Conservationists are increasingly advocating protecting entire ecosystems as the way forward to preserve what remains of America's irreplaceable wilderness. This goal requires a bold vision of what the future could be and the political courage to begin implementing it now, before its too late. Much of the Northern Rockies already has some level of protection, but it is a patchwork of relatively small to medium size chunks of a still beautiful landscape, often referred to as "America's Serengeti". NREPA, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, was recently introduced for the first time into the Senate with significant sponsorship (S.3022). The Act intends to connect the existing wilderness ecosystems with biological corridors that will protect wildlife and encourage biodiversity [map]. This landscape still contains all the species present at the time Lewis & Clark explored it on behalf of a new United States still hugging the Atlantic coast. Twenty million acres of untouched forest remain, but not for long if these biological gems do not receive legal protection from development. 1800 miles of river and stream which empty into three different oceans will be protected as wild and scenic, thus insuring migration routes for salmon, steelhead, cutthroat and native bull trout while simultaneous protecting downstream water quality.
credit: Derek Reich
Contrary to the usual objections from conservatives, the legislation will not "lock up" public lands. Historical uses of the land for hunting, fishing and grazing will continue; fifty percent of the public land affected by NREPA will be managed for sustainable multiple use. In fact NREPA will save the federal government money since it will no longer have to subsidize clear cutting timber sales and road building in the region; in the first ten years $245 million is estimated to be saved. Logging is not only a money looser, it hugely contributes to sedimentation of streams, considered by the Fish & Wildlife Service to be the most important factor in degrading water quality. Habitat fragmentation by roads also adversely elk and bear populations. We all pay for these disruptions eventually. Recent research shows each logging job costs $1.6 million in lost carbon storage.
credit: Alliance for the Wild Rockies
To be expected, parochial interests in the states hosting these natural assets prevent their congressional delegations from supporting NREPA, but the bill has many influential scientific supporters and political sponsors including elder statesmen former President Jimmy Carter and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming delegations did not support Yellowstone or Grand Tetons National Parks, but then they were on the wrong side of history. NREPA will establish two study areas with the potential to become two more jewels in nature's crowning of America: Hell's Canyon-Chief Joseph National Park and Flathead National Preserve adjacent to Glacier National Park. Looks like these nabobs of negativism are making the same mistake again. Tell your representative you think NREPA is a good idea whose time has finally arrived.