For nearly three decades SUWA has successfully protected the redrock wilderness—the great, pristine heart of the Colorado Plateau. Between 1930 and 1980, we lost over 14 million acres of Utah’s wild desert lands. But since SUWA was founded 29 years ago, we’ve managed to stop this loss, preserving almost 99 percent of the remaining wild lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Utah. Over 5 million of those acres now have some form of legal protection (as designated wildernesses, wilderness study areas, national monuments or some other administrative category).
As 2011 comes to a close, there are threats to Utah’s redrock wilderness, certainly, but there are also opportunities for its protection. These opportunities to protect Utah’s redrock country exist because of all of us who love redrock wilderness. We have built a movement—a movement fueled by the support, activism, passion and contributions of tens of thousands of people across the United States and throughout the world. Thank you for your ongoing support!
Defending Redrock Wilderness
Keeping Salt Creek ORV free: After twenty years of SUWA’s work, a federal judge shot down local politicians’ attempts to force the Park Service to open Salt Creek Canyon in Canyonlands National Park to off-road vehicle use. This started in 1989, when we first forced the National Park Service to close the route to motorized use through successful litigation. And then the NPS flipped and agreed the Canyon should be protected. The State of Utah and San Juan County ran to court to reverse the closure. In May a federal judge ruled against them.
Protecting the White River wilderness from energy development. SUWA leveraged the threat of litigation to reach an agreement with an energy company with leases in the proposed White River wilderness. The company will greatly reduce its footprint and minimize intrusion into candidate wilderness lands. SUWA will not to oppose the modified project. The energy company gains some certainty; we gain protection for thousands of wild acres which might otherwise have been lost.
Stopping destruction of pinyon-juniper forests. The BLM continues to propose ripping out native trees and shrubs, and replacing them with mostly non-native forage species. The major beneficiaries are grazers. At our urging the BLM removed all of the lands from the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument from deforestation plans, and we are fighting agency planned projects in the Upper Kanab Creek proposed wilderness area.
Protecting Desolation Canyon from drilling. The benefits of SUWA’s landmark 2010 agreement with the Bill Barrett Corporation regarding the company’s development on the West Tavaputs Plateau continued to be felt in 2011. Earlier this year the company relinquished several thousand acres of pre-existing oil and gas leases in the Jack Canyon and Desolation Canyon wilderness study areas as well as in the Desolation Canyon wilderness character area. Barrett also plugged and abandoned older oil and gas wells in the WSAs, removed pipelines and reclaimed areas previously disturbed. The BLM and Barrett also approved and installed five gates on four routes along the West Tavaputs Plateau. These gates are intended to restrict motorized use from areas important for cultural resources, wildlife and wilderness.
Protecting the San Rafael Desert from leasing The BLM rejected an energy company’s bid to lease 38 leases covering roughly 75,000 acres in the greater San Rafael Desert region west of the Labyrinth Canyon stretch of the Green River. SUWA protested the sale of these leases when they were first offered in 2005 and 2006 as part of our “ground war” over the Bush administration’s oil and gas programs and BLM finally got around to telling the company “no” in 2011.
Blocking Uranium Mining SUWA won our challenge against a BLM decision approving a uranium mine near Natural Bridges National Monument, in the midst of a large expanse of wild lands whose beauty is spectacular, even by Colorado Plateau standards. After mining, the raw uranium ore would be trucked 65 miles to White Mesa, Utah, and the only operating uranium mill in the country.
Fighting Oil Shale and Tar Sands Development SUWA continues to fight oil shale and tar sands development on Utah’s wild lands. During the Bush administration, the BLM released a Preliminary Environmental Impact Statement that proposed opening 2.4 million acres of public land in Utah to oil shale and tar sands leasing, including some spectacular wild landscapes. We joined a lawsuit with other conservation organizations and in February 2011, were part of a settlement agreement requiring the BLM to re-do its analysis. As a part of that, the BLM held hearings in Utah, and we organized to ensure strong attendance by Utah wilderness supporters.
Pressuring BLM on ORVs: the Report Card In spring 2011, SUWA released a report examining the BLM’s performance in ORV management which merits a failing grade in many areas. The report generated significant media coverage and helped educate the public about this critical issue.
Finding Practical Solutions to the R.S. 2477 Issue With 15,000 pending in Utah, R.S. 2477 claims may constitute the single greatest threat to red rock wilderness. In a pilot project to see whether those claims can be resolved out of court, SUWA is working with Iron County, the State of Utah and the Interior Department to negotiate a resolution of Iron County’s R.S. 2477 right-of-way claims across Bureau of Land Management lands, some of which are proposed for wilderness designation (discussed above).
Building Field expertise SUWA is the primary conservation organization regularly monitoring the condition of wild lands in Utah managed by the BLM. In most instances our field staff knows more about specific issues related to these lands than the BLM staff does- and a great deal more than Utah’s national and local politicians. Our field work is backed up by careful documentation of conditions, including mapping and photographs, which we are now integrating into Google Earth.
Defending Factory Butte from dirt bikes: We’ve prevented the BLM from re-opening the fragile landscapes around Factory Butte to off-road vehicle mayhem, despite the clamors from the ORV advocates. BLM closed the area to ORV use a few years ago because of SUWA’s work.
Building the Utah Wilderness Movement
Demonstrating Utah’s Wilderness Potential: The Red Rock Bill in Congress
In May, two great champions of redrock wilderness, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, legislation to permanently protect over 9 million acres of Utah wilderness.
Protecting the Greater Canyonlands region We’ve kicked off our aggressive campaign to protect the 1.5 million acres of threatened wild landscapes surrounding Canyonlands National Park (discussed above). SUWA’s organizers are building support in several states, we’ve run paid advertising in a key swing electoral state, biologic and archeological reports are complete, we submitted a legal petition to the region with the Interior Department, and over 10,000 American’s have supported the proposal with the White House.
Buildng congressional support on the Hill SUWA DC staff had 230 meetings with Members of Congress and their staffs to discuss issues related to Utah wilderness protection. We hosted a Wilderness Week in Washington with 20 activists from Utah and across the country who visited dozens of congressional offices seeking additional cosponsors for America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.
Building the National Grassroots Movement This year SUWA organizers met with more than 3,500 people in Utah and around the country to build support for the Redrock and we’re in regular communication with the 23,000 people on our e-mail list.
Building Utah support for wilderness: Our Utah-based advertising campaign in support of wilderness (discussed above) is now in full swing. Eighty percent of Utah television viewers have been exposed to the ads at least five times and we’ve delivered more than 100 million ad impressions online during 2011.