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  • 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.

  • 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 winners of our 2020 Stewardship Scholar Essay Contest. We are publishing each of the three winning essays every Wednesday through the end of February. Our second winner is Ruby Valencia.


     

    Learning about Trust in Grapevine Canyon
    by Ruby Valencia

    As a born and raised Nevadan, I love the Southwest and its unique desert landscapes. At the age of 15 my school took us on a Mojave Desert field trip to look at Native American petroglyphs in a place called Grapevine Canyon. They have come to mean a lot to me.

    It was a casual Friday afternoon and I could tell that everyone was excited because most of us had never been  into the desert. It remains funny to me that I did not visit the desert until I was 15, especially because I had passed through this landscape many times traveling in and out of state. My Latinx parents have experiences of trauma in the natural desert so it’s not a place we visited for relaxation. The desert was a place of suffering for them while it remained a source of boredom for me. I didn’t think much of the trip because I wasn’t interested in standing outside in the scorching sun, risking sunburn and bug bites.

    On our way there, I leaned on the windows and stared at the repetitive brown and green bushes next to the highway, thinking about how bleak this desert seemed. There was little variation between plant species, so my 15-year-old self quickly became bored. I’m proud to say that I’ve grown since then and I now realize how important this trip was for me. I now see the beauty in plants that have adapted to the extreme heat to survive these conditions.

    Once we  arrived, we wandered around the desert. Some of us prodded at the bushes, others climbed small hills. As the teachers rounded us up to head to the petroglyphs, I was sweating in the extreme heat and complaining internally. My expectations were dismal. I had anticipated that these petroglyphs would be too old and faded to be able to see anything.  I was already disappointed without having seen them. Then, a staircase leading to the sandstone wall was in sight, which confused me. What kind of stone carving needed stairs? Apparently, the kind that are way high up on the wall. All of a sudden, I didn’t mind the sunshine, the heat, or the bugs. All I could think about were the petroglyphs before me. Students were lined up taking pictures and I couldn’t wait to see them up close. Once I got as close as I could to the petroglyphs, I felt something shift.

    There is one reason I have such clear memory about this field trip: the deep feeling of peace that washed through me when I looked at the petroglyphs. That feeling has to do with the magnitude of time. These people, with their different customs and languages, knew the importance of transmitting their culture. They understood wanting to communicate their experiences to be heard.

    I felt connected to these petroglyphs and understood something much deeper than their interesting appearance. Although I did not entirely understand what these images were conveying, I knew that it meant something important for them. It was important enough to be carved into stone.

    I trusted this bedrock, just as the families living here hundreds of years ago had trust in it. Despite wind, water, sun, and animal, this rock wall still stands proud. In awe of the scale of the place and time, I learned to trust that this desert has a lot more to offer than the dry landscape. People before me spent time here, walked the earth that I walked on, creatively expressed themselves; I was but another person that did the same. It made me realize that human history is circular—we walk the same roads, feel the same feelings, and connect in shared ways.

    I still visit Grapevine Canyon from time to time, but only when I’m feeling conflicted. Seeing the petroglyphs puts my tribulations into perspective. I have a relationship of trust with these petroglyphs—they allow me to center myself. I’ll stare at the images for a couple minutes and eventually, I find myself feeling at peace. It encourages me to think about the broader aspects of life and change my outlook when I stray too far. The ability to feel peace in this way keeps me grounded in a way that nothing else does.

    I want to do everything in my power to protect these petroglyphs. Future generations of children deserve to make the same connection to this wild place that I did. Recently, I interned with the Nevada Conservation League to advocate for the protection of natural landscapes. Finding people that feel the same way about our land has given me hope about our climate crisis. In a world full of companies determined to destroy the planet, there remain people like us who refuse to give up. I have felt extremely validated and comforted to know that people like myself are environmental activists in this crazy, complicated world.

    I am eternally grateful that Lake Mead is a protected landscape. Otherwise, would I or anybody else have been able to witness these ancient petroglyphs? Public lands should be  protected for the people. I encourage more BIPOC to take time out of their lives to connect with the environment around them. You never know how much of an impact it’ll make on you.

    Here are some of the pictures I took on the trip. May they inspire you as well.

     

    I’m Ruby, a first-generation Latina at UNLV studying political science! I’m Vegas born & raised and I love exploring Nevada’s beautiful deserts in my free time! I’m an avid environmental advocate, interning at the Nevada Conservation League where I help spread our message: to maintain and enhance the natural character of Nevada and the quality of life for Nevadans through effective advocacy, the election of pro-conservation candidates and building collaboration. I believe in stopping climate change, protecting public lands, and environmental justice. Join your local conservation community and let’s make change happen!

  • December 18th, 2020

    For Immediate Release

    Contacts:

    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3991, landon@suwa.org
    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 859-1552, steve@suwa.org
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, (646) 823-4518, ahawke@nrdc.org
    Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2424, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.orgJohn Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435)-260-2590, john@livingrivers.org

    Washington, D.C. (December 18, 2020) — Conservation groups have sued the Bureau of Land Management to challenge its illegal leasing of 1,400 acres for helium extraction within the newly designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness in southeastern Utah. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers filed suit Monday in federal district court.

    The Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness includes one of the country’s most iconic and world-renowned stretches of river canyon. This national treasure is bounded on the east by the Green River and on the south by Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019 secured its permanent protection as wilderness. (See photos here.)

    The lawsuit says the Bureau violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to take a hard look at the potential climate harms from the fracking project and failing to provide a reasoned basis for offering this land for leasing in the first place.

    “This proposal is the paragon of the Trump administration’s ‘going out of business’ assault on the nation’s public lands, plain and simple,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “This project would needlessly and permanently tarnish one of the Bureau of Land Management’s crown jewels: the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness.”

    The Bureau of Land Management formally issued a lease to Twin Bridges Resources, LLC in February 2019, only a few weeks before the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which created the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, became law. The agency rushed to close the deal knowing the area was about to be permanently closed to future leasing and development. Now the Bureau is racing ahead to approve the company’s proposal to drill on its federal lease and a nearby state lease, and is poised to do so just before the Christmas holiday.

    This afternoon the conservation groups filed a motion with the court seeking an emergency injunction to block the Bureau’s approval of the project until the merits of the lawsuit can be decided. “We’re hopeful that the court sees this last-minute maneuver by the Trump administration for what it is: a transparent attempt to destroy a piece of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness as they head out door,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    “It’s truly stunning how brazen the Trump administration has been these past four years in serving up our pristine, iconic landscapes to industry,” said Josh Axelrod, Senior Advocate for the Land Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Its race to secure this project’s approval for the helium industry’s benefit is flatly illegal, and we’ll defend this special area at every turn.”

    The Bureau offered the lease without allowing the public to review or comment on that decision and did not prepare site-specific analysis prior to offering the lease for development, as required by NEPA. Courts have found such restrictions on public participation and lack of analysis to be unlawful.

    “This dangerous plan is an obscene, purposeful attack on Utah’s iconic public land and wilderness protection,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ll do everything in our power to ensure that these lands never see the insult of this proposed extraction.”

    The proposed helium operation will industrialize one of the most remote areas of southeastern Utah’s red rock country. If the plan is approved, Twin Bridges will drill up to seven wells, permanently disturbing 43 acres in this remote and austere landscape and forever diminishing the unique wilderness values found in the area. The project will also involve road grading, construction of three separate pipelines, construction of a 10-acre processing facility and increased vehicle traffic.

    “This proposal is not appropriate because very reasonable alternatives do indeed exist,” said John Weisheit, Conservation Director of Living Rivers & Colorado Riverkeeper. “Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe and it just doesn’t make sense to propose a trade-off that jeopardizes the sensitive lands and rivers of the Canyonlands region.”

    ***

    Plaintiffs SUWA, the Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers are represented by Landon Newell, Joseph Bushyhead, and Stephen Bloch with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and William Eubanks II and Nick Lawton with Eubanks & Associates, PLLC. Plaintiff NRDC is represented by Sharon Buccino with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    The case is captioned Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Bernhardt, 1:20cv3654 RC (D.D.C.).

     

  • 2020 volunteers - masked
    November 30th, 2020

    The coronavirus pandemic entered the American psyche the same week our 2020 stewardship season was slated to begin, forcing us redefine how we work on the landscape.

    Today, as we plan for the 2021 season and beyond, adaptation remains critical in protecting the health of people and the integrity of Utah’s wild places. Working on Utah’s public lands going forward will require all of us to pause and reevaluate how we encounter, experience, and enjoy our public lands.

    Key to our understanding of how best to approach stewardship in the coming years will be your input and reflection on how our individual impacts – how the choices we make and those we do not make – affect the places we love. This means considering how we recreate, how we tell public lands stories via social media, and how we build inclusivity and resilience into the outdoors.

    As much as anything else in a persistent pandemic environment, this ought to be the year’s primary lesson: the protection of public lands is fortified with an equal measure of care and justice for people. The true crossroads of wild and built environments are people – those who maintain, endure and experience both. 

    For many in 2020, our only seeming glimpse into the natural world was the patch of green or flash of color spied through a window. In a moment of clarity, the glint of the windowpane became a mirror through which we recognized as much wild within ourselves as in all the redrock. No matter where we live or what forces are at work on us, we are all poised to know and care for the wild. But if we are to protect wilderness, we must protect one another first.

    This year, we accomplished a great deal more than seemed likely or even possible given the context. In all, we tackled 14 projects on Utah public lands. We monitored and reclaimed over (50) unauthorized vehicular routes, removed over 1,200 square feet of graffiti from sandstone walls in wilderness, and installed thousands of feet of defensive barriers along protected land boundaries. Our volunteers installed dozens more wilderness and wilderness study area boundary signs, reclaimed extensive undesignated campsites, and removed countless bags of refuse. We would not have accomplished any of this without you. 

    This winter, we will work to redefine how we work with you on the landscape. As a start, we plan to hone our regional Wilderness Steward chapters across Utah. If you are interested now in becoming part of our program, complete a 2021 General Application and select “Wilderness Steward” under the Volunteer Position question. Learn more about our 2019 Class of Stewards here – or contact volunteer@suwa.org to speak directly with our staff. And keep an ear to the ground for a mid-winter update on our program as we carry forward into the new paradigm.

    Thank you once again for the hard work this season.

    Stay safe – and we will see you in 2021.