks to maintain a non-conforming structure in Wilderness using motorized equipment. The Forest Service should re-evaluate its plans for the area and consider breaching or removing the dam to restore the area's wilderness character. Click here to view comments submitted by Wilderness Watch and Friends of the Clearwater. Send your comments supporting dam breach/removal to:
    Charles T. Oliver
    Darby District Ranger
    712 N. Main St.
    Darby, MT 59829
    Click here to read the USFS Scoping Letter

  • [UPDATE, 5/10]: We recently received a report on the maintenance work, which was completed by Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) without motorized equipment, using cross cut saws, peavey hooks, cables, and highline rigging setups. Ten tons of driftwood were removed by 21 crew members working 26, nine-hour days, totaling 4,914 person hours. Wilderness Watch is continuing to encourage the FS to remove the dam and rewild the Selway-Bitterroot.
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    Wilderness Watch Urges FWS not to Approve Communication Tower in Cabeza Prieta Wilderness (Arizona): Updated 3/10 [Posted 2/10]
    Wilderness Watch urged the US Fish and Wildlife Service not to allow construction of a communication relay tower in the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness (CPW). The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed construction of a tower within the Wilderness as part of its Secure Border Initiative (SBI) and specifically, the SBInet Ajo1 Project. The tower would stand 33.5 feet, with a 16-foot wide by 14- foot tall solar panel array attached to it. All of the government agencies involved state that if Ajo1 is successful, it is very likely that illegal immigrants and drug smugglers will move further westward—deeper into the CPW—to avoid this section's 10 planned clustered towers comprising the Ajo1 ‘virtual fence.' In addition to violating the Wilderness Act, the construction of this tower will likely drive away bighorn sheep, which use this area as a traditional lambing ground.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments on the project
    Click here to read the FWS's Draft Compatibility Determination for the project
    Click here to read the DHS's Final Environmental Assessment (Finding of no Significant Impact) *Please note, this is a large pdf file—3.9MB

    [UPDATE, 3/10]: The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has approved the construction of this communication relay tower in the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness (CPW) in Arizona, despite opposition from Wilderness Watch and others. The project's approval comes at the same time the DHS has stopped construction of the rest of its SBI because the technology doesn't work and due to cost overruns and other problems.
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  • Wilderness Watch Voices Concern Over Water Tank Maintenance in Kofa Wilderness (Arizona): Updated 3/10 [Posted 12/09]
    Despite concern from Wilderness Watch and other conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) (in partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department), is planning to conduct water tank maintenance in early April at the High Tank #3 guzzler. Concerns and comments expressed by us and others caused the FWS to delay the Kofa Wilderness project by about three months, but the scheduled date still falls within the critical bighorn sheep lambing time, which could negatively affect this species, which the tank ostensibly serves. The project involves the use of a helicopter and a gasoline-powered cement mixer. There are also some questions regarding the agency’s notification of the proposal. Wilderness Watch only found out about it after being alerted by a member who saw it posted on Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society’s website—a full week before it was announced to the rest of the public.

    In our comments we noted that the proposal violates the FWS’s duty to protect the Kofa’s wilderness character, and requires a proper NEPA review given its impacts.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments
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  • NPS Plans to Build Cabin in Katmai Wilderness (Alaska): 2/10
    The National Park Service (NPS) is expediting public comments on an ill-advised proposal to construct a 20-ft. by 12-ft cabin at Swikshak Bay in the Katmai Wilderness in Alaska. NPS has set the deadline for comments on March, 3, 2010 so it can utilize funding made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (economic stimulus bill). The project’s environmental assessment (EA) can be viewed at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?parkId=13&projectId=25601.
    Take Action Now!
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments
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  • Wilderness Watch Weighs in on Proposed Expansion of Water Developments in Cabeza Prieta Wilderness (Arizona): 11/09
    At the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness in Arizona, the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing to expand three guzzlers for Sonoran pronghorn, using helicopters and motorized equipment. We appreciate efforts to protect and recover Sonoran pronghorn, but those efforts also need to honor the wilderness. We believe the proposed project, including the construction of the original waters in 2003 and 2005, runs afoul of the Wilderness Act. The Act prohibits structures and installations unless necessary to meet the minimum requirement to administer the area for the purpose of the Act, which is to preserve the area's wilderness character. The Act similarly prohibits the use of motorized equipment, such as helicopters, generators, jackhammers, etc., which are all contemplated as part of this action.

    We let the FWS know of our concerns with their proposal, including:
    • the project's significant impact to wilderness and its violation of the Wilderness Act;
    • that the project may lead the FWS to develop other tanks in the Wilderness or pursue other activities under the guise of bolstering the pronghorn population;
    • that the proposal fails to consider an alternative to using helicopters;
    • that the FWS prepare either an environmental analysis (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS) that looks at all of the related pronghorn recovery activities (i.e. irrigating the refuge to grow more forage, construction of other water tanks, proposed translocations, etc.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments
    Click here to read the FWS Scoping Letter
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  • Wilderness Watch Comments on Apostle Islands Draft General Management/Wilderness Plan (Wisconsin): 10/09
    The Gaylord Nelson Wilderness covers 80% of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, and at 33,500 acres is the state’s largest. The islands have cliffs, sea caves, and some of the most pristine beaches in the Great Lakes region. Wilderness Watch’s comments emphasized two primary concerns related to preserving wilderness character: administrative use of motorized/mechanical equipment and management of historical structures. Our comments also supported many of the excellent concerns expressed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments
    Click here to read the NPS Draft Plan
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  • Wilderness Watch Opposes Chainsaws/Logging in Sandia Mountains Wilderness (New Mexico): Updated 10/09 [Posted 3/09]
    Wilderness Watch opposes the Forest Service's proposal to use chainsaws to cut thousands of trees in the Sandia Mountain Wilderness in New Mexico. We urge you to write a short email opposing their proposal.
    Take Action Now!
    Click here to read the USFS Scoping Letter
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments

    [UPDATE, 10/09]:
    We've received good news that the Forest Service (FS) has decided not to log the Sandia Mountain Wilderness to make it safe for visitors! This had been proposed for 80 miles of trails, to deal with insect and disease-killed dead trees, which the FS claims presents a hazard to visitors. Instead, to inform the public about potential hazards, the FS has been using news releases, trailhead signage, and a revised trails brochure and Forest website. This approach they've adopted is the approach suggested by Wilderness Watch.
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  • Camera Data Shows Bighorns are not Using Kofa Wilderness Guzzlers (Arizona): 9/09
    Remote cameras installed to detect bighorn sheep use at two controversial man-made water developments constructed in the Kofa Wilderness in 2007 suggest the tanks have completely failed to provide water for bighorns. The cameras, installed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at the McPherson and Yaqui Tanks, captured photos of mule deer, hawks, doves, vultures, coyotes and bobcats, but not a single bighorn drinking from the tanks in the two years since their construction...
    Click here to read the rest of our press release
    Click here to view a few images taken at the tanks
    Click here to read an article from the Arizona Daily Star
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  • Let it Rust in Peace (Montana): 7/09
    Wilderness Watch opposes the Forest Service's proposal to use a helicopter to remove pieces of an airplane that crashed in 1938 in the Big Prairie area of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. We urge you to write a short email by 7/31 opposing their proposal.
    Take Action Now!
    Click here to read the Forest Service's Scoping Letter
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments
    View photos of the wreckage
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  • Oppose H.R. 2809, Which Would Amend the Wilderness Act: 6/09
    Sponsored by Rep. Lamborn (R-CO), H.R. 2809 would to grant "members of a recreation organization acting as an organized unit and regardless of their number...the right to cross wilderness areas on established trails without restriction..." for day use. The genesis of the bill is likely related to a group called the "Roundup Riders of the Rockies," a group of wealthy horsemen who conduct a massive, catered, ride each year involving hundreds of horses, catered camps, music, etc. They've tried to use Wilderness many times, but have been told no, with the exception of a 2007 ride through the Spanish Peaks Wilderness. That trip was approved by the Forest Service Region Two regional forester, despite much internal opposition.

    We encourage you to contact your member of Congress to urge his/her opposition to this legislation. For information on how to contact Congress, scroll to the bottom of our Wilderness in Congress page.
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  • Congress Takes Up the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act: 5/09
    George Nickas, Executive Director of Wilderness Watch, was invited to testify on behalf of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (H.R. 980).
    Click here to read George's testimony, heard on 5/5/09
    Click here to see what you can do
    Click here to view an archived video and get more information on the Subcommittee On National Parks, Forests And Public Lands Legislative Hearing On H.R. 980
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  • Wilderness Watch Supports Removing Deteriorating Cabins in South Baranof Wilderness (Alaska): 3/09
    Wilderness Watch supports the Forest Service's proposal to remove two deteriorating structures in the South Baranof Wilderness of Alaska. We urge you to write a short email in support of this proposal.
    Take Action Now!
    Click here to read the USFS Scoping Letter
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  • DOJ Withdraws Proposed Rule on Mobility Devices: 1/09
    Several months ago, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released proposed rules to adopt accessibility standards under the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (ADA). Key provisions under the rule included a definition for "wheelchair" and the use of "other power-driven mobility devices." Both provisions could have had a direct bearing on Wilderness and other wildlands. Wilderness Watch recently learned that the DOJ has officially withdrawn these proposed rules. Prior to the DOJ taking this action, the Obama administration had placed a hold on all pending new regulations. The DOJ can resubmit to OMB, but has not yet stated their intention to do so.
    Click here to read the DOJ's Proposed Rules
    Click here to read Wilderness Watch's comments
    Click here to read the OIRA Conclusion of EO 12866 Regulatory Review (DOJ withdraws its proposed rules)
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