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12 Places Worth Protecting

12 Places Worth Protecting

Fifty years after the passage of the Wilderness Act, the law remains the nation’s most effective tool for protecting wild places. The two dozen bills now before Congress would together add more than 2.6 million acres of wild land to the National Wilderness Preservation System established by the act. The vitality and durability of the Wilderness Act are a credit to the visionaries who created this law, and to the local people who have advocated over the years for Congress to conserve wildlife habitat, ensure a supply of clean water and provide opportunities for recreation.

As evidenced by the large number of bills on the congressional docket, the anniversary of the act has been a rallying point for those Americans from coast to coast working to safeguard extraordinary natural landscapes from development. Wilderness protection has always primarily emerged from community-based efforts—people taking stock of the natural beauty found on their local public lands and deciding that the treasures there are worth passing on to future generations.

Included in the two dozen bills before Congress are 12 areas Congress can protect as early as this year:

Alpine Lakes, Washington

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act (H.R. 361/S. 112) would expand the existing 394,000-acre Alpine Lakes Wilderness by 22,100 acres and designate parts of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers as wild and scenic. The areas safeguarded by this bill lie in the Pratt River Valley and the Middle and South Fork Snoqualmie River Valleys, a region that includes glacier-cut U-shaped valleys, snow-capped peaks, old-growth forests, whitewater rivers and strong native trout runs.

This area is the closest and most accessible to residents of the greater Seattle metropolitan area.

Beaverhead-Deerlodge-Kootenai, Montana

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (S. 37) would designate nearly 700,000 acres of wilderness across the Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Lolo and Kootenai National Forests, including the East and West Pioneers, the Sapphires, Lost Cabin and Lima Peaks, and adding to the Lee Metcalf, Anaconda-Pintlar and North Fork Blackfoot Monture Creek Wilderness Areas. 

The bill would also improve forest health and fish and wildlife habitat as well as preserve hunting, fishing, hiking and horseback riding traditions. Along with wilderness protection, the measure would designate areas for backcountry recreation and areas for forest stewardship.

Rogue River/Devils Staircase, Oregon

The Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013 (S. 1784) would help solve the decades-old issue of management of the 2 million acres of “O&C” lands in western Oregon. Included in this legislation is 87,000 acres of wilderness protection for the Wild Rogue and Devil’s Staircase areas, as well as roughly 165 miles of wild and scenic rivers. While the bill does allow for increased timber harvest, it will safeguard some of the nation’s oldest forests from logging and commercial development. People visit Oregon and the “O&C” lands in the proposal to hike, fish, whitewater raft, kayak and camp.

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act of 2013 (S. 341) would conserve nearly 55,000 acres of public land in southwest Colorado, including 32,000 acres as wilderness. This addition to the 480,000-acre San Juan National Forest wilderness will provide protection to critical landscape linkages.

The San Juan Mountain range is one of the most geologically diverse mountain ranges in the world and is home to the threatened Canada lynx and the Gunnison sage grouse, and Colorado River cutthroat trout, whose status is under review. The wilderness legislation is supported by local communities, elected officials, ranchers and recreation groups.

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Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee

The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2013 (S. 1294) would designate nearly 20,000 acres of wilderness in the Cherokee National Forest—expanding five existing wilderness areas, including Sampson Mountain and Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock, and creating the new Upper Bald River Wilderness.

It would also preserve important watersheds and habitat for native brook trout, black bear, bobcat, grey fox and white-tailed deer and will safeguard a popular migratory, breeding and wintering habitat for numerous bird species.

Maine Coastal Islands

The Maine Coastal Islands Wilderness Act (H.R. 1808) would protect 13 islands of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

The bill will designate 3, 125 acres of wilderness, preserving pristine habitat for migratory seabirds and waterfowl and elevating the profile of the area to boost tourism for the area's economy.

Columbine Hondo, New Mexico

The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (H.R. 1683/S. 776) would protect 45,000 acres of wilderness north of Taos in the Carson National Forest.

The area encompasses the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including Gold Hill, its highest peak, and is home to elk, mountain lion, black bear, pine marten and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. It also contains the headwaters for two rivers that supply water to the Acequias used by the local community.

Rocky Mountain Front, Montana

The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act (S. 364) would safeguard 275,000 acres of rugged public land in western Montana. The bill will add 50,500 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and 16,700 acres to the Scapegoat Wilderness.

The legislation would also designate 208,000 acres as conservation management areas and prioritizes noxious-weed eradication and prevention on these public lands.

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Hermosa Creek, Colorado

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 1839/S. 841) would conserve the 108,000-acre Hermosa Creek Watershed in the San Juan National Forest of southwest Colorado.

The bill will designate nearly 38,000 acres of wilderness within the watershed. The area is prized for its stunning vistas, pristine water quality and diverse plant and animal species.

Central Coast, California

The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act (H.R. 4685) would preserve 245,665 acres of new and expanded wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument. It would also designate wild and scenic rivers and a new national recreational trail.

The proposed areas provide habitat for more than 450 species of wildlife and 1,200 plant species, including more than 90 at risk of extinction, like the San Joaquin kit fox, steelhead trout, arroyo toad and the California jewelflower. The region is home to the endangered California condor, the largest and most endangered North American bird species. Visitors from around the world come to these coastal mountains and grasslands to hike, backpack, camp, bird-watch, ride horses, hunt, fish, kayak and mountain bike.

Pine Forest and Lyon County, Nevada

The Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act of 2013 (H.R. 696/S. 159) would designate 48,000 acres of wilderness, protecting historic, cultural and natural resources. It would also convey 12,500 acres of land to the city of Yerington for economic development surrounding the Nevada Copper mine. The Wovoka Wilderness would be named in honor of the Native American spiritual leader and father of the Ghostdance, who lived near the area.

The House bill would also designate the 26,000-acre Pine Forest Range Wilderness in northwest Nevada, a popular destination for sportsmen and recreationists and prime habitat for mule deer, sage grouse and mountain lion.

Boulder White Cloud Mountains, Idaho

The Boulder-White Clouds in Central Idaho is the largest unprotected wild roadless area in the national forests of the lower 48 states. Its broad range of elevations and habitats lends to the area’s enormous biological and geographical diversity. Since the land is uninterrupted by roads, Boulder-White Clouds is a popular hunting and fishing destination, with spawning salmon and big game such as elk, moose, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, black bear and cougar.

The Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (H.R. 145) would permanently protect over 330,000 acres of wilderness.

The bill would create three wilderness areas in the Sawtooth and Challis National Forests and the Challis District of the Bureau of Land Management within the Boulder-White Clouds Mountain range.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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