Kya Marienfeld, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance


  • October 5th, 2017

    Do you want to hear the sound of helicopters in Utah’s backcountry? Moab-based Pinnacle Helicopters wants to fly wealthy tourists into wilderness quality areas, using a loophole that would allow them to land on state lands inside a Wilderness Study Area near Canyonlands National Park. The National Park Service has raised concerns. SUWA is fighting the proposal.

    The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands National Park, adjacent to one of the proposed helicopter landing sites. NPS photo by Neal Herbert.

    The Moab Times-Independent reports on the latest issue hovering above Moab — and Utah’s wild lands:

    A local helicopter company’s plans to charter flights to state lands within a federal Wilderness Study Area (WSA) near Canyonlands National Park has met some pushback from conservation groups and others who cite potential impacts regarding noise and solitude.

    Moab-based Pinnacle Helicopters is currently seeking a right-of-entry permit with Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) for transportation and charter flights on four state-owned land parcels.

    These state parcels — arranged in a “checkerboard” pattern across the map — are within or adjacent to a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) WSA. One parcel sits directly adjacent to Horseshoe Canyon, home to the “Great Gallery” rock art site in Canyonlands National Park.

    Kya Marienfeld, wildlands attorney at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), said this right-of-entry application reveals how differently state and federal lands are managed.

    “This [WSA] designation was put in place to ensure that a pristine wilderness-quality area remains unimpaired until Congress decides to officially designate the area as wilderness,” Marienfeld said. “Aircraft lands are not permitted in these Wilderness Study Areas, but because SITLA parcels are managed differently, they essentially allow an island within wilderness-quality lands where any activity the state chooses can be allowed, no matter how incompatible with the surrounding uses on public lands.”

    According to Marienfeld, SUWA has expressed concerns that these helicopter flights would have a “terrible effect” on the wilderness characteristics of the area, which include solitude and remoteness.

    “It’s noise and the effects on solitude. Helicopters are loud, and this area being so remote … it’s pretty untrammeled because it’s a little ways out,” she said.

    Click here to read the full article.

    More on Pinnacle’s plans:

    • Each of the three proposed landing sites are within a Wilderness Study Area (WSA), which is undeveloped public land with outstanding naturalness, opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation, and a landscape largely unaffected by human activity.  This designation was put in place to ensure that a pristine wilderness-quality area remains unimpaired until Congress decides to officially designate the area as wilderness.
    • Aircraft landings are not permitted in these WSAs, which are managed as wilderness by the BLM, but because SITLA parcels are managed differently, they essentially allow an island within wilderness-quality lands where any activity the state chooses can be allowed, no matter how incompatible with the surrounding uses on public lands. In essence, the state can do anything it wants with them, all with an eye on turning a profit.
    • This is exactly why the helicopter operator is seeking to take advantage of these SITLA sections and land on state-managed lands, even though tourists would be flying in with the purpose of experiencing the supreme public lands that surround each SITLA landing site.
    • One of the proposed landing sites is immediately adjacent to the Horseshoe Canyon Unit of Canyonlands National Park, which contains some of the most pristine and fragile rock art panels in the world, including the famous “Great Gallery.” This entire NPS unit is managed as an archaeological district and access is carefully maintained to preserve the exceptional rock art.
    • The only people this new undertaking will benefit is a few extremely wealthy tourists, at the expense of locals who know the Robber’s Roost and Horseshoe Canyon area as a place that is well-worth the trek precisely because of its superb remoteness. Flying rich tourists in for day-trips not only cheapens the wilderness experience, but also ruins the solitude that makes this location special.

    Stay tuned for ways you can get involved…..

  • March 14th, 2017

    Great news in the fight for Bears Ears!

    Indian Creek (c) Tim Peterson, flown by Lighthawk.

    Indian Creek (c) Tim Peterson, flown by Lighthawk.

    In mid-March, the Department of the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) issued an order granting SUWA’s Petition for Stay in our recent appeal fighting new ATV trails in Indian Creek, inside Bears Ears National Monument.

    Finding that SUWA and our partners Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club would be irreparably harmed by allowing construction of new motorized trails in Indian Creek, the IBLA concluded that the public interest would be best served by immediately staying the construction of the trails “to prevent harm to the environment and preserve the status quo.”

    This order is the first step in ensuring the monument is protected from increasing motorized use and it prohibits BLM from beginning construction until the IBLA has ruled on the merits of our appeal, for which they have already said we have a high likelihood of success when they granted our petition for stay.

    This is an exciting victory for wilderness, and is the first time an administrative body or court has addressed the legal effect of the Bears Ears National Monument Proclamation, which calls for careful consideration and analysis when managing the spectacular and irreplaceable resources within its boundaries. See a report on our appeal here, and read the IBLA’s order granting our Petition for Stay here.

  • December 16th, 2016

    Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM), one of Utah’s most untamed landscapes and the “crown jewel” of the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System, today faces a new threat from the very agency tasked with protecting it from human-caused harm.

    In the BLM’s latest push to drastically manipulate the West’s high desert ecosystems using large-scale vegetation “improvement” projects, the agency is proposing to permanently alter Grand Staircase’s wild landscape through aggressive removal of existing plant communities.

    Tell the BLM to drop its destructive proposal and honor its obligation to protect the monument.

    The Skutumpah Terrace habitat manipulation proposal covers 19,000 acres of public land within the monument, including over 14,000 acres of land proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.  In a scientifically questionable wildlife management scheme, the BLM’s GSENM field office is proposing to convert existing vegetation into a more open sagebrush habitat through a variety of ground-disturbing methods. This may include removing pinyon pine and juniper with chainsaws and using large machinery to masticate and shred existing trees, mechanically ripping up dense stands of sagebrush, and using herbicide to maintain these more invasive treatments.

    The areas affected by this proposed project contain some of the most unique and stunning scenery in the state. Dense sagebrush and pinyon-juniper vegetation frame expansive views of the adjacent White Cliffs, a dazzling escarpment that forms a rugged backdrop for this exceptionally wild landscape.

    Click here to tell the BLM to preserve our nation’s natural wonders, not destroy them.

    WhiteCliffs_RayBloxham(72dpi)

    White Cliffs, copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    This proposed project is egregious not only because it occurs within some of the most breathtaking country in Utah, but because it falls entirely within the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated for the express purpose of ensuring that its remote, undeveloped, and rugged nature remains for generations.

    Although the BLM has not yet conducted its full environmental analysis for the proposed project, we are concerned that the agency will not take into account the fact that these massive landscape gardening projects have very little scientific support. The agency must demonstrate, conclusively, that projects of this nature can actually be successful before continuing down the path of extensive soil disturbance and destruction of native vegetation and wilderness-quality lands.

    Please tell the BLM to stop this proposed project and adhere to its duty to protect public lands in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    Thank you.