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Backpacker Magazine – August 2001

Hike To Protect Wilderness From Drilling

How many miles of trail or acres of wilderness will we sacrifice for a tank of gas? Here's a look at eight threatened wildernesses and what you can do to stop the drilling.

by: Jeff Rennicke

It's dawn in Carrizo Plain National Monument, the last wild remnant of California's San Joaquin Valley grassland. You've trekked here to witness the abundant wildlife, but as you stir in your sleeping bag, the rumble of tanker trucks ferrying oil out of the monument drowns the dulcet tones of birdsong.

How could this be happening in a national monument, a "crown jewel" of central California?

It isn't happening just yet, but the trucks could be rolling past some of the most glorious trails in America by next summer. President George W. Bush's administration has put the Carrizo Plain, Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Montana's Rocky Mountain Front, and a host of other wildlands in the crosshairs of its new energy plan. Only you can prevent the drilling. Lace up your boots, go hiking in these threatened areas, and get to know what's at stake. Then tell your congressional representatives that such rare and irreplaceable wildlands should never be marred by energy development (see "Wilderness Yellow Pages" at end of article for contact information).

Badger-Two Medicine Wilderness Study Area

Dawn. In the slanting light, a grizzly strides down the Rocky Mountain Front and onto the Great Plains. Once a common sight in the West, this wild scene now unfolds in only a few places, like Montana's 128,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine area. Long held sacred by the Blackfeet, this wilderness study area is considered the flagship of Montana's unprotected wildlands. Oil leases nearly blanket the area, but at least three drilling permits have been successfully beaten back. And local preservationists are fighting mad. "These Texans need to learn how a Montana grizzly responds when someone backs her into a corner and tries to take space that belongs to her kids," says John Gatchell of the Montana Wilderness Association. "Remember that mama grizz when Bush makes his move."

Hike it: South Badger Creek Trail leads to a network of paths covering Badger-Two Medicine's backcountry.

Save it: The Department of the Interior may try to overturn a decision by former Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Gloria Flora not to sell new federal oil and gas leases on the Rocky Mountain Front. Contact your congressional delegates, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, and President Bush to keep the area protected.

Contact: Montana Wilderness Association, (406) 443-7350; The Wilderness Society, (800) 843-9453;

"This area is not new to oil and gas controversy. If they try to go into the Rocky Mountain Front, they'll start a holy war in Montana."

-Bob Ekey, The Wilderness Society

Kaiparowits Plateau, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Deep canyons, matchless isolation, and some of the purest air around are all good reasons to trek through the 1.7-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. There are few other places where adventurous hikers can have a little piece of red rock to themselves for 1 week or 5.

But hundreds of mining claims and oil leases remain valid within the monument's boundaries, and new tax breaks might result in more exploratory wells near popular backcountry destinations like Kodachrome Basin and Hole in the Rock Road, which leads to famed Escalante trailheads like Coyote Gulch. Coal and titanium mines have also been proposed, and would result in heavy truck traffic around nearby Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon.

Hike it: Explore the Kaiparowits in John Henry or Wesses Canyon, or near Last Chance Creek via the Smokey Mountain Recreation Road off UT 89 south of Kanab.

Save it: Changing the monument's boundaries or management plan to allow new development would require congressional action. Alert Secretary of the Interior Norton, President Bush, and your congressional representatives to your views.

Contact: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Interagency Office, (435) 826-5499;

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