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The Planet
Protecting the Wildlands of Lewis and Clark

By Jenny Coyle

Who doesn't love a lemonade stand?

David Nolt set one up last summer at Bernard DeVoto Memorial Grove, a nature trail noted for both its shady serenity and its historic significance. Not far from Highway 93 along Lolo Pass in Idaho's Bitterroot Mountains, the grove of sky-high cedars is where noted conservationist and historian DeVoto camped while collecting material for his book, "The Journals of Lewis and Clark."

Nolt, a Sierra Club organizer, propped up a table, hung a sign that said "free lemonade" and then asked visitors to sign postcards urging Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to safeguard six areas that are wild, but as-yet-unprotected.

"Some of the drivers of the logging trucks that went by stuck up their middle fingers, and the road construction workers who signed postcards probably did it for the lemonade, but we got plenty of tourists, Nez Perce tribe members and even some Forest Service employees to sign cards," said Nolt.

He also tabled some mornings at the Missoula Farmers' Market, and was visited there once by Sierra Club President Jennifer Ferenstein, who lives nearby.

Nolt's work was part of a grand five-year project launched in January 2000 - the Lewis and Clark Campaign. The campaign aims to commemorate the bicentennial of the historic journey by protecting 33 special places, from the Niobrara River in Nebraska to the Columbia River Estuary in Oregon and Washington. The sites are found in eight states on 56 million acres along the route covered by the famous explorers in the early 1800s.

The sobering facts are that only 1 percent of the country's native tallgrass prairies remains, grizzly bear roam less than 2 percent of their historic range in the Lower 48 and wild salmon populations in the Columbia River Basin are 1 percent of what they were at the time of Lewis and Clark.

The campaign's theme of "What's Been Lost, What's Left" is proving apropos as we continue to see the land in the Lewis and Clark states be denuded, in spite of the upcoming bicentennial. In Montana, for example, the Forest Service held a press conference and celebration in August when it successfully negotiated a 15-foot-wide easement along an important segment of the trail west of Lolo Pass through forest land owned by Plum Creek Timber Company. Unfortunately, Plum Creek had clearcut the remote stretch in 1999.

"People retracing this portion of the trail will be treated to a dose of visual blight," a newspaper said in an editorial. The paper also quoted a Plum Creek spokesperson as saying, "This is still a forest. It is just a very, very young forest." Later, however, Plum Creek CEO Rick Holley apologized and said that in light of the trail bicentennial, "We should not have conducted the harvest."

"Obviously, the land along the Lewis and Clark route remains threatened in a very real way," said David Ellenberger, media and outreach coordinator for the Club's campaign.

Yet two of the 33 special places targeted by the campaign have gained protection: Oregon's Steens Mountain now enjoys permanent protection, much of it as wilderness, and Hanford Reach - the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River in Washington - is now a national monument.

As the bicentennial approaches, the campaign is moving into high gear. Along with Ellenberger, campaign coordinator Mary Kiesau and volunteer chair Edwina Allen, a long-time Idaho activist, head the project.

Activities linked to the campaign - like David Nolt's lemonade stand - are ongoing in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. They're working on wilderness proposals in some states and taking media and the public on outings to teach them about the Lewis and Clark trek through their state.

The biggest project on the horizon, said Kiesau, is a species report, to be released in January. Lewis and Clark identified 122 animal species and subspecies and 178 plant species. The report will present the status of many of them, including salmon, cutthroat and steelhead trout, bald eagles, grizzlies, swift fox, bison, tundra swans, owls, sages grouse, plovers and an array of reptiles, amphibians and ocean creatures.

"It should go a long way toward demonstrating why habitat protection is imperative," said Kiesau. "Numerous sites along the trail are threatened by oil and gas drilling, logging and off-road vehicle abuse. We believe there's no better way to honor the expedition, or the explorer in each of us, than to protect and restore wild America."

For more information: Earlier in the campaign, the Club released a colorful report that detailed 33 places in "Lewis and Clark country" that need protection. An interactive Web site allows visitors to view the book, browse more information and find out how to get involved. Check it out at www.sierraclub.org/lewisandclark/.


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