From Alaska to Southern California, Sunset honors the West’s top 10 environmental successes

Lora J. Finnegan  – January 25, 2007 | Updated July 10, 2018

If you love the outdoors, if you love the American West, if youlove wildflowers, wild creatures, and wide-open spaces ―well, you’re going to love the 10 wild areas Sunset celebrates in our 2007 Environmental Awards.

Our roster of preserved paradises includes Alaska tundra, aHawaiian rain forest, and some of the most spectacular coastline tobe found anywhere. Our 10 winners are amazing success stories, wonby complex public-private partnerships (we list only the keyplayers here). Head out this month and you can explore many ofthese preserves, from Arizona to Hawaii’s remote Waimea Valley;others will become accessible over time.

1. Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge

At more than 3 million acres, the Alaska Peninsula NationalWildlife Refuge might seem, well, big enough. But key habitats weremissing ― until now. The Conservation Fund (with the RichardKing Mellon Foundation and others) acquired two major parcels inthis southwestern Alaskan refuge: 13,000 acres at Canoe Bay, loadedwith migratory birds and home to salmon-spawning streams. And37,000 acres at Morzhovoi Bay, tundra teeming with caribou andperhaps the state’s highest density of brown bears. Backpack, fish,hike, or just bliss out amid nature’s abundance.

Learn more:,907/246-4250 (visitor center; closed Sun through Apr), or907/246-3339 (main office)

2. Santa Lucia Ranch and Rancho Seco,Arizona

Vast stretches of grassland and a passing way of life ―that’s what was saved at Santa Lucia Ranch and Rancho Seco, 60miles southwest of Tucson. It’s Pima County’s largest singleprivate-land conservation project ― 36,000 acres ofranchland. “It’s 13 miles long by 6 miles wide,” says DianaFreshwater of Arizona Open Land Trust. “As big as the footprint ofthe urban core of Tucson!” The job took a partnership of the trust,ranchers, local government, and voters, who passed a bond program.Now cowpokes will keep riding the open range, and the proposedranchettes will never be built.

Learn more: or 520/577-8564

3. Northern California Coastal WildHeritage Wilderness Act

Signed into law last fall, the Northern California Coastal WildHeritage Wilderness Act set aside 275,000 acres of new wildernessand designated the newest federal Wild and Scenic River ― a21-mile stretch of the Black Butte River in Mendocino County. Thenew wilderness is not one contiguous swath but adds acreage orprotection to various wildlands, like the King Range (north of FortBragg) and the Cache Creek area. And it protects everything fromamazing wildflower displays to imperiled salmon and steelhead runs.Lands will be managed by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of LandManagement.

Learn more: or

4. San Timoteo Canyon, California

Big tracts of open land aren’t easy to come by in SouthernCalifornia, much less conserve. But in the case of San TimoteoCanyon, a 174-acre land donation from producer Gale Anne Hurd ( The Terminator, Aliens) got the ball rolling. The Riverside Land Conservancyand other organizations have helped acquire an additional 8,000acres in San Timoteo Canyon and are well on the way toward a goalof 10,000 acres for a future state park (the park is designated,but it’s not yet open to the public).

Learn more: www.riversidelandconservancy.orgor 951/788-0670 5. Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine NationalMonument

It’s the nation’s newest national monument ― nearly140,000 square miles of largely uninhabited islands, atolls, andcoral reefs. The monument is so big (Australia’s Great Barrier Reefcould fit inside it) that its creation was one of the world’slargest single acts of conservation. These waters will forever givesafe haven to seabirds by the millions, endangered plants, and rareanimals like the Hawaiian monk seal. The preserved area starts 160miles west of Kauai, stretches 1,200 miles, and includes MidwayAtoll, which is open to limited visitation (permit required).

Learn more: www.hawaiireef.noaa.govor 808/397-2660; or808/792-9530

6. Waimea Valley, Hawaii

On Oahu’s North Shore, the Waimea Valley Audubon Centershowcases the valley’s unique birds and plants (like the Hawaiianmoorhen and the Hibiscus kokio) and acts as a window intotraditional Hawaiian culture. Threatened by potential development,the valley was saved by a coalition of public and private groups;the Office of Hawaiian Affairs now has the title to the 1,875-acrevalley. Explore miles of trails in a botanical garden, picnic in arain forest, or swim beneath a 35-foot waterfall.

Learn more: or808/638-9199

7. Madison River, Montana

The Madison River is one of the West’s most famous fly-fishingrivers, and its $3 Fishing Bridge (on the south side of U.S. 287 inthe upper Madison Valley) is one of the spots best loved byanglers. The Trust for Public Land has helped save 1,700 acres andwalk-in access to more than a mile of the Madison’s heart. Anddownriver, at Sun Ranch, TPL and a raft of activists are working tosave 12,000 more acres. For anglers, it’s cold, clear fishingheaven.

Learn more: or 406/994-4042

8. Ojito Wilderness, New Mexico

The first new wilderness designation in this state in more than15 years encompasses more than 11,000 acres of picturesque arroyos,buttes, and mesas northwest of Albuquerque. Thanks to such groupsas the State Land Office, Zia Pueblo, and Sandoval County ―both key in supporting the new wilderness designation ― youcan hike, ride horseback, bird-watch, or just enjoy any type ofnonmotorized recreation in the amazing Ojito (it’s managed by theBureau of Land Management).

Learn more: or 505/761-8700

9. Tualatin River National WildlifeRefuge, Oregon

Just a short drive from downtown Portland, this is one ofOregon’s newest refuges. The 1,358 acres are home to more than 50types of mammals and more than 200 species of birds. In late winterand early spring, cackling Canada geese, northern pintails, andmallards blanket the marshlands. Hike newly opened trails, or checkout wildlife overlooks, interpretive exhibits, and a wildlifephotography blind.

Learn more: 503/590-5811

10. Cedar Mountain Wilderness Area,Utah

Its ramparts are peppered with junipers, which resemble cedartrees ― hence the mountain’s name. But this new wildernessarea is also peppered with wildlife: golden eagles, pronghorns, andwild horses. Saving a chunk of open space this close to Salt LakeCity is a boon anytime, but Cedar’s preservation also foils plansfor a nuclear-waste dump nearby. Hike sage-covered hills, explorerugged gorges, or just drink in Great Basin views. The area is runby the Bureau of Land Management.

Learn more: or 801/977-4300

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