• August 30th, 2018

    More than 300 passionate wilderness advocates poured into the Salt Lake City Main Library for the People’s Hearing on the San Rafael Swell last night. The auditorium filled to overflowing as Utahns showed up to call for greater protection for the San Rafael Swell and surrounding wild lands.

    Speaker after speaker described how the Emery County Public Land Management Act (H.R. 5727/S. 2089) fails to do justice to the globally significant wild lands in the San Rafael Swell and nearby Labyrinth and Desolation Canyons. The Act could determine the future of 1.5 million acres of scenically spectacular wildlands that are also laden with cultural artifacts, including extraordinary rock art.

    Frustrated by the failure of Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative John Curtis to provide a meaningful opportunity for people outside Emery County to help shape a public lands bill for the region, the Utah Wilderness Coalition and fifteen other organizations hosted the “People’s Hearing” so those outside the county could express their views. Senator Hatch and Representative Curtis were invited but declined to attend.

    Scott Groene, Executive Director of SUWA, started off the evening by describing how the proposed Emery County bill is actually a step backwards for conservation. “The bill is worse than the status quo,” said Groene. “[It] would designate less wilderness than already has protection as Wilderness Study Areas or Natural Areas. Over 900,000 acres of deserving wild lands are left unprotected as wilderness. At the same time, the bill makes off-road vehicle abuse worse by enshrining 800 miles of off-road vehicle routes, effectively perpetuating an old, illegal and overturned travel plan.”

    Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski decried the Emery County bill as a “long-term plan to rip up this landscape” and criticized the Utah delegation for failing to provide opportunities for public input. “Without this People’s Hearing happening here tonight,” she said, “there is no public forum on this issue.”

    Shaun Chapoose, member and former chairman of the Ute Tribal Business Committee, described the bill as “another attack on our tribal lands and resources.  Another modern day Indian land grab just like Congressman Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative from a couple of years ago.”  He added, “The Ute Indian Tribe is yet another voice that did not get a seat at the table when they were drafting this bill. We found out about the bill in the days before it was introduced.”

    Chapoose, who also encouraged the crowd to become good stewards of the land they occupy, received a standing ovation from the crowd.

    “In the morning when you get up, when the sun is just rising over the mountains, when the animals are already up: how many people take that for granted?  If we do not take care of the land, people will look back in the future and say people should have done something to take care of this land.”  —Shaun Chapoose

    Lauren Wood, a third generation river runner who helps her family operate Holiday River Expeditions, an outdoor adventure company, said the company was not asked for their input, despite the fact that they have been based primarily in Emery County since 1973 and operate rafting and biking trips in the San Rafael Swell, Desolation Canyon, and Labyrinth Canyonall wild areas affected by the bill. “They speak of public process but those cherry-picked to represent the ‘public’ do not represent the whole, and the whole is exactly what we need if we hope to have a chance in this beautiful and very climate changing state.”

    “You can’t protect the lower drainage of a river and not protect the canyons and creeks that drain into it; the impact to the resource is cumulative.  Land parcels, like stakeholders, can’t be cherry-picked if we want a chance for a legitimate future for wilderness or communities in our backyard.” —Lauren Wood

    Dennis Willis, who worked for over 30 years as a rangeland, recreation and wilderness planner with the Bureau of Land Management in the region, called the bill “a minimalist approach to wilderness.” Willis described how the baseline for the bill was not an authentic assessment of how many acres of wilderness-quality lands actually exist in Emery County, but a “totally discredited, bogus and flawed inventory” from the 1980s. Willis decried the Utah delegation’s complete deference to the local county commission.

    “The local voice is important, but it shouldn’t be the only voice. Yellowstone should not be managed by residents of Cody, Wyoming.”  —Dennis Willis

    Jerry Spangler, a professional archaeologist and executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, described how the bill will irrevocably damage archaeological sites in the area. “They want to permanently designate vehicle routes as open without doing the surveys necessary to find out if those routes will harm archaeological sites. Yet we know from past experience that hundreds and hundreds of sites could be harmed, and the courts have ordered them to complete inventories.” Spangler highlighted the Molen Reef area, a landscape rich in Native American rock art, that the bill would throw open to oil and gas leasing. “Only 1% of the area has been inventoried,” he said.

    “The BLM has never gone out and looked. If they did, they would find a wealth of very important rock art sites. You can’t manage if you don’t have that information.”  —Jerry Spangler

    Samuel Graham, an immigrant from Venezuela who made Utah home “to be closer to the clarity of spirit which the desert provides,” said “for constituents like me, public lands are the only place we can escape the demands of the city.”

    “Originally, my family and I fled Venezuela, a country which lost the moral battle for its people. The first class I attended was civics, where I learned about the values of America and the symbols that represent those values: Statue of Liberty for diversity, our constitution to empower people, the vast untouched West to represent the spirit. Now the battle for America’s morality is here and it starts with protecting our public lands.”  —Samuel Graham

    Robert Davies, physicist and climate change educator, detailed how the bill failed to consider the need to protect large landscapes to help avoid, and mitigate, the impacts of climate change.  “Much of the damage we have done cannot be undone. But so much damage yet to come can be prevented. We know how: species need habitat,” said Davies.  “Astute public policy would keep this habitat, and the whole of the Swell, intact and unbroken.”

    Many more individual citizens spoke on behalf of protecting the San Rafael Swell.  A few highlights:

    “These lands are why people live here, why people come here. We don’t have a coal plant on our license plate. We have an arch and a skier.”
    —Peter Jensen

    Like other redrock pilgrims, I’ve run Desolation Canyon, I’ve hiked down Muddy Creek with my family. I’ve clambered through slot canyons sliced through the Reef. I’ve come upon wild horses at Cedar Mountain on my way to camp on the Moroni Slopes. I’ve photographed the Black Dragon pictograph and that universe of Native spirituality pecked into the cliffs at the Rochester rock art site. This bill does not adequately protect these astonishing landscapes.” —Stephen Trimble

    “I want to speak for the people who inhabited the Swell a long time ago and who left behind galleries and galleries of irreplaceable rock art. The Emery County bill gives no protection for this precious part of all our heritage.”
    —Diane Orr, Utah Rock Art and Research Association

    “I would like to ask Senator Hatch and Representative Curtis, have you seen the San Rafael Swell?  When you are out in the quiet and solitude of Mother Earth, do you feel the divine spirit?  I ask you to search your soul and see if this bill should be set aside.”
    —Ty Markham, Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance

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  • August 28th, 2018

    Welcome to the new SUWA podcast, Wild Utah!

    In this episode, Dave Pacheco interviews SUWA Wildlands Director Neal Clark about the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018, introduced by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative John Curtis. The devil is in the details of this bill, which affects nearly 1.4 million acres of BLM land, including one of the largest unprotected blocks of wild public land remaining in southern Utah. Among its many flaws, the legislation would make off-road vehicle abuse worse by enshrining an illegal travel plan (currently under court-ordered review) while failing to provide wilderness protection for more than 900,000 acres of deserving BLM land.

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Our theme music, “What’s Worth?” is written and performed in Moab by Haley Noel Austin. Wild Utah is recorded at the studio of KRCL 90.9 FM, Community Radio of Utah in Salt Lake City. Our producer is Jerry Schmidt. We thank you all for generously donating your time, equipment and talent to Wild Utah.

  • August 21st, 2018

    Last fall, SUWA filed a lawsuit to stop the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from destroying pinyon-juniper woodlands through “chaining” and “bull-hog” projects in an area of Utah’s West Desert called Hamlin Valley. Click here for more information on these types of projects.

    These projects arose out of an analysis that the BLM’s Cedar City field office completed in 2014, which broadly considered how vegetation removal projects would impact public land across an almost 200,000-acre area. The BLM’s analysis did not describe how many of the 200,000 acres would be manipulated, nor where projects would actually occur on the ground. As the analysis stated, the emphasis was “on analyzing the cumulative effects of multiple future activities rather than the direct and indirect effects of a single activity.”

    In seeming direct contradiction of that statement, the BLM started approving and implementing projects without analyzing the direct and indirect effects.

    Hamlin Valley Chaining Project, photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    The first of these projects was done without public notification. After we realized the BLM was proceeding this way, we immediately contacted them and demanded that they live up to their commitment to perform additional site-specific analysis. When the BLM wouldn’t agree, we filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that it had a duty under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to analyze and disclose the direct and indirect effects of these projects, which it had failed to do.

    Even though two projects were completed while the case was progressing, we continued litigating, hoping to prevent this type of devastation from occurring through potential future projects.

    And now, after months of back and forth between us and the agency, the BLM has finally backed down and agreed to prepare new site-specific analyses for any additional projects in the greater Hamlin Valley area. With the BLM’s commitment in hand, and made expressly to the court, we agreed to dismiss our lawsuit.

    We hope that this helps the BLM begin to rein in its devastating chaining and other vegetation removal projects. We’ll continue to hold the agency accountable while pushing them to make better informed, more transparent decisions.

    Hamlin Valley Chaining Project, photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

     

    Hamlin Valley Chaining Project, photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

  • August 20th, 2018

    This Wednesday, August 22nd, the “Not-so-Swell” bill proposed by Utah’s Sen. Hatch and Rep. Curtis will receive a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The Emery County Public Land Management Act, which affects places like Desolation Canyon, Labyrinth Canyon, and the San Rafael Swell, is crammed into a hearing with a massive slate of 13 other bills, and no opposition witness will be called.

    This means the ONLY WAY your congressional members are really going to hear about this bill is if you contact them!

    Muddy Creek proposed wilderness, copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    We’ve been working for months to try to improve this bill, but it remains a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. It’s the brainchild of a tiny county political body whose members openly admit their goal is to prevent meaningful wilderness protections for some of Utah’s most spectacular and remote public lands. Just for starters, this bill:

    • Leaves more than 900,000 acres of proposed wilderness out of the running for protection, including much of the iconic Muddy Creek and Labyrinth Canyon areas
    • Seeks to codify an illegal travel plan that we’ve already settled in court
    • Turns federal lands over to the State of Utah
    • Releases a Wilderness Study Area to facilitate a coal mine expansion
    • Fails to protect significant priceless cultural resources in the San Rafael Badlands

    Sen. Hatch is trying to dazzle Congress into thinking this is a good bill. Tell them the truth!

    This is the biggest legislative fight we’ve had in years. The good news is we have many allies in Congress, they just need to hear from you!

    Thank you for taking action.

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  • August 16th, 2018

    President Trump’s Interior Department just released draft management plans revealing their vision for how to manage what’s left of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments as well as the lands that were illegally excised from those monuments. It was only last December that the president unlawfully attacked both of these monuments.

    We expected bad, but these plans are horrible.

    Help us protect Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments by contributing to SUWA today.

    At Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) plan sets the stage for the destruction of a unique landscape that has been protected for more than two decades.

    The BLM’s preferred alternative would open huge swaths of Grand Staircase to new oil and gas leasing, mining, and off-road vehicle damage. And a new report released today from the Department of Interior crows that the lands cut from the original monument by President Trump are “rated high for development potential” of coal reserves.

    The BLM is not shy about its intentions to oversee the destruction of this place.  To quote directly from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, their preferred alternative would “conserve the least land area for physical, biological, and cultural resources . . . and is the least restrictive to energy and mineral development.”

    Circle Cliffs, copyright James Kay

    Places like the Circle Cliffs region along the Burr Trail and Wolverine Loop Roads and the Vermillion Cliffs east of Kanab are now in the crosshairs and at immediate risk of being irreparably destroyed.

    At Bears Ears, the plan is terrible, prioritizing consumptive uses such as grazing and logging while failing to protect cultural resources and wilderness-quality lands.

    Under these just released plans even the smaller national monuments that
    Trump left behind would be managed in a way that offers less protection
    than they currently enjoy.

    We’ll have more information for you in the coming days, as well as instructions on how you can tell Trump’s Department of Interior what you think of their plans to further decimate Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

    With your support, SUWA won’t rest until Trump’s unlawful orders are overturned—and we will do everything in our power to ensure that these terrible plans are never implemented.

    Please contribute to SUWA today.

    Thank you for taking action.