Mike Matz: People Like You Make Earth Day Possible

Earth Day lands officially on April 22 in 2012. That's when everyone celebrates a healthy planet and joins with other Americans to do something to improve our environment. It's a chance to express our appreciation for reasonable rules that help us keep our air and water clear and clean, go farther in our cars on a gallon of gas, rely more on clean, renewable sources of electricity, and protect a lasting legacy of our natural heritage. It's the one day that crystalizes for everyone our collective yearning to enhance the quality of our lives today and to leave the world a better place for those who will follow us.

That includes saving some places as wilderness, and I'd like to introduce you to four good candidates:

  • the San Juan Mountains of Colorado
  • the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana
  • the Pine Forest Range in Nevada
  • the Rogue River watershed in Oregon

The San Juan Mountain range is one of the most geologically diverse in the world and is home to the threatened Canada lynx, Gunnison sage grouse, and Colorado River cutthroat trout. Wilderness legislation to add 33,000 acres to an existing 480,000-acre designated wilderness is supported by local communities, elected officials, ranchers, and recreation groups.

Where the Rocky Mountains sweep down toward the Great Plains in Montana, lies a rustic marvel of vastness. Wilderness legislation will add 50,500 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness here, 16,700 acres to the Scapegoat Wilderness, and will establish a 208,000-acre Conservation Management Area to meet the needs of local ranchers. Nevada's Pine Forest Range, near the border with Oregon, is popular with outdoor enthusiasts, especially hunters and anglers. These mountains are prime habitat for mule deer, harbor chukar, and endangered sage grouse. Fishermen value the chain of glacial lakes that support thriving populations of rainbow, brook, and native cutthroat trout. Wilderness legislation would protect 26,000 acres of that habitat.

Ninety-three miles of the Rogue River in Oregon would gain wild and scenic protection and 58,000 acres would be safeguarded by wilderness legislation supported by fishermen and rafters because their livelihoods depend on its internationally renowned outdoor recreational opportunities. The place also provides habitat for threatened spotted owls, river otters, osprey, and elk.

Why spotlight these four places? Because they are the focus of legislation currently moving in Congress, were the subject of a recent Senate hearing, and they find bipartisan support. It's also because there are unsung heroes in each of the four campaigns who work day after day – not just on Earth Day – to promote protection for these wild lands. Dave Strahan, a businessman from Grants Pass, Oregon, flew across the country to speak in support of the Rogue bill before the Senate Committee last month. Jim Jeffress, a retired Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist now with Trout Unlimited, is a leader in the effort to safeguard the Pine Forest Range. Joe Perry, a farmer from Brady, Montana, is fighting to preserve the Rocky Mountain Front, and Colorado teacher Rhonda Claridge started the campaign to protect the San Juan Mountains. They're making excellent progress toward leaving the world a better place.

Following on this movement ahead, the House also held hearings on wilderness bills for Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico, and for some islands off the coast of Maine. Forward progress on six. And all the people behind them. That's worth celebrating on April 22.