Public Lands Defense

Gas pads on Roan Plateau

Oil and gas pads on the privately owned western portion of the Roan Plateau, north of Parachute. WW is part of a long-running effort to prevent development of the public-lands portion of the plateau. Photo courtesy of Bruce Gordon/Ecoflight.

Many people are dismayed to learn that our national forests have no automatic protection from logging, mining, drilling, livestock grazing and so on. On the contrary, the U.S. Forest Service operates under a “multiple-use” mandate that requires it to balance the interests of resource extraction with those of recreation, wildlife and other uses on its lands. (The Bureau of Land Management – the other federal agency with major acreage in our area – has similar marching orders.)

As you can imagine, companies and user groups are continually pushing for more public land to be opened up for their activities. Where they threaten ecological or human health, the Wilderness Workshop pushes back.

WW’s Forest Watchdog Program consists of all the things we do to defend federal public lands from harm. (“Watchdog” is a term of art in the conservation field. While federal agencies are tasked with actually managing the public lands and all the things humans want to do on them, a conservation watchdog acts as an advocate for the lands themselves.)

The Forest Watchdog Program analyzes proposed activities and policy directives for the 2.2-million-acre White River National Forest and the over 500,000 acres administered by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office. Where proposals would do harm, we intervene to stop them or mitigate their impacts. We utilize the tools available through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), other administrative remedies, collaboration and, if it comes to it, legal challenges. We also mobilize the public on key issues through education and grassroots organizing, seek to influence public policy by briefing local elected officials, and engage in behind-the-scenes dialog with agency officials.

The Forest Watchdog Program’s work falls into three main categories: