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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

Jack Morrow Hills, Red Desert

Superlatives come easy when describing this hidden corner of the Great Divide Basin in southwestern Wyoming. This is a mosaic of badlands, old-growth sage, sand dunes, and pocket pine forests. It contains the second-largest moving dune system on Earth and the Boars Tusk, an odd granite spire linked to Shoshone creation legends. Mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and desert elk roam here, undertaking the longest remaining land migration in the Lower 48. Of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) 18 million acres in Wyoming, 17 million already are open to drilling and mineral leasing, but the energy industry is seeking to open 600,000 acres in this region.

Hike it: Hike Honeycomb Buttes for badlands and rainbow-colored hoodoos. Or explore Oregon Buttes, with its lush high-elevation aspens and limber pines, black bears, and moose. Or, check out Steamboat Mountain, where the desert elk herd their calves among the old-growth sage.

Save it: The vast majority of public comments received about a pending management plan for Jack Morrow Hills has supported a ban on oil and gas leasing. Once the BLM releases its decision, either conservationists or industry will appeal. Put another vote in the no-drilling column by calling the BLM.

Contact: BLM Rock Springs Field Office, (307) 352-0256;

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument

If Lewis and Clark were to repeat their historic journey today, the only part they'd recognize is the undeveloped landscape in Montana's Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. The 377,000-acre preserve encompasses the premier segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, as well as a vast northern prairie where hikers find the same odd-shaped rock formations, sculpted badlands, and scenic campsites that Lewis and Clark described in their journals. "The threat is huge and the gain is negligible," says The Wilderness Society's Betsy Buffington of the impact of extracting what's estimated to be a small amount of natural gas.

Hike it: Paddling 150 miles of the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic River from Fort Benton to US 191 is the prime backcountry trip in the monument. For hiking, explore the "Bullwacker," a trail-less region north of the river where energy companies want to drill.

Save it: The legislation creating the monument prohibits issuing new oil and gas leases, but the BLM needs a management plan to enforce the restrictions. Contact the BLM and your congressional representatives to urge them to fund the planning process.

Contact: BLM Lewistown Field Office, (406) 538-7461; Northern Rockies Regional Office, The Wilderness Society, (406) 586-1600;

"If you think billions of barrels of oil will stay in the ground, you're smoking pot."

-Rep. Don Young (R-AK)

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