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Adventure Travel

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.

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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;


Teton Peaks-Choteau Mountain Wilderness Study Area

Wildlife thrives here: There are more than three dozen active eagle and falcon nests, mountain goats drift like morning clouds on the sunlit face of Mt. Frazier, and grizzlies migrate to winter den sites through Blackleaf Canyon. Hikers do well, too, what with five major routes leading into the Bob Marshall Wilderness from this 61,000-acre wildland.

Unfortunately, oil companies have left their tracks. Even though 95 percent of the Rocky Mountain Front is already open for oil and gas leasing, at least six exploratory wells have been drilled and then capped (with no production). Included in at least eight wilderness proposals since 1984, this area will need that federal designation if the only future tracks are to be those of hikers and wildlife.

Hike it: Try a high, rugged loop by connecting Headquarters Creek and Route Creek Passes with trails along the Middle and South Forks of the Teton River.

Save it: Not a single acre of federal wilderness has been designated on the Rocky Mountain Front. Contact your congressional delegation and ask for protection for the Teton Peaks-Choteau Mountain area as well as other Rocky Mountain Front wildlands.

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


Bridger-Teton National Forest

Blessed with high peaks, evergreen and aspen forests, and abundant wildflowers, Bridger-Teton still hosts species that lived here in pre-European days, including wolves, grizzlies, wolverines, and lynx. It’s also summer home to Greater Yellowstone’s elk herds. But the oil industry wants 370,000 acres.

“These areas form a crescent around the Gros Ventre Wilderness,” explains Franz Camenzind, Ph.D., executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. “If this were to be leased, it would isolate the Teton Wilderness, the Gros Ventre Wilderness, and the Wind River Mountains from each other and the rest of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem,” to the detriment of solitude and wildlife.

Hike it: From WY 26/287, take Trail 3079 south up Split Rock Creek to Maverick Creek. Off-trail side trips up Tripod Peak and Two Ocean Mountain offer good overviews of the disputed country.

Save it: The Forest Service will soon decide whether to prohibit oil and gas leasing, as requested by 98 percent of the more than 13,000 citizens who commented on a pending management plan. Call your congressional representatives and the Forest Service.

Contact: Bridger-Teton National Forest, (307) 739-5500; Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, (307) 733-9417;

“This is a major part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. If we can’t protect this, here, there’s no place left to protect.”

-Franz Camenzind, Executive Director, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance


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)


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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