• November 30th, 2020

    The coronavirus pandemic entered the American psyche the same week our 2020 stewardship season was slated to begin, forcing us redefine how we work on the landscape.

    Today, as we plan for the 2021 season and beyond, adaptation remains critical in protecting the health of people and the integrity of Utah’s wild places. Working on Utah’s public lands going forward will require all of us to pause and reevaluate how we encounter, experience, and enjoy our public lands.

    Key to our understanding of how best to approach stewardship in the coming years will be your input and reflection on how our individual impacts – how the choices we make and those we do not make – affect the places we love. This means considering how we recreate, how we tell public lands stories via social media, and how we build inclusivity and resilience into the outdoors.

    As much as anything else in a persistent pandemic environment, this ought to be the year’s primary lesson: the protection of public lands is fortified with an equal measure of care and justice for people. The true crossroads of wild and built environments are people – those who maintain, endure and experience both. 

    For many in 2020, our only seeming glimpse into the natural world was the patch of green or flash of color spied through a window. In a moment of clarity, the glint of the windowpane became a mirror through which we recognized as much wild within ourselves as in all the redrock. No matter where we live or what forces are at work on us, we are all poised to know and care for the wild. But if we are to protect wilderness, we must protect one another first.

    This year, we accomplished a great deal more than seemed likely or even possible given the context. In all, we tackled 14 projects on Utah public lands. We monitored and reclaimed over (50) unauthorized vehicular routes, removed over 1,200 square feet of graffiti from sandstone walls in wilderness, and installed thousands of feet of defensive barriers along protected land boundaries. Our volunteers installed dozens more wilderness and wilderness study area boundary signs, reclaimed extensive undesignated campsites, and removed countless bags of refuse. We would not have accomplished any of this without you. 

    This winter, we will work to redefine how we work with you on the landscape. As a start, we plan to hone our regional Wilderness Steward chapters across Utah. If you are interested now in becoming part of our program, complete a 2021 General Application and select “Wilderness Steward” under the Volunteer Position question. Learn more about our 2019 Class of Stewards here – or contact volunteer@suwa.org to speak directly with our staff. And keep an ear to the ground for a mid-winter update on our program as we carry forward into the new paradigm.

    Thank you once again for the hard work this season.

    Stay safe – and we will see you in 2021.

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  • November 3rd, 2020

    SUWA Staff Attorney Landon Newell discusses a proposal by the Bureau of Land Management to allow a helium drilling project within the newly-established Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness along the Green River. This is the latest in a long series of outrageous actions on public lands by President Trump’s Bureau of Land Management, but there are ways for you to get involved in the effort to stop the drilling of this spectacular wilderness before it starts.

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Our theme music, “What’s Worth?” was written and performed in Moab by Haley Noel Austin.

    Listen on your favorite app!

    wildutah.info/Stitcher
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  • October 28th, 2020

    One month before the largest wilderness bill of the last ten years was passed (the Emery County Public Land Management Act, signed into law as part of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act on March 12, 2019), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rushed to issue a lease to drill in the heart of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, which was formally designated as wilderness by the Dingell Act.

    The BLM had full knowledge that lands encompassing the leased area would soon be designated as wilderness—but went ahead and issued the lease anyway. SUWA protested that decision but the BLM’s state director rejected our challenge.

    Now, the agency has prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) to approve a helium drilling project on this lease inside the wilderness. The public comment period is open through November 9, 2020.

    Click here to tell the BLM not to allow drilling in the heart of Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness!

    Aerial view of Labyrinth Canyon with lease area highlighted. Photo © Pete McBride/EcoFlight

    If allowed to proceed, the project will involve months of extensive construction in this remarkably quiet and remote place, including, at a minimum, road improvements (upgrading and graveling of existing two-tracks), well pad construction (5-7 acres of disturbance), pipelines, infrastructure on the well pad, and construction of a 10-acre processing facility on nearby Utah school trust lands. The project developer plans to drill at least two wells for helium, which requires a federal oil and gas lease to develop and which will have many of the same on-the-ground impacts as conventional oil and gas drilling.

    The Labyrinth Canyon section of the Green River, which was designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as a “Scenic” segment, is one of the most iconic, remote, and world-renowned river segments in the United States.

    Please contact the BLM today and tell them:

    • Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness is too special to drill (this includes the wilderness area itself as well as the adjacent Labyrinth Canyon Scenic segment of the Green River).
    • The area is very remote, quiet, and scenic, and industrialization of the area will significantly degrade—or destroy—these values.
    • Both the lease and this last-minute rush to approve development before a potential change in presidential administration highlights everything that is wrong with the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda.

    Click here to submit your comments today.

    P.S. This Salt Lake Tribune article has more detail on how this lease was slipped in during the 11th hour before Labyrinth Canyon was designated as wilderness.

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  • October 13th, 2020

    Yesterday was Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We recognized it by sharing the Bears Ears Inter Tribal Coalition’s words. Today, we want to continue the spirit of Indigenous Peoples’ Day with a message about public land. 

    The wild lands of America’s red rock wilderness are ancestral Goshute, Ute, Shoshone, Diné, Paiute, Hopi, and Pueblo territories—this only considers tribes recognized by the federal government. Since the beginning of time, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous peoples have called the mountains, canyons, and valleys of Utah home. We honor our native neighbors and those who were here long before all of us to recognize the following:

    • Public Lands are on stolen lands: in the United States, Thomas Jefferson first employed the Doctrine of Discovery to dispossess Native peoples of their claims to land in order to continue U.S. westward expansion. The Doctrine of Discovery is a religious doctrine of the 1400s that founded the spiritual and legal right for Europeans to literally “take possession” of lands they “discovered [that were] not under the dominion of Christian rulers.” In 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the Doctrine as legally valid. This historic process is where the concept of “stolen lands” come from. Even though SUWA has been persistent in the permanent protection of red rock wilderness in Utah and fights tooth and nail for the retention of public lands in the public domain, we still must face the facts of this violent time in history.
    • Federal conservation lands were created with the same kind of intention. Organ Pipe, Yosemite, and Yellowstone are just a few examples of beloved conservation lands whose establishment resulted in the displacement of native communities. This is why it’s important to know whose land you stand on, and to support native-lead campaigns to protect people and the planet. The more non-native people can recognize ancestral territories on which they live, work, and play, the better allies we can be in standing for justice for native peoples.

    Our public lands are the perfect subject for healing among all people, healing our connection with the more-than-human world, and respecting our native community members. Yesterday was Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but the work to protect sacred ancestral lands continues every day.

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