• June 29th, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is developing a travel management plan for the remote Book Cliffs area in Uintah and northern Grand Counties—a plan that will determine where off-road vehicle (ORV) use is allowed in this stunning area for decades to come.

    Tell the BLM to keep motorized trails out of sensitive areas in the Book Cliffs region.

    Wilderness-quality lands in the White River area, © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    The Book Cliffs travel management area encompasses more than 602,000 acres of BLM-managed public lands in east-central Utah, including the Winter Ridge Wilderness Study Area and wilderness-quality lands around the White River, Bitter Creek, and Hideout Canyon. The region offers fantastic opportunities for camping, hiking, photography, wildlife watching, and backcountry hunting. Large herds of Rocky Mountain elk and mule deer thrive in this wild landscape that is also home to pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain lion, and black bear. Reflecting thousands of years of human history, the Book Cliffs region also contains irreplaceable cultural and historic resources.

    Federal law requires the BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. The agency’s current Book Cliffs travel plan—one of several pushed through at the end of the George W. Bush administration—blanketed the area with ORV routes, prioritizing motorized vehicle use at the expense of preserving important wildlife habitat and cultural sites.

    SUWA and our partners challenged these Bush-era plans in court as unlawful and won. That decision and a subsequent settlement agreement sent the BLM back to the drawing board to prepare 13 new travel plans, including in the Book Cliffs. Despite this, the BLM is now considering designating over seven hundred miles of new routes in the Book Cliffs Travel Management Area, on top of those designated in 2008. Inundating the Book Cliffs with motorized vehicle routes would further fragment vital wildlife habitat and damage irreplaceable cultural resources.

    Tell the BLM to fulfill its legal obligation and keep motorized trails out of wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and wilderness-quality lands in the Book Cliffs region.

    Bitter Creek proposed wilderness, © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    The BLM is currently in the initial “scoping” phase of its travel planning process, which identifies issues the agency must consider. It is vital that the agency hears from the public that blanketing the Book Cliffs area with new motorized routes is unacceptable. Instead, the BLM must prioritize reducing the total miles of trail open to ORVs to protect these public lands for decades to come.

    The most helpful comments will mention specific trails (by name or number) or areas; how you enjoy hiking, camping, wildlife watching and other non-motorized pursuits in the area; and that motorized use has already, or will in the future (if new trails are designated), conflict with your enjoyment of these public lands.

    The BLM is accepting comments through July 8, 2021. Click here to make your voice heard.

    If you prefer to email the agency directly, the address for scoping comments is BLM_UT_Vernal_Comments@blm.gov

    Thank you for taking action!

  • June 29th, 2021

    Thanks to the steady and persistent work of our Wildlands Team and more than a half-decade of service expertise gained by our Stewardship Program, SUWA has successfully catalyzed overdue protection efforts for the diverse landscapes in the San Rafael Swell designated as wilderness over two years ago through the John Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act.

    A rock cairn basket marks (and mimics) natural formations in the Sid’s Mountain Wilderness.

    Making Progress on the Ground
    This spring we began working with the Bureau of Land Management’s Price field office—the office tasked with ensuring the integrity of those lands designated as wilderness: Muddy Creek, Labyrinth Canyon, Mexican Mountain, and many more of the San Rafael Swell’s iconic landscapes. The approach and processes we developed and continue to hone are concise, long term, and no-nonsense. Beginning with the foundation of years of data collected during fieldwork conducted by Wildlands Field Director Ray Bloxham, we rely on SUWA’s GIS team to incorporate this data into interactive maps identifying critical needs on specific public lands. Our Stewardship Coordinator Jack Hanley then revisits these sites with an attending BLM Ranger to assess, describe, and propose site-specific work plans to shore up wilderness boundaries and ensure that the impacts of ORV travel and dispersed camping are addressed head-on.

    This groundtruthing and collection of data then produce formal work proposals specific to a designated wilderness area. This spring, we targeted our efforts along the eastern and western boundaries of the Mexican Mountain Wilderness, as well as locations along the eastern flank of Sid’s Mountain Wilderness. After two trips and over 200 volunteer hours committed, we’ve completed stage one protections aimed at ORV compliance in these designated wilderness areas. Currently and through the summer, we are in the midst of scoping the San Rafael Reef Wilderness, with plans for multiple fall projects beginning with a run of three weekends in September and October surrounding National Public Lands Day: September 11/12, September 25/26 (National Public Lands Day), and October 2/3. And, already in the pipeline, we have plans to move forward into the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness in the spring of 2022 and Muddy Creek Wilderness in the fall of 2022.

    Volunteer Jordan assembles the wire frame for a rock cairn basket which will serve as base for boundary signage along the Mexican Mountain Wilderness.

    An Interdisciplinary Approach
    Once our proposal has run the gamut of BLM resource specialist approvals, we then design, schedule, recruit, and execute a series of stewardship projects with field crews consisting of SUWA members, new supporters, Emery County Public Lands Council members, BLM representatives, and SUWA staff. These projects are the heart of our program, the most public aspect of our work, and emblematic of what we do. However, they are notably and importantly the culmination of diverse and persistent work within our Stewardship Program and across SUWA’s Wildlands, GIS, and Legal Teams prior to and following these flagship events. Years in the making and with years of work ahead, our hands-on work implementing wilderness projects in the Swell is undoubtedly a team effort.

    A prime example of how rehabilitation efforts such as surface raking, “iceberging” of boulders, and “deadplanting” of downed vegetation can effectively disappear the tracks of illegal ORV travel. Featured here is the Mexican Mountain Wilderness’ western boundary.

    The Work
    While on the ground in the Swell, our first approach is minimalism: raking out tracks, removing campsites, and naturalizing the landscape by strategically placing downed brush and boulders. In some cases, we employ cairn basket building—a process by which wilderness signs are housed in a cylindrical, four-foot-tall wire mesh basket filled with locally-sourced rock. The signs are drilled at the base where wire is run through and around a small boulder. Both a preventative measure for sign removal or destruction and an educational tool, you will find these installations in washes and at the junction of former illegal routes. Once installed, we recruit additional volunteers to monitor these sites for impacts and inform our Stewardship Team of up-to-date conditions. This is a key component of our growing Wilderness Stewards Program.

    Yet, as robust as our initial strategies are—95 percent of our work has endured the onslaught of the recent Memorial Day Weekend crowd—we recognize that these endeavors are merely the first offensive in a years-long drive to support SUWA’s broader effort to ensure long-lasting and effective management of wilderness in the Swell. As recreation and travel plans are shaped and implemented, and as the impacts of industrialized recreation create new challenges for wild places, we know that our stewardship work will require consistent and timely review, redesign, and reinforcement. In other words, where wilderness is concerned, it is a fact that—to ensure effective protections—we must be in this for the long haul. 2021 is the first year of many that our staff and crews will manifest a new paradigm of management on the landscape. In the years that come, we hope that you and others will join us in ensuring that our work becomes the standard by which all wilderness-quality lands are protected and defended across Utah and the West.

    Visit our website and Apply Today!

    Click here to learn more about our Stewardship Scholarships offered to student applicants from historically underserved communities currently  enrolled at least half-time in an accredited college, university, vocational school, or technical school. 

    Our crew works in tandem, employing a rock sling to move exceptionally heavy boulders to where they will block future illegal travel into the Mexican Mountain Wilderness.

     

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  • June 15th, 2021

    We take a step back to look at the macro view of why southern Utah captures the hearts of so many. We’re joined by Michael Haswood, Bears Ears Artist in Residence at Utah Diné Bikéyah, to ask: What is beauty? How is beauty embodied in your art? Is beauty important in the movement to protect wilderness?

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Wild Utah’s theme music, “What’s Worth?” is composed by Moab singer-songwriter Haley Noel Austin. Our interlude music, “Chuck’s Guitar,” is by Larry Pattis. Post studio production and editing is by Jerry Schmidt.

    Listen on your favorite app!

    wildutah.info/Stitcher
    wildutah.info/Apple
    wildutah.info/Spotify

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  • June 14th, 2021

    The Biden administration is poised to authorize oil and gas drilling on the doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument. If approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the proposal will industrialize a remote and scenic area by greenlighting the construction of new access roads, well pads, and the drilling of two wells—all about ¼ of a mile from the monument.

    This ill-conceived project—proposed by Hoodoo Mining & Production Co. LLC—runs counter to every stated goal and objective of the Biden administration. It threatens some of our nation’s wildest, most scenic public lands, including a national monument, and will harm lands with wilderness characteristics as well as priority habitat for greater sage-grouse. On top of all this, it will exacerbate the climate crisis.

    The BLM is accepting comments through June 23rd. Please tell agency not to approve this terrible drilling proposal.

    Split Mountain Benches
    Wilderness-quality lands at risk near Dinosaur National Monument. © Scott Braden/SUWA

    Making matters worse, BLM is bending over backwards to facilitate the project. The drilling and related development will take place on public lands that are currently subject to a “no surface occupancy” stipulation, which prohibits all surface disturbing activities. When Hoodoo Mining acquired the lease it did so with full knowledge of this restriction. Now, at the company’s request, the BLM is proposing to waive that important stipulation rather than requiring the company to develop in a less sensitive area.

    Tell the BLM not to grant Hoodoo Mining’s request to waive the “no surface occupancy” stipulation.

    Dinosaur National Monument is world-renowned for its remarkable density and diversity of prehistoric sites and paleontological resources. In addition, according to the National Park Service, the monument “is one of the darkest places remaining in the United States. Because there is little light pollution here, you can see the stars of the Milky Way galaxy with startling clarity.”

    With your help, SUWA will fight every step of this project to ensure that the monument remains that way.

    Please click here to submit your comments now.