Neal Clark, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance


  • July 22nd, 2016

    Representative Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI), unveiled on July 14th after much delay, is the kind of pro-extraction, anti-federal legislation that could only come from a congressman with a lifetime score of 3% from the League of Conservation Voters.

    Among myriad provisions that exacerbate climate change, promote the State of Utah’s land grab, and trivialize the Inter-Tribal Coalition’s Bears Ears proposal, one deficiency stands out above all else: the bill completely fails to adequately protect the nearly 4.4 million acres of remarkable wilderness-quality lands throughout southern and eastern Utah that are affected by this legislation. In doing so, the PLI removes existing wilderness management on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands and fails to protect 62% of inventoried lands that qualify for and deserve wilderness protection.

    Desolation Canyon (Ray Bloxham)

    The PLI would remove existing protections from the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    The PLI rolls back existing protections for over 100,000 acres of wilderness study areas (WSAs) and at least 70,000 acres of BLM-managed natural areas (i.e., areas managed by the BLM for the protection of wilderness values).  Areas left with lesser or no protection, among many others, include the entirety of the Winter Ridge, Jack Canyon, and Squaw and Papoose WSAs, and significant portions of the Desolation Canyon, Dark Canyon, Grand Gulch, and Cheesebox Canyon WSAs. Managed natural areas around the San Rafael Reef—like Muddy Creek and Wild Horse Mesa—are also adversely impacted. In addition, the PLI completely fails to protect iconic Utah landscapes such as White Canyon (including most of its tributaries), Hatch Point, Price River, and the Mussentuchit Badlands as wilderness.

    White Canyon (Scott Braden)

    White Canyon and most of its side tributaries in the Bears Ears region would remain unprotected in the PLI, leaving the area vulnerable to mineral extraction. Copyright Scott Braden/SUWA.

    Setting aside the endless list of terrible PLI provisions, the bill is fundamentally unacceptable as it fails to protect the full spectrum of wilderness-quality lands in southern and eastern Utah. Simply put, if Rep. Bishop fixed every other provision of the bill tomorrow, it would still be a step backwards for Utah’s redrock wilderness.

    SUWA will work tirelessly to ensure that the PLI meets the same doomed fate of previous public lands bills that paid little more than lip service to Utah’s remarkable public lands — but to accomplish this, we need your help. Please contact your congressional representative and tell them that the PLI is a pro-extraction, pro-development bill disguised as conservation legislation. Tell them that Utah’s wildlands deserve better.

    >>Click here to send your message now.

  • July 15th, 2016

    After years of missed deadlines, Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) finally introduced his long-delayed Public Lands Initiative (PLI) yesterday.  As anticipated, the PLI fails to protect Utah’s remarkable public lands and divests the American people of their public lands heritage. There is no chance this terrible bill could be passed in the few days left in this Congress, and it serves only as an effort to forestall President Obama from designating a Bears Ears National Monument.

    Utah’s congressional delegation will no doubt repeat ad nauseam their talking point about 4.6 million acres of federal land “designated for conservation” in the PLI.  Don’t believe it. The big acreages proffered by Rep. Bishop are disingenuous, as a hard look at the bill reveals that the PLI is a cobbled together mess that maximizes resource extraction and includes land “protections” riddled with loopholes.

    A pro-development bill disguised as conservation

    Among the laundry list of unacceptable provisions of the bill, the PLI:

    •  Fails to protect 62% of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act as designated wilderness and opens up currently protected lands, such as Wilderness Study Areas, to energy development and off-road vehicle use.

    Winter Ridge WSA

    Under the PLI, Winter Ridge would be released from Wilderness Study Area designation and opened up for fossil fuel development. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    •  Substitutes bastardized National Conservation Areas (NCAs) that enshrine the Bush-era management plans that designated thousands of miles of off-road vehicle routes; allows designation and development of new motorized trails; green-lights vegetation manipulation projects (such as pinyon-juniper clearcuts); mandates livestock grazing; declares that no more wilderness can be protected in these areas; and limits federal land managers’ ability to protect natural and cultural resources.

    •  Fails to protect over half a million acres of the Bears Ears region as proposed by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition; diminishes the Coalition’s voice in management of the reduced Bears Ears NCA by creating a 10-member advisory committee with only one tribal representative; promotes motorized recreation in this archaeologically rich region; allows grazing in currently closed areas like Grand Gulch, Fish, Owl, and Arch Canyons; and prohibits the agency from protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness.

    White Canyon. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    White Canyon and most of its side tributaries in the Bears Ears region would remain unprotected in the PLI, leaving the area vulnerable to mineral extraction. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    •  Seizes authority from public land managers and instead gives the State of Utah control over the permitting and regulation of all forms of energy development on millions of acres of federal lands and, in doing so, likely eviscerates meaningful energy leasing reform such as the nearly completed Moab Master Leasing Plan.

    •  Codifies the abysmal Bush-era motorized travel plans in protected areas and prohibits future closures of any motorized route for natural or cultural resources concerns.

    •  Grants thousands of miles of claimed R.S. 2477 routes to the State of Utah while allowing for continued litigation over R.S. 2477 routes within areas designated as wilderness, NCAs, and Recreation Areas.

    •  Unleashes a carbon bomb by transferring large blocks of federal land to the State of Utah for tar sand, oil shale, potash, coal, oil, and gas development. These blocks are located in the remote Book Cliffs, in high-value scenic and recreation lands near the Green River west of Moab, on Hatch Point bordering Canyonlands National Park, near the world-renowned San Rafael Swell, and in the Uintah Basin.

    Bitter Creek (Ray Bloxham)

    Significant portions of the Bitter Creek proposed wilderness would be given to the State of Utah for fossil fuel development. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    •  Permanently establishes livestock grazing as a priority across southern and eastern Utah and would result in both increased and new grazing in areas currently closed by federal land agencies due to natural and cultural resource damage.

    •  Furthers the State of Utah’s land grab efforts by transferring federal land to the state, without compensation, for facility development and increased motorized and non-motorized recreation.

    •  Rewards dangerous anti-government activity by granting a right-of-way for motorized access in Recapture Canyon, the site of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman’s illegal 2014 ATV protest ride.

    •  Undermines the Antiquities Act by including a companion bill that would remove the president’s authority under the Antiquities Act to protect deserving landscapes in southern and eastern Utah.

    Taken as a whole, the PLI is an assault on the wilderness of southern and eastern Utah.

    Where do we go from here?

    It’s time to move forward for the sake of Utah’s land, wildlife, and cultural resources.  It’s time to call the PLI what it really is: one more failed attempt by Utah’s congressional delegation to develop a meaningful conservation bill for the national treasures of southern and eastern Utah.  And, most importantly, it’s time for President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate the Bears Ears National Monument!

  • October 13th, 2015

    The St. George BLM recently released its draft management plan for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs National Conservation Areas (NCAs) and is accepting public comments until November 16th.

    If you care about these areas, now is the time to act.

    As you may recall, the 2009 Washington County public lands bill (i.e., the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009) established the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs—both located in a unique corner of Utah where the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert ecosystems meet.  The NCAs were created to “conserve, protect, and enhance . . . the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources” of the designated lands.

    Red Cliffs NCA (Bob Wick)

    Red Cliffs NCA, copyright Bob Wick/BLM.

    Now, anti-conservation voices in Washington County have made it their goal to undermine any effort to protect wildlife and wilderness-quality lands through management of the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs.  They have attacked the BLM for proposing measures to ensure long-term conservation within the NCAs and have attempted to skew reality by arguing that the BLM must designate a highway corridor through the Red Cliffs NCA.

    Please tell the BLM to implement the highest level of protection for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs by November 16th.

    BLM’s Alternative C, the “conservation alternative,” would ensure long-term protection for wildlife and wilderness-quality lands.   These protections include:

    • Prohibiting a right-of-way for a highway corridor through the Red Cliffs NCA (the “Northern Corridor”), which was established for the purpose of protecting the Mojave desert tortoise (a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act).
    • Designating a multispecies wildlife corridor and removing the “open” motorized vehicle designation in the protected area.
    • Managing BLM-identified wilderness-quality lands for the protection of wilderness values.
    • Designating Areas of Critical Environmental Concern for threatened, endangered, and at-risk species.
    • Limiting new motorized and non-motorized recreational development.
    • Prohibiting new transmission and pipeline rights-of-way through protected areas.
    • Removing livestock grazing and livestock developments from the Beaver Dam Wash NCA.

    Click here to tell the BLM to prioritize conservation within the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs by implementing the highest level of protection for wildlife and wilderness-quality lands.

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