I was privileged to attend the Albuquerque 50th Anniversary celebration of the signing of the Wilderness Act by President Johnson. There were two days of local area field trips or a pre-conference training at the Rio Grande Nature Center, followed by four days of panels, keynote speeches, and exhibits at the downtown Hyatt Regency Conference Center and the Albuquerque Convention Center.
I’d like to share some of the thoughts that the Celebration gave me about Wilderness, the Wilderness Act, and lands protection in general; and what they mean to the Sierra Club, as well as all conservation organizations, as we go forward into the 21st Century in a very changed political and public reality.
But first, a bit more about the Celebration.
The Wilderness50 planning team was created as a corporation with 30 members, including all the key government land agencies and national conservation non-profit organizations. More than a 100 additional organizations, foundations, and businesses provided funding and resources for the celebration. For more on this, go to: http://www.wilderness50th.org/about.php. This resulted in a six day event in Albuquerque and the surrounding area featuring field trips, training, exhibitions, 84 presenter panels, 20 keynote speakers, and many social events that connected together a broad range of government employees, activists, academics, and business people in celebration of 50 years of Wilderness for the American people. It was exceedingly well planned and executed, a tribute to the many people in our country who care about our natural legacy.
With so many exciting events all happening at the same time, no one person could be at even a small percentage of them, so every attendee likely came away with different message. Here’s what I came away with:
• Wilderness, and lands protection in general, is in trouble! Even the Wilderness we already have!! As Keynoter Chris Barns (Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center) so eloquently stated: all three support legs of the Wilderness stool are broken. Those are 1) public support, 2) government agency funding and training, and 3) non-profit focus. The latter two are a reflection of the first – a broad erosion in public support for the concept that our pristine public lands need to be protected for future generations.
• Lands stewardship is being broadly neglected by the government agencies. This is a result of a lack of funding from, and in many cases, downright hostility by members of Congress to the concept of public lands protection, even to those already protected. This is resulting in an increasing number of destructive activities occurring without preventive action, and even authorization by government agencies of illegal activities on protected lands.
• Climate change is threatening the health of all public lands. There is very little planning and no funding to mitigate this threat. The “management” of Wilderness Areas is a controversial issue, but climate change, as well as the century long exclusion of fire, are dramatic human “trammels” upon the naturalness of Wilderness, so we need an intelligent conversation about how we deal with these situations.
• Young people!! I looked around and couldn’t believe my eyes – there were young people everywhere. Woo-hoo!
• There were so many energetic, intelligent, and eloquent activists from all persuasions: government; non-profit; academic; and public. It gave me great hope.
• Universal recognition by all sectors represented that we must do more, much more, to educate and sell the need for lands protection, especially Wilderness, to the Public. It must be our focus, otherwise we will fail in this century to keep the protected lands that we have.
So, what to do?
• Educate the Public – We must educate the Public, not just on a generic need for Wilderness or lands protection, but about what it does for them at a personal level: clean water, clean air, solitude, a connection to nature, a home for their favorite animal or tree or flower, or preservation of their favorite place for hiking, hunting, fishing or camping. This education effort needs to become part of everything we do.
• Connect with Young People – We need a greater focus on connecting with young people. This can happen by reaching out to the schools, but is becoming an increasing challenge with the narrowing focus on “curriculums”, such as Common Core, and falling public school funding around the country. We must be creative in tailoring our appeal to be part of the school’s curriculum needs. Also, see the next item on stewardship.
• Become Stewards – Stewardship must become part of our conservation advocacy program. Sierra Club has not traditionally focused on stewardship, but we must add this to our portfolio. I heard many wonderful stories of agency/non-profit stewardship collaboration that’s making a real difference. It’s a highly effective way to connect with young and old, and get them engaged, educated, and trained. Plus, it creates publicity and legitimacy for all our conservation goals.
• Lobby – Every lobbying effort with members of Congress needs to include advocacy for increasing funding for protected lands stewardship. The Wilderness Act and many other laws require the lands agencies to do this, but without funding and direction from Congress, it is not being done.
• Use Economics – I was astonished to see photos of Bend Oregon’s Old Mill District on the screen in Albuquerque, but John Sterling of The Conservation Alliance and Ben Alexander from Headwaters Economics used Bend as their primo example for how protected lands can rejuvenate a community. Even where the other benefits from protected lands are rejected as “wasting our resources”, the $ still changes minds. Go to http://headwaterseconomics.org/ – the amount of locale specific information available there for free is truly amazing.
• Open Minded Thinking – We need to question old attitudes about Wilderness management and future lands protection models, as well as our willingness to work with those with whom we disagree. We are facing new challenges with climate change and a burgeoning population. Our old protection models may no longer be possible in many places, but new models may gain acceptance and accomplish our protection goals. Blindly demanding no commercial activities on federal lands or total passivity in Wilderness Areas immediately eliminates us from the conversation about how these areas will be managed. We must be willing to reason together with other interests, or we place ourselves in the same box as the right wing whackos.
A time of hope:
I came away really uplifted and energized from my six days in Albuquerque. There are many challenges before us, to even retain what we have, but there is a great opportunity to recreate the lands protection movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. Climate change will eventually demand a great rethinking of how we interact with our natural world. That will be our opportunity. We must prepare and be ready to take that opportunity.
Larry Pennington, Oregon Chapter Chair
By Larry Pennington, Oregon Chapter Chair
On September 14 to 17, Rhett Lawrence (our Conservation Director) and I traveled to our nation’s capital to participate in Wilderness Week, an annual lobbying effort jointly sponsored by the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Pew Charitable Trusts. The focus this year, of course, was celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, signed into law by President Johnson on September 3rd in 1964.
Our first day was a lobbying training conducted at the Pew offices, featuring distinguished speakers from Pew, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and several other conservation non-profits. We also heard from Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and senior staff from the U.S. Forest Service, BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the National Park Service.
The second and third days were dedicated to meeting with the Oregon Congressional delegation and their staffs to promote conservation and environmental issues in Oregon. Several other Oregon conservation organizations joined us for some of the meetings, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), Oregon Wild, KS Wild, American Rivers, the Geos Institute, and longtime wilderness advocate Andy Kerr.
We were privileged to meet with staff members for all five U.S. Representatives and both Senators, as well as with Senator Jeff Merkley himself. Rhett and I focused on the Keep Waldo Wild campaign and the Owyhee Canyonlands at all our meetings. Getting a universally positive response to our Waldo conservation campaign – though most of the Congressional delegation had never learned of it before – was most gratifying!
The most enthusiastic responses came from the staff members for Sen. Merkley, Sen. Wyden, and Rep. DeFazio. All posed some tough, probing questions and asked for more information – a good sign, we think. Our cause was helped by recent trips to Waldo Lake by two of Sen. Merkley’s staff and one of Rep. DeFazio’s staff, all of whom were instant converts to keeping Waldo wild. When Sen. Merkley said he wanted to visit Waldo as soon as he could fit it in (there’s an election soon, you know), ear-to-ear smiles broke out on our faces! Jumping on the bandwagon, other Merkley staff members also expressed a desire to tour the gem of the High Cascades.
For the Owyhee, Rhett and I worked in tandem with Brent Fenty of ONDA and Brett Swift of Pew to promote either Wilderness or National Monument designation, whichever can get done the soonest and provide adequate protection.
And as a wonderful side benefit to the trip, we were treated to making good new connections with the Sierra Club DC staff, as well as Pew and Wilderness Society staff, while renewing bonds with old friends from many organizations.
We concluded that it was a most valuable week for us, for Waldo Lake, for the Owyhee, and for our Congresspersons! We hope they learned something, too, and were persuaded to join our conservation efforts, so future generations will have the ability to explore and enjoy these precious wild places of Oregon.
Venue – check
Beer – check
Snacks – check
Music – check
Twenty photographs of wilderness areas in Oregon not yet protected – check
Displays and brochures from Oregon Wild, ONDA and Oregon Chapter Sierra Club High Desert
Committee – check
Then we waited for people to come. And they did come!
The event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act hosted by KEEN at its flagship store in Portland, Oregon was a great success. About 300 people came to see the photo exhibit, enjoying the snacks, beer and music provided by KEEN. It was also a great time to catch up with friends and meet new ones. The stunning photographs of Oregon wilderness highlighted the many amazing and magnificent places in Oregon that need wilderness protection. Many people were also interested to hear the on-going efforts to protect these areas by the Sierra Club High Desert Committee, ONDA and Oregon Wild. Both ONDA and Sierra Club High Desert Committee have been focusing on protecting the Owyhee Canyonlands in the southeast Oregon. To find out more about the campaign, check out our brochure here: http://oregon.sierraclub.org/conserv/hidsrt/media/pdf/Owyhee%20Brochure.pdf
Take action! Visit these wilderness places and see for yourself these splendid wild places of Oregon!
Anniversary of the Wilderness Act hosted by KEEN at its flagship store
Calling all photographers! Your help is needed. You’re invited to submit your best shots of Oregon’s wilderness areas for a chance to be featured in the Oregon Sierra Club High Desert Committee’s Wilderness Act 50th Anniversary Photography Exhibit this fall. Both professional and amateur photo submissions are encouraged.
What is the Sierra Club High Desert Committee’s Wilderness Act 50th Anniversary Photography Exhibit?
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act this year, the Sierra Club High Desert Committee will be putting on a photography exhibit highlighting the wilderness places that are yet to be protected in our very own state of Oregon. By exhibiting these photographs, we hope to increase the awareness and inspiration to protect these areas.
Submission Deadline: Friday, August 1st, 2014 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time
- Both professional and amateur photography submissions are encouraged
- Submit up to five (5) images per photographer allowed
- Selected photographs will be featured in the Sierra Club High Desert Committee’s Wilderness Act
50th Anniversary Photography Exhibit Event in the fall 2014.
- Photographers will need to complete a Photographer Permission as part of the submission.
Download the form here:
- Elements or objects not in original scene should be added.
- Electronic submissions only, please. E-mail images to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line: HDC
WildAct 50th Photo Exhibit Submission
- Electronic photograph submission requirements:
- Photograph must be submitted in JPG format
- 5 MB at least but no bigger than 10 MB
- Each photograph must include:
- Image description
- Photographer name
- *** 300 dpi format might be requested for selected images. Photographers will be contacted.
- If submission requirements are not followed, the image submitted may not be considered.
- Photographs must be taken within areas listed.
- Any wilderness scene whether wildlife, plants or scenic landscape are eligible.
- Any watermark must be removed.
Images from Oregon’s wilderness areas that are yet to be protected, with an emphasis on locations listed below will be selected for the exhibit. Photos from high priority areas and locations are preferred but all photos from Oregon’s wilderness areas yet to be protected will be considered.
- Owyhee Canyonlands http://oregon.sierraclub.org/conserv/hidsrt/campaigns.asp
- John Day River https://onda.org/where-we-work/john-day/cathedral-rock-and-horse-heaven
Cathedral Rock/Horse Heaven
- Sutton Mountain and Pat’s Cabin https://onda.org/where-we-work/john-day/sutton-mountain
- Waldo Lake http://oregon.sierraclub.org/groups/juniper/waldo/keepwaldowild.asp
- Crater Lake http://www.oregonwild.org/wilderness/crater-lake-wilderness
- Devil’s Staircase http://www.oregonwild.org/wilderness/devils_staircase
- Wild Rogue http://www.oregonwild.org/wilderness/zane-grey-wilderness-proposal
- Mt Hood http://www.oregonwild.org/wilderness/mount-hood-wilderness
- Siskiyou http://www.oregonwild.org/wilderness/oregons-yellowstone
- List of WSA’s on Oregon https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5xbJhEjqTTwMV9sbXkxR01HQW8/edit?usp=sharing
Terms and Conditions (in addition to the Photograph Permission):
- Photographs will be accepted only from the original photographer who must be the sole author and owner of the copyright for photos submitted.
- Selected photographs will be printed only once for the purpose of the exhibit. Use of the printed photographs may be used for future exhibits and fund-raising events by the Sierra Club.
The High Desert Committee led a trip to the Sutton Mountain wilderness study area at the end of April. Located near Mitchell, Oregon and adjacent to the Painted Hills National Monument, Sutton Mountain provides a birds-eye view of the colorful striations of the Painted Hills, created by wind, time and geologic activity.
After a hike through Black Canyon to gain the upper plateau, the group was treated to blooming hedgehog cacti along the rim. Lunch was spent enjoying the stunning vistas and basking in the sun, then Borden Beck led the climb down along what was surely a mountain goat trail.
Sierra Club outings allow you to explore and enjoy areas of Oregon that you may or may not be familiar with. Experienced volunteer leaders share their favorite areas of Oregon and talk about efforts to protect these areas so that future generations can enjoy these wild areas as we see them now.
Southeastern Oregon has some of the most wild and pristine landscapes in the continental United States. Stunning rock formations, endless vistas and wild lands are waiting to be explored, most without developed trails to mark human existence.
- Sutton Mountain, in the John Day River area
- Leslie Gulch, in the Owyhee Canyonlands
- Anderson Crossing, in the Owyhee Canyonlands
- Steens Mountain