Heidi McIntosh, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

  • December 24th, 2010

    With your dogged determination and willingness to speak out for Utah wilderness, it was inevitable.  And yesterday, it finally happened . . . Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar released new wilderness guidance that has the potential to give needed protection to 6 million of acres of wilderness-quality lands in Utah.

    Upper Desolation Canyon
    Upper Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness is one area that needs protection. Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    The new policy also reverses the much-maligned and illegal 2003 back-door agreement between former Utah governor Michael Leavitt and former Interior boss Gale Norton by which Norton renounced the BLM’s authority to manage public lands to protect their wilderness character.

    There is much to like about Interior’s policy.  It gives wilderness a rightful place as an equal among the range of other resources BLM must manage and protect, and it’s a critical first step towards ensuring the permanent protection of the last remaining wild lands in the West.

    But of course, the path to real wilderness protection is never that simple.  The new policy also has an escape hatch that allows the BLM to decide not to protect deserving lands if it decides that development is “appropriate.” That’s a loophole big enough to drive a drilling rig through, and the BLM will have to close that gap if this policy is to fix the wilderness mess that the BLM’s historically unbalanced policies have left us.  And the BLM would not designate new “wilderness study areas” under the policy – another shortcoming.

    There are other questions: the new policy will be applied in future land use planning and in project-level decision making, but how will wilderness character lands that were ignored in the BLM’s 2008 land use plans be protected?  That includes over 2 million acres of spectacular land in the heart of the red rock.

    The “No More Wilderness” debacle of 2003 was born in Utah, and leadership at Interior and the BLM must ensure that the injustices done here are remedied.  The new policy has the potential to do that, but the Utah BLM is famous for digging up reasons not to protect wilderness.

    There’s more work to be done.  Please thank Secretary Salazar for the new policy, but let him know that the BLM must live up to the policy’s full potential to protect the last remaining wild country in Utah.

    P.S. If lands that the BLM itself identified as eligible for wilderness protection in the 2008 land use plans were protected, 86% of the proposed oil and gas wells could still be drilled.


  • 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


  • September 8th, 2010

    President Obama signed a Presidential Proclamation last week which recognized September as “National Wilderness Month.” Invoking the “majesty of our Nation’s wilderness” and a rich legacy of past wilderness legislation, the president rightly recognized that “we must ensure that future generations can experience the tranquility and grandeur of America’s
    natural places.”

    But even as President Obama emphasized the need to protect the natural heritage of future generations, over at the Department of Interior, Secretary Ken Salazar has kept in place highly destructive policies initiated by the Bush administration which threaten the pristine natural beauty, quiet and solitude of worthy wilderness-quality lands throughout the West.

    The Bush administration’s infamous “No More Wilderness” policy, hatched as part of a back-room settlement with the State of Utah, broke with history and for the first time declared that the Bureau of Land Management would no longer identify and protect eligible lands as “wilderness study areas.” These WSAs, as they are frequently called, are protected from off-road vehicle (ORV) use, new roads, oil and gas drilling and other development until Congress ultimately decides their fate through

    Then the Bush administration doubled down and used the “No More Wilderness” policy as the backbone for six land use plans it issued for 11 million acres of Utah’s spectacular redrock canyon country. With wilderness now the only resource which the BLM would not manage or protect, the final plans left 80% of these lands open to oil and gas drilling and designated an astounding 20,000 miles of ORV routes.  Balanced stewardship of our natural heritage? Not even close.

    In some of the plans, every single riparian area has an ORV trail, leading to pollution, erosion, shrinking water availability and lost wildlife habitat. These crucial oases have been whittled down to 1% of Utah’s land mass and support 75-80% of wildlife species, yet BLM manages them as ORV playgrounds. Climate change, the overriding influence on the health of BLM lands, got just three paragraphs of the same boilerplate language in each of the 1,000-page Environmental Impact Statements instead of any real analysis.

    Not only does the “No More Wilderness” policy live on in the Obama administration, but Secretary Salazar has failed to revise the 2008 land use plans to reflect better balance either or real wilderness protection.

    Here’s what Secretary Salazar must do to restore balance and give wilderness landscapes the protection they need: immediately rescind the “No More Wilderness” policy and reinstate the previous process in which the agency identified qualifying lands and then planned for their future management as WSAs. BLM managers are familiar with this process and there’s no ambiguity in how WSAs are to be managed. Accept no substitute: Anything less will lead to endless disagreements about management and interpretation, to the detriment of some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country.

    Additionally, the Secretary must direct the BLM to take another look at the woefully inadequate and unbalanced Resource Management Plans and put in place management strategies that ensure the future sustainability of these truly wondrous places.

    You may be wondering: why are we still talking about this a full eighteen months into the Obama administration? Good question. You ask them . . . send a message to Secretary Salazar and email the Obama administration at ago@ios.doi.gov or use the White House webform at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact.

  • September 2nd, 2010

    According to a Deseret News story on August 31st, “Kane County officials are celebrating what they say is the first concession in Utah of the federal government agreeing to grant right-of-way access to disputed roads that cross federal lands” – for a route known as Skutumpah Road.

    But wait a minute . . . way back in 2000, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt determined that Skutumpah, a graded, long-standing road, met the R.S. 2477 requirements.  We looked at the history of the road and agreed.  No one has opposed the County’s ability to do road work on Skutumpah, as long as the County stays out of adjoining wilderness study areas and Monument lands.  Still, Kane County refused to do road work there despite local residents’ repeated pleas for it to fix washouts and erosion, all because they wanted to make a federal case out of their – already recognized – rights to Skutumpah.

    (County officials are so bent on creating drama where none exists that they went so far as to remove essential safety signage on routes throughout the County – signs which no one objected to but which are critical to public safety.)

    So what’s the County crowing about?  That they’ve spent a million dollars on attorneys fees so far and have one route that everyone agreed to over a decade ago.