David Garbett, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

  • February 4th, 2016

    Rep. Bishop’s long-awaited draft Public Lands Initiative (PLI), released on January 20th, is essentially a fossil fuel development bill that gives away public resources and fails to advance the conservation of public lands in eastern Utah.

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  • June 5th, 2015
    (Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan (right) high-fives Rep. Kevin Stratton, R-Orem (left) after Ivory's resolution to demand the federal government transfer control of oil-, timber -and mineral-rich lands to western states passed at the Utah Republican Party 2014 Nominating Convention at the South Towne Expo Center, Saturday, April 26, 2014.

    (Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan (right) high-fives Rep. Kevin Stratton, R-Orem (left) after Ivory’s resolution to demand the federal government transfer control of oil-, timber -and mineral-rich lands to western states passed at the Utah Republican Party 2014 Nominating Convention at the South Towne Expo Center, Saturday, April 26, 2014.

    The Salt Lake Tribune writes:

    Ken Ivory is a snake oil salesman.

    The Utah legislator is, just as his new worst enemies from a liberal interest group proclaim, traveling around the West, enriching himself by peddling a total phantasm about how if state and local governments keep giving Ivory’s American Lands Council more money, he will find a way to undo a century of public policy, and every decent impulse of the American people, and force the United States government to turn over millions of acres of federal land to the states.

    Disgraceful? Clearly. Criminal? That’s a reach.

    We agree with the Salt Lake Tribune. Rep. Ivory distorts the facts, dodges the truth, misconstrues history, and advances a disastrous vision that would deprive us of our public lands. He needs to answer for his organization’s compliance with lobbying rules in neighboring states.

    However, advocating for terrible public policy is not a crime. Those counties providing funding for Rep. Ivory seeking to take our public lands are misguided but they are not victims. As the Tribune says, the are co conspirators advancing ideas that will be relegated to the dustbin of history. While the truth and the best interest of the public is against him, his political speech should be allowed. We all benefit from an open dialogue about these issues. Rep. Ivory’s positions will fail; let them die of their own deficiencies.

  • April 2nd, 2015

    Desolation Canyon and Lands Surrounding Dinosaur National Monument Could Lose Big in Rep. Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative

    While we await the release of Representative Rob Bishop’s proposal for the public lands of eastern Utah, we wanted to fill you in on recent developments in three Utah counties: Carbon, Daggett, and Uintah. Generally, we remain optimistic that this process could result in the best opportunity for land protection in Utah in decades. However, these three counties have put together proposals that are troubling. Utah’s wild landscapes could be the biggest losers, particularly the Desolation Canyon wilderness complex and the wild lands surrounding Dinosaur National Monument. Representatives Bishop and Chaffetz—who are both driving this process—need to hear from you if these places are to be saved.

    First, Uintah County: ground zero for much of Utah’s energy production. Not surprisingly, the county has developed a proposal that is long on energy development and short on conservation. This means that the head of Desolation Canyon and the proposed wilderness surrounding Dinosaur National Monument (a place BLM is managing for conservation now) could be made available for oil and gas development. Such a result would sacrifice some of the few remaining wild lands in this heavily impacted county.

    Desolation Canyon

    Uintah County’s proposal would sacrifice the head of Desolation Canyon (above) to an Energy Zone. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    Unfortunately, Carbon County has developed what may be an even worse plan. Just recently the county commission approved a development proposal for the county that would remove wilderness protections (i.e., wilderness study areas) for vast swaths of the Desolation Canyon complex. According to their vision, no float trip of Desolation Canyon would be complete without a symphony of oil and gas development played by scores of wells located on the immediate rim of the canyon. Ironically, the county actually proposed more land for protection in the 1990s than it does now. The county’s development proposal would result in a loss of more than half of the wilderness-quality land in its share of Desolation Canyon.

    Finally, Daggett County. You will remember that last October the conservation community announced a landmark agreement with Daggett County, Rep. Rob Bishop, and the State of Utah. This compromise would set aside over 100,000 acres of wilderness and national conservation areas in this county. Rep. Bishop committed that this widely touted agreement would be included in his pending legislation for his public lands initiative in eastern Utah. Unfortunately, Daggett County has now developed cold feet and has reneged on its promises. Apparently, talk is cheap. We remain hopeful that Rep. Bishop and the state will honor the agreement but the potential for backtracking is deeply troubling.

    In summary, Utah’s counties are seeking to suffocate Desolation Canyon—one of the nation’s largest remaining roadless areas—with oil and gas development and slice and dice currently-protected public lands around Dinosaur National Monument. Do not let the counties destroy these treasures—please take action today.

    >> If you live in Rep Bishop’s or Rep. Chaffetz’ district, click here to send comments electronically.

    >> If you live outside of those districts (in Utah or another state), click here to send your comments.

    Thank you!


  • October 22nd, 2014
    Portions of Red Canyon will soon become part of the Lower Flaming Gorge Wilderness under the Daggett County conservation agreement, and this stretch of the Green River will receive a new Wild and Scenic River designation.

    Portions of Red Canyon (above) will soon become part of the Lower Flaming Gorge Wilderness under the Daggett County conservation agreement, and this stretch of the Green River will receive a new Wild and Scenic River designation.

    SUWA is pleased to announce that we, along with our conservation partners, have reached an agreement with Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) on land conservation in Daggett County. In short, it should result in the protection of many worthy, remarkable lands in northeastern Utah.

    None of this would have been possible without thirty years of tireless effort by activists, supporters, and staff to protect the redrock. It is because for many years our supporters across the country—in places like Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey—have brought cosponsors to America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act that we are here. It is because activists in Utah and nationwide are pushing for Greater Canyonlands National Monument that we are here. It is because people fought in the ‘80s and ‘90s to stop bad wilderness bills that we are here. This is an outgrowth of the work of thousands of unsung heroes. Many thanks to all of you who have helped to bring this day about.

    Also, we owe our conservation partners a debt of gratitude for their help in reaching this agreement. We were joined in this effort by the Grand Canyon Trust, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society.

    A little background. Last year, Rep. Bishop announced that he would pursue a sort of grand bargain to address public land issues in eastern Utah; he asked rural counties to come forward with proposals for public lands within their boundaries. One of the first to volunteer was Daggett County.

    Daggett County, nestled in the northeast corner of the state, shares a border with Wyoming and Colorado. It is Utah’s least populous county and contains remarkable wildlands. These run the gamut from the redrock-topped Diamond Breaks; to the beautiful Red Canyon, formed by the Green River; to the snowy peaks of the Uinta Mountains, Utah’s highest range.

    Daggett County’s initial proposal for the area was low on wilderness. However, SUWA staff worked for months to change that. In particular, our eyes and ears on the ground, Ray Bloxham, distinguished himself once again as the most knowledgeable field expert on BLM issues. His expertise did much to persuade the county to accept wilderness.

    Our agreement highlights 33,254 acres of BLM as wilderness. This includes our Lower Flaming Gorge, Dead Horse Pass, and Diamond Breaks units. North of the Green River, our Goslin Mountain, Home Mountain, and O-Wi-Yu-Kuts areas will be protected as part of a 31,000-acre conservation area with wilderness-like protections. Utah’s largest existing wilderness area, the High Uintas, will be expanded by nearly 50,000 acres in the county. The cherry on top is the protection of fourteen miles of the Green River as part of the Wild and Scenic River System.

    Naturally, this deal involves more than wilderness. Part of this agreement will include a federal/state land exchange that will remove the threat of development in conservation areas while allowing development in more appropriate areas (in actuality, the centerpiece is the state acquisition of an existing natural gas storage facility on federal land that is already in operation). The agreement also resolves R.S. 2477 claims in the county: the state and county will get recognition for many of their claims but they must abandon all claims that conflict with wilderness and conservation lands. The county will receive federal acreage adjacent to the town of Dutch John for a shooting range and landfill.

    Although the acreage figures are small here when compared to many other counties in the state, the impact is huge. This agreement will protect the lion’s share of lands proposed for wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in this region and, hopefully, it lays the groundwork for substantial protection moving forward. Rep. Bishop will now move his Public Lands Initiative to the next county, using this agreement as a model.

    >> Read our press release

    >> View a map of lands in the Daggett County conservation agreement

    >> Read details of the conservation agreement

  • March 3rd, 2011

    Tuesday’s hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee regarding the Obama Administration’s Wild Lands policy generated more than its share of misinformation, misleading statements, and invented facts and figures.  Case in point: Utah Governor Gary Herbert, in a moment of exuberance, alleged that protecting wilderness could hurt school kids, to the tune of billions of dollars.  However, history does not support his assertion; in fact, quite the opposite, protecting wilderness may actually give Utah’s school kids a better shot at revenue generation.

    When Utah joined the Union it was gifted scattered tracts of trust land throughout the state (trust lands are shown in blue on this map).  Utah received lands that were blocked by cliffs, surrounded by deserts, and hidden in canyons and were often not accessible by any existing roads.  These lands were given for the benefit of school kids and Utah interprets that to mean that trust lands should generate revenue.  However, this pattern of land distribution has not lent itself to revenue maximization for the education budget.  When Gov. Herbert says wilderness will hurt school kids he is saying that these trust lands—which are often surrounded by federal lands worthy of wilderness designation—will be made inaccessible by protecting the surrounding public lands.[1] Apparently, the Governor likes to imagine that these scattered tracts of land could be the panacea to Utah’s education budget needs.

    However, this is unlikely to ever be the case.  Partly because school trust lands in Utah are so scattered and remote, they never generate much revenue.  In fact, they do not even contribute one percent of the yearly public education budget in Utah.  Indeed, if Utah were to liquidate all of the accrued assets from 115 years of school trust lands management, they would not even cover three months worth of the state education budget![2] Despite the roaring 2000s, when school trust lands witnessed unprecedented levels of oil and gas development as well as a real estate market boom, school trust lands continue to be nothing more than the budgetary equivalent of loose coins under the couch cushions.

    Of course, every little bit can help when discussing funding for Utah’s cash-strapped schools.  But, 115 years of school trust land management show us what we can expect from Gov. Herbert’s pipe dream that these lands became the cash cow of education.  This is not going to happen.  Long before Congress passed the Wilderness Act, when the public lands were nothing but a free for all—even more so than now—geography and a lack of infrastructure, among other things, conspired to keep school trust lands as a minor footnote to the education budget.  Federal land protection did not do this then and it does not do this now.

    In reality, increasing the amount of protected federal land is probably the best path for increasing the contributions from school trust lands.  The reason for this is because federal land protection spurs beneficial land consolidation, through exchanges with the federal government.  These land exchanges, which result from Congressional desire to protect sensitive areas, trade scattered trust land parcels in remote locations for blocks of federal lands near infrastructure or with development potential. 

    The prime example of conservation on public lands benefiting Utah’s school kids was the land exchange motivated by the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  This was possibly the single greatest revenue-generating act in the modern history of school trust lands management.  Utah’s school kids picked up numerous valuable blocks of land with significant oil and gas development potential as well as multiple coal leasing tracts.  In fact, one oil and gas parcel acquired by the state in this exchange provided 60% of all state trust land oil and gas revenue in 2006.  Furthermore, the United States essentially wrote Utah’s school kids a $50 million check.  Just recently, a desire to protect valuable and sensitive lands along the Colorado River led to a second example, the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009.  In a trade for these special places, Utah gained trust lands in the Uinta Basin more appropriate, and more profitable, for development.  This was a win-win situation motivated by conserving public lands and its benefits have been loudly touted by the state.

    Historically, trust lands development on scattered, remote lands has put very little in education coffers.  Unfortunately, it often leads to significant environmental damage.  This path of futility is what Gov. Herbert championed at the hearing.  It is simply not worth the price; we do not benefit Utah’s school kids in giving away such treasures for pennies.  Furthermore, it prevents the state from following the path that history has shown to be the most beneficial for school kids and education budgets: protecting our wild public lands, thereby spurring beneficial land trades.

    [1] As a side note, this argument has no legal basis.  Federal courts have ruled that Utah always has access to its school trust lands, even if the surrounding land were protected as wilderness.

    [2] Revenue from school trust lands is deposited in the Permanent School Fund, which is a savings fund where the principle is retained and the yearly interest is disbursed to schools.