Stay informed about Utah wilderness
Supporters and wilderness advocates like you play a critical role in the protection of Utah’s spectacular wild places.
Stay informed about Utah wilderness
Supporters and wilderness advocates like you play a critical role in the protection of Utah’s spectacular wild places.
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*Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. All contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
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:
Representative Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI), unveiled last week 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 and deserve wilderness protection.
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.
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.
Obama Administration plan correctly prioritizes protection of Utah’s stunning redrock lands, provides certainty to all stakeholders about future mineral development
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.”
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.”
“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:
The plan does not:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
After years of missed deadlines, Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) finally introduced his long-delayed Public Lands Initiative (PLI) yesterday. As anticipated, the PLI fails to protect Utah’s remarkable public lands and divests the American people of their public lands heritage. There is no chance this terrible bill could be passed in the few days left in this Congress, and it serves only as an effort to forestall President Obama from designating a Bears Ears National Monument.
Utah’s congressional delegation will no doubt repeat ad nauseam their talking point about 4.6 million acres of federal land “designated for conservation” in the PLI. Don’t believe it. The big acreages proffered by Rep. Bishop are disingenuous, as a hard look at the bill reveals that the PLI is a cobbled together mess that maximizes resource extraction and includes land “protections” riddled with loopholes.
A pro-development bill disguised as conservation
Among the laundry list of unacceptable provisions of the bill, the PLI:
• Fails to protect 62% of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act as designated wilderness and opens up currently protected lands, such as Wilderness Study Areas, to energy development and off-road vehicle use.
• Substitutes bastardized National Conservation Areas (NCAs) that enshrine the Bush-era management plans that designated thousands of miles of off-road vehicle routes; allows designation and development of new motorized trails; green-lights vegetation manipulation projects (such as pinyon-juniper clearcuts); mandates livestock grazing; declares that no more wilderness can be protected in these areas; and limits federal land managers’ ability to protect natural and cultural resources.
• Fails to protect over half a million acres of the Bears Ears region as proposed by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition; diminishes the Coalition’s voice in management of the reduced Bears Ears NCA by creating a 10-member advisory committee with only one tribal representative; promotes motorized recreation in this archaeologically rich region; allows grazing in currently closed areas like Grand Gulch, Fish, Owl, and Arch Canyons; and prohibits the agency from protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness.
• Seizes authority from public land managers and instead gives the State of Utah control over the permitting and regulation of all forms of energy development on millions of acres of federal lands and, in doing so, likely eviscerates meaningful energy leasing reform such as the nearly completed Moab Master Leasing Plan.
• Codifies the abysmal Bush-era motorized travel plans in protected areas and prohibits future closures of any motorized route for natural or cultural resources concerns.
• Grants thousands of miles of claimed R.S. 2477 routes to the State of Utah while allowing for continued litigation over R.S. 2477 routes within areas designated as wilderness, NCAs, and Recreation Areas.
• Unleashes a carbon bomb by transferring large blocks of federal land to the State of Utah for tar sand, oil shale, potash, coal, oil, and gas development. These blocks are located in the remote Book Cliffs, in high-value scenic and recreation lands near the Green River west of Moab, on Hatch Point bordering Canyonlands National Park, near the world-renowned San Rafael Swell, and in the Uintah Basin.
• Permanently establishes livestock grazing as a priority across southern and eastern Utah and would result in both increased and new grazing in areas currently closed by federal land agencies due to natural and cultural resource damage.
• Furthers the State of Utah’s land grab efforts by transferring federal land to the state, without compensation, for facility development and increased motorized and non-motorized recreation.
• Rewards dangerous anti-government activity by granting a right-of-way for motorized access in Recapture Canyon, the site of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman’s illegal 2014 ATV protest ride.
• Undermines the Antiquities Act by including a companion bill that would remove the president’s authority under the Antiquities Act to protect deserving landscapes in southern and eastern Utah.
Taken as a whole, the PLI is an assault on the wilderness of southern and eastern Utah.
Where do we go from here?
It’s time to move forward for the sake of Utah’s land, wildlife, and cultural resources. It’s time to call the PLI what it really is: one more failed attempt by Utah’s congressional delegation to develop a meaningful conservation bill for the national treasures of southern and eastern Utah. And, most importantly, it’s time for President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate the Bears Ears National Monument!