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BY BRIAN GEIGER
The 2011 conference at Snowbird provided the Pew Environment Group with a welcome opportunity to introduce OWAA members to the proposed White Pine Wilderness and to talk about how and why Pew goes about the work of giving some shared public lands the “gold standard” of protection.
Snowbird is in the middle of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest and is adjacent to areas proposed for wilderness designation by Save Our Canyons, a local conservation group, and a host of area stakeholders. Legislation to safeguard the area — the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act — was introduced in the last Congress by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
Pew began their post-conference hike at the trail head about a mile from the Cliff Lodge. A group of OWAA members joined Save Our Canyons Executive Director Carl Fisher, Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities watershed specialist Laura Briefer and Pew staffers Dave Bard, Brian Geiger and Lindsay Woods. They took a morning walk up the White Pine trail, still wet from the record snowpack, and hiked along swiftly flowing creeks, across patchy snow and past several talus fields blanketing the mountainsides.
The popular Wasatch-Cache National Forest attracts more visitors each year than does Yellowstone National Park. Its high alpine landscape provides spectacular views, clean water and phenomenal recreation opportunities. The area is a critical habitat for a number of animal and plant species, including moose, black bear and golden eagles. Ecological continuity is the key to sustaining these species. Unfortunately, the current landscape and boundaries are fragmented, which can interfere with species migration.
Legislation to protect this part of the forest, which serves as the watershed for more than 60 percent of area residents, is the result of locally-driven efforts by officials, ski resort owners, the mountain biking community, small-business owners, conservationists, heli-skiing operators and residents.
Working with stakeholders to develop a legislative proposal from the ground up is a hallmark of the Pew Environment Group’s wilderness work. If local interests are satisfied that their issues are being heard and addressed, the likelihood that their members of Congress will champion a proposal and that Congress will adopt it is greatly enhanced.
The legislation that emerged is a balanced measure that preserves recreation opportunities, provides certainty for businesses, sustains the Salt Lake regional watershed and permanently protects incredible swaths of the Wasatch range for future generations to enjoy. At this year’s conference, a handful of OWAA members and Pew staff saw firsthand why preserving this area is vital for the region’s residents and visitors alike. For more information,
Brian Geiger is manager of Pew Environment Group’s Campaign for America’s Wilderness. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.