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  • April 22nd, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is developing a travel management plan for the iconic Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area outside of Moab—a plan that will determine where off-road vehicle (ORV) use is allowed in this world-renowned area for decades to come.

    Please tell the BLM to keep motorized trails out of sensitive areas in the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges region.

    Labyrinth Canyon. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Home to irreplaceable cultural and historic resources, important wildlife habitat, and unmatched quiet recreational opportunities, the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges region is a magnificent area of Utah’s backcountry. It encompasses the internationally-recognized Labyrinth Canyon section of the Green River, as well as its many side canyons including Mineral, Hell Roaring, Spring, and Ten Mile Canyons.

    The area’s unobstructed views, soaring redrock cliffs, and Green River corridor provide endless world-class opportunities for hikers, river runners, canyoneers, climbers, bikers, photographers, and campers. Unfortunately, this area has also experienced a dramatic increase in motorized recreation over the past decade, with ORV noise and dust disproportionately impacting the majority of public land users.

    Federal law requires the BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. The agency’s current travel plan—pushed through in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration—blanketed the area with ORV routes, prioritizing motorized recreation at the expense of all other public land uses. The high density of ORV routes in the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area means there are few areas to escape the whine of all-terrain vehicles (including the now ubiquitous “utility” models known as UTVs) and dirt bikes.

    Currently, 94% of the lands within the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area are within a half mile of a designated ORV route. And less than 1.5% of the lands in this area are two miles or more from an ORV route. As a result, motorized vehicle use is damaging important soil and riparian resources, priceless cultural resources, significant wildlife habitat, and quiet recreational opportunities.

    This travel plan will have a long-lasting impact on the future of this region by determining where ORVs will be able to travel, and in turn what areas will be managed for the protection of other resources and values such as wildlife, solitude, and non-motorized recreation.

    The BLM is currently in the initial “scoping” phase of its travel planning process, which identifies issues that must be considered. It is vital that the agency hears from the public that the current route network is unacceptable, and that significant route reductions are needed in order to protect public land resources and balance motorized and non-motorized recreation for decades to come.

    The BLM should ensure access to trailheads, scenic overlooks, and recreational opportunities, but it must also protect the reason people want to drive here: to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges region.

    Tell the BLM to fulfill its legal obligation and keep motorized trails out of wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other sensitive or inappropriate areas in the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges region.

    The most helpful comments mention specific trails (by name or number) or areas; how you enjoy hiking, camping, and other non-motorized pursuits in the area; and that motorized use in these places has conflicted with your particular use or enjoyment.

    The BLM is accepting comments through April 26, 2021. Be sure to make your voice heard.

    Thank you for taking action!

  • April 20th, 2021

    Dozens of members of Congress have recently urged President Biden to restore Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, which were illegally dismantled by the Trump administration. In three letters led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), the members cited the monuments’ cultural significance and the need to preserve their natural and scientific values. The Durbin letter closes with an emphatic call for full restoration:

    “We wholeheartedly support the full restoration of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the expansion of Bears Ears National Monument. Securing durable, meaningful protection for these places and their irreplaceable objects is entirely consistent with the President’s stated goals and policies; anything less would fall short of what is required at this moment and would jeopardize these treasured lands.”

    25 senators signed the letters, including: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

    The House letter was signed by: Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL), Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Rep. Nydia Valazquez (D-NY), Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. David Scott (D-GA), Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Salud O. Carbajal (D-CA), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Rep. Donald Beyer Jr. (D-VA), Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Rep. William R. Keating (D-MA), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA), Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-CA), Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Rep. Susan K. Delbene (D-WA) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA).

    If any of these members of Congress represent you, please click here to thank them for supporting full restoration of Utah’s monuments!

  • February 24th, 2021

    Copyright Liz Thomas/SUWA

    Utah Governor Cox joined by other GOP Governors and pro-pollution groups such as the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) are engaged in an aggressive misinformation campaign against President Biden’s recent Executive Order pausing new oil and gas leasing on public lands to address the “profound climate crisis.” Among other untruths, the governors have argued—wrongly—that Biden’s Executive Order “bans new oil and gas development on federal lands,” and WEA argues that the Order is “bad policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” and will result in billions of dollars of lost revenue.

    Here are the facts about oil and gas leasing and development on the western public lands:

    • The Executive Order does not ban new oil and gas development on existing leases. Instead, it states that “[t]o the extent consistent with applicable law, the Secretary of the Interior shall pause new oil and natural gas leases on public lands. . . .” (emphases added). The Order pauses new leasing, not development on existing leases. It does not limit oil and gas operators’ ability to develop their thousands of stockpiled leases—across the western public lands—the majority of which are sitting idle.
    • Oil and gas operators have thousands of leases, consisting of millions of acres of public lands that have not been developed. In other words, operators are not even developing the majority of leases they have already acquired. In Utah, for example, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reports that there are 2,975,000 acres of existing leases across the state but that only 1,102,000 acres are currently in production—that is, sixty-three percent of the existing leases are sitting idle.[1]
    • Oil and gas operators across the West are sitting on almost 10,000 unused drilling permits. In Utah, the pace of new drilling has come to a near standstill and operators only develop approximately half of the permits that are approved. The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining reports, for example, that in 2019 operators applied for 263 permits (down from more than 2,000 only a few years prior) but during that same period drilled only 154 wells (down from more than 1,100 only a few years prior). Moreover, Baker Hughes reports that as of February 19, 2021, there are only three active drill rigs in the entire state of Utah (a more than ninety percent decline from a few years ago).[2] These changes are market-driven and occurred during the Trump administration.
    • The pause on new leasing will not have a significant impact on rural Utah counties energy production bottom line—many of which see little, if any, drilling and exploration. In fact, during the four years of the Trump administration’s so-called “energy dominance” agenda, operators applied for only 43 drilling permits and drilled only 21 wells in southeastern Utah—an area encompassing more than 16 million acres of land.[3]
    • The oil and gas industry has little interest in leasing and development in Utah. In fact, the demand for new oil and gas leasing is so low that the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) has cancelled several past and upcoming auctions. SITLA leasing is not affected by Biden’s Executive Order.
    • In 2020, the BLM issued only seventeen leases in 2020, covering 11,045 acres. In total, the high bidders paid just $51,617 to acquire these leases.
    • Due to outdated laws, speculators can acquire oil and gas leases for ten-year periods for as little as $1.50 per acre—a broken process that generates little revenue for the state (none of which goes directly to fund public education). In Utah, fourteen of the seventeen leases issued by the BLM in 2020 sold for the minimum amount per acre (82 percent). 
    • Based on the above discussed leasing data, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Trump’s four-year “energy dominance” agenda had very little economic benefit in Utah.

    And here are the facts about how fossil fuel development is driving the Climate Crisis:

    • The Climate Crisis is being driven in large part by the Bureau’s oil and gas leasing program. According to the most recent data available from the United States Geological Survey, “[n]ationwide emissions from fossil fuels produced on Federal lands in 2014 were 1,279.0 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMT CO2 Eq.) for carbon dioxide, 47.6 MMT CO2 Eq. for methane . . . and 5.5 MMT CO2 Eq. for nitrous oxide.” These emissions totals represent “23.7 percent of national emissions for [carbon dioxide], 7.3 percent for [methane], and 1.5 percent for [nitrous oxide] over” a ten year period.
    • Public lands—if left intact and protected from the threats of oil and gas leasing and development—can mitigate the worst effects of climate change. In a recent report, it is estimated that passage of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would permanently keep in the ground greenhouse gas emissions equal to 5.7 percent of the carbon budget necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. These same lands are estimated to currently sequester and store 247 million metric tons of organic carbon.

    [1] Data available on BLM’s Oil and Gas Statistics website (follow hyperlinks for Tables 2 and 6), https://www.blm.gov/programs/energy-and-minerals/oil-and-gas/oil-and-gas-statistics.

    [2] Follow hyperlink for “Rigs by State – Current and Historical.”

    [3] There are only two oil and gas producing counties of any particular importance in Utah: Duchesne and Uintah. In these northeastern Utah counties, operators applied for 1,257 drilling permits from 2017-2020 (the “energy dominance” years). However, consistent with their established pattern and practice, less than half of the approved permits were ever drilled (567).

  • February 10th, 2021

    Recognizing that people of color have historically been left out of the U.S. public land conservation movement, SUWA is committed to raising up diverse voices across the Intermountain West. Our Stewardship Scholar Essay Contest seeks to elevate new and essential voices through personal narratives pertinent to the broader conversation around public lands and their protection.

    Please join us in celebrating the three winners of our 2020 Stewardship Scholar Essay Contest. Our final winner  is Alex Sanchez.


     

    Naps to Activism
    by Alex Sanchez

    The ground is sacred to me—especially a patch of earth nestled in between the Education and the Psychology buildings on my campus. There is a small grass courtyard, and a place I have found that is safe to sleep. Covered with trees, the small grassy area is well hidden from the “the mall,” a busy mile-long walkway running through the middle of campus. Since my freshman year, it has become my safe haven.

    I struggled to sleep growing up because I didn’t feel safe. I was always on alert. From age 4 to 11 I was regularly molested, leaving me with the inability to let my guard down when I went to bed at night. As a biracial, queer child, I was also constantly guarding my identity and evading being outed before I was ready. Despite having some lesbian and gay family members on my family’s Mexican side, both my parents expressed queerphobic views to me in passing. We would see a queer couple at a basketball tournament and my mom would say things like, “I can’t see how a woman could date another woman, rather than a man.”

    Anytime any of my siblings or I got in trouble, we would be lectured by dad. It would start with what you did wrong and move into how your choices would lead you to drugs, rape, jail, and/or death. He never forgot to mention that he believed God didn’t intend people to be gay and the diseases they got through sex were God’s way of righting the wrongs. We saw his lesbian sisters regularly—they are my godparents—but we never talked about their partners, or what it meant that they lived with woman. When Caitlyn Jenner won an ESPY, my parents talked about her and other trans people as if they were monsters. Little did they know my “tomboy” essence was gender dysphoria.

    There was something about that courtyard on campus that felt safe. My family and my abuser were over 400 miles away. Few students even knew it existed. When I moved to Arizona from New Mexico, I felt I could breathe, release the tension I had been holding in while growing up in place I’d been forced to hide my self. In between classes I would melt into the ground and let the sun heal me. The warmth of the intense UV rays in Tucson felt like a hug from the earth, encouraging me to relax, to rest amid the burnout culture of the University. For the past three years, I have napped or just laid down at that spot five days a week—until the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. I haven’t been to campus since March 2020. I miss my nap spot, the place I’d go when I felt overwhelmed by school or by life. It was where I went if I needed to reconnect with myself and with the world around me.

    I’ve had to learn a new way of connecting and destressing in order to survive this year. Instead of napping, I’ve taken up Vinyasa Yoga. The asanas (the poses or movements) help me connect with my body and the earth beneath me. Special attention is paid to toes being spread, pressing into the palms, and pushing into the floor. The pranayama (breathing exercise) and final meditation in savasana connect me to the earth. In those moments, I think about how my breath is reliant on the trees and how my exhale feeds them in return. As I lay flat on the ground, I feel the earth on my back and know that I am safe in her presence. I am whole.

    There is an Indigenous spiritual teacher that I admire named the Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley of Portland Seminary. Woodley often speaks about how in the decolonized, indigenous worldview, everything is sacred. The earth and the animals and people who inhabit it are all sacred. The earth becomes our mother or our sibling—a living, sacred being to love and to learn from. The animals become our siblings of equal status. And without dualistic, imperialistic thinking, it is hard to rank one people above another. In Woodley’s view, if you see everyone and everything in creation as sacred, it is then that you get true justice and true shalom. That is the driving force of the activism I participate in—from protesting with the Movement for Black Lives, to raising a voice against Immigration Customs Enforcement and the evil happening at the border, fighting for LGBTQ equality and inclusion, and standing with the Tohono O’odham people as they resist a wall dividing their reservation and homelands. Everyone and everything is sacred.

    Through finding the places I have felt safe, I have been able to grow and learn to trust myself, and free up the courage to fight for others. Connecting with creation and myself through my favorite nap spot or yoga reminds me that the world is much bigger than I am, and yet I can trust that I am a sacred vital part in it. My voice and my body matter in this world.

    I’m Alex. Originally from New Mexico, I moved to Tucson AZ to pursue my education. I’m currently majoring in psychology and creative writing with a minor in Africana Studies, and plan to pursue a PhD in social psychology upon graduation with the hopes of doing research on social constructs such as gender, stereotypes, and injustice. I also hope to continue to write and publish creative non-fiction essays.

    My favorite outdoor activities include yoga and napping on the University of Arizona campus under the sun.