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  • July 27th, 2016

    In response to Senator Mike Lee’s “field hearing” in Blanding today to discuss the Public Lands Initiative (PLI) and “the potential impacts of large-scale monument designations,” Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) Executive Director Scott Groene released the following statement:

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  • Desolation Canyon (Ray Bloxham)
    July 22nd, 2016

    Representative Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI), unveiled on July 14th after much delay, is the kind of pro-extraction, anti-federal legislation that could only come from a congressman with a lifetime score of 3% from the League of Conservation Voters.

    Among myriad provisions that exacerbate climate change, promote the State of Utah’s land grab, and trivialize the Inter-Tribal Coalition’s Bears Ears proposal, one deficiency stands out above all else: the bill completely fails to adequately protect the nearly 4.4 million acres of remarkable wilderness-quality lands throughout southern and eastern Utah that are affected by this legislation. In doing so, the PLI removes existing wilderness management on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands and fails to protect 62% of inventoried lands that qualify for and deserve wilderness protection.

    Desolation Canyon (Ray Bloxham)

    The PLI would remove existing protections from the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    The PLI rolls back existing protections for over 100,000 acres of wilderness study areas (WSAs) and at least 70,000 acres of BLM-managed natural areas (i.e., areas managed by the BLM for the protection of wilderness values).  Areas left with lesser or no protection, among many others, include the entirety of the Winter Ridge, Jack Canyon, and Squaw and Papoose WSAs, and significant portions of the Desolation Canyon, Dark Canyon, Grand Gulch, and Cheesebox Canyon WSAs. Managed natural areas around the San Rafael Reef—like Muddy Creek and Wild Horse Mesa—are also adversely impacted. In addition, the PLI completely fails to protect iconic Utah landscapes such as White Canyon (including most of its tributaries), Hatch Point, Price River, and the Mussentuchit Badlands as wilderness.

    White Canyon (Scott Braden)

    White Canyon and most of its side tributaries in the Bears Ears region would remain unprotected in the PLI, leaving the area vulnerable to mineral extraction. Copyright Scott Braden/SUWA.

    Setting aside the endless list of terrible PLI provisions, the bill is fundamentally unacceptable as it fails to protect the full spectrum of wilderness-quality lands in southern and eastern Utah. Simply put, if Rep. Bishop fixed every other provision of the bill tomorrow, it would still be a step backwards for Utah’s redrock wilderness.

    SUWA will work tirelessly to ensure that the PLI meets the same doomed fate of previous public lands bills that paid little more than lip service to Utah’s remarkable public lands — but to accomplish this, we need your help. Please contact your congressional representative and tell them that the PLI is a pro-extraction, pro-development bill disguised as conservation legislation. Tell them that Utah’s wildlands deserve better.

    >>Click here to send your message now.

  • Fisher Towers, La Sal Mountains beyond, Near Moab, Utah
    July 20th, 2016

    Obama Administration plan correctly prioritizes protection of Utah’s stunning redrock lands, provides certainty to all stakeholders about future mineral development

    Contact:
    Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4635
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202-329-1463

    Salt Lake City (July 20, 2016):  Today the Bureau of Land Management released a long awaited plan that will guide energy and mineral development away from sensitive lands near Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and many outstanding proposed wilderness areas that are too wild to drill. The BLM’s Moab Master Leasing Plan will help the agency better manage oil and gas development and potash mining to avoid conflict with other resources on more than 785,000 acres of public land in eastern Utah.

    “Simply put, the Moab Master Leasing Plan is a significant step toward better BLM management of oil, gas and other minerals in the heart of Utah’s red rock country,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The MLP gives industry certainty where leasing and ultimately development can take place and also makes plain the terms and conditions for those activities.  Likewise, the public and local communities now know that many of southeastern Utah’s stunningly beautiful canyons and mesas won’t be marred by the sight and sound of drill rigs and pump jacks. BLM’s hard work on this plan has definitely paid off.”

    Fisher Towers, La Sal Mountains beyond, Near Moab, Utah

    The Moab MLP protects the Fisher Towers proposed wilderness from the sights and sounds of oil and gas development. Copyright Tom Till

    Increased energy development in eastern Utah has fueled air pollution that threatens human health and internationally acclaimed dark night skies, as well as recreation opportunities that contribute millions of dollars to the state’s economy each year.  Also, the dramatic effects of climate change are becoming increasingly evident in southeast Utah’s already arid Colorado Plateau region. With more than 90% of BLM lands and minerals available nationally for leasing it has been incumbent on BLM to find better ways to safeguard wild places and other values of public lands.  Master leasing plans fit that need.

    “Some of our most treasured places are at risk from drilling and speculative leasing.” said Nada Culver, senior director for agency policy at The Wilderness Society. “Master leasing plans, like the Moab MLP, are the right way to manage oil and gas on our public lands – with a vision of where energy development can be managed and where other values, like wilderness and recreation, need to be protected. Moving forward with the Moab MLP and others around the West in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, is modernizing the way we do business on our public lands.”

    Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Under the Moab MLP, surface disturbing activities will be prohibited in the Goldbar Canyon proposed wilderness. Photo credit: Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    “This plan ensures a more deliberate process that will better protect vulnerable wilderness lands from wanton exploitation. Many such areas in southeast Utah are too precious and too special to be leased and developed without adequate safeguards.” observed Sharon Buccino, Director of the Land and Wildlife program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    The Moab MLP takes the following specific steps:

    • Protects wild places that are currently under threat from oil and gas leasing and development, including Fisher Towers, Porcupine Rim, Six-Shooter Peaks and Goldbar Canyon.  These landscapes would either be closed to future leasing or subject to “no surface occupancy” stipulations that prohibit physical development on the lease.
    • Provide strong protections for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks’ classic southern Utah vistas, dark night skies and clean water.
    • Require that the majority of all future leases issued in the MLP area be subject to common sense ‘controlled surface use’ stipulations. These are essential to give both industry and the public certainty about the ground rules for future development.

    The plan does not:

    • Prohibit all oil and gas leasing and development in the planning area. Instead, leasing and development may proceed in a more thoughtful and deliberate manner.
    • Prohibit all potash leasing and development in the planning area.  Rather, the Plan establishes three ‘potash leasing areas’ where these activities are concentrated.

    BLM continues to work on another Master Leasing Plan efforts in Utah to better balance development and conservation in the San Rafael Desert, located immediately west of the Moab Master Leasing Plan.  BLM also continues to make progress on other MLPs in places like Western Colorado and Southwestern Wyoming.

    Additional resource: Photos of lands protected by the Moab Master Leasing Plan.

  • IMG_2634
    July 18th, 2016

    A huge crowd of more than 1,400 people poured into the tiny southeastern Utah town of Bluff on Saturday to attend a public meeting hosted by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on the proposed Bears Ears National Monument.

    Volunteers handed out 1,000 Protect Bears Ears t-shirts to enthusiastic citizens flooding into the meeting grounds before running out. The overwhelming support for a monument was clearly visible by the broad swaths of people wearing light blue t-shirts, which dominated the audience.

    Crowd Lined Up at Bears Ears Hearing in Bluff

    Over 1,000 people, many wearing blue “Protect Bears Ears” t-shirts, lined up outside the Bluff Community Center. Photo credit: Johanna Lombard

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    Photo credit: Terri Martin/SUWA

    The crowd included Native Americans and others from the Four Corners region and beyond. New and long-time activists alike swarrmed to Bluff to stand in support of the tribal proposal to protect Bears Ears as a co-managed national monument.

    In cloudless 100 degree heat, people packed into the 400 person community center, squeezed knee to knee on seats set up beneath an expansive shade pavilion, crammed into shifting pockets of shade or simply stood for hours in the sun.

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    Bears Ears supporters crowded into the outdoor overflow pavilion. Photo credit: Terri Martin/SUWA

    For three and a half hours, Interior Secretary Jewell and a panel of other high-ranking Obama administration officials listened attentively as person after person spoke passionately about the future of the Bears Ears region.

    Top leaders of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni and Ute Tribes made powerful statements about the need for a monument proclamation to protect their ancestral homelands from looting and other destructive activities. Navajo President Russell Begaye called the Bears Ears area a “place of healing and spirituality” and said that “Navajos relate to the Bears Ears area as other people relate to their relatives,” and through these relationships facilitate healing.

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    Navajo President Russell Begaye addresses the crowd inside the Bluff Community Center, calling the Bears Ears area a “place of healing and spirituality.” Photo credit: Anna Brady

    Tribal leaders emphasized that co-management authority offers a rich opportunity to bring together the wisdom of traditional Native American knowledge with western science.

    Tribal leaders also stressed that the Public Lands Initiative still fails to address their concerns, and that the process failed to incorporate their voices. Malcolm Lehi, Ute Mountain Ute Councilman, said, “For far too long, native people have not been at the table. We are not invited to the table. So we are here today inviting our own selves to the table.”

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    Standing room only inside the Bluff Community Center. Photo credit: Terri Martin/SUWA

    Others speaking in support of monument proclamation and against the PLI included several Utah elected officials, professional archaeologists, rock climbers, local business people, and both long-time residents and visitors to southeastern Utah.

    One archaeologist described how “it’s like a giant vacuum cleaner came and sucked up the artifacts,” saying the Bears Ears area “should have been proclaimed a national monument 25 years ago.”

    A local outdoor enthusiast said that “I have spent the best times of my life climbing, backpacking, hiking and camping in this region. We need a monument proclamation to keep it as it is for the future.”

    A local Bluff business owner said that “As a business person, I believe a monument will bring good to this community.”

    State legislator Joel Briscoe, who described himself as a descendent of Mormon pioneers —including one “who was part of the super-human feat of Hole in the Rock” trek (which passed through the Bears Ears area) — stressed that “we cannot understand this land if we won’t listen to the spiritual power of the land. It is my prayer that those making decisions will all listen to the spiritual power of this land.”

    Speakers also included people opposed to a monument who raised a variety of concerns about how that designation could affect their interests. But the conversation remained civil, and a common theme across almost all speakers was how much they loved the land and wanted to see it protected in some way.

    Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also spent several days before the meeting with members of the Utah delegation, visiting with local community leaders and touring sites in the Bears Ears. On Friday afternoon, she visited the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Summer Gathering at Bears Ears Meadow and met with tribal leaders.

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    Sally Jewell leaves the tepee where she met with Tribal elders at Bears Ears on Friday. Photo credit: Terri Martin/SUWA

    SUWA thanks everyone who was able to carve out the time to make it to Bluff and stand in support of the tribes for a Bears Ears National Monument. Each individual who came – just by showing up — helped to create the amazing and impressive throng of Bears Ears supporters. This extraordinary demonstration of widespread public support is critical to encouraging the President to take action. You are all awesome!

    We also thank everyone who has weighed in on Bears Ears in all the other ways we ask you to do. Every expression of support makes a difference!

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    Photo credit: Terri Martin/SUWA

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    Photo credit: Terri Martin/SUWA

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    Photo credit: Terri Martin/SUWA

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    Photo credit: Terri Martin/SUWA

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    Photo credit: Terri Martin/SUWA

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