Category Archives: Eco Issues

50 Years of the Ultimate Protection: Happy Birthday, Wilderness Act

Shannon Hastings | Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness

Shannon Hastings | Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law, protecting the United States’ unspoiled wilderness areas from human encroachment.

Today, we celebrate that landmark law with answers to some wilderness-related questions, courtesy of our friends at the National Park Service:

What is wilderness?
The Wilderness Act, signed into law in 1964, created the National Wilderness Preservation System and recognized wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Act further defined wilderness as “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions . . . .”

Congress has now designated more than 106 million acres of federal public lands as wilderness: 44 million of these acres are in 47 parks and total 53 percent of National Park System lands. Additional national park areas are managed as “recommended” or “proposed” wilderness until Congress acts on their status.

How is wilderness different from other federal public lands?
Designated wilderness is the highest level of conservation protection for federal lands. Only Congress may designate wilderness or change the status of wilderness areas. Wilderness areas are designated within existing federal public land. Congress has directed four federal land management agencies—U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service—to manage wilderness areas so as to preserve and, where possible, to restore their wilderness character.

The Wilderness Act prohibits permanent roads and commercial enterprises, except commercial services that may provide for recreational or other purposes of the Wilderness Act. Wilderness areas generally do not allow motorized equipment, motor vehicles, mechanical transport, temporary roads, permanent structures or installations (with exceptions in Alaska). Wilderness areas are to be primarily affected by the forces of nature, though the Wilderness Act does acknowledge the need to provide for human health and safety, protect private property, control insect infestations, and fight fires within the area. Wilderness areas are managed under the direction of the Wilderness Act, subsequent legislation (such as the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act), and agency policy.

Is designated wilderness necessary in a national park?
The wild, undeveloped areas of national parks (often called “backcountry”) are subject to development, road building, and off-road mechanized vehicular use. National park backcountry is protected only by administrative regulations that agency officials can change. The Wilderness Act protects designated wilderness areas by law “for the permanent good of the whole people.” With the Wilderness Act, Congress secures “for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

What is the significance of wilderness?
Through the Wilderness Act, Congress recognized the intrinsic value of wild lands. Some of the tangible and intangible values mentioned in the Wilderness Act include “solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation,” as well as “ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.” Wilderness areas provide habitat for wildlife and plants, including endangered and threatened species.

Wilderness protects open space, watersheds, natural soundscapes, diverse ecosystems and biodiversity. The literature of wilderness experience frequently cites the inspirational and spiritual values of wilderness, including opportunities to reflect on the community of life and the human place on Earth. Wilderness provides a sense of wildness, which can be valuable to people whether or not those individuals actually visit wilderness. Just knowing that wilderness exists can produce a sense of curiosity, inspiration, renewal and hope.

How does wilderness designation in a park affect people?
Wilderness areas are places where humility and respect play a role in both individual and management activities. People can recreate in wilderness, though in most places individuals do so without mechanical transport. Visitors may hike, fish, camp, watch wildlife, photograph, or hunt (where legally authorized). Most park visitors will probably never enter into a wilderness area, yet they enjoy wilderness as a scenic backdrop to developed park areas.

All month, we’re spotlighting Arizona’s wilderness areas on the Arizona Highways blog. Check back this afternoon for another installment!

1 Comment

Filed under Eco Issues

Arizona Game and Fish Building Wins National Award

From our friends at the Arizona Game and Fish Department:

Courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department

Courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department

The Arizona Game and Fish headquarters office has won The Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY) Award of 2013-2014 at the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International Annual Conference on June 24 in Orlando, Florida.

The commercial real estate industry honored 14 properties. The Arizona Game and Fish building, winner in the Government category, was recognized for excellence in the areas of “green” technologies, cost-effective building management and operations, sustainability, access for disabled people, and overall excellence.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) headquarters was built in 2007 and is located at 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, Ariz.  The facility became one of the first Arizona State government buildings to receive a Platinum-certified designation, the highest ranking awarded by U.S. Green Building Council program for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

“Environmentally-friendly features added about 15 percent to the total cost,” said Arizona Game and Fish Department Development Branch Chief Mark Weise. “Initial construction costs were higher, but day-to-day operations and maintenance expenses are lower because they are usually handled in-house by department personnel.”

An Energy Star rooftop solar system generates 23 percent of the building’s annual energy needs. An agreement with Alpha Technology Inc. keeps solar power rates the same for 20 years. An efficient air-cooled chiller will pay for itself in less than five years. Natural light portals bring in winter daylight and temper summer heat. Many regionally harvested materials were used. Xeriscaping, native plants and drip irrigation hold down water and landscaping costs.

 Have you visited this building? If not, you ought to plan a trip.


Filed under Eco Issues, Et Cetera, News

Lake Mead Water Level Reaches All-Time Low

This 2008 photo of Lake Mead clearly shows the white "bathtub ring" around the lake. Water levels have dropped even further since then. | Courtesy of Lake Mead National Recreation Area

This 2008 photo of Lake Mead clearly shows the white “bathtub ring” around the lake. Water levels have dropped even further since then. | Courtesy of Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead’s water level has dropped to an all-time low, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced last week, citing ongoing drought in the Southwest as the cause of the decline.

The lake, formed by Hoover Dam on the Arizona-Nevada border, is currently more than 200 feet below its “full” level of 1,296 feet above sea level. Lake Mead last reached that level in 1998, and the subsequent drought has left a large white “bathtub ring” around the water line.

If the water level drops much further, it could trigger a shortage declaration, which would mean less water would be delivered to the areas the lake serves, including Phoenix and Las Vegas. That isn’t expected to happen this year or in 2015, but the bureau said there’s a 50-50 chance of it happening in 2016.

Lake Mead is currently at 39 percent of its water capacity. Lake Powell, on the Arizona-Utah border, is at 52 percent capacity.

Despite the drought, we hope you’ll continue to enjoy Lake Mead National Recreation Area‘s boating, fishing and hiking opportunities. As we reported earlier this month, a portion of the Colorado River there recently became the first National Water Trail in the Southwest.


Filed under Eco Issues, Et Cetera, News

New Project Could Help Keep San Pedro River Flowing

James Parks | San Pedro River

James Parks | San Pedro River

As Arizona’s population has increased, so has its water use, which means many of our state’s rivers are in danger of running dry. A new project in Cochise County, though, is aiming to keep one of them flowing.

As Arizona Public Media reports, the county and The Nature Conservancy have joined forces to build a series of retention basins in the land near the San Pedro River. The basins will slow down the flow of rainwater out of the Huachuca Mountains, allowing more of it to seep into the aquifers that feed the river.

The $2.5 million project aims to keep the river flowing even during the dry season. If it’s successful, it’s hoped that the project will spur similar efforts elsewhere in the state.

The Nature Conservancy’s Holly Richter is featured prominently in Arizona Public Media’s story. To learn more about Richter, check out our profile of her, which appeared in our March issue.


Filed under Eco Issues, Mother Nature, News

News Alert: Grand Canyon National Park to Implement Fire Restrictions Starting Today

Jake Case | Grand Canyon

Jake Case | Grand Canyon

A very important message from our friends at the Grand Canyon:

Grand Canyon, Ariz. – Due to increased fire danger throughout Grand Canyon National Park, park officials will be implementing fire restrictions for all areas within the park except the Colorado River corridor.

Beginning at 8 a.m. on Friday, June 13, all wood-burning and charcoal fires, including campfires, warming fires and charcoal barbecues, will be prohibited throughout the park, including all campgrounds and residential areas. Pressurized liquid or gas stoves, lanterns and heaters possessing shut-off devices are allowed.

The restrictions are being implemented in response to current and predicted weather and fuel conditions, as well as corresponding fire danger rating levels.  The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is at extreme fire danger and the North Rim is at very high fire danger. These conditions are expected to remain at until monsoonal moisture occurs.  The restrictions will remain in place until significant precipitation falls and fire danger levels subside.  “We always hope visitors will consider taking some additional voluntary precautions to help prevent wildfires.” says Chief of Fire and Aviation Jay Lusher.

One Less Spark, One Less Wildfire.  Please do your part. Don’t let a wildfire start.

  • Before going hiking or camping, check for fire restrictions and closures in the area.  Direct your inquiries to the agency that manages the public lands you are visiting.
  • If you are a smoker, smoke only on paved surfaces or in an enclosed vehicle. Never toss cigarette butts on the ground or out the window of a vehicle. Always use an ashtray to prevent wildfires.  Practice Leave No Trace principles – pack out cigarette butts and burned materials from your camping area.
  • If you are using a portable stove, clear the area of grasses and other fine fuels and be careful to prevent the stove from tipping over.
  • Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained, with nothing dragging on the ground. Dragging chains will throw sparks. Never substitute parts when towing.  Only use appropriate safety pins & hitch ball.
  • Check tire pressure. Driving on an exposed wheel rim throws sparks.
  • Never let your brake pads wear too thing. Metal on metal makes sparks.
  • Never park a vehicle over dead grass; the catalytic converter can ignite the vegetation.
  • Carry a fire extinguisher in your vehicle and learn how to use it.
  • If you see smoke or fire, call 911. Report the location, what is burning, how fast it is moving, how tall the flames are, and what is in danger.  Stay on the phone. Do NOT attempt to put out a fire by yourself.

For the latest fire information in Grand Canyon National Park, please visit our website at  To learn more about fire restrictions on other public lands in Arizona and New Mexico, please call the Southwest Area Fire Restriction Information Line at 877-864-6985 or visit

1 Comment

Filed under Eco Issues

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Visitor Surveys Underway

Archie Tucker | Apache-Sitgreaves NF

Archie Tucker | Apache-Sitgreaves NF

From our friends at the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests:

For the next several months, visitors to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests may encounter employees and contractors conducting National Visitor Use Monitoring in Forest Service recreation areas. Well-trained interviewers wearing bright orange vests are stationed at some trailheads and roadsides near signs signaling that visitor and traffic surveys are underway.

Visitor use surveys are a planning tool used by forest managers and local, state, and national officials to better provide for the needs of the public. Public participation is essential to get an accurate account of the number of visitors, their recreational activities, and satisfaction with facilities and services. Therefore, visitors are asked to stop and talk with interviewers about their experience on the forest.

Surveys are voluntary and collect basic information about a visitor’s trip including areas visited, number of people in party, length of stay, and satisfaction. Respondents are anonymous. Interviews last from 8 to 13 minutes. About a third of visitors will be asked to complete a confidential survey on recreation spending. Both local and out-of-town visitors are encouraged to participate so that all types of visitors will be represented in the results. Repeat visitors or those traveling within multiple survey areas of the forest may be asked to participate more than once.

This on-going survey is conducted every five years. This year’s results will be compared with the previous survey to identify recreation trends over time. Results are also used to estimate the effects of tourism on local economies.

For more information, visit

1 Comment

Filed under Eco Issues, News