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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

Carrizo Plain National Monument

At 250,000 acres, the new Carrizo Plain National Monument represents a fraction of the multimillion-acre expanse of fertile, rolling grassland that once dominated California's San Joaquin Valley. This untouched area remains a vital oasis for birds, ungulates, and humans seeking big views and solitude. Soda Lake hosts 5,000 sandhill cranes in winter. Pronghorn antelope and tule elk roam the hills. Threatened and endangered species like the San Joaquin kit fox, bluntnose leopard lizard, Nelson's antelope squirrel, and giant kangaroo rat hang on here-their last remaining stronghold. Carrizo also contains one of the best-visible exposures of the geologically unique San Andreas fault. While there are two active leases within the plain, the national monument's enabling legislation, passed in January 2001, bans any new drilling.

Hike it: There are few trails in Carrizo, but the undulating grassland is ideal for cross-country travel. For bird-watching, strike out toward Soda Lake. For bird's-eye views, try the summit trail in the Caliente Mountain Wilderness Study Area.

Save it: A recent USGS report listed the Carrizo Plain as having "potential" for oil and gas reserves. But energy companies will have to overturn a BLM plan that prohibits granting new drilling leases. Contact the BLM and your congressional representatives to voice support for the current plan.

Contact: BLM Bakersfield Field Office, (661) 391-6000; California/Nevada Regional Office, The Wilderness Society, (415) 561-6641;

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

From the hiking routes beyond Caribou Pass, the views in Alaska's Brooks Range go on forever. Or for just 6 months, if you're looking for oil. That's how much crude, by several estimates, lies beneath the tundra-3.2 billion barrels, or enough to supply the demands of the United States for 6 months. "Developing the Arctic refuge would be a senseless act equivalent to burning a painting by Picasso to warm yourself," says The Wilderness Society's Allen Smith. Sticking the biological heart of the refuge with oil-derrick needles would destroy habitat for caribou, disrupt nesting grounds for migratory birds, endanger the traditional subsistence lifestyle of the Gwich'in people, and mar one of the last great Arctic hikes in the country.

Hike it: The best hiking is on the shoulders of the Brooks Range, through which you can watch the caribou stream on their way to and from the calving grounds on the coastal plain.

Save it: Any drilling will require an act of Congress. Write your congressional delegates, Secretary of the Interior Norton, and the president.

Contact: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, (907) 456-0250; Alaska Regional Office, The Wilderness Society, (907) 272-9453;

Wilderness Yellow Pages

The president:
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500
White House Comment Line:
(202) 456-1414
Fax: (202) 456-2461

The secretary of the interior:
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C St. NW
Washington, DC 20240
(202) 208-3100

Your U.S. senators:
The Honorable (Name)
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-3121

Your U.S. representatives:
The Honorable (Name)
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 224-3121

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