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Obama Calls for Wilderness Protection

Obama Calls for Wilderness Protection

Bureau of Land Management

Beauty Mountain in California, the San Juan Islands of Washington, and Castle Peak in Colorado are among 18 backcountry areas in nine states that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar highlighted today as deserving protection by Congress as national conservation areas or wilderness areas.

The report issued by Secretary Salazar includes a preliminary list of areas managed primarily by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where there is significant local support for Congressional protection, and that Secretary Salazar believes can be at the foundation of a bipartisan public lands bill that should pass under this Congress.

"From President Theodore Roosevelt's bold steps to establish national parks, wildlife refuges and forests to President Obama signing the 2009 Public Lands bill into law in his first days in office, America has a proud bipartisan tradition of protecting the backcountry that matters most to hunters, fishermen, and our families," said Secretary Salazar. "We have heard from local communities, elected officials, and others that Montana’s Sleeping Giant, Nevada’s Pine Forest Range, and New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte are among the many places that deserve protection by Congress for future generations. Building on the President’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, I am hopeful that these areas can help form a strong foundation for a bipartisan conservation agenda for this Congress."

The report is the result of work by Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes and BLM Director Bob Abbey to identify—based on input from Congress, state and county officials, tribes, and other interested parties—a preliminary list of BLM lands that merit consideration by Congress for designation as national conservation areas or Wilderness.

"The backcountry areas we identify in this report are by no means the only public lands that may deserve protection by Congress, but this preliminary list of possibilities shows that there is a compelling case for bipartisan legislative action to conserve lands for recreation, protection, and enjoyment," said Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. "From Devil’s Staircase in Oregon to Beauty Mountain in Southern California, local communities and elected officials from both sides of the aisle have developed conservation proposals that deserve serious consideration and action by Congress."

BLM Director Bob Abbey noted that the BLM currently manages more than 245 million acres of land nationwide, primarily in 12 western states. Since the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, Congress has designated approximately 8,700,000 acres of BLM land as wilderness—equating to just roughly 3.5 percent of the land that the BLM manages.

"As we continue our push to responsibly expand oil, gas, coal, solar, wind, geothermal, and other resource development on public land, we also have a responsibility to expand the backcountry recreational and outdoor opportunities that generate billions of dollars in revenue for local economies across the West," said Abbey. "Resource development and resource protection go hand in hand and, in fact, are part of a proud bipartisan tradition on which I hope Congress will build."

Public lands managed by the Department of the Interior draw more than 400 million visits a year. According to some recent non-governmental estimates, outdoor recreation supports as many as 6.5 million jobs and provides as much as $1 trillion in annual economic benefits. Congressional designations, such as national conservation areas and wilderness areas, attract additional visitation, tourism and visitor spending in local communities.

To read Secretary Salazar’s cover letter for the recommendations, click here.

To read Secretary Salazar’s backcountry recommendations, click here.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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