Jen Ujifusa, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance


  • February 12th, 2019

    Are you sitting down?

    We can hardly believe we get to say this, but against great odds, Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek, Desolation Canyon and other Utah wild lands may soon get permanent protection as wilderness!

    The Emery County Public Land Management Act just passed the Senate as part of a public lands package, which now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Muddy Creek proposed wilderness. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    You’ll recall that throughout last year, we were fighting the so-called “Not-so-Swell” Emery County bill. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representative John Curtis (R-UT), simply did not go far enough in its protections for Utah’s fragile places and needed to be improved if it were to pass. With your help, we told them so. Repeatedly. AND IT WORKED.

    Late in the last Congress, with just about a week remaining in the session, we had a breakthrough. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), the champion of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act who was threatening to hold up the legislation, successfully negotiated significant wilderness additions to the Emery County bill, including additions for the Muddy Creek and Labyrinth Canyon regions. With these gains the bill protects about 663,000 acres of wilderness in Utah! The bill also designates about 60 miles of the Green River as Wild and Scenic, and facilitates a trade of state lands that are constantly under threat of development out of wilderness and recreation areas.

    As with any legislative compromise, we didn’t get everything we wanted. But SUWA held firm to our principles, and with our partners in the Utah Wilderness Coalition, we won the improvements needed to earn our support.

    All told, the bill protects a huge amount of habitat, helps buffer against climate change, and preserves some of Utah’s wildest places. We were able to negotiate this legislation with delegation members who have been traditionally opposed to wilderness, and with Donald Trump in the White House. That’s huge.

    Now that the bill has overwhelmingly passed the Senate in a package of lands bills, we need your help to get it through the House. Please contact your representative today and ask them to support the Emery County Public Land Management Act!

    This victory was a colossal team effort. We couldn’t have done it without support from SUWA members like you, the deep knowledge of our field staff, our stalwart congressional champions, and a whole lot of grit and resolve.

    It’s time to celebrate, and then help get this bill over the finish line!

    Contact your House representative today!

    Thank you for all you do!

    Click here to view our story map on the bill.

    Click here for a fact sheet and additional photographs.

  • December 5th, 2018

    It’s finally December, which means, blessedly, that Congress is about to go home! But first they’re in a frenzy to complete their work for the session and pass as many bills as possible.

    Senator Orrin Hatch is trying to use this freneticism to glue the Emery County Public Land Management Act (S. 2809) to a potential public lands package being negotiated by the House and Senate.

    We can’t let this happen. Contact your representatives now and tell them to oppose Sen. Hatch’s “Not-so-Swell” bill!

    San Rafael River. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    We’ve told you in the past that the bill fails to protect deserving landscapes like the San Rafael Badlands, Muddy Creek, and Labyrinth Canyon. And while Hatch has made some changes at the margins of the bill, they are not sufficient. The bill still protects far too little land, and the places it claims to protect are riddled with off-road vehicle routes. It also releases currently protected land for a coal mine and facilitates a land exchange that would allow the State of Utah to acquire nearly 12,000 acres of proposed wilderness! Finally, it gives away federal public land to the State of Utah for an expansion of Goblin Valley State Park.

    Don’t let Hatch hatch another anti-wilderness scheme! Contact your representatives now!

    Bottom line: the land that we fight for is better off if the bill doesn’t pass.

    Here’s what you can do. Click here to tell your members of Congress not to allow this bill to be attached to a public lands package—or any other.

    Then, call the Capitol Switchboard and say it again: 202-224-3121.

    Together we can make sure Sen. Hatch doesn’t get the coal mine he wants in his stocking.

    Thanks for all you do!

    P.S. Help us protect the San Rafael Swell in 2019 and beyond by making a tax-deductible year-end contribution to SUWA today. Click here to contribute.

  • October 4th, 2018

    Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) “Not-so-Swell” bill, the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018, passed a Senate markup Tuesday on voice vote. The bill remains a one-sided proposal from a county that openly admits it is attempting to designate the minimum amount of wilderness it can get away with.

    So now, we must fight. There are still things we can do to fix this.

    Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) office spent much of last week working to negotiate a better deal, a process cut absurdly short when Sen. Hatch’s office declared that an arbitrary deadline had not been met. Now Sen. Hatch intends to try to ram this legislation through by either sticking it on a behemoth public lands package, or by attempting to inappropriately sneak it on to completely unrelated legislation. 

    This means we need you to contact your Senators and tell them the Emery County Public Lands Management Act MUST NOT PASS as is. 

    The bill leaves more than two thirds of the deserving wilderness in Emery County unprotected. It does not have sufficient protections for Muddy Creek, which, as the largest wilderness unit in the county, would be a no-brainer in a legitimate bill. It also leaves important parts of Labyrinth Canyon unprotected, designating wilderness on only the western side of the canyon corridor, and artificially curtailing boundaries to protect illegal mountain biking routes.  And the bill envisions no protection whatsoever for the San Rafael Badlands, a rugged and incredibly wild landscape that is chock full of unique and precious archaeological sites.

    Sen. Hatch’s counterpart in the House, Rep. John Curtis, is fond of saying that nobody will get everything they want in this bill. But even if those three places were added, only half of the deserving wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would gain protection. 

    The other goodies in the bill for the county prove that, in actuality, a tiny band of Emery County officials are getting just about everything they want on lands that belong to all Americans. Not only does the bill fail to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness, it also takes a bite out of an existing Wilderness Study Area to facilitate a coal mine. The bill will make recreation impacts worse in many sensitive areas, and a designation that was to be a National Conservation Area in early versions of the bill has been downgraded to a “Recreation Area,” completely changing the way the BLM will manage the lands. 

    Finally, Hatch’s office removed a federal-state land exchange that would have consolidated scattered state parcels out of designated wilderness and moved them to another area. Done well, land exchanges like these can be a conservation gain. But it became clear that Utah wanted to trade into a disputed parcel of land that the Ute Tribe claims as its own, and rather than telling the State Trust Lands Administration to come up with a better proposal, Sen. Hatch’s office instead chose to sweep the issue under the rug. Now if the bill passes, the SITLA lands would be stranded, and the school kids the Utah delegation likes to use as an excuse to bludgeon public lands will get diddly. 

    There is limited time remaining in this Congress, and Sen. Hatch has limited floor time in which to pass this legislation. Help us make his path more difficult by calling your Senators and asking them to oppose S. 2809, the Emery County Public Lands Management Act. 

    Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121 

  • June 21st, 2018

    This morning, HR 5727, the Emery County Public Lands Management Act—or the Not So Swell bill—was heard before the Federal Lands Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives. The hearing, like the bill, was not good.

    Though the Utah Wilderness Coalition (which is comprised of SUWA, NRDC, and The Sierra Club), The Wilderness Society, and the National Parks Conservation Association all submitted testimony highlighting serious concerns with the bill, there was no opportunity provided for a witness to testify against this terrible proposed legislation.

    At the hearing, Rep. John Curtis of Utah continued to falsely laud the bill as win for all stakeholders. If by “all stakeholders” Curtis meant Emery County Commissioners, then he would be right. There is a long way to go before this bill could be considered a win for anyone who cherishes the deserving wilderness landscapes of the Swell and the priceless cultural resources it contains, and some very serious issues still must be fixed.

    For example, more than 900,000 acres of proposed wilderness is being left unprotected within Emery County, and other lands worthy of protection are being left out simply because they are not within arbitrary county lines. The current legislation would riddle proposed conservation areas with destructive motor vehicle routes, and contains insufficient protections for unique Utah landscapes like Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek and the San Rafael Badlands. 

    Representative Alan Lowenthal, lead sponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in the House, highlighted these deficiencies at today’s hearing. Rep. Lowenthal hit hard on the unprecedented proposal to “cherry stem” routes in a proposed National Conservation Area—saying that this significant loophole renders it a National Conservation Area “in name only” and undermines a legal settlement that found the current travel plan was crafted illegally and requires that it be redone.

    San Rafael Swell in Emery County, Utah. Photo (c) Bill Church

    Rep. Curtis repeatedly said no group is going to get everything they want. But that’s a standard not applied to Emery County, which seems to harbor the expectation that its woefully inadequate proposal for lands that belong to all Americans will be rubber stamped by Congress. The legislation hasn’t changed at all since introduction, and Emery County hasn’t given anything up in an attempt to make this bill a true winner. Rep. Curtis himself said that Utahns are tired of “winner take all” proposals, but that’s precisely what this bill is.

    In exchange for protecting less BLM wilderness than is already a designated Wilderness Study Area or Natural Area, and actually releasing nearly 15,000 acres of wilderness study areas to facilitate a coal mine, the county gets a whole grab bag of goodies. Among the things it would get from this bill:

    • Enshrinement of a travel plan that has already been deemed illegal. In fact, the county is trying to open more roads than are currently open across public lands.
    • 12.5% of any revenue generated from a land exchange that would be triggered by the bill.
    • Over 2,700 acres of federal public land for infrastructure such as a sheriff’s substation, airport, and information center.
    • Increased tourism that will result from the creation of new designations, including an expansion of Goblin Valley State Park and the establishment of Jurassic National Monument.

    All that for a bill that actually rolls back protections! 

    Rep. Curtis is right on one thing: Utahns—and Americans—are tired of winner-take-all proposals. He stated that he is looking forward to continuing to look with all stakeholders, including groups like SUWA, in order to move the bill, and we hope he’s serious.

    Our job is to fight for meaningful protections for Utah’s wildlands, and we will continue to press Rep. Curtis and Sen. Hatch to fix the glaring flaws that make this bill a conservation loss. But if we can’t persuade them, we’ll fight back. 

    Either way, we’ll continue to need your help. 

    If you haven’t already done so, please contact your members of Congress and ask them to oppose the Emery County bill! 

    Thank you for taking action to protect the San Rafael Swell and Labyrinth Canyon.

  • December 5th, 2017

    On December 4th, President Donald Trump swooped into Utah and committed the most destructive act against public lands in the history of the presidency by repealing both the decades-old Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the not-yet-a-year-old Bears Ears National Monument.

    Grand Staircase was shrunk by 47 percent, with about 1 million acres remaining. And in a slap in the face to the five tribes who advocated for it, Bears Ears was decimated, its 1.35 million acres reduced by 83 percent to just 229,000 acres.

    7,000 Utahns rallied in support of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments at the State Capitol just two days before President Trump repealed them. Copyright Diane Kelly/SUWA

    Of course, we’ve seen this coming almost since the election last November. When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke began his so-called “review” of 27 national monuments, it was clear from the get-go that the number one targets were our monuments in Utah.

    And it was sadly unsurprising when Zinke’s initial findings were leaked to reveal that he had ignored the overwhelming consensus of more than 2.8 million public comments that made it clear that the American people wanted their monuments left alone, instead recommending the types of major cuts that we have now seen.

    Rest assured that we have not been caught off guard. For months we’ve been preparing for this moment, and we are taking this fight to the courts. There is no precedent for a president undoing a national monument, and we believe Trump has acted illegally. We are joining hands with our allies across the environmental community and the Tribes that have been so wronged in this act, and we will never stop fighting for these lands.

    In the meantime, here’s how you can take action:

    Take heart and stand with us. We are on the right side of history and we will win eventually.