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Advocates for Wild Lands Gather in DC for Wilderness Week

September 24, 2010

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Wilderness advocates from at least 17 states, including Arizona, gather in the nation's capital Sunday to mark Wilderness Week. Their main focus will be asking U.S. Senators and Representatives to consider action to preserve wildlands in their home states for future generations.

Kate Mackay, deputy director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, is hoping that 48 miles of the upper Verde River can be protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

"It's really a spectacular segment of riparian ecosystem. Less than two percent of riparian ecosystems in the Southwest is left. This is really a magnificent chance for us to protect that."

Mackay would also like to see areas of western Maricopa County and the mountains of Cochise County designated as federal wilderness areas, for protection of both wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.

The mountain ranges of southeastern Arizona serve as wildlife corridors, but preserving the Dragoon Mountains is also important for cultural and historical reasons, too, Mackay explains.

"That is the traditional homeland of the Chiricahua Apache Tribe. The entire cultural landscape there was part of their history and also part of United States history."

Mackay says wilderness protection is increasingly vital as sprawl and development continue to affect wildlife habitat and migration corridors. But she says opportunities for quiet recreation are also disappearing.

"Wilderness really gives us that chance to get back to quiet places, whether it's for traditional backcountry hunting or horseback riding, photography or especially for stargazing - finding those dark night skies. Wilderness really offers all of that."

Mackay says wilderness is truly a non-partisan issue that has brought together diverse groups such as hunters, anglers, business leaders, conservationists, ranchers and local elected officials.

"Theodore Roosevelt called it our 'patriotic duty' to protect wilderness areas, and that's more important now than ever."

She says Republicans and Democrats alike have sponsored more than 20 wilderness bills now pending in Congress.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ