Scott Groene, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance


  • November 7th, 2018

    Harry Truman once wished for a one-armed economist because he’d grown tired of hearing, “On the one hand…on the other hand.” This post-election wrap-up is a bit like that: slivers of hope set against hard reminders.   

    For public lands, the election’s best news is probably this: the blue wave that washed over the House also swept away Rob Bishop’s chairmanship of the House Resources Committee. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) will likely replace Bishop. Think Imperator Furiosa replaces Iago. It will be much more difficult for the Utah congressional delegation to move bad wilderness legislation.

    We won’t really celebrate, though, until we get past the dangerous uncertainty of a lame duck Congress. Retiring Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is trying to ram through his Emery County legislation. This late in the game, his likeliest avenue is to slip his anti-wilderness bill inside some larger legislative package.  It’s our job to see that he fails. Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek and the San Rafael Badlands are in the balance.  

    But we hope the election will embolden Democratic leadership to block bad legislation in these few remaining weeks, even as their Republican counterparts redouble efforts to do all the damage they can before losing power. Lame duck congresses often prove to be duds; they can also be dangerous. Muddying this lame duck’s waters even further, Trump is relieved of whatever pressure he felt to act like an adult prior to the election. With a budget deadline of December 7, he may yet have the chance to shut down the government to indulge some momentary whim.

    We’ll have to contend with the Trump administration for two more years; the election doesn’t change that. But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Trump’s trained seal, faces a number of ethics-related investigations that may distract him some from his assaults on public land.  Offsetting that faint hope is the likelihood that the Bureau of Land Management will be ever more servile in its acquiescence to local Utah politicians and their anti-public lands demands. 

    The mid-terms did nothing to quash Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s massive litigation seeking control over national parks, monument, and wilderness through the antiquated and repealed RS 2477.

    There were some changes among Utah’s congressional delegation.  In potential good news for the environment, it appears Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams beat incumbent Republican Representative Mia Love.  The outlook is less clear regarding former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who returned to Utah to collect the retiring Hatch’s seat. During his senate campaign, Romney pandered to the right wing on public land issues. We’ll see if he chooses to stay on the fringe.   

    At the state level, in what is the very essence of rotating bald tires, former San Juan County commissioner and all-terrain-vehicle protest rider Phil Lyman replaced long time State Representative Mike Noel.  A leader in the state house, the bellicose Noel did his best to drag Utah backwards with false claims on public land issues and a penchant for wasting Utah tax dollars pushing his anti-federal views.  Perhaps Lyman will surprise us by being something else. We doubt it.    

    Notably, this election brought real change to San Juan County, home of the Bears Ears National Monument. Native Americans Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes won two of three county commission seats. Both support the Bears Ears; both beat candidates who didn’t. This is an extraordinary shift of power to the Native American majority in a county where gerrymandering Anglo politicians have long suppressed Native needs and Native voices.   

    Make no mistake, Kenneth and Willie will face hostility from the entrenched county forces seeking to make them fail. Those forces were at work from the very beginning. The San Juan County Clerk sought to falsify documents in order to keep Willie off the ballot, but was busted by a federal judge. We wish the new commissioners success, and thank them for the courage to take on these offices.

    We have survived half of the national nightmare of Donald Trump’s reign. Each year becomes more dangerous as blatantly unqualified political appointees remain in place and work their mischief, twisting and distorting the bureaucracies that manage our public lands. 

    We operate in an ever-changing political environment at every level. Politicians, bureaucrats and judges come and go. The constant is the red rock wilderness and our resolve to defend it.  Thank you for being part of this movement.

    –Scott Groene

  • May 3rd, 2018

    As early as next week, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative John Curtis could introduce legislation for the San Rafael Swell and portions of Labyrinth and Desolation Canyons.

    Labyrinth Canyon. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    While we haven’t yet seen a final version of the bill, our review of previous drafts and recent communication with the delegation make us very concerned that this bill could significantly undercut these remarkable landscapes.

    So far, the Utah delegation has refused to compromise on a one-sided wilderness proposal drummed up by local politicians — a proposal that omits Wilderness designation for more than one million acres that deserve protection.

    And from the maps we’ve seen, the boundaries of what would be designated as Wilderness are absurd. For example:

    • Only one side of Labyrinth Canyon would be protected, and the portion that is designated is pitifully small.  
    • The largest intact wilderness in the Swell — Muddy Creek — would be chopped down in size by cutting it up with off-road vehicle routes.
    • None of the western Swell Badlands — Molen Reef, Upper Muddy Creek, Cedar Mountain and similar places — would be given any protection at all.   
    • WSAs would be released in the Sids Mountain region to ensure that off-road vehicle use in those canyons would be perpetuated.   

    While the main failure of this bill would be the lack of protection for the Swell’s iconic wilderness landscapes, we’re also concerned that the bill could include other poison pills:  

    • Control of the southern San Rafael Reef — including areas such as Chute and Crack Canyons — could be handed over to the State of Utah, which would then charge us for visiting what were formerly our lands, with proceeds given to the state or Emery County.
    • The bill may allow Utah politicians to continue their litigation against the United States to force off-road vehicles trails into the same lands designated as Wilderness by the bill.
    • The bill could undo a protected WSA to allow for coal mining.

    From what we’ve seen, there is little or no conservation gain in this bill.  In fact, this bill wouldn’t close a single off-road vehicle route.  No lands that are threatened by leasing would be closed to leasing. We understand that part of the intention of the bill is, in fact, to prevent future conservation gains.  

    Sids Mountain, San Rafael River. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    If the legislation turns out as bad as we fear, then with your support we’ll work to either block it, or work to improve it so that it’s legislation worthy of places like Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek and the San Rafael Swell Badlands.

    We’ve seen the Utah congressional delegation do this over a dozen times before: pursuing legislation for a handful of rural politicians, while ignoring the views of all other Utahns — let alone the American people who all share ownership of these lands.    

    We may know as soon as next week if this is just déjà vu all over again.   

    Stay tuned…

  • February 20th, 2018

    As you know, SUWA works day in and day out to protect Utah’s magnificent wild lands.

    From our lawsuits challenging President Trump’s illegal reductions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments to our campaign to stop the BLM from chaining our public lands and fragmenting wilderness with oil and gas drilling—the effort to protect Utah wilderness never ends and is fought on many fronts.

    That’s why I wanted to let you know about the next big opportunity we have—to protect the San Rafael Swell and other wilderness areas in Emery County, in the central part of Utah.

    You’ll recall that Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI) was introduced in the House with much fanfare in 2016. Although it began with good intentions, the final PLI was little more than a one-sided wish list for energy interests and off-road vehicle enthusiasts. Accordingly, it died a quick death in Congress.

    Emery County Wilderness Map (Thumbnail)
    Click image to view larger map

    Out of the ashes of the failed PLI, Utah’s newest representative, John Curtis, and Senator Orrin Hatch have expressed interest in creating a comprehensive lands bill for the Emery County region—which includes the San Rafael Swell and Labyrinth Canyon.

    We appreciate that Rep. Curtis and Sen. Hatch have committed to work with all sides, including SUWA. After all, these lands belong to all Americans. Only legislation negotiated with conservation interests will succeed.

    There are already numerous points of agreement, but a successful bill to protect the San Rafael Swell and Labyrinth Canyon must:

    • Not enshrine old, court-overturned travel plans into law. In the wake of a judge overturning the Richfield BLM’s motorized travel plan, an extraordinary agreement was reached between the Trump administration and off-road vehicle and conservation groups that ended litigation in favor of developing new travel plans, including for the San Rafael Swell. Emery County’s current proposal to enshrine the old and defeated travel plan is unacceptable. The State of Utah must also relinquish any RS 2477 claims in areas designated for protection.
    • Focus on front country development, not backcountry fragmentation. Places like Bell and Little Wild Horse Canyons are seeing increased use and crowding. However, it would be a mistake to add new recreational amenities and, in turn, additional use to this remote area, as has been proposed. Any recreation and tourist infrastructure should be built in the front country near local communities such as Green River and the towns along Highway 10.
    • Address scattered state sections. These sections, intended to help fund public schools, are isolated and often economically worthless. Legislation that trades out those sections and consolidates them elsewhere would benefit both education budgets and conservation.
    • Protect the San Rafael Swell and Labyrinth Canyon. The western bank of the Green River in Labyrinth Canyon falls within Emery County, while the eastern bank is in Grand County. We should not limit our thinking to the arbitrary political boundaries of the county. All of Labyrinth should be addressed.

    We’re excited about the opportunity to work with Rep. Curtis and Sen. Hatch to protect the places we all treasure. But it must be a good bill—a bill worthy of the landscape it seeks to protect.

    In the coming weeks, we’ll send you more information about the emerging San Rafael Swell bill and the opportunities you’ll have to participate in the process.

    Thank you for continuing to be a part of the movement to protect Utah wilderness. We cannot succeed without you.

  • October 26th, 2017

    A new Utah poll demonstrates, again, that while bold conservation is often controversial at inception, it becomes appreciated with time. But Utah’s politicians still haven’t learned. When significant landscapes are protected by executive orders, they pull the Chicken Little routine and shake their fists at the sky. History proves them wrong every time.

    And it’s happening all over again.

    A new Dan Jones poll shows Utahns 2-1 oppose Utah politicians’ efforts to break apart the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument. Twenty years ago, President Clinton was hung in effigy in Escalante for establishing the monument. Today, local businesses there and in Boulder are pleading with the Trump administration to leave it intact.

    Buttes along the Burr Trail, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Copyright Jeff Foott

    As we’d expect, the poll shows less support for the nascent Bears Ears National Monument. This is probably due to the steady outpouring of flagrantly false claims made by Senator Hatch, Representative Bishop and others that the monument will somehow devastate local economies and harm school kids. Still, only half of Utahns have bought into the lies so far as to favor reducing the monument.

    Given time, the majority of Utahns will solidly celebrate Bears Ears as they do the Grand Staircase.

    And of course, these lands belong to all Americans, not just those of us living here in Utah.

    Bears Ears Buttes in Bears Ears National Monument. Copyright Jeff Foott

    These protections are good for America. There is no serious argument that we’d be better off today if the Grand Staircase-Escalante had been sacrificed to a coal mine—especially as the view from the Kaiparowits Plateau (where the coal diggers wanted to dig) already includes the 800-foot-tall smokestacks at the Navajo Generating Station, set to close in two years because burning coal is no longer economic.

    President Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument for the Tribes who have lived and used these lands since time immemorial, and it will be a great injustice if it is undone. Utah politicians will go down as standing far on the wrong side of history.

    Every time Americans have chosen to protect western landscapes, the decision has been recognized as wise, with the perspective of time, by citizens living both far from and near the affected lands. This week’s poll confirms that, again. Will Utah’s politicians ever learn?

  • April 26th, 2017

    They’re coming for your national monuments.

    This morning, President Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to “review” Bears Ears National Monument within 45 days, and to make a recommendation on all other monuments going back to the designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996.

    That this review is a sham is beyond doubt. During the signing ceremony, Trump repeatedly mentioned Bears Ears, saying it “never should have been done.” And the White House advisory on the executive order specifically calls out Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante as “two examples of modern abuses of the Antiquities Act.”

    In short, Utah’s redrock wilderness is ground zero in Trump’s war on the American West.

    Can you send a tweet right now to Secretary Ryan Zinke and tell him to leave Grand Staircase and Bears Ears alone?

    Heres a sample tweet:

    .@SecretaryZinke please #StandwithBearsEars and leave #grandstaircase intact. #Keepitpublic #monumentsforall

    Or call the Secretary’s office directly at 202-208-7351 or be patched through on your cell phone by clicking here.

    Sunset Arch in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Copyright James W. Kay.

    Every call and tweet makes a difference. We need to show Sec. Zinke that the American public is opposed to his attempts to undo decades of conservation victories.

    It’s clear that at Bears Ears the president wants Secretary Zinke to manufacture the political cover for his administration to break the government’s promise to Native American Tribes to protect and preserve their ancestral homeland.

    And it’s equally clear that at Grand Staircase the president is seeking to reward his Big Coal backers at the expense of one of the nation’s wildest and most dramatic redrock landscapes.

    SUWA is going to do everything in our power to stop President Trump from giving away our national monuments to developers and drillers. Now is the time for all of us to speak up in defense of the redrock.

    Thank you for taking action.