Newsletter Archive

July 21, 2006

Dear CalUWild friends –

There’s good news and bad news on the Western wilderness front this month, so please read on and write letters or make phone calls as needed. Please note: A couple of the items are URGENT. We try hard not to include last minute pleas, but sometimes they are unavoidable.

Item 2 discusses the passage of the North Coast Wilderness Bill by the House Resources Committee this week. At the same hearing, the committee also passed two other bills. One would designate some 77,000 acres of wilderness in the Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon.

The second bill is more controversial: the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA), sponsored by Rep. Mike Simpson (R) of Idaho. CIEDRA would designate 315,000 acres of wilderness in the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains. However, it also transfers lands to local counties and cities to be sold off for development. In other words, land belonging to all of us is being given to finance purely local projects. The bill has caused a split within the conservation community, with The Wilderness Society and Idaho Conservation League supporting the legislation, while the Sierra Club, Wilderness Watch, and the Idaho Wildlife Federation oppose it.

Although the bill was reportedly crafted by a locally-driven consensus process, the result is one that sets a bad precedent for future wilderness bills. CalUWild is very concerned with the accelerating trend toward privatization of publicly-owned resources, as well as weak or even harmful management language for newly designated wilderness areas. Both of these are serious concerns with CIEDRA, and for those reasons we have decided to oppose this legislation in its current form. We’ll keep you posted as the bill makes its way through Congress.

It’s a shaping up to be a hot summer here in California, so I hope you are able to get away to the mountains or the coast for some cooler weather and enjoy the outdoors.

Thanks for writing your letters in support of wilderness!


1. Flawed Public Lands Bill
Introduced for Washington County
Contact Sen. Feinstein

2. North Coast Wilderness Bill Passes Resources Committee
3. Eagle Lake BLM Planning
4. Court Rules Against Dams in Emigrant Wilderness


1. Flawed Public Lands Bill
Introduced for Washington County
Contact Sen. Feinstein

Capping off the last few months of speculation, Sen. Bob Bennett (R) of Utah last week introduced the Washington County Growth and Conservation Act (S.3606). Despite public misgivings and outcry over the original proposal, Sen. Bennett made few changes in the legislation between the time it was unveiled and its introduction. The House version (H.R.5769) was introduced by Rep. Jim Matheson (D).

The bill would:

• Sell off or exchange at least 24,300 acres of public land.

• Use the revenue from the sale of federal public lands to pay out millions (perhaps much more) to local governmental entities for activities like road building and water developments rather than using the funds to buy inholdings or restore habitat.

• Deny protection for the most at-risk wild lands in the Zion-Mojave proposed wilderness. Over 200,000 acres of Zion-Mojave wilderness quality lands—proposed as wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (H.R. 1774/S. 882)—are left unprotected.

• Strip protection from over 15 square miles of congressionally protected wilderness study areas.

• Fragment public lands with a network of corridors and routes for pipelines, roads, and utilities.

• Authorize the creation of an off-road vehicle trail system across the county at the expense of other recreational interests.

• Undermine important environmental laws that ensure public participation and environmental review.

The bill is being referred to the Senate Environment & Natural Resources Committee, of which California’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein is a member. There may be a hearing on the bill as early as next week. It is important that Sen. Feinstein have the backing of her constituents if she is to stand up for the protection of public lands. Therefore, she needs to hear from Californians regarding their concerns about the bill. Sen. Feinstein was the champion of the California Desert Protection Act in 1994. Unfortunately, Sen. Bennett’s bill does not afford the same protections to Utah’s corner of the Mojave Desert that Sen. Feinstein’s did to California. She should work to rectify that in the Committee.

At this point, it is probably best to fax Sen. Feinstein at her Washington, DC office:


You can also write to one of her California offices:

One Post St., Suite 2450
San Francisco, CA 94104


11111 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 915
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Finally, you can phone her at:


Thank you for helping to protect Wild Utah!

2. North Coast Wilderness Bill Passes Resources Committee

On Tuesday of this week, the House Resources Committee approved Rep. Mike Thompson’s (D-1) Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act (H.R.233). It now goes to the full House for a vote. The bill already passed the Senate (S.128) last year.

The committee changed a few of the wilderness boundaries due to some local concerns, but overall the bill enjoys support from a broad spectrum of the public and government officials, both local and state.

Now is the time to contact your congressional representative and tell him or her that the bill will be coming up for a House vote and urge a vote in favor of it. A full listing of contact information for California congressional offices may be found on CalUWild’s website.

URGENT NOTE: Just as this Update was being sent out, word came in that the bill will probably be voted on in the House on Tuesday, along with the other bills mentioned above. Please call your representative first thing Monday morning.

3. Eagle Lake BLM Planning

All across the West, the Bureau of Land Management is updating its “Resource Management Plans” (RMPs) These plans are critically important because they will guide the agency’s decision-making for the next 15 -20 years. It is therefore important that the public be involved in the development of the plans.

Among the least visited areas of California is its northeast corner, which still contains many wild and remote areas. The three BLM field offices in the area are updating their RMPs, providing an excellent opportunity for citizens to provide input. Sorry for the short deadline—unfortunately information has been slow in reaching us, so we are able to share comment suggestions regarding only one of them: Eagle Lake.

We are hoping to have more information for the Surprise and Alturas Field Offices in the immediate future, so if you are interested in commenting on those, please send an e-mail to, and we’ll send it to you right away!

The following information comes from the California Wilderness Coalition and Vicky Hoover at the Sierra Club.

Please help protect northeastern California’s and northwestern Nevada’s remote high desert region!

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released a Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for three field offices in Northeast California and northwest Nevada. This alert deals only with one of these, the Eagle Lake Field Office.

The Eagle Lake Field Office in northeastern California’s Lassen, Sierra and Plumas Counties and northwestern Nevada’s Washoe County. The BLM has stewardship responsibility over 1,022,767 acres (1,598 square-miles) of grasslands, sagebrush flats, deep canyons, steep mountains, innumerable caves, and spires of volcanic rock in this region. Herds of pronghorn antelope, Rocky Mountain elk, and mule deer graze this rugged landscape, while golden eagles ply the winds above and sage grouse flit quietly from shrub to shrub. When the Draft RMP is finalized, it will serve as the BLM’s blueprint for managing the region over the next decade or more.

Sadly, over the years this region has been slowly filled with roads for mining, to support livestock grazing, for utility development, and for recreation. Despite this, the lands comprising the Eagle Lake Field Office still contain tens of thousands of acres of wilderness-quality lands from the rugged Skedaddle Mountains to the petroglyph-etched rocks of Tunnison Mountain. It is essential that the BLM begin managing the area as one of our nation’s most unique natural treasures and not as a region fit only for mines, livestock, powerlines, and roads.

What you can do

Your comments on the Eagle Lake Draft RMP can help influence the development of the final plan for the area. To help with this effort, please mail, fax, or e-mail a letter by July 27, 2006 to:

Eagle Lake RMP Comments
Attention: Planning Coordinator
Bureau of Land Management
Eagle Lake Field Office
2950 Riverside Drive
Susanville, CA 96130

Fax: 530-257-4831


If you have visited BLM lands in Northeast California or Northwest Nevada, such as the “Buffalo /Smoke” Hills or the Skedaddle Mts., let BLM know of your personal experience.

In your letter, please thank the BLM for proposing to:

• Close roads in several wilderness study areas.

• Allow fires to play an important role in maintaining the high desert’s ecological health.

• Confine vehicles to designated routes.

• Manage most of the areas between open vehicle routes for non-motorized or primitive recreation.

• Designate seven areas of critical environmental concern.

• Acquire public rights of way along abandoned railroad grades so they can become non-motorized trails.

• Build new non-motorized trails.

• Manage Smoke Creek as a wild and scenic river.

These actions deserve our appreciative support! BLM may get criticisms on these proposals from people intent on maximizing motorized recreation.

Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs)

BLM proposes establishing seven new Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs) for the Eagle Lake field office area. Thank the BLM for proposing these special protective areas.

Specific ACEC issues to comment on:

1) Rights of way (for travel routes):
Thank BLM especially for excluding the proposed Pine Dunes, Susan River, Eagle Lake, North Dry Valley and Buffalo Creek ACECs from establishment of rights of way (for travel routes). Urge that the Willow Creek ACEC be excluded from any rights of way for water diversions or dam construction. The Lower Smoke Creek ACEC would be excluded from rights of way UNLESS WSA status were removed. Urge that BLM eliminate consideration of removing WSA status for this area. Also ask that the Aspen Way proposed ACEC also be closed to development of rights-of-way.

2) Recreational management (ROS Spectrum):
One proposed ACEC, Buffalo Creek, would be partly in a “primitive” and partly in a “backcountry” designation under the prescriptions for managing recreation (in agency jargon known as the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum, or ROS). “Backcountry” designation allows for motorized vehicle use, whereas “primitive” does not. So ask for the proposed Buffalo Creek ACEC to be managed entirely under the ROS category of “primitive”.

3) Visual Resources (Viewsheds):
The Susan River area is currently managed in the Visual Resource (VRM) category #II, (#I is the most strictly regulated to guard views from human development), and the RMP proposes to lower it to VRM II/III, which is undesirable. Urge BLM not to lower the VRM category in any WSA or proposed ACEC.

4) Grazing:
Pine Dunes and Susan River are closed to grazing; Eagle Lake Basin is open to limited grazing. Urge closure of Eagle Lake Basin to grazing, to protect sensitive vegetation and to put its management on the same course as Pine Dunes and Susan River.

5) OHV Management:
The Eagle Lake office proposes that all its ACECS be closed to Off-road vehicle use, or at the least that such use be kept to routes that are presently designated. This is a good plan; thank them for this foresight in managing ORV/OHV use.

Wild & Scenic Rivers
The Draft plan finds portions of the Susan River, Willow Creek, upper Smoke Creek, and lower Smoke Creek to be eligible for W&SR status, but recommends designation only for upper Smoke Creek. Ask them to recommend eligible portions of Susan River, Willow Creek, and lower Smoke Creek as well.

Sage Grouse Protection
The document includes some helpful conditions and restrictions on activity in order to protect sensitive sage grouse, but provisions are not sufficient to protect the populations in the area. The Preferred Alternative prescribes “no surface occupancy” (NSO) stipulations for oil and gas activities within .25 to .6 miles of sage grouse “leks” (courtship areas). Alternative 2, the Ecosystem Restoration Alternative, contains conflicting and unclear restrictions for oil and gas management. Please ask BLM to strengthen and clarify the protection for sage grouse.

Finally, please ask the BLM to choose Alternative 2 as its Proposed Management Plan, in the final version of the RMP rather than the present Preferred Alternative, because Alternative 2 is significantly better for the environment. However, they should modify Alternative 2 in two ways to strengthen protection for key roadless areas:

• Manage all wilderness study areas as primitive zones.

• Manage the core portions of the Observation Peak, Shaffer Mountain, Shinn Mountain, Skedaddle Flats, Skedaddle West and Snowstorm Mountain Roadless Areas as primitive zones.

If you would like more information, please contact Gordon Johnson of the California Wilderness Legacy Project at (530) 242-1912 or at

4. Court Rules Against Dams in Emigrant Wilderness

Last month, the Federal District Court in Fresno, California ruled that the Forest Service must allow small dams in the Emigrant Wilderness to deteriorate naturally.

These dams were the subject of an Action Item in a previous CalUWild Update in which we asked our members to urge the Stanislaus National Forest to do just that. Unfortunately, they decided to maintain 11 of the 18 dams, and allow six to deteriorate naturally. The dams were built in the 1920s and 30s to augment stream flows for fishery enhancement.

Wilderness Watch and the High Sierra Hikers Association filed suit, and although HSHA was removed on debatable grounds and the case moved to Fresno, the judge upheld contention that the Forest Service’s decision went against the 1964 Wilderness Act. The Forest Service has not announced whether it will appeal the decision.

Wilderness Watch made available some excerpts from the court’s opinion, which are worth sharing:

On the Forest Service argument that the Wilderness Act is ambiguous and allows agencies discretion to interpret what Congress meant by “no structures” in Wilderness:

… the text of the Wilderness Act provides no indication that Congress intended to exempt existing dams in wilderness areas from the general prohibition against “structures” or “installations.” The court must conclude the plain and unambiguous text of the Wilderness Act speaks directly to the activity at issue in this case—repairing, maintaining and operating dam “structures”—and prohibits that activity… .Based on the foregoing, the court concludes the proposed actions in this case—the repair, maintenance and operation of the dam structures—are clearly and unambiguously contrary to the provisions of the Wilderness Act.

On the Forest Service claim that it struck a balance—and that fishery enhancement legitimizes the project:

While Forest Service casts the changes brought about by the dams as achieving a balance of sorts between amphibians and fish; the fact remains that the balance is being struck between the historically established amphibious species, whose habitat is diminished in the balance, and the historically absent fish species, whose presence is the result of relatively recent human endeavor.

On the Forest Service argument that the dams meet the “recreational” purpose of Wilderness:

While fishing is an activity that is common among visitors to wilderness areas, neither fishing nor any other particular activity is endorsed by the Wilderness Act, nor is the enhancement of any particular recreational potential a necessary duty of wilderness area management … .

The wilderness that the Act seeks to preserve is not defined by reference to any particular recreational opportunity or potential utility, but rather by reference to the land’s status or condition as being “Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation [. . . .]” § 1131(c).

Because it is not possible to infer from this language that establishment (much less enhancement) of opportunities for a particular form of human recreation is the purpose of the Wilderness Act, it is not possible to conclude that enhancement of fisheries is an activity that is “necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this chapter.”

On the Forest Service argument that the dams meet the “historical” purpose of Wilderness:

Absent a declaration by Congress of the need to restore and preserve the dam structures in recognition of their historical significance, there is nothing the court can point to that would authorize such an action where the maintenance of the dams would otherwise come into conflict with the Wilderness Act.

The area manifested its wilderness characteristics before the dams were in place and would lose nothing in the way of wilderness values were the dams not present. What would be lost is some enhancement of a particular use of the area (fishing), but that use, while perhaps popular, is not an integral part of the wilderness nature of that area.

On the Forest Service argument that the dams are allowed because they are substantially unnoticeable in the Wilderness:

Defendants draw a distinction between the settlement structures in Mainella, and the dams in the instant case which, Defendants contend, are small, low, and visually integrated into the natural surroundings… . Distinctions such as unobtrusive and harmonious with the natural environment involve subjective judgments that may vary depending on the interests of the observer. The Wilderness Act’s prohibition against structures is categorical so far as the court can determine, allowing only those exceptions that are specifically set forth in the Act or in Congress’s designation of a particular wilderness area, neither of which apply here.

Finally, on Intervenor’s (California Trout) claim that the Wilderness Act isn’t a “purist manifesto”:

Interveners’ first contention is summarized completely by the heading given to the argument – “The Wilderness Act Is Not A Purist Manifesto.” [S]ubjective characterizations aside, the Wilderness Act is as close to an outcome-oriented piece of environmental legislation as exists. Unlike NEPA, or the Clean Air or Clean Water Acts, the Wilderness Act emphasizes outcome (wilderness preservation) over procedure. As such, it is as close to a “purist manifesto” as may be found in the area of environmental law.