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June 13, 2013

Touring Our Wild America

Talk about mixing business with pleasure. My wife Mary and I have piled the kids into a minivan and are spending two weeks putting the Sierra Club's motto into action: explore, enjoy, and protect the planet -- or at least the amazing part of it that is the American West. We're camping, hiking, and biking -- but we're also talking to and learning from local activists about the lands we're exploring and the efforts underway to protect them.

Not coincidentally, the Sierra Club is also launching its new Our Wild America campaign this month. It brings together all the elements of our work to protect (and enjoy) our national wild heritage. You can learn more about the campaign here (and you'll also get updates and photos from our family tour, including four-year-old Sebastian's mishap with a cactus and eight-year-old Olivia's sketch of Nevada mountains).

Mostly, we're having a lot of fun, but our family road trip also illustrates why the Our Wild America campaign is so important.

For instance, not everyone is lucky enough to be able to take a trip like this that includes iconic places such as the Canyonlands and the Grand Canyon. That's why one focus of Our Wild America is making sure people have access to nature close to home, whether it's a state park or an urban greenbelt.

We all need places where we can unwind in nature and connect with our family, friends, and community. My own favorite place to take our kids camping is only a few hours away from home, in a small state park with a beautiful old-growth redwood grove.

Here's a tip: If you're looking to find fantastic wild places near you, check out the Sierra Club's volunteer-led outings. Sierra Club members lead hikes in every state.

Many of the lands that our family is traveling through on our trip are part of America's vast National Forest system. We have more than 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands in the U.S., and they include some of the most spectacular places in the world. They also provide our single largest source of outdoor recreation opportunities (which contribute hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the U.S. economy and support 6.5 million jobs). If the Sierra Club ever gets tired of me, I just might apply for a job with Western Spirit Cycling Adventures, who did a great job taking our whole family on a bike ride in the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument in Utah earlier this week.

Today we're in Colorado (thankfully not near the terrible wildfires), where we hiked in another proposed national monument, Browns Canyon. Although we were on foot, Browns Canyon is most famous for its whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River. River guide Bill Dvorak and other folks from the Friends of Browns Canyon told us how they have been trying to get permanent protection for this area for the past ten years. Colorado Senator Mark Udall is currently working on that, although the current Congress has a dismal record on public lands protection. Browns Canyon is just one of many at-risk public lands and waters that could be permanently protected through national monument or wilderness designations -- another big priority for Our Wild America.

The president is empowered to create new national monuments by executive order, and such designations have been shown to stimulate local economies and bring increased job growth. President Obama has created seven new national monuments so far, but many special places like the Browns Canyon remain in need of protection.

We also need more wilderness. Under the landmark Wilderness Act of 1964, which created the National Wilderness Preservation System, wilderness is "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

Only about five percent of the land in the United States has been protected as wilderness, and half of that is in Alaska. Increasing pressures from mining, drilling, logging, and other development make it essential that we expand on our wilderness legacy while we still can.

Mining, drilling, fracking, and other forms of fossil-fuel extraction are by far the biggest threat to most of our public lands. One of Our Wild America's top priorities is to stand up to those who would destroy these wild places for the sake of profits. That includes slowing the out-of-control development of the western coalfields, stopping oil drilling in America's Arctic, and preventing the expansion of fracking for natural gas.

Many things have changed since the Sierra Club was founded 121 years ago, but our unwavering commitment to protecting America's beautiful and diverse wildlands isn't one of them. We believe that every American should be able to both enjoy the great outdoors and experience the special quality of wild places, and that this nation's public lands, waters, air, and wildlife are held in "public trust" for all of us.

Mary and I love showing these special places to our kids. Thanks to the Our Wild America campaign -- and the incredibly dedicated volunteers working so hard to protect our wilderness heritage -- I hope many generations to come will have the same opportunity.


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Michael Brune

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