August 2010

  • August 31st, 2010

    Looking through my colleagues’ photos and videos taken at last Saturday’s “Take Back Utah” rally, I became confused. For years, one of the main arguments against America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act – the Utah Wilderness Coalition’s flagship BLM wilderness bill – has been that since 1993 the legislation has been sponsored and supported by members of Congress outside of Utah. Ongoing battles rage between Utah counties and the federal government over ownership of roads and off-road vehicle routes on public land. From the rhetoric surrounding the rally, I figured all participants would be Utahns who believed the state should take control of federal lands –like the far-fetched eminent domain bill that recently passed the Utah Legislature.

    Instead, I was surprised to see vehicles from states such as Tennessee and Montana, and astonished to hear Utah State Rep. Mike Noel paying tribute to participants from Elko County, Nevada.

    On the Take Back Utah website, I saw a main sponsor was the Idaho-based Blue Ribbon Coalition. Even the credo of Take Back Utah “defends the freedoms of all Americans to explore and experience America’s Wild Places.” If you look at the Facebook group “Utahns Against the Red Rock Wilderness Act,” you would see many members from states outside of Utah – if the group is concerned with the state’s and locals’ rights to the land, why would they welcome “outsiders”? SUWA has always espoused the fact that people throughout the country should have a say in how our public lands are managed – hence, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. From the above examples, you would think that the elected officials and others who organized and participated in the rally believe the same.

    But members of the Utah delegation, led by Sen. Bob Bennett, advocate for the “county-by-county” process of designating wilderness, which puts local county commissioners in charge of crafting bills to manage federal lands owned in equal part by every citizen of the United States. One county pushing such a bill is San Juan, which encompasses 5 million acres, including 1.3 million acres of gorgeous redrock BLM lands proposed for wilderness. County Commissioner Bruce Adams said the county’s proposal “favors opening up the area to everyone, including off-road vehicles, by creating a system of access roads” – not protecting some of the most intact wilderness-quality lands in the lower 48. In my work, I meet Americans from all over the country who want these lands protected, but this method of crafting so-called wilderness bills leaves them and Utahns from other parts of the state without a real voice. In San Juan County, Sen. Bennett wants to give three officials elected by a population of 15,000 (my neighborhood in Arlington, VA alone has a population of over 10,000!) control of creating legislation for lands owned and loved by millions of Americans. It just doesn’t seem right.

    Back on the Take Back Utah webpage, I find some conflicting language: apparently the rally is also for “securing local rights” to the land or the “west will become unfairly subservient to the east.” Watching video from the event, I hear speakers denounce SUWA’s east coast supporters (wilderness designation also has ample support within Utah, by the way), Noel encourages locals to build illegal roads on public lands, and I see Governor Herbert promote the county commissioner method of crafting wilderness bills— a process that disenfranchises those who love the redrock but happen to live in other parts of the country.

    Which is it? Are Americans outside Utah only allowed to be heard if they agree with the riding-roughshod-all-over-the-place method of managing our public lands?

    Do you think this should be the case?

  • August 30th, 2010

    Last week, I left my home in Moab and traveled to Salt Lake City just in time to hit a “Red Alert” day — meaning the air quality was so poor that breathing could damage your lungs (yes, my driving contributed to the problem).

    Somehow that made it all the more disappointing when two days later Governor Herbert spoke at the “Take Utah Backwards” (a.k.a. “Take Back Utah”) off-road vehicle rally at the state capitol. A crowd of pollution-belching ATVs and non-street-legal vehicles first joyrode up State Street, and then the governor shared the stage with elected officials and other sundry notables (like a representative of the Farm Bureau) competing for best at bashing environmentalists.

    Why would our Governor promote more off-road vehicle use on our public lands? In the southeastern portion of our state, on
    just BLM land alone, there are 20,000 miles of dirt routes for motorized use. He wants more?

    Herbert shared the stage with Representative Mike Noel, whom the governor previously appointed to his so-called “Balanced Resource Council” — the committee intended to foster civility in public land discussions. When Noel recently learned that SUWA had resolved conflicts with an energy company over natural gas and wilderness at the north end of Desolation
    Canyon, he declared that SUWA was an “enemy of the state and the people and the children of Utah” (I hope my wife
    and kids don’t feel that way). You might have expected the governor to boot Noel from the BRC for that one. Instead, the governor’s staff sent a written defense of Noel to the Salt Lake Tribune, and on Saturday, the governor gave a shout-out
    to his “good friend, Representative Mike Noel.”

    If there is a silver lining to all this, it’s that only a few hundred attended Herbert’s speech, not the 10,000 predicted by promoters. These folks are losing momentum fast.

    Take back utah attendees
    Does this look like 5,000 attendees to you?  That is what the Take Back Utah organizers have “estimated.”
    Photo by Scott Braden.

    Off-road vehicle use is probably the greatest threat to Utah’s spectacular wilderness. We need political leadership, not pandering, if we’re going to resolve the Utah wilderness debate and protect the Redrock.

    Scott Groene
    Executive Director
    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

  • August 27th, 2010

    August 2010

    Here’s what is happening this month with the redrock:
    The San Juan River wilderness is threatened by off-road vehicle abuse.
    2.  Secretary Salazar and other administration officials come to town.
    3.  Help protect wild Utah with your activism!
    4.  Join us for the 2010 SUWA Roundup!

    Help Us Protect the San Juan River from Excessive Off-Road Vehicle Use

    San Juan River proposed wilderness. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    “After passing by River House ruin, the San Juan River winds its way past the jagged Comb Ridge and into the serpentine canyon of the San Juan River proposed wilderness.  A movement on river left catches my eye as a small clan of bighorn sheep scuffle up the steep limestone ledges.  Several river meanders later, we find a welcoming sandy beach upon which to camp for the night.  We fall asleep gazing at the brillant starry sky.”
    - Liz Thomas, SUWA Field Attorney

    Already under threat from excessive off-road vehicle use, the San Juan River proposed wilderness is one of the many spectacular areas that could be subject to permanent off-road abuse if a backroom deal for public lands in San Juan County, Utah goes through.

    Please ask the
    Obama administr
    ation to oppose the San Juan County Commissioners’ “pro-ORV,
    anti-wilderness” legislation should it get introduced and pushed
    through in the waning days of this Congress
    .  The magnificent landscapes of
    San Juan County, including the San Juan River, deserve meaningful protection.  Working together we can make
    certain they get it.

    Activists Tell Secretary Salazar to Protect Wild Utah

    Earlier this month, redrock activists in Salt Lake City had the opportunity to both hear Interior Secretary Ken Salazar speak at a downtown hotel and then pose for photos with a cardboard cutout of the Secretary as part of a SUWA outreach event at the Outdoor Retailer Show.

    On August 3, Secretary Salazar, BLM Director Bob Abbey, and other Obama administration officials came to Salt Lake for an America’s Great Outdoors listening session. Utah wilderness activists were everywhere, vastly outnumbering the small group of off-road vehicle enthusiasts who attended.  Secretary Salazar and Utah Governor Gary Herbert both gave a shout out to SUWA, citing our recent work to reach a deal with the Bill Barrett Corporation that would protect the wild lands of Desolation Canyon from the impacts of energy development.  However, we were disappointed to hear Secretary Salazar’s praise of Senator Bennett’s so-called process for public lands legislation in San Juan County,  We were also dismayed not to hear any specifics from administration officials about using the BLM’s authority to protect wilderness-quality lands.

    The next day, SUWA was graciously hosted by Osprey Packs at their booth at the Outdoor Retailer Show for the Conservation Alliance’s “Keep It Wild” Day.  We collected over 300 postcards asking the Obama administration to protect wild Utah, and participants posed for photos with “Flat Ken”, a likeness of Interior Secretary Salazar.

    Thank you to Osprey Packs, the Conservation Alliance, and all of the redrock activists who participated in these two events!  If you couldn’t attend, you can still do your part by sending a message to Secretary Salazar asking him to protect Utah’s magnificent natural treasures.

    Get Involved in Redrock Activism!

    Our dedicated members and activists have enabled us to make significant gains for Utah wilderness protection.  Currently, there are two major issues where you can really make a difference — convincing the Obama administration to overturn the “No More Wilderness” settlement and helping to stop a backroom deal that’s bad for the San Juan-Canyonlands wilderness.  Here’s what you can do:

    1)  Attend an America’s Great Outdoors listening session if one comes to a town near you and tell Obama administration officials to protect wilderness-quality lands in Utah.  Upcoming listening sessions will be held in Illinois, South Dakota, and Maine, with more to be scheduled.  You can fill out this form if you plan to attend and would like us to send you some talking points, or if you would like us to alert you about upcoming listening sessions.  If you can’t make it to a listening session, be sure to visit the America’s Great Outdoors website and vote for “ideas” to protect our wild places — especially the idea to “Protect Wilderness-Quality Public Lands.” You can also comment and submit some of your own ideas.

    2)  Volunteer to visit the local offices of your members of Congress and ask them to help protect Utah’s wilderness-quality lands.  Please fill out this form or email if you’re interested.

    Thanks for all that you do to help protect wild Utah!

    Join Us for SUWA’s Annual Roundup

    Mark your calendar for SUWA’s 2010 gathering at Hidden Splendor, September

    Enjoying a View of the Muddy Creek WSA
    Roundup hikers enjoying a view of the
    Muddy Creek WSA

    Held in the heart of the San Rafael Swell, the SUWA Roundup offers our supporters and staff the opportunity to meet one another and to enjoy the beautiful Indian summer of redrock country with fellow desert rats from Utah and other states.  Activities include a discussion of Utah wilderness issues with SUWA staff and board members, a potluck dinner, evening music around the campfire, and—best of all—guided day-hikes in our Muddy Creek proposed wilderness area.  Sunday morning you’ll awake to freshly brewed coffee followed by a deluxe continental breakfast prepared by the SUWA staff in thanks for all your support and dedication.  Also, this year, because the Roundup coincides with National Public Lands Day (on Saturday, September 25), we’re going to organize a service project for people who are interested in participating.

    If you plan to attend this year’s Roundup, here’s what you should bring: a potluck dish serving five people for Saturday evening (if you plan to eat with the group), your own food for Friday evening and Saturday breakfast and lunch, camping gear, plenty of drinking water (none is available on site), utensils, folding chairs, and, if you have them, lanterns and tables to share with the crowd.  Feel free to bring your own musical instruments and favorite libations,
    too.  Click here for more information. To RSVP, contact Deeda Seed at (801) 428-3971 or

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  • August 25th, 2010

    Much smoke has been blown in the past six months — most often by the Utah congressional delegation — about “secret agendas” and “land grabs” being cooked up at the Department of Interior. Wilderness opponents cite the now notorious “monuments memo” – partially leaked in February and in its entirety last week—as evidence the Obama administration has secret plans to take over the West. Hardly. Even a casual reading of the 21-page document reveals what we would hope the federal government is doing – using sound scientific and land management principles to ensure the health of our special places in a future fraught with a changing climate and greater user demands on our public lands.

    The section of the memo receiving the most attention deals with national monuments.  In our view it’s a no-brainer: the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa (both highlighted for potential monument designation) are landscapes plainly deserving of monument status – just like the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The scientific and historic values of these two places are undisputed and warrant immediate protection. We hope President Obama will recognize these values and act.

    But that’s just one piece of the puzzle to restore balance to public lands management. Another notable section is entitled “Utilizing the Land-Use Planning Process to Account for Ecosystem Services Values and to Protect Lands that are Ineligible for Monument Designation”—a long title that really means restoring balance to public lands after eight miserable years of Republican rule. This section reads like a list of ideas most neglected and maligned by the Bush administration’s BLM. We hope these ideas will guide land use planning going forward. However, a year and a half into Obama’s term, we have seen little movement to fix six Utah resource management plans (RMPs) covering 11 million acres on the Colorado Plateau — plans rushed to completion at the end of the Bush administration to favor off-roaders and the oil and gas industry at the expense of wilderness-quality lands. BLM must take its own advice and bring balance to places like Labyrinth Canyon, the Dirty Devil and Moquith Mountain by amending the six RMPs and their accompanying travel plans to protect wilderness-quality lands.

    An important tool in accomplishing this would be designating new wilderness study areas – an authority given up by the Bush administration’s “No More Wilderness” settlement. If you want to talk about a backroom deal, this one takes the cake, as it
    left lands inventoried by the BLM as qualifying for wilderness protection unprotected and open to oil and gas and ORV damages. Overturning “No More Wilderness,” as suggested by over 50 leading law school professors, nearly 90 members of Congress and nearly every conservation group in the West, is essential to BLM’s ability to protect Utah’s and the West’s wild roadless landscapes.

    So, take a moment and read the memo to see what BLM could and should be doing to safeguard our special places – and call on Secretary Salazar to follow through on his own staff’s recommendations!

    Richard Peterson-Cremer
    Legislative Director
    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

  • August 20th, 2010

    Recently, a number of SUWA supporters (and detractors) have asked us why we decided to compromise with the Bill Barrett Corporation (BBC) regarding its proposed West Tavaputs Plateau natural gas development. You can read our press release about the agreement here.

    In short, we did it because it was the best thing for wilderness and for protecting the incomparable Desolation Canyon.

    Probably the best way to understand this is to compare side-by-side the map of BBC’s 2008 proposed full field development and the map of the company’s 2010 contracted development proposal that was ultimately approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The first map shows extensive oil and gas development in an area proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and even BLM-designated wilderness study areas (the small grey squares are proposed well pads and the dashed orange lines are new roads; basically every well proposed northeast and southeast of the label “Peter’s Point Mesa” is within proposed wilderness). BBC’s original development proposal would have resulted in over two hundred new well pads inside of proposed wilderness.

    The final compromise map tells a different story: no wells in the Desolation Canyon or Jack Canyon wilderness study areas, no wells on the vast majority of Horse Bench, and four new gates preventing vehicular access on ways that reach into this terrain.

    A reality not to be overlooked was that before SUWA came onto the scene (e.g. before 1985), the BLM had already issued leases inside of the Desolation Canyon and Jack Canyon wilderness study areas; in fact, those leases predate the wilderness study areas. Furthermore, BLM had also issued—long ago—leases on the amazing Horse Bench, a key part of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in the upper Desolation Canyon complex. The fact that BBC had leases in these areas changed the ground rules—the company had a legal right to some degree of development on those leases, regardless of our proposed wilderness designations.

    Of course, we were willing to fight to make things very difficult and painful for the company in developing those leases. Indeed, as the Bush administration rushed out the door in 2008, we were successful in blocking new leasing by the federal government in this precise area. However, we decided to engage with BBC in the hope that we could reach an outcome more favorable to wilderness protection in this area than could be accomplished through protracted legal battles.

    We think that we found just such an outcome here. After extensive negotiations involving give and take on both sides, we were able reach an accord preventing oil and gas wells in wilderness study areas and drastically reducing the number of proposed wells on Horse Bench. Fortunately, BBC was a willing partner. We were unlikely to have ever achieved such significant on-the-ground gains without this agreement.

    To be clear, it is never easy to agree to new development in proposed wilderness, even if that means only a half-dozen new wells from an original proposal of hundreds. We struggled and sweated over this agreement for months and months. We are not in the business of saying “yes” to development in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. But, in this case, the outcome for wilderness indicates that it was better to swallow a few wells on the periphery of our proposal than to lose vast chunks of wilderness-quality land to development. 

    The Desolation Canyonwilderness is one of the most stunning landscapes in the lower forty-eight states. We believe that this agreement with the Bill Barrett Corporation makes wilderness designation one step closer to becoming a reality.

    David Garbett, Staff Attorney
    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

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