September 2010

  • September 29th, 2010

    This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Maine for the Common Ground Country Fair, an event that combines the usual fair activities with a passion for organic and sustainable agriculture and environmental and social justice causes.  For the past two years, I have been assisting the Mainers for Utah Wilderness state activist group with their table in the Environmental Concerns tent.

    It is always amazing to see so many people in a state far from Utah with so many connections to redrock country.  We were visited by folks who used to live in Utah, who had relatives or close friends who live in Utah, and/or have made frequent visits to southern Utah.  Still others were planning trips out to Utah or hoped to visit someday.  We even met some folks from out West who were up in Maine for the fair!  Overall, most people were enthusiastic about our mission, and we were able to collect hundreds of postcards to President Obama and the Maine congressional delegation asking them to work to protect Utah wilderness.

    The most common question?  “Aren’t you a little far away from home?  Why are you in Maine?”  When we explained that these were federal lands, owned by Mainers just as much as those who live in Utah, they understood.  Most expressed a desire to protect more wilderness in Utah for future generations to enjoy, and even those that were skeptical were surprised when they learned more information about our work.

    Why do Mainers care about protecting Utah wilderness?  Our Mainers for Utah Wilderness volunteers can best explain:

    Video by Jackie Feinberg

    Thanks to those who volunteered and to those who stopped by the table!  Meeting and working with passionate redrock activists always rejuvenates my own enthusiasm for working to protect Utah’s wild lands.

  • September 22nd, 2010

    Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the renaming ceremony of the Department of the Interior building in Washington, DC – now appropriately christened the Stewart Lee Udall building. It was truly moving to see the late Interior Secretary’s family (including two U.S. Senators), distinguished current and former public servants, writers and advocates shower admiration on the man recognized as the most effective Interior Secretary in U.S. history.

    Udall’s legacy in Utah is unavoidable. Most prominent was the designation of Canyonlands National Park, but also noteworthy is Udall’s role in overseeing the passage of the Wilderness Act and being a tireless advocate on behalf of Navajo uranium miners and their widows. Udall took the lead role in setting the
    conservation agendas for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, selling the White House (and, importantly, the First Lady) on the importance of America’s public land legacy and engaging with Congress in advocating for that agenda. Former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson yesterday extolled Udall as a Westerner, for understanding the “Western code” and for listening to all interests when it came to contentious public lands issues. In doing so however, he also made those interests, often opponents of conservation, listen to what he had to say about the value of land preservation – which is why Udall was so effective.

    Utah’s redrock country continues to face significant threats today, just as it did when Udall first flew over it with the Bureau of Reclamation chief, who declared the area that eventually became Canyonlands National Park to be the site of the next great dam – compelling Udall to push for region’s protection. Today, the major threat is excessive, poorly managed off-road vehicle use and the damage it inflicts on the riparian areas, fragile desert soil crusts and cultural resources that make Utah’s redrock “the most scenic place in the world,” to quote the former Secretary.
    We desperately need leadership like Secretary Udall’s to revoke the Bush administration “no more wilderness” policy and to fix the land use plans for 11 million acres of the Colorado Plateau that open up wilderness-quality lands to oil and gas drilling and off-road vehicle mayhem.

    In bestowing the honor of naming the Interior Department after Stewart Udall, officials there are also embracing his legacy.  As so many speakers urged the audience yesterday, honoring Udall’s legacy entails more than talk. It means taking visionary, meaningful action to preserve our natural heritage.

  • September 21st, 2010

    USGS & NASA: Colo. Plateau dust causing early snowmelt; reduction could mitigate climate change

    Dust caused by human activities in the American desert Southwest is a contributing factor in speeding up the melting of snow and reducing runoff in the mountains of the Colorado River basin, according to a new study led by NASA and co-authored by the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The findings have major implications for the 27 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico who rely on the Colorado River for drinking, agricultural and industrial water. The research shows that peak spring runoff comes as much as 3 weeks earlier than before the region was settled and soils were disturbed, but also that runoff may be decreased by more than 5 percent a year compared to pre-settlement levels.

    “Reducing dust loads in this area and in similar mountainous areas around the world may help lessen regional effects of climate change,” said Jayne Belnap, a USGS desert soil expert and a co-author of the study. Read more–U.S. Geological Survey

    Would curbing desert dust help the Colorado River?

    …Dust has already decreased since 1934, when the Taylor Grazing Act limited the amount of grazing allowed on public lands. Scientists have previously analyzed lake deposits and found that dust production fell about a quarter as a result, Painter said.

    But finding the collective will these days to cut dust emissions further would not be easy. Potential measures include banning the use of ATVs and further restrictions on grazing. “I can’t see too many politicians with enough backbone to make it work,” Williams said. Read more–L.A. Times Greenspace

    Human-produced dust melting Colorado snow three weeks earlier, say scientists

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Monday announced that a NASA-funded study showed that dust produced by human activities is reducing the Colorado River flow.

    The human-produced dust provoked that snow is melting in the Colorado River basin earlier, reducing runoff and the amount of crucial water available downstream. The dust has been accumulating for the last 150 years. Read more–BNO News

    Windborne dust on high peaks dampens Colorado River runoff

    On spring winds, something wicked this way comes–at least for the mountains of the Colorado River Basin and their ecosystems, and for people who depend on snowmelt from these mountains as a regional source of water.

    “More than 80 percent of sunlight falling on fresh snow is reflected back to space,” says scientist Tom Painter of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the University of
    California at Los Angeles. “But sprinkle some dark particles on the snow and that number drops dramatically.” Read more–ScienceBlog

  • September 17th, 2010

    Great news!  We’ve learned recently that Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) is not likely to try pushing a harmful bill for the San Juan-Canyonlands landscape.  Thank you, all of you, who contacted your members of Congress on this important issue!

    White Canyon
    White Canyon proposed wilderness.  Photo copyright Chris
    Case (

    Throughout the year we kept you updated on the “process” in San Juan County, Utah intended to result in public lands legislation.  When Sen. Bennett first initiated this county process, we greeted it as an opportunity to protect the spectacular 1.5 million acres of wilderness quality lands in the San Juan-Canyonlands region – including places like White Canyon, Arch Canyon, Cedar Mesa and the wildlands surrounding Canyonlands National Park (including Indian Creek and Lockhart Basin).  But as time wore on, particularly after Bennett’s untimely political demise at the Republican State Convention, it became apparent that the process was only window dressing for a bad proposal that would enshrine the Bush off-road vehicle plans for the area.

    Earlier this summer we asked you to alert your members of Congress that an inadequate bill for these magnificent lands could be in the works, and any bill that ratified the Bush legacy for the San Juan-Canyonlands wilderness would be unacceptable.  After spending the August Congressional recess investigating
    whether and how a bill could move, we believe it is unlikely that a San Juan-Canyonlands bill will be introduced this year.

    And thanks go to you, the redrock activists from California to Maine, who contacted your members of Congress, and helped educate them on the importance of protecting all of the wild lands in the San Juan-Canyonlands region.

    Even though a San Juan-Canyonlands bill is not likely this year, immediate protection can still be gained for the deserving wilderness lands there, and throughout Utah.  All it would take is the Obama administration rescinding the “No More Wilderness” policy and fixing the Bush Plans that now dictate management of public lands in Utah.

    Please tell President Obama to protect wild Utah now!

    Thank you!

  • September 17th, 2010

    As Kane County crows about the roads that the BLM and we agree are RS 2477 rights of way, you gotta wonder – what’s all the fuss about?  One of the routes is a paved road that leads to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.  There was no dispute about this road or the other three, which were well-maintained dirt roads outside the areas proposed for wilderness protection.  No one ever tried to close these routes or halt maintenance (although both BLM and SUWA are on the same page that the County is not entitled the 66-foot width they’re hoping for).  Talk about much ado about nothing. Absolutely nothing changes as a result of the BLM’s agreeing to what everyone already knew.

    It’ll be another story, though, for the routes inside WSAs and the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.  There, the County has claimed that rough, often impassable tracks are actually “highways.”  The BLM has rightfully said “no” to these claims, and we’re backing them up on that.

    Read more:

    Letter-to-the-Editor: Kane Wasting Money

    Salt Lake Tribune

    Deseret News


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