I’ll never forget the first time I experienced the feeling of nature lost. Oddly, I was on a hike on a trail that’s one of the more beautiful in the Central Cascades of Washington state.
For a couple of miles, I wandered through forest, catching occasional glimpses of the waterfall that was my destination. And then I came across a giant Western red cedar stump. It was at least three times the diameter of the biggest living trees I had seen along my way.
Even though most of this tree had long been turned into homes and firewood, it was still something to behold. Each of the red and brown veins that formed its trunk was thicker than my arm.
While the forest along the Twin Falls trail today is beautiful, it is a mere shadow of the one that grew here more than 100 years ago. Where there were once giant cedars standing as sentinels of a diverse forest, today’s trees are more skinny and uniform. After all, they all took root at the same time after the old-growth trees were methodically removed.
And what happened at Twin Falls was repeated nearly everywhere. In my state, the only place to experience a forest that’s at all reminiscent of what the first modern settlers saw is in a national park.
I understand we can’t save 100 percent of everything. But we also shouldn’t settle for saving 0 percent. And that seems to be the direction we are heading.
As I write these words, nearly two dozen U.S. national monuments could soon lose their protected designation. They include an area in Arizona where ancient sand dunes have turned into colorfully swirled rock, one of the last truly wild stretches of the Missouri River, and a place where lava fountains once sprayed thousands of feet into the air (you can still see where the vents were).
They are all spectacular sites that have managed to survive despite massive development that surrounds them. And they deserve to survive for generations to come.
There is hope.
The final decision on the fate of these wonders of nature won’t be made until after a public comment period. That is why I have teamed up with several leading nature photographers to produce Land Almost Lost, a free e-book that illustrates the stunning beauty that we are all on the verge of losing. And to ask you to take action so that we don’t lose it.
Time is short.
The comment period for Bears Ears National Monument closes May 26, 2017. The comment period of the other sites closes on July 10, 2017. Today, these areas are only “almost” lost. But this may be the only chance we have to ensure these special places remain wild.