• June 15th, 2022

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently seeking public input on new plans to better manage dispersed camping, protect resources, and improve visitor experiences in three high-use areas near Moab, Utah. The BLM’s Moab field office, which manages 1.8 million acres of public lands in southeastern Utah, including 830,000 acres of lands proposed for wilderness designation under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, is considering new dispersed camping plans for the the Labyrinth Rims/ Gemini Bridges Special Recreation Management Area, (120,037 acres), the Two Rivers Special Recreation Management Area (9,180 acres), and the Utah Rims Special Recreation Management Area (16,704 acres).

    Over the past decade, the rapid expansion of human-powered recreation across public lands in Utah has resulted in increasingly adverse impacts to wilderness values, wildlife, visitor experiences, and natural and cultural resources. According to a 2021 report by Dr. Christopher Monz, environmental impacts of human-powered recreation can be substantial and long-lasting, including soil compaction and erosion, loss of biological soil crusts, the spread of noxious weeds, destruction of cultural artifacts and landscapes, and wildlife habitat fragmentation and displacement.

    In Moab, this growth is particularly noteworthy. The area sees more than 3 million visitors annually, many of whom camp on BLM-managed public lands. As a result, the agency is seeing a proliferation of vehicle tracks and user-created routes, unattended campfires, more impacts to wildlife, destruction of fragile cultural sites, and damage to other natural resources. Accordingly, the BLM is revisiting its rules regarding dispersed camping in three of the most popular and highest-impacted areas.

    Most BLM-managed public lands in Utah are open to “dispersed camping,” meaning that visitors may camp in areas without dedicated campgrounds and associated facilities. According to the BLM, chief among the new management options it is considering is moving the three focus areas from an “open dispersed” to “designated dispersed” model. This means that free, no-amenity dispersed camping will still be available, but that instead of camping anywhere, visitors must set up in a designated site, usually marked with a sign or placard to indicate that it is a “designated” dispersed campsite.

    Click here to learn more about designated dispersed camping

    After an intensive inventory of existing disturbed camp areas, the BLM is proposing to select for designation sites that do not adversely impact resources such as wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other visitors’ experiences. According to the agency, these proposals “are designed to make dispersed camping more sustainable in high-use areas, while reducing user conflicts and protecting cultural and natural resources.”

    Additionally, the BLM is also considering requiring that all campers in these areas use a portable toilet system to pack out human waste (something already required by Grand County, Utah), a fire pan to prevent the proliferation of fire rings and associated trash and to make unintentional wildfires less likely, and prohibiting wood cutting and gathering.

    Recreation ecology tells us that the best management for recreation impacts is proactive management– especially when it seeks to accommodate likely continued increase in demand while also taking preventative steps to protect natural landscapes and resources. Although these new proposed management changes are certainly in response to a proliferation of negative impacts, we are heartened to see the BLM considering steps now to follow good ecological management practices.

    Below are some important points for the BLM to consider when analyzing what kind of management actions it should take in these high-impact dispersed camping locations around Moab. Please help us reinforce these points in your comments. The more you personalize and speak to your own experiences in any/all of the three areas and emphasize your appreciation of the wildlife, cultural resources, and wilderness values they contain, the better and more well-received your comments will be!

    Please encourage the BLM to move to a “designated dispersed” camping model in these three planning areas, and to select camping spots for designation only if their selection will not jeopardize wildlife habitat, breeding, and connectivity; cultural resources; and wilderness values like solitude, scenic values, and natural appearance and character. Public comments are due by June 23, 2022.

    Click here to submit your comments now

    Suggested points:

    • Dispersed camping on public lands near Moab is an important use for visitors and locals alike, but the unmanaged proliferation of disturbed sites in the past decade has resulted in degraded ecological and cultural resource conditions and user experiences.
      • Unmanaged dispersed camping and associated vehicle use can fragment habitat and result in loss of nesting, breeding, and rearing habitat for important local wildlife like raptors and desert bighorn sheep, and can directly eliminate populations of important native and endangered plants like Navajo sedge, San Rafael cactus, and Cisco milkvetch through trampling and surface-disturbance.
      • Cultural resources like ancestral habitation, ceremony, storage, and art sites have been gradually but consistently degraded as a result of campsite creation and expansion through vandalism, trampling, soil erosion, and illegal artifact collection.
      • Visitors seeking campsites often find human waste, trash, hacked trees, and trampled vegetation, while other recreationists are negatively affected by trash and impacts at trailheads, along heavily-used recreation trails, and at important scenic features.
    • By moving to a designated dispersed camping system, the BLM can best balance visitor use and enjoyment with protecting natural and cultural resources.
    • A sustainable dispersed camping system is one that is manageable, forward-thinking, and provides for a range of user needs and experiences.
    • The BLM should avoid designating sites that will impact lands proposed for wilderness under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and other BLM-identified wilderness-quality areas.
    • The BLM should require that visitors carry portable toilet systems and pack out all human waste, use fire pans at campsites, and refrain from wood cutting and gathering in and around dispersed sites.
    • The BLM should not establish dispersed sites within 0.5 miles of suitable nesting locations for raptors, including bald and golden eagles.
    • The BLM should not designate campsites in canyon bottoms or within 300 meters of canyon rims in the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges management area to protect sensitive habitat for desert bighorn sheep.
    • The BLM should designate dispersed campsites away from cultural resources and naturalize past visitor impacts and disturbance that, if left unchecked, could lead to future damage. The BLM should also consult directly with Native American Tribes regarding the potential designation of specific campsites.

    Thank you for participating in this important public process!

  • April 5th, 2022

    More than a year ago, President Biden directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to pause all new oil and gas leasing on public lands while the agency conducted a comprehensive review of its outdated oil and gas program. The leasing pause was part of a broader executive order meant to address the climate crisis and represented a much needed pivot away from the prior administration’s relentless assault on our public lands.

    Immediately after the president ordered the leasing pause, the state of Utah and pro-drilling groups such as the Western Energy Alliance launched an aggressive campaign claiming the pause would have devastating effects on Utah’s rural economy. These doomsday predictions were wildly inaccurate.

    Now, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the calls for more public land leasing and development have grown louder. But the clamor for more extraction is a thinly a veiled attempt by fossil fuel interests to profit from the ongoing conflict. It is also based on a false premise: that more public land leasing will lead to more drilling and production, which in turn will lower the price of oil and natural gas.

    Not so.

    Most oil and gas drilling in Utah and across the United States takes place on state and private lands, not public lands. And on public lands, operators have stockpiled millions of acres of unused leases and more than 9,000 unused (but approved) drilling permits (see our recent blog post for more on this).

    The war in Ukraine has made it clear that the world needs to become significantly less, not more, reliant on fossil fuels. Meanwhile, climate scientists are speaking in one unified voice and telling us in no uncertain terms that if we continue drilling, transporting, and burning fossil fuels we are risking everything.

    For far too long the BLM has wrongly elevated oil and gas leasing and development as the primary use of our nation’s public lands, threatening our climate, wild places, cultural heritage, and the continued existence of thousands of species. This unbalanced approach must stop now. Our wild places—and the climate crisis—demand no less.

  • March 23rd, 2022

    For National Women’s History Month this year, we’re staying rooted in the present to bring you our list of exemplary activists currently making history in the Utah wilderness movement. These are today’s undaunted visionaries: the decision makers, the movers and shakers, the status quo breakers. In other words, they are exactly the strong, creative, impassioned voices we need to bring the movement into the 21st Century and beyond.

    As we celebrate these remarkable activists, we also salute the many other cis and trans women and femmes doing vital work to protect our public lands and waters, cultural sites, human health, and global climate through art, activism, science, and civic engagement. Deep gratitude to you all!

    Davina Smith

    Davina Smith is a member of the Diné (Navajo) tribe, and originally from Monument Valley, Utah. She belongs to the Ta’chii’ nii (Red Running into the Water) clan and is born to the Ta’ baa ha’ (Edgewater) clan. She currently works at the National Parks Conservation Association as their organizer/tribal coordinator, where she assists with the protection of Cultural Landscapes of southeastern Utah. Her work supports coalition efforts to develop a proposal to protect the area between Hovenweep, Canyons of the Ancients, and Bears Ears National Monuments—collectively known as the “Lands Between.”

    Davina also serves on the board of Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners (Kanab, UT) and Love is King (Portland, OR), and is the CEO of Haseya Native Initiatives LLC. She was a former Executive Director at SLC Air Protectors, where she organized rallies and prayer runs to protect Utah’s sacred landscapes.

    Davina is a longtime redrock wilderness advocate who has made her way to Washington, DC several times to support America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, the Antiquities Act, and Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. She has run all the way from the Bears Ears buttes of Bears Ears National Monument to the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, carrying medicine and inviting other runners to join her along the way in prayer for the ancestral lands. She is also a founding member of Women for Bears Ears, which seeks to restore Indigenous women’s matrilineal roles as decision-makers, culture bearers, and nurturers of our shared ancestral lands, and of future generations.

    Davina’s personal mission is to advocate for Native families in both her rural and urban communities, in addition to preserving and protecting the cultural and natural resources of ancestral Native American lands to benefit and bring healing to people and the Earth.

    What achievement are you most proud of in your efforts to protect redrock wilderness?

    Davina: When I went to Washington, DC for Wilderness Week, I was one of a few Indigenous people who lobbied for America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. In meetings, when talking to a senator, representative, or their staff, I noticed how the tone changed when I spoke. The legislators would go from simply being courteous to really listening when I told my story. Sharing my unique perspective and vision for these lands and the importance of protecting the area added another level of passion and significance to the pitch for America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act that only an Indigenous person can provide. The conversation is much more alive when a congressional office hears from someone who is from the area, and whose culture is rooted in the landscape. Once a staffer told me, “I could live through your words.” So from then on I understood how important it is to include Indigenous perspectives in all conservation advocacy.

    Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk

    Regina is a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and an advocate for animals and the environment. Born and raised in southwestern Colorado, she attended school in Cortez and traveled to Montana and Illinois to continue her education. She is currently working on obtaining her master’s degree in environmental management.

    Regina joined SUWA’s board of directors in 2020. She is a former co-chairperson of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and a former Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council member. In recent years, she has spoken in defense of Bears Ears National Monument at the Utah Capitol and traveled to Washington, DC to advocate for the protection of Utah’s wild places.  She also served on the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, is a Women of Bears Ears member/advisor and served on the Montezuma-Cortez School District board.

    How does redrock wilderness support you as a leader and community member? In other words, in what ways are you nurtured by redrock wilderness? How does redrock wilderness give you power?  

    Regina: The redrock wilderness supports me as a leader and community member by embracing me in my human form. It has brought me tears and allowed me to receive strength in the most spiritual way by allowing me to connect with the land respectfully in the manner that my ancestors did over the time spectrum. I understand I am following the footsteps and paths of all those who came before me. It is my responsibility to lend my voice to all that is in our natural world: people, animals, and elements.

    Tara Benally

    Tara is of Hopi descent, and was raised by Navajo. She grew up in San Juan County, Utah. Her family was raised by the Diné Bítahníí clan (folded arms people), born for the Nítłachíí (marks on the cheek people).

    Tara is currently field director at the Rural Utah Project, where she leads organizing campaigns to recruit and train new candidates to run for local elected office, and to recruit new Navajo language translators at the Navajo Technical University. She also leads strategic planning, voter registration efforts, google+ addressing, COVID community aid, and other campaigns to improve the quality of life for rural Utahns and residents of the Navajo Nation in Arizona. For this work, she was featured in Time Magazine’s 2020 “Person of the Year” issue, along with colleague Dalene Redhorse.

    A longtime defender of Utah’s canyon country, Tara has flown to Washington, DC on many occasions to speak in support of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, the Antiquities Act, and Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. Like Davina Smith, she is a founding member of Women for Bears Ears. She is also a vocal advocate for closing uranium milling operations and cleaning up uranium mining sites in southeast Utah and has spoken on this issue to a sold-out crowd at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall.

    Tara ran for a seat on the San Juan County Commission, learning the ins and outs of running for office as an Indigenous woman. The experience helped launch her efforts to run local female office candidates and get more women in elected positions.

    What achievement are you most proud of in your efforts to protect redrock wilderness?

    Tara: One of my biggest achievements is to let people know that for Native Americans, redrock wilderness, and especially in Bears Ears National Monument, is a place for prayer, a place to gather medicine, and it holds a lot of significance for me as a woman and a Native American. The trails and the sites there are the traces of my ancestors. I am proud to have lobbied with organizations like SUWA. It has given me knowledge of the difference I can make in my community through being involved, how I can make a difference for people of color, and how I can make an impact for people who enjoy the land “in its pristine state,” as my mother says.

    Some of my biggest challenges and accomplishments include doing outreach for Utah Diné Bikéyah, advocating for America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in DC, and being a part of the Rural Utah Project to educate people about civic engagement issues related to public land and to simply help the people in the southern portion of San Juan County and across Utah.

    I’m also proud to have been a part of learning to work together as Indigenous nations. We have seven nations in Utah, and all of these public land issues have brought us together to work on land management. My biggest accomplishment in all of this was to be out in the field educating people and getting them to participate in the democratic processes that are not familiar to them. A lot of the time at the beginning, people were discouraged because of language barriers or other issues. So being able to be there, help people understand voting or registration, and then helping them to take part in civic processes is my biggest accomplishment.

    It’s so fascinating to me how we all have so much in common with each other, despite the things we put up to make it look like we’re very different. But I’ve met so many people from across the state and can say that we all care about a lot of the same things. This gives me hope. So I just want everyone to realize that our work isn’t done yet. We still need everyone to participate, educate themselves on environmental issues, and get involved.

    Margie Lopez-Read

    Margie Lopez-Read is an activist-artist living part-time in Moab and part-time in her home turf on the western slope of the Sierras in central California. She works as a painter, mostly in oil & watercolor to genuinely express her strong sense of feeling for place. It’s clear she takes joy in sharing her love of both places—one dry, rocky and grandiose, the other wet, lush and grandiose—capturing their essence from images painted in plein air or captured by camera for personal interpretation later.

    But here’s what makes her stand out among other artists: although she could do quite well for herself by selling her work, she has chosen to funnel all proceeds from her paintings through Donation Art, a unique business model she developed with her husband Bob. Donation Art allows the buyer to purchase a painting by sending a donation to a non-profit organization of the buyer’s choice. The buyer gets the painting, often framed by Margie at her expense, and the money goes entirely to the charity.

    Margie became an activist after a long career as an environmental scientist with the California Environmental Protection Agency. She has traveled with SUWA to Washington, DC to participate in Wilderness Week, where she gained valuable experience as a community lobbyist on behalf of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. She’s also one of SUWA’s most active “Grassroots Leaders,” participating in various Bureau of Land Management (BLM) comment periods, writing and calling elected officials (often on short notice), distributing SUWA’s Redrock Wilderness newsletter in Moab and central California, and so much more.

    What achievement are you most proud of in your efforts to protect redrock wilderness?

    Margie: I am going to start off by saying that I do not have an “achievement” in the sense of a project end point. My project has no end point and keeps on bringing me more challenges. But what I am most proud of is my invented method to do good for the world, which includes protecting redrock wilderness.

    My husband Bob and I have explored Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments for more than 30 years.  Some places we know really well, and others we have yet to get to know. But when I encounter a sacred place that moves my soul, I paint. I share the place through my paintings and write a story to describe it. I then distribute both painting and story through social media and offer them in exchange for donations to a good non-profit. Bob and I call this project “Donation Art.”

    My hope is that the 2-dimensional interpretations will help generate respect for these sacred places. Over the years, 100% of the painting sales have turned into donations for so many good organizations, including redrock wilderness protectors like SUWA, Friends of Cedar Mesa, and others.

    My most recent focus is on painting portraits of Strong Women. I gift the original painting to these powerful individuals and Bob helps make reproductions which we use to generate funds for good organizations. Some of these Strong Women have great influence in protecting redrock wilderness, such as Deb Haaland, our Secretary of Interior, and Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

    Olivia Juarez

    Olivia was born and raised around the Great Salt Lake of Utah and is a daughter of a Chicano, Hispanic, and Mexican family. She has been SUWA’s Latinx community organizer since 2017, leading Latino/a/x-led initiatives to protect wild Utah with seemingly boundless creativity and enthusiasm.

    Her projects have included movie screenings, Latino Conservation Week and Hispanic Heritage Month events, community canvases, grassroots outings and activism retreats, several ARTivism events, and most recently convening Latinos for Utah Wilderness monthly meetups. They also translate SUWA’s primary educational materials into Spanish.

    In her spare time, Olivia volunteers as a board member of the Utah Coalition of La Raza and is an outings leader for Latino Outdoors Salt Lake City (as well as a founding member). Not surprisingly, they recently made the National Parks Conservation Association’s “10 under 40” list of young leaders around the country who are making a difference in conservation.

    How does redrock wilderness support you as a leader and community member? In other words, in what ways are you nurtured by redrock wilderness? How does redrock wilderness give you power?  

    Olivia: When I take time off to go to southern Utah wild lands, I often have very sleepy experiences. It doesn’t matter what time of year—a warm south-facing sandstone alcove in the winter will make me like a cat napping at a window in the sunlight. And I’ve never been one to turn down an hour of shut-eye if I encounter a cool, flat, and shaded slab of slickrock in a side canyon during the summer. I feel at rest when I am in redrock wilderness (absent the pestering of gnats or mosquitoes, of course). My senses soften, like the rounded layers and waves of sandstone walls worn by a creek. When I sit, it takes no effort to fully rest and let go of tension in my body—probably because there’s nothing about seeing birds flit from one place to another, or listening to the sound of wind through piñon-juniper stands, that causes tension in my mind. I find it’s incredibly easy to be myself in canyon country, especially when being myself means walking softly on a hike; enjoying slow, unhurried mornings; and, of course, napping.

    Redrock wilderness experiences can be incredibly restorative. That sets me up to be more effective as an organizer, and more present as a community member.

    Distinguished Changemaker Honorary Highlight

    Jaylyn Gough is a photographer, writer, speaker, and the founder of Native Womens Wilderness. Designed to share stories, to learn, and to support other Native Women on the Land, the group was created out of frustration over the lack of Women of Color represented in the outdoor industries, let alone Native Women. Being a woman of color is difficult, but these stories represent the resiliency our Native Women have and how much of it is tied to the Land. An important part of this work is seeking visibility and justice for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women.

    Jaylyn is from the Navajo Reservation and grew up throwing baby rattlesnakes at friends, playing in the arroyos, and doing everything she was told not to do—being a typical Rez kid. She hopes to assist in changing the notion of what outdoor women should look like and has a great desire to see more diversity in our industries.

    She has worked with HOKA One One, Mountain Hardware, Vasque, and Backcountry. Her work has been featured in Outside Magazine, National Geographic, and Condé Nast. She is an avid hiker, backpacker, angler, climber, biker . . . you name it and she has probably done it. You can usually find her in the desert or in the mountains with a camera in her hand.

  • March 16th, 2022

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is developing a motorized travel management plan for the greater Paunsaugunt area outside of Kanab—a plan that will determine where off-road vehicle (ORV) use is allowed in this incredible place for decades to come.

    Just west of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and south of Bryce Canyon National Park, the Paunsaugunt travel management area encompasses roughly 200,000 acres of BLM-managed lands. The diverse character of the area, from lava flows and sand dunes to ponderosa pine forests and thousand-foot-high cliffs, provides spectacular opportunities for quiet recreation. The region also encompasses significant cultural sites and important wildlife habitat.

    The BLM is currently in the “scoping” phase of its travel planning process, which identifies issues the agency must consider. It is vital that the BLM hears from the public that the current route network is not acceptable, and that the number and mileage of motorized routes must be reduced to minimize damage and protect public land resources.

    Click here to submit your comments to the BLM today.

    Upper Kanab Creek proposed wilderness. © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    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 2008 during 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 users. It also designated routes that travel directly through cultural sites, fragment wildlife habitat, and damage wilderness-caliber public lands.

    The BLM should ensure access to trailheads, scenic overlooks, and recreation opportunities, but it must also protect the very reason people want to drive to such remote places: to enjoy their unspoiled beauty.

    Tell the BLM to fulfill its legal obligation and keep motorized trails out of wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and proposed wilderness in the Paunsaugunt region.

    The most helpful comments will mention specific areas or trails (by name or number); explain how you enjoy hiking, camping, and other non-motorized pursuits in these areas; and discuss (if appropriate) how motorized use has disrupted your enjoyment of those activities.

    The BLM is accepting comments through March 25, 2022. Be sure to make your voice heard!

    Thank you for taking action!