ARRWA Archives


  • September 14th, 2018

    It was an interesting week for the Emery County Public Lands Act. The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Curtis and Sen. Orrin Hatch and introduced in May of this year, would affect 1.4 million acres of land proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. The legislation has yet to reach a point where it could receive broad support from the conservation community as it fails to protect critical wilderness landscapes and includes objectionable provisions that would have far-reaching implications for the remarkable public lands in Emery County.

    SUWA staff members took journalists on an overflight of Emery County on Wednesday, September 12, 2018. Watch the GoPro video above as our friends at EcoFlight fly over Labyrinth Canyon. Click here to watch the story on Fox13 News.

    Wednesday morning we learned there would be a House Natural Resources Committee markup less than 48 hours later, on Friday. This was remarkable in that markups generally happen with significantly more notice. Whether this was an intentional attempt to push the bill through the House without anyone having a chance to review new amended language, or the result of hasty and disorganized lawmaking, is anyone’s guess. Either way, we received new language for the legislation and jumped into gear analyzing the bill and providing information to our congressional champions. While the House committee markup was ultimately cancelled (again, for reasons unbeknownst to us, though some are blaming Hurricane Florence), we’ve had a chance to dig into the issues and continue to have concerns with the legislation.

    While at first blush the Emery County bill boasts wilderness and National Recreation Area (NRA) acreages that may seem impressive, a closer analysis of the bill reveals fatally flawed legislation. From what we’ve seen of the new, proposed bill amendment, the legislation:

      • Entirely fails to protect remarkable and critical intact wilderness landscapes as wilderness. This includes large portions of Labyrinth Canyon—including the entire eastern side of the canyon system—and vast portions of the remote Muddy Creek region. As proposed, the bill would designate less wilderness than is currently protected for wilderness character as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) or Natural Areas.
      • Rolls back existing WSA protections to facilitate coal mining in the Book Cliffs.
      • Includes unprecedented giveaways to the State of Utah in the form of recreation and public purpose conveyances. The legislation would hand over control of nearly 10,000 acres of high-value public land to the State of Utah for expansion of Goblin Valley State Park. The State could then charge fees for access and develop new amenities and motorized and non-motorized trail systems.
      • Authorizes a land exchange between the federal government and the School Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) that fails to identify federal parcels for acquisition, and fails to ensure protection of lands rescinded from Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments and other wilderness-quality lands.
      • Allows the State of Utah to continue its federal court litigation seeking highway rights-of-way through designated wilderness, instead of resolving Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477 issues.

    We anticipate a markup of the legislation in the House and Senate sometime later this month. In the meantime, we’ll continue to attempt to improve the bill to a point where it could be supported by SUWA and others working day in and day out to protect the wilderness lands of southern Utah. Absent the changes necessary to make this legislation one that is deserving of the landscapes it will impact, we will work tirelessly to ensure that the bill does not pass into law.

  • 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!

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