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  • June 29th, 2021

    Thanks to the steady and persistent work of our Wildlands Team and more than a half-decade of service expertise gained by our Stewardship Program, SUWA has successfully catalyzed overdue protection efforts for the diverse landscapes in the San Rafael Swell designated as wilderness over two years ago through the John Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act.

    A rock cairn basket marks (and mimics) natural formations in the Sid’s Mountain Wilderness.

    Making Progress on the Ground
    This spring we began working with the Bureau of Land Management’s Price field office—the office tasked with ensuring the integrity of those lands designated as wilderness: Muddy Creek, Labyrinth Canyon, Mexican Mountain, and many more of the San Rafael Swell’s iconic landscapes. The approach and processes we developed and continue to hone are concise, long term, and no-nonsense. Beginning with the foundation of years of data collected during fieldwork conducted by Wildlands Field Director Ray Bloxham, we rely on SUWA’s GIS team to incorporate this data into interactive maps identifying critical needs on specific public lands. Our Stewardship Coordinator Jack Hanley then revisits these sites with an attending BLM Ranger to assess, describe, and propose site-specific work plans to shore up wilderness boundaries and ensure that the impacts of ORV travel and dispersed camping are addressed head-on.

    This groundtruthing and collection of data then produce formal work proposals specific to a designated wilderness area. This spring, we targeted our efforts along the eastern and western boundaries of the Mexican Mountain Wilderness, as well as locations along the eastern flank of Sid’s Mountain Wilderness. After two trips and over 200 volunteer hours committed, we’ve completed stage one protections aimed at ORV compliance in these designated wilderness areas. Currently and through the summer, we are in the midst of scoping the San Rafael Reef Wilderness, with plans for multiple fall projects beginning with a run of three weekends in September and October surrounding National Public Lands Day: September 11/12, September 25/26 (National Public Lands Day), and October 2/3. And, already in the pipeline, we have plans to move forward into the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness in the spring of 2022 and Muddy Creek Wilderness in the fall of 2022.

    Volunteer Jordan assembles the wire frame for a rock cairn basket which will serve as base for boundary signage along the Mexican Mountain Wilderness.

    An Interdisciplinary Approach
    Once our proposal has run the gamut of BLM resource specialist approvals, we then design, schedule, recruit, and execute a series of stewardship projects with field crews consisting of SUWA members, new supporters, Emery County Public Lands Council members, BLM representatives, and SUWA staff. These projects are the heart of our program, the most public aspect of our work, and emblematic of what we do. However, they are notably and importantly the culmination of diverse and persistent work within our Stewardship Program and across SUWA’s Wildlands, GIS, and Legal Teams prior to and following these flagship events. Years in the making and with years of work ahead, our hands-on work implementing wilderness projects in the Swell is undoubtedly a team effort.

    A prime example of how rehabilitation efforts such as surface raking, “iceberging” of boulders, and “deadplanting” of downed vegetation can effectively disappear the tracks of illegal ORV travel. Featured here is the Mexican Mountain Wilderness’ western boundary.

    The Work
    While on the ground in the Swell, our first approach is minimalism: raking out tracks, removing campsites, and naturalizing the landscape by strategically placing downed brush and boulders. In some cases, we employ cairn basket building—a process by which wilderness signs are housed in a cylindrical, four-foot-tall wire mesh basket filled with locally-sourced rock. The signs are drilled at the base where wire is run through and around a small boulder. Both a preventative measure for sign removal or destruction and an educational tool, you will find these installations in washes and at the junction of former illegal routes. Once installed, we recruit additional volunteers to monitor these sites for impacts and inform our Stewardship Team of up-to-date conditions. This is a key component of our growing Wilderness Stewards Program.

    Yet, as robust as our initial strategies are—95 percent of our work has endured the onslaught of the recent Memorial Day Weekend crowd—we recognize that these endeavors are merely the first offensive in a years-long drive to support SUWA’s broader effort to ensure long-lasting and effective management of wilderness in the Swell. As recreation and travel plans are shaped and implemented, and as the impacts of industrialized recreation create new challenges for wild places, we know that our stewardship work will require consistent and timely review, redesign, and reinforcement. In other words, where wilderness is concerned, it is a fact that—to ensure effective protections—we must be in this for the long haul. 2021 is the first year of many that our staff and crews will manifest a new paradigm of management on the landscape. In the years that come, we hope that you and others will join us in ensuring that our work becomes the standard by which all wilderness-quality lands are protected and defended across Utah and the West.

    Visit our website and Apply Today!

    Click here to learn more about our Stewardship Scholarships offered to student applicants from historically underserved communities currently  enrolled at least half-time in an accredited college, university, vocational school, or technical school. 

    Our crew works in tandem, employing a rock sling to move exceptionally heavy boulders to where they will block future illegal travel into the Mexican Mountain Wilderness.

     

  • 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).