On Earth Day, April 22, we celebrated a healthy planet and joined with other Americans to do something to improve our environment. It's a chance to express our appreciation for reasonable rules that help us:
- Keep our air and water clear and clean.
- Go farther in our cars on a gallon of gas.
- Rely more on clean, renewable sources of electricity.
- Protect our natural heritage.
It's the one day that crystallizes our collective yearning to enhance the quality of our lives today and to leave the world a better place for those who will follow us. That includes saving some places as wilderness, and I'd like to introduce you to four good candidates:
- The San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
- The Rocky Mountain Front in Montana.
- The Pine Forest Range in Nevada.
- The Rogue River watershed in Oregon.
The San Juan mountain range is one of the most geologically diverse in the world and is home to the threatened Canada lynx, Gunnison sage grouse, and Colorado River cutthroat trout. Legislation to add 33,000 acres to a 480,000-acre designated wilderness is supported by local communities, elected officials, ranchers, and recreation groups.
A rustic marvel of vast, unspoiled land can be found where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains in Montana. Proposed legislation would add 50,500 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness there, add 16,700 acres to the Scapegoat Wilderness, and establish a 208,000-acre conservation management area to meet the needs of local ranchers. Nevada's Pine Forest Range, near the Oregon line, is popular with outdoor enthusiasts, especially hunters and anglers. These peaks are prime habitat for mule deer, chukar partridge, and endangered sage grouse. Fishermen value the chain of glacial lakes that support thriving populations of rainbow, brook, and native cutthroat trout. New legislation would protect 26,000 acres of that habitat.
Roughly 100 miles of the Rogue River in Oregon would gain wild and scenic protection and 58,000 acres would be safeguarded as designated wilderness by a proposal supported by fishermen and rafters because their livelihoods depend on the Rogue's internationally renowned outdoor recreational opportunities. The place also provides habitat for river otters, ospreys, elk, and threatened spotted owls.
Why spotlight these four places? Because they are the focus of legislation moving through Congress, were the subject of a recent Senate hearing, and have bipartisan support. It's also because there are unsung heroes in each of the four efforts who work day after day -- not just on Earth Day -- to promote protection for these wild lands. Dave Strahan, a businessman from Grants Pass, Ore., flew across the country to speak in support of the Rogue bill before a Senate committee last month. Jim Jeffress, a retired Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist now with Trout Unlimited, is a leader in the effort to safeguard the Pine Forest Range. Joe Perry, a farmer from Brady, Mont., is fighting to preserve the Rocky Mountain Front. And Colorado teacher Rhonda Claridge started the campaign to protect the San Juan Mountains. They're making excellent progress toward leaving the world a better place.
The House also recently held hearings on wilderness bills for Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico and for islands off the coast of Maine. That's a notable step forward for six pieces of legislation that would leave future generations a lasting legacy of our nation's natural heritage, which is certainly worth celebrating on this year's Earth Day.
Another way to underscore the importance of safeguarding our nation's last wild places is to get outside enjoy the treasures these spots hold. It's a chance to revel in the purple majesty of the San Juan Mountains in the predawn light or evening alpenglow. It could be the opportunity of a lifetime to see a grizzly bear in its natural habitat, just as Lewis and Clark witnessed on their epic cross-country exploration past the Rocky Mountain Front of Montana. How about casting a fly on the Rogue's fabled trout waters? Or simply hiking above the desert in the cool woods of the Pine Forest Range in Nevada?
Honestly, that's what I like to do on Earth Day each year. Our family tries to live as if every day is Earth Day, so we make sure to get out and visit some of our planet's still wild, remote, natural places. It seems a fitting way to celebrate that we still have such places in today's fast-paced, technologically saturated world. With the kids in tow, it also seems an appropriate reminder of why we work with Dave Strahan, Jim Jeffress, Joe Perry, Rhonda Claridge, and others like them to keep these places just as they are, so fishing, rafting, hiking, and camping opportunities will be available for decades to come.
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