Blog Archives


  • September 18th, 2018

    Twenty-two years ago, the real Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was designated, encompassing one of our nation’s most spectacular and scientifically important wilderness landscapes. It includes world-class fossil sites, archaeological and historical treasures, unique geologic formations, and incredible intact ecosystems—all of which the monument’s original designation was designed to safeguard for future generations.

    Of course, clouding this significant anniversary is President Trump’s illegal order last December to carve up Grand Staircase-Escalante, excluding a huge portion of its original land area from Antiquities Act protection and leaving a much smaller fragment behind.

    Even though we are challenging this move in court, the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are moving forward with management plans for the “new” almost 50% reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the 700,000 acres of land it no longer includes.

    Click here to help save Grand Staircase-Escalante! Submit your comments by November 15th!

    Circle Cliffs, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Copyright Jeff Foott

    Drafts of these new plans were just released for public comment and they are nothing short of alarming. Among a host of other shortsighted and harmful actions that would be allowed are prospects for new coal, oil, and gas development—that is, these management plans would sacrifice public lands cut from the real Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to future mining and drilling.

    As SUWA Legal Director Steve Bloch explains, “The BLM’s proposed management plan for the lands President Trump unlawfully carved out of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is not only illegal, but sets the stage for the destruction of this unique landscape that has been protected for more than two decades. The BLM’s preferred alternative would open this remarkable place to new oil and gas leasing, mining, and off-road vehicle damage.”

    Tell the BLM why you love Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and want to see it fully protected!

    The BLM is asking for the public to comment on these plans. Please help save Grand Staircase-Escalante from a management plan that would do nothing to quell future drilling, mining, and off-road vehicle damage on these treasured public lands.

    There are so many reasons to love the real Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the BLM needs to hear from you about how and why its plans must do better. Take action and comment now!

    Click here to submit your comments by November 15th!

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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 and produced 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.

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