Welcome to the third interview in our series on Wilderness Defense throughout the West. We give 10% of all of our profits to these organizations and wanted to take some time to hear directly from them on all the ways they’re fighting the good fight. Check here to read the other interviews in the series and please, find your own ways to contribute to the preservation of wilderness!
Today we’re talking to Dan Sealy, Vice-President, At-Large at the Northcoast Environmental Center. The Center’s mission is to “promote understanding of the relations between people and the biosphere and to conserve, protect, and celebrate terrestrial, aquatic, and marine ecosystems of northern California and southern Oregon.” Visit their site for more information on their good work.
JR: What is the Northwest California Mountains and Rivers Proposal and why is it important?
NEC: It’s an ad hoc collection of conservation groups working to encourage our Congressman, Jared Huffman, to introduce some pretty broad-in-scope legislation, the glue of which is the possibility of adding over 300,000 acres to our wilderness system and miles to our Wild & Scenic Rivers. Outdoor recreation has become a primary economic driver for our region. As lovers of wilderness and the wild are finding traditional places of retreat and adventure more and more crowded, our northern wilderness areas and parks become points of confluence. We are committed to assuring these places are there for generations of retreat seekers. We think this is an important window of opportunity.
Congressman Huffman has been a refreshing proponent of conservation and we have US Senators and a President who have a record of commitment to this vision. A coalition of local businesses, community leaders and grass-roots conservationists are poised to claim wild lands for future generations. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we need to say loudly and clearly, “These lands are sacred. Don’t screw around with them.”
Also, it is important to know this bill has grown beyond just wilderness and wild rivers protection. We are also requesting new plans for increased recreation and better fire and forest management of our public lands. We believe all these components will result in better watershed protection to sustain tribal and other communities and protect fish.
JR: What are the obstacles to designating new wilderness areas and assuring rivers are wild?
NEC: We are each our own obstacle unless we speak up and do something to save wilderness. It is easy fear the wild. It is easy to say we need to keep wilderness at arm’s length. That is embedded in our culture. Some politicians look at forests primarily as economic drivers for the lumber to build. Our region has been decimated by the failed practices of timber companies who have clear-cut our lands and then moved on to other corporate interests. We respect the viability of building homes from sustainable forests and harvesting our renewable resources in such a way as to provide jobs for our communities, but we also need to protect our watersheds, our fisheries, our recreation economy— even our ability to see nature and be restored by it. Our obstacle is defying the corporate sound bites of fear. We believe if people know and see the value of wilderness, they will work to save wilderness and wild rivers for this and future generations— that is our inspiration. That said, we’re not demonizing the timber industry. The world is not just a list of dichotomous decisions, it’s a world of endless opportunity; we can use sustainable practices on production lands as well as save forests. We believe wilderness and wild rivers are an increasingly important part of our future.
The obstacle? High-powered corporate messaging to stop wilderness protection and apathy among those who care, but aren’t doing anything. We are working closely with our communities and businesses to bring them along with us and many are supporting us but, of course, there are always special interest groups that will try to block any new wilderness designations. We are carefully working our way to the point where we can hand off a proposal to our congressional delegation to protect these lands, increase all recreation opportunities, and increase our programs to look at tribal means of better managing fire and logged forests.
JR: Describe the strategy of not going through the Antiquities Act?
NEC: The Antiquities Act is one of the most important tools for preserving natural and cultural areas that are at risk, but only Congress has the authority to designate wilderness. I worked for several years at Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, California. Muir Woods was accepted by President Teddy Roosevelt as a gift from William and Elizabeth Kent to the people of the United States, by way of the Antiquities Act. It was one of the first 8 National monuments and was in imminent peril of being logged. Roosevelt got a lot of flak for using the Antiquities Act, but think of the millions of people who have been inspired by that small, 800 acre forest managed by the National Park Service. On a practical level, think of the many, many millions of dollars that National Monument has brought to the economy of the Bay Area. The Grand Canyon is another example of the success of the Antiquities Act.
So by all means, we support the Antiquities Act. However, all of the lands we are asking to designate as wilderness are already public. We, the American people, own them. Now only Congress can provide them with this level of protection and declare them wilderness. The President can save threatened lands and resources under the Antiquities Act but only Congress can actually designate the places as wilderness— they need to show some spine and do this. We are willing to do the work to gather a huge ground swell to tell Congress, “Save these places. Do it because it is right, because it secures our personal, ecological, spiritual and yes, even our economic health for all the future generations rather than desecrating it for short term economic gain by a few.”
JR: How is the NEC involved in the passing of this initiative?
NEC: We love the outdoors and nature. Our members have voluntarily dedicated themselves to help in preserving our home, Northwestern California. Three members of the current NEC Board— the President, Vice President and Trinity County representative— have hosted meetings in their homes, engaged in weekly strategic meetings, garnered letters of support and headed up The Hill to visit our Congressional representatives, all to prepare for this legislation. In a survey NEC conducted last year we asked our members what their priorities are— wilderness was the on the top of the list.
But once we destroy the lands and build on them, they can no longer be wilderness. This is the challenge for this generation. We have inherited the wilderness from our elders and NEC is here to help this generation do the same. This year the NEC celebrates 45 years of being a force of education to inform the public about conservation in our region and lead campaigns to protect our coast, our bay, our forests, our rivers, and to create parks and wilderness areas. We are bringing all that to this latest campaign.
JR: What can people do to get involved?
NEC: We need to show Congressman Huffman and other supporters that we have their back. We need to tell them that this is important to all of us but that they alone have the authority to make it happen. We all have to choose our battles and we can help congress choose this specific battle. We will make sure congressman Huffman and his supporters succeed.
You can find examples of letters, instructions on how to send them, and learn more about our work by visiting the Northwest California Mountains and rivers website
You can also follow us on the NEC website.
We are a coalition of local conservation organizations. Four times a year we publish the EcoNews online and in print. Join the NEC and show we have strength in numbers. Visit our wilderness areas and tell your elected representatives why they are important to you.