Best Wild Places: Exploring the Blue Lakes (Day 1)

Deputy Editor Jay Cassell and Greg Moore (Trout Unlimited's communications specialist for TU's Sportsmen's Conservation Projects, spent three days with Jim Jeffress, TU's Nevada backcountry coordinator, exploring the Blue Lakes - Pine Forest Range in the far northwest corner of Nevada, close to the Oregon line. Here's the report from Day 1.

The first day involved flying over this vast area, with Jeffress pointing out the bodies of water in question, as well as showing us where the current roads and boundaries are.

As we did our fly over, Jeffress explained that the Pine Forest Range holds a combination of wildlife study areas (WSAs). The Wilderness Act of 1964 directed the Bureau of Land Management to inventory and/or study all roadless areas of 5000 acres or more to see which ones have true wilderness characteristics.

In 1977 the BLM started to inventory almost 49 million acres across Nevada (which is the seventh largest state in the U.S.). By 1979, 34 million acres were dropped from the inventory; the remaining 15 million were divided up into intensive wilderness inventory units. In Nevada, the BLM designated 110 wilderness study areas, covering 5.1 million acres, in a report sent to Congress. Until Congress moves forward with a permanent designation or drops any WSAs, these areas are managed as wilderness.

That's Knott Creek Reservoir below - it borders the 5,142-acre Alder Creek WSA. Much of the east shore is actually within the WSA, but a local county commission-sanctioned WSA review committee has recommended a realignment of the boundaries, so people can use the area.

My take as an outsider, looking in? These WSA's have basically been just sitting there since 1977, waiting for someone to come along, study them, then make the recommendations needed to move them into wilderness or some other type of designation.

Jeffress and the Pine Forest WSA working group have finished studying the two WSAs in this area, and are making recommendations on how the resources may be best used to everyone's advantage. It's quite the complicated issue, involving suggestions to move or close roads, alter boundaries so some areas are whole, so people currently camping in areas where they shouldn't be will now be legal, and more - including water and grazing rights, which are always complicated in the West.

--Jay Cassell

Click here to see more photos from Day 1 of the Blue Lakes adventure.