4 Wild Places You Can Save.…and How To Do It

As I write these words, sev­er­al key wild places are under threat. It’s time to buck­le down and act.

Of course, that’s eas­i­er said than done. The threats to these wild places are big and com­plex. In some cas­es, they’ve been build­ing for years; in oth­ers, what out­doors lovers notched as a vic­to­ry years ago—or in one case, decades—has sud­den­ly become under threat again. And processes—laws, poli­cies, man­age­ment plans, and lawsuits—move slow­ly. Sav­ing these places is a long haul.

That’s the bad news. Now here’s the good news. First of all, you don’t have to be an expert—each of these places has a “quar­ter­back”: an orga­ni­za­tion or coali­tion that has been orga­niz­ing peo­ple, fol­low­ing the process, and nav­i­gat­ing the detailed world of Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ments, Dam releas­es for salmon, and oth­er details. The sec­ond is that all of these places have ben­e­fits more than just to wildlife. They pro­vide real, tan­gi­ble eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits that sus­tain people’s liveli­hoods.

Here’s where they are, and what you can do, and who to con­tact

Baby Bear in Bristol Bay, Alaska

Bris­tol Bay, Alas­ka
Why does it mat­ter? Bris­tol Bay is in the south­west cor­ner of Alaska—a remote, rugged place many of us will like­ly nev­er vis­it. But even if we don’t we still ben­e­fit from it. Bris­tol Bay is far and away the great­est salmon fish­ery in the world. Alas­ka pro­duces 80% of the world’s sup­ply of wild sock­eye, king and Coho salmon—and Bris­tol Bay is its largest fish­ery. Last year, the Bay pro­duces 43 mil­lion salmon, worth $283 mil­lion alone—and that’s just the val­ue of the fish, not the long eco­nom­ic rip­ple effect of fish­ing salaries and the invest­ment in boats and gear. Alas­ka set Bris­tol Bay aside decades ago as a fish­eries reserve.

The Threat? The threat is a pro­pos­al called the Peb­ble Mine, which would mine 11 bil­lion tons of cop­per and gold upstream of Bris­tol Bay. Min­ing gold and cop­per is a nasty busi­ness, involv­ing tox­ic mine tail­ings. After the Mount Pol­ley Mine Dis­as­ter in 2014 when a dam hold­ing back tail­ings failed and released arsenic and sele­ni­um into British Columbia’s Cari­boo Riv­er, the Oba­ma White House killed the Peb­ble Mine. But the Trump admin­is­tra­tion revived it. The mon­ey from salmon fish­eries is worth far more than the rev­enue the mine would gen­er­ate, but fish don’t have the same cor­po­rate lob­by­ists.

What’s Hap­pen­ing Now? The EPA recent­ly released a Draft Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment that large­ly ignored stud­ies that showed there would be no way to oper­ate the mine with­out dam­ag­ing salmon runs. Fish­ing and envi­ron­men­tal busi­ness­es, includ­ing many out­door com­pa­nies, are like­ly to sue.

Who To Con­tact to Help? Save Bris­tol Bay

Canoes in the Wilderness

Bound­ary Waters Canoe Wilder­ness, Min­neso­ta
Why does it mat­ter? The Bound­ary Waters is the most fre­quent­ly vis­it­ed wilder­ness area in the world. It holds 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 2000 des­ig­nat­ed camp­sites, and pop­u­la­tions of moose, loons, and oth­er wildlife in 1.1 mil­lion acres—and that’s only part of a larg­er wilder­ness com­plex that includes Queti­co Provin­cial Park in Cana­da. Bound­ary Waters gen­er­ates $913 mil­lion in tourism every year and 17,000 jobs in north­ern Min­neso­ta.

The Threat: Anoth­er cop­per mine. This one is pro­posed upstream of the park just out­side the bound­ary, upstream, on the Kaw­ishi­wi Riv­er. The cop­per here con­tains sulfide—which, when exposed to air or water, releas­es sul­fu­ric acid.

What’s Hap­pen­ing Now? In a sto­ry that will sound famil­iar, min­ing leas­es were reject­ed by the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion but rein­stat­ed by the Trump appointees.

Who To Con­tact to Help?

Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch

Grand Stair­case-Escalante and Bears’ Ears Nation­al Mon­u­ments, Utah.
Why does it mat­ter? Immor­tal­ized by the writ­ings of Edward Abbey and the explor­er Everett Ruess, these mon­u­ments are a com­plex maze of redrock canyons that can absorb decades of back­pack­ing, moun­tain bik­ing, and canyoneer­ing. In 1996, Bill Clin­ton, under the Antiq­ui­ties Act, declared Grand Stair­case-Escalante a Nation­al Mon­u­ment; Oba­ma fol­lowed suit with Bears’ Ears. In the ensu­ing years, out­fit­ting busi­ness­es have sprung up in near­by towns like Kanab, Escalante, and Boul­der, UT.

The Threat: In 2017, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion issued a procla­ma­tion shrink­ing the bound­aries of the Mon­u­ment that Clin­ton had estab­lished, and open­ing many areas inside the mon­u­ment and out­side the new bor­ders to oil and gas drilling. But the threat is actu­al­ly a threat to all Nation­al Mon­u­ments. Trump issued this by procla­ma­tion, with­out going through Con­gress. The Antiq­ui­ties Act, which gave the Pres­i­dent author­i­ty to cre­ate Nation­al Mon­u­ments with the stroke of a pen, didn’t give them the right to elim­i­nate or shrink them—which means it could hap­pen any­where.

What’s Hap­pen­ing Now? This one will inevitably wind its way through the court sys­tem, which will be expen­sive for con­ser­va­tion groups. When the Gov­er­nor of Utah refused to defend the mon­u­ments, despite a huge por­tion of the state’s econ­o­my com­ing from out­door recre­ation, the out­door indus­try flexed its mus­cles, mov­ing the lucra­tive Out­door Retail­er trade show to Col­orado.

Who To Con­tact to Help? Grand Canyon Trust

Forest river landscape

Willamette Riv­er, Ore­gon
Why does it mat­ter? 70% of Oregon’s pop­u­la­tion lives along the Willamette Riv­er, which flows through the heart of Ore­gon: name­ly the cities of Eugene, Spring­field, Cor­val­lis, Salem, and Port­land.

The Threat: Salmon pop­u­la­tions in the Willamette sys­tem, with clear, cool spawn­ing streams high in the Cas­cades, are dwin­dling due to the way the dams in the Willamette Basin are oper­at­ed. What was once an esti­mat­ed annu­al run of near­ly 400,000 spring Chi­nook salmon up the Willamette has dwin­dled to a few thou­sand nat­u­ral­ly repro­duc­ing fish. Most of the dams are oper­at­ed by the Army Corps of Engi­neers, which affect the move­ment of salmon, both as they head to the sea and return to spawn. The Corps has been slow to make improve­ments for fish pas­sage and to adjust flows to allow salmon to move down­stream and return from the sea.

What’s Hap­pen­ing Now? A coali­tion of fish­ing groups, riv­er con­ser­va­tion­ists, and com­mu­ni­ties along the riv­er are pres­sur­ing the Corps to improve their man­age­ment.

Who To Con­tact to Help? Willamette River­keep­er