Blog Archives - Page 7 of 149


  • October 4th, 2018
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    Hispanic Heritage Month is observed nationally from September 15th to October 15th to commemorate the important contributions of Hispanic and Latinx peoples to America’s cultural tapestry. The wild public lands of the Colorado Plateau hold the histories of these peoples in their canyon walls, rivers, and mountains. In advocating for the preservation of America’s redrock wilderness, SUWA recognizes the influence these individuals and communities have in shaping the story of Utah’s canyon country, and the important role our wild places can play in inspiring and engaging them for generations to come.

    Map of the Colorado Plateau (National Geographic)

    A Historical Perspective

    Hispanic & Latinx histories on the Colorado Plateau predate American colonialism and even Mexican nationhood. Before Mexico or the State of Utah drew their boundaries on the Colorado Plateau, hundreds of thousands of indigenous people lived in the American southwest. According to Dr. Armando Solorzano of the University of Utah, anthropologists believed the ancient Aztecs began their migration to the contemporary Mexico City area from southeastern Utah and eventually migrated throughout North America. Some ultimately settled in Mexico, some moved northwest to the Pacific Coast, and some remained in the American Southwest. The histories of native Latinx ancestors live on today in what we know as America’s redrock wilderness.

    Image by Dr. Armando Solorzano, courtesy of Utah Division of State History

    Hispanic Heritage Month also recognizes the legacies left by Spanish conquistadors and missionaries as they made their way west across the Colorado Plateau. Their stories are remembered today in part through the names of well-known places and landmarks. For example, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the Escalante River take their names from the Spanish priest Padre Silvestre Vélez de Escalante of the historic Dominguez-Escalante Expedition of 1776. Dominguez and Escalante were sent from the Mission of Santa Fe, New Mexico to find a route to Monterey on the Pacific Coast. Though a harsh winter freeze ended their expedition in what is today Utah’s Washington County, the path they took helped establish the Spanish Trail, a crucial trade and settlement route with its heyday from 1829 to 1848. If not for this earlier Spanish exploration, U.S. westward expansion and Mormon resettlement into the southwest and California may not have been achievable.

    Old Spanish Trail silhouettes at the outskirts of Green River, Utah (near the San Rafael Swell). Photo by Olivia Juarez

    Other names that stuck from the observations of Spanish travelers in this historic era include the La Sal Mountains near Moab, literally translated as The Salt Mountains. One can imagine the peculiarity of seeing greyish-white colored peaks beyond the Moab valley’s August heat for the first time; some say Spaniards believed the peaks to be white with salt and named the range accordingly. The San Rafael Swell also takes its name from the patron saint of travel, San Rafael, known in English as the archangel St. Raphael. It is said that the Spaniards prayed to San Rafael as they made their way through the desert’s formidable uplifted land formations to their mission in Monterey, and the name has remained since.

    The Particular Importance of Utah’s San Rafael Swell

    San Rafael Reef. Photo copyright Stephen Trimble

    Today, the San Rafael Swell is of special value to Utah’s residents for its recreational, scientific, historical, cultural, and scenic character. It is a place residents of Utah’s urban Wasatch Front can easily visit for a weekend to explore slot canyons, sandstone mesas, and desert waterways like Muddy Creek and the San Rafael River. As such, it carries unique importance for Utah’s urban Latinx and Hispanic communities.

    According to 2016 U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, 347,625 Latinx people live along the Wasatch Front, accounting for 83% of Utah’s Hispanic and Latino population. Protecting the integrity of the San Rafael Swell’s 1.4 million acres of redrock wildlands also protects the ability of Utah’s communities of color to enjoy these iconic landscapes. Given the high incidence of poverty and environmental injustice faced by these communities, one could argue that they may especially benefit from the healing afforded by spending time in wilderness.

    Because of its proximity to Utah’s Latinx residents, the San Rafael Swell is the first wild landscape that many in this community may visit to seek refuge from everyday stressors, if only for the weekend. Among the many reasons to protect the San Rafael Swell and Utah’s other wild landscapes is the opportunity they provide for these residents to reconnect with nature and experience the deep silence and foundations of life abundant in wilderness. Such connections may well inspire a whole new generation to advocate on behalf of Wild Utah.

    Hispanic Heritage Month encompasses the past, present and future. As we celebrate the histories and contemporary contributions of Hispanics to the American story, we also look forward to a future where America’s redrock wilderness improves the wellbeing of all who experience its beauty, its layered history, and its quiet solace — including Hispanics, Latinos, communities of color and underserved communities everywhere.

    [Census source: http://gardner.utah.edu/wp-content/uploads/RaceandEthnicity_FactSheet20170825.pdf]

    Photo by Olivia Juarez

  • September 27th, 2018

    There were a few fireworks today during the House Committee on Natural Resources’s markup of HR 5727, Rep. Curtis’s (UT-3) “Not-So-Swell” bill for Emery County bill.

    Rep. Grijalva (AZ-3), the committee’s ranking member, issued a strong opening statement, acknowledging the work Rep. Curtis has put into this legislation, but highlighting all the many things still wrong with the bill. He specifically called for more protections for Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek, and the San Rafael Badlands, and for resolution to the Ute Tribe’s concerns about the land exchange the bill facilitates.

    At the outset, Rep. Curtis offered an amendment in the nature of a substitution (ANS), which serves to change the underlying bill being debated. The amendment fixed the travel plan we’d long had concerns about, but also made some things worse. For example, it downgraded the National Conservation Area in the San Rafael Swell to a National Recreation Area, which would put conservation on the backburner in the eyes of the BLM.

    Some of Rep. Curtis’s fiercest critics came from his own side of the dais. Rep. Gosar (AZ-4) offered a string of amendments that would actually make this bill even worse, removing a mineral withdrawal and removing Wild and Scenic river protections. His amendments were all defeated squarely, but not before he offered at least one argument we agree with: that the lands in question are federal lands, and all Americans should have a say in their management. We couldn’t agree more, Rep. Gosar.

    That’s why our champion in the House, Rep. Lowenthal (CA-47) offered a stirring defense of the special places that have been left out of the bill, and offered an amendment to add additional Wilderness protections for Labyrinth Canyon and Muddy Creek, and a National Conservation Area for the San Rafael Badlands. Rep. Curtis had complained earlier that nobody gets to have a “winner take all” bill, but the truth is, even if Lowenthal’s amendment was adopted, the bill would only protect half of what’s in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. Unfortunately, the amendment did not pass.

    Rep. Hanabusa (HI-2) offered an amendment that would ease the Ute Tribe’s concerns by defining Indian land as any land within an Indian reservation. This amendment was defeated on a party line vote, 21-17.

    The bill ultimately passed out of committee, but not before the mark-up showed why no conservation organizations support this legislation. It’s a step backward for conservation, and Rep. Curtis doesn’t seem to want to fix that. He is still only catering to the desires of Emery County—in fact, he went as far as to say he would turn the land over to the county if he could: “If they had stewardship—believe me, I would love to wave a wand and give them the land, but this is the next best thing to it — to ask what they would do with the federal land in their area.”

    But these are all American’s public lands. Keep emailing your members of Congress and asking them to oppose this legislation as it continues to move throughout both chambers.

  • September 24th, 2018

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Circle Cliffs along the Burr Trail, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah,

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, (801)-859-1552 or steve@suwa.org

    Washington, D.C. (September 24, 2018) — This morning, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan ruled from the bench and denied a motion to transfer the lawsuits challenging President Trump’s illegal evisceration of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments to Utah.

    The United States, supported by the state of Utah, had moved to transfer the lawsuits from federal court in Washington, D.C. to Utah. That motion was opposed by the plaintiffs, including Native American tribes, conservation groups and local businesses.

    “We are gratified by today’s decision by Judge Chutkan to keep these  significant cases in federal district court in Washington, D.C. With this venue issue behind us we look forward to tackling the merits of President Trump’s unlawful decisions to dismantle Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    SUWA is a plaintiff in two of the cases challenging Trump’s actions.

  • 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.