ARRWA Archives


  • June 21st, 2018

    This morning, HR 5727, the Emery County Public Lands Management Act—or the Not So Swell bill—was heard before the Federal Lands Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives. The hearing, like the bill, was not good.

    Though the Utah Wilderness Coalition (which is comprised of SUWA, NRDC, and The Sierra Club), The Wilderness Society, and the National Parks Conservation Association all submitted testimony highlighting serious concerns with the bill, there was no opportunity provided for a witness to testify against this terrible proposed legislation.

    At the hearing, Rep. John Curtis of Utah continued to falsely laud the bill as win for all stakeholders. If by “all stakeholders” Curtis meant Emery County Commissioners, then he would be right. There is a long way to go before this bill could be considered a win for anyone who cherishes the deserving wilderness landscapes of the Swell and the priceless cultural resources it contains, and some very serious issues still must be fixed.

    For example, more than 900,000 acres of proposed wilderness is being left unprotected within Emery County, and other lands worthy of protection are being left out simply because they are not within arbitrary county lines. The current legislation would riddle proposed conservation areas with destructive motor vehicle routes, and contains insufficient protections for unique Utah landscapes like Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek and the San Rafael Badlands. 

    Representative Alan Lowenthal, lead sponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in the House, highlighted these deficiencies at today’s hearing. Rep. Lowenthal hit hard on the unprecedented proposal to “cherry stem” routes in a proposed National Conservation Area—saying that this significant loophole renders it a National Conservation Area “in name only” and undermines a legal settlement that found the current travel plan was crafted illegally and requires that it be redone.

    San Rafael Swell in Emery County, Utah. Photo (c) Bill Church

    Rep. Curtis repeatedly said no group is going to get everything they want. But that’s a standard not applied to Emery County, which seems to harbor the expectation that its woefully inadequate proposal for lands that belong to all Americans will be rubber stamped by Congress. The legislation hasn’t changed at all since introduction, and Emery County hasn’t given anything up in an attempt to make this bill a true winner. Rep. Curtis himself said that Utahns are tired of “winner take all” proposals, but that’s precisely what this bill is.

    In exchange for protecting less BLM wilderness than is already a designated Wilderness Study Area or Natural Area, and actually releasing nearly 15,000 acres of wilderness study areas to facilitate a coal mine, the county gets a whole grab bag of goodies. Among the things it would get from this bill:

    • Enshrinement of a travel plan that has already been deemed illegal. In fact, the county is trying to open more roads than are currently open across public lands.
    • 12.5% of any revenue generated from a land exchange that would be triggered by the bill.
    • Over 2,700 acres of federal public land for infrastructure such as a sheriff’s substation, airport, and information center.
    • Increased tourism that will result from the creation of new designations, including an expansion of Goblin Valley State Park and the establishment of Jurassic National Monument.

    All that for a bill that actually rolls back protections! 

    Rep. Curtis is right on one thing: Utahns—and Americans—are tired of winner-take-all proposals. He stated that he is looking forward to continuing to look with all stakeholders, including groups like SUWA, in order to move the bill, and we hope he’s serious.

    Our job is to fight for meaningful protections for Utah’s wildlands, and we will continue to press Rep. Curtis and Sen. Hatch to fix the glaring flaws that make this bill a conservation loss. But if we can’t persuade them, we’ll fight back. 

    Either way, we’ll continue to need your help. 

    If you haven’t already done so, please contact your members of Congress and ask them to oppose the Emery County bill! 

    Thank you for taking action to protect the San Rafael Swell and Labyrinth Canyon.

  • 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…

  • March 9th, 2018

    What happens when the government is controlled by friends of the oil/gas/mining industry and decides that public lands should be destroyed for short-term rewards? People get angry, and that anger turns to ACTION. Earlier this week, Congress heard from 30 impassioned activists in Washington, D.C. during the Utah Wilderness Coalition’s annual Wilderness Week, co-hosted by SUWA, Sierra Club, and NRDC.

    Wilderness Week activists in front of the U.S. Capitol this past week.

    After an extensive training session covering the ins and outs of lobbying, Utah wilderness issues, and the legislative process, activists took to Capitol Hill to put their newfound skills to good use. Teams scheduled over 200 meetings with members of Congress. In office after office, their stories of the redrock reinvigorated old legislative champs, educated new ones, and challenged the assertions of opponents.

    Now we’re asking you to amplify their voices and help keep up the momentum.

    Click here to ask your members of Congress to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and oppose the Curtis and Stewart national monument giveaway bills!

    A love for the redrock drove these activists to share their personal stories and connections to the landscape during their meetings on the Hill. Whether they grew up near Utah’s magnificent public lands, hiked through slot canyons on family vacations, or have a deep cultural connection to the landscape, their stories struck a chord in many offices.

    For those of you reading this who were not able to attend Wilderness Week, there is still a part for you to play. No matter where you live, contact your members of Congress and tell them to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act!

    If they are already cosponsors, click here to thank them!

    Or if you prefer to contact your members via your smartphone, text “ARRWA” to 52886 to take action now!

    To find out if your members of Congress have already endorsed America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, click here for the current list of cosponsors

    Thank you!

  • November 9th, 2017

    On November 8th, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed one of the most egregious dirty energy bills Trump’s Congress has attempted yet. H.R. 4239, the so-called “SECURE Act,” prioritizes fracking above all other energy sources, decimates rules that regulate drilling, guts public involvement and input on development through the National Environmental Policy Act, and worst of all, gives the states permitting and oversight authority over energy development on federal lands!

    Please contact your representative and tell them to oppose H.R. 4239 when it comes to the floor!

    We won’t bother to tell you the Orwellian phrase they came up with to get to the name “SECURE Act.” You should think of it as the “So the Earth is Completely Undermined, Ravaged, and Eviscerated Act.”

    Can you imagine a world in which state politicians are calling the shots on which federal lands should be drilled? In Utah, precious little public land would be left unexploited. The passage of this bill would effectively be the first step in the state of Utah’s wild-eyed plan to take over federal lands.

    Troublingly, we’re hearing that the SECURE ACT could get a vote on the floor as soon as next week. That’s why it’s imperative that you contact your member of Congress and ask them to oppose it today!

    In addition to all the horrors listed above, the bill weakens protections for marine mammals, expands offshore drilling in America’s oceans, undoes protections in the Arctic, and eliminates the ability for a president to withdraw areas from drilling off the coasts. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of destruction.

    Tell your representative to vote NO on this blatant attempt to hand over America’s natural wonders to fossil fuel developers!

    Thank you!

  • October 5th, 2017

    Do you want to hear the sound of helicopters in Utah’s backcountry? Moab-based Pinnacle Helicopters wants to fly wealthy tourists into wilderness quality areas, using a loophole that would allow them to land on state lands inside a Wilderness Study Area near Canyonlands National Park. The National Park Service has raised concerns. SUWA is fighting the proposal.

    The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands National Park, adjacent to one of the proposed helicopter landing sites. NPS photo by Neal Herbert.

    The Moab Times-Independent reports on the latest issue hovering above Moab — and Utah’s wild lands:

    A local helicopter company’s plans to charter flights to state lands within a federal Wilderness Study Area (WSA) near Canyonlands National Park has met some pushback from conservation groups and others who cite potential impacts regarding noise and solitude.

    Moab-based Pinnacle Helicopters is currently seeking a right-of-entry permit with Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) for transportation and charter flights on four state-owned land parcels.

    These state parcels — arranged in a “checkerboard” pattern across the map — are within or adjacent to a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) WSA. One parcel sits directly adjacent to Horseshoe Canyon, home to the “Great Gallery” rock art site in Canyonlands National Park.

    Kya Marienfeld, wildlands attorney at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), said this right-of-entry application reveals how differently state and federal lands are managed.

    “This [WSA] designation was put in place to ensure that a pristine wilderness-quality area remains unimpaired until Congress decides to officially designate the area as wilderness,” Marienfeld said. “Aircraft lands are not permitted in these Wilderness Study Areas, but because SITLA parcels are managed differently, they essentially allow an island within wilderness-quality lands where any activity the state chooses can be allowed, no matter how incompatible with the surrounding uses on public lands.”

    According to Marienfeld, SUWA has expressed concerns that these helicopter flights would have a “terrible effect” on the wilderness characteristics of the area, which include solitude and remoteness.

    “It’s noise and the effects on solitude. Helicopters are loud, and this area being so remote … it’s pretty untrammeled because it’s a little ways out,” she said.

    Click here to read the full article.

    More on Pinnacle’s plans:

    • Each of the three proposed landing sites are within a Wilderness Study Area (WSA), which is undeveloped public land with outstanding naturalness, opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation, and a landscape largely unaffected by human activity.  This designation was put in place to ensure that a pristine wilderness-quality area remains unimpaired until Congress decides to officially designate the area as wilderness.
    • Aircraft landings are not permitted in these WSAs, which are managed as wilderness by the BLM, but because SITLA parcels are managed differently, they essentially allow an island within wilderness-quality lands where any activity the state chooses can be allowed, no matter how incompatible with the surrounding uses on public lands. In essence, the state can do anything it wants with them, all with an eye on turning a profit.
    • This is exactly why the helicopter operator is seeking to take advantage of these SITLA sections and land on state-managed lands, even though tourists would be flying in with the purpose of experiencing the supreme public lands that surround each SITLA landing site.
    • One of the proposed landing sites is immediately adjacent to the Horseshoe Canyon Unit of Canyonlands National Park, which contains some of the most pristine and fragile rock art panels in the world, including the famous “Great Gallery.” This entire NPS unit is managed as an archaeological district and access is carefully maintained to preserve the exceptional rock art.
    • The only people this new undertaking will benefit is a few extremely wealthy tourists, at the expense of locals who know the Robber’s Roost and Horseshoe Canyon area as a place that is well-worth the trek precisely because of its superb remoteness. Flying rich tourists in for day-trips not only cheapens the wilderness experience, but also ruins the solitude that makes this location special.

    Stay tuned for ways you can get involved…..

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