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Nokai Dome in the San Juan-Canyonlands
region. Photo copyright Harvey Halpern.
Over the past two months, we’ve participated in a series of meetings with San Juan County commissioners and representatives of Senator Bob Bennett to discuss the merits of wilderness designations within the San Juan-Canyonlands landscape.
Throughout Senator Bennett’s process, questions have arisen about the Senator’s intent. Senate and county representatives frequently weren’t taking notes on conservationists’ presentations and county commissioners sometimes weren’t even in attendance as the process moved along. This raises questions about whether these meetings were perfunctory “window dressing” or a real effort to identify the specific issues related to federal lands in San Juan County.
Now the future of these discussions, and any potential wilderness legislation, is unclear. For example, field trips are essential when the intent is for groups with longstanding disagreements to attempt to identify common ground, but it is not clear that field trips will take place.
Whatever happens next, Utahns throughout our state — not just San Juan County residents — deserve an opportunity to learn more about the lands under consideration and make their voices heard. At the very least, Senator Bennett should convene a hearing in Salt Lake City to discuss how 1.5 million acres of wilderness in San Juan County, inventoried by citizens and included in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, should be managed for the benefit of all Americans.
On April 26, U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar instructed Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and his “Balanced Resource Council” to “Be not afraid,” no new monuments would be designated without their involvement. We would almost certainly not have Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks — which first gained administrative protection — as well as the recently established Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, if past administrations had granted such extreme deference to local interests.
Some of the American West’s most treasured landscapes were protected by Republican and Democratic administrations using authority under the Antiquities Act to establish national monuments, which later were often made national parks. By pandering to Utah politicians, Salazar puts this administration at odds with the great conservation legacy that dates back to Teddy Roosevelt.
Utah wilderness activists waiting for Sec. Salazar
Secretary Salazar’s meeting at Utah’s state capitol was billed as the first stop of President Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors Initiative” listening tour, supposedly a time when citizens have the opportunity to weigh in on conservation issues. Instead, Salazar directed his comments to Governor Herbert’s “Balanced Resource Council,” which lacks a single representative from a local, regional or national environmental group. In fact, the constituency includes some of Utah’s most radical anti-federal politicians. Herbert himself recently signed legislation allowing Utah to condemn federal land for the state’s use (his unconstitutional action will fail in court). Our thanks go to the many Utah citizens who filled the meeting room wearing “Protect Wild Utah” buttons; Salazar may not have listened to you, but he had to see you!
Salazar’s actions are unprecedented and could be extraordinarily harmful to Utah’s redrock country. Please write to Nancy Sutley, Chair of President Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to ask the Obama administration to re-assert its full authority under the Antiquities Act.
Tucked between the rivers slowed by Lake Powell, a wilder, more unpredictable
set of wonders can be found. Here, in the still unprotected Glen Canyon wilderness, sandstone domes and
mesas rise beyond the reaches of the Colorado and San Juan rivers – reminders of
the pristine beauty that once dominated this entire region.
Upper Red Canyon, copyright
Ray Bloxham/SUWA. Click image for more
Look up to see Mancos Mesa, the largest isolated slickrock mesa in southern
Utah, a 180-square-mile table rising 1,500-feet high above the surrounding
desert. Here, one of Utah’s few relict plant communities of pinyon, juniper,
blackbrush and yucca thrives undisturbed – save for the hoofbeats of bighorn
sheep and mule deer. Moqui and Red canyons meander below, but ORV use is
eroding the delicate sand formations that provide access to them.
Now peer around a bend in White Canyon, which carves cool, dark, labyrinthine
slots so narrow that a human wingspan is enough to touch its sides, and see the
upper walls adorned with the honeycomb, grottoes and alcoves of erosive art.
Here, remnants of Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings remain mostly untouched,
the difficulty of the terrain thus far safeguarding them from vandals and
thieves. Without wilderness designation, however, these prehistoric structures
and artifacts may soon be accessed by looters with bigger and more powerful ORVs
before they can be fully studied.
Envision a future where the treasures of the Glen Canyon wilderness are
protected for generations to come. That’s what we’re working on at SUWA with
our partners in the Utah Wilderness Coalition, and you can help.
Have you been to any of these places in the Glen Canyon wilderness? We would
love to hear your story, see your pictures, and share them with those who can
help us protect these treasures for good.
Write us today!
(Story and photo submissions will constitute permission for SUWA to post
them on our website and online networks and use them in our written materials,
unless the individual requests otherwise.)
It’s an exciting time for friends of redrock country!
The San Juan-Canyonlands region of southeastern Utah contains some of the most iconic landscapes of the American West, including the ancient ruins of Cedar Mesa, the serpentine San Juan River, and the maze of canyons that comprise White Canyon in the citizen-proposed Glen Canyon Wilderness. All told, 1.3 million acres in this region are citizen-proposed wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.
Utah’s Sen. Bob Bennett recognizes the value of protecting these magnificent wild lands and has written to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other stakeholders asking for input so we can work together to craft a wilderness bill
for the area. This is an exciting opportunity to achieve lasting
protection for some of Utah’s most significant wild lands.
With our partners in the Utah Wilderness Coalition we are
recommending ways to approach the complex landscape of the San Juan-Canyonlands region – looking at region-wide landscape and ecosystem protection, rather than focusing
on disconnected individual units. We are encouraging Sen. Bennett to engage in this landscape-based regional approach by taking field trips, meeting with constituents, and taking the time to discuss conflicts and ways to resolve them. We want to make certain that we use this real opportunity to resolve
wilderness issues in the region and that we do it right.
However, the current proposed time period for input is extremely short. So, to help ensure a transparent and inclusive process, we are asking you to write your members of Congress today to ask that the San Juan-Canyonlands
wilderness gets the care and consideration it deserves. It took thousands of years to shape these vistas, and we must be certain protection for them is as carefully crafted.
National Monument(s) for Utah?
You’ve probably heard news of possible national monument designations for Utah’s San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa, and of the ensuing furor from some Utah officials who don’t want federal protection for these special places. The outcry comes despite the fact that over the last 100+ years, presidents from both political parties have designated national monuments
in Utah. Many were initially controversial, though they resulted in the long-term protection of some of our most iconic and beloved landscapes, including Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef – all of them now national
parks. More recently, President Clinton designated the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to the chagrin of powerful coal mining interests. Many in the Escalante area now enjoy the benefits of the nearby
monument, which draws visitors from around the world.
Attempts by Utah’s Senator Bennett and Representative Bishop to exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act are misguided. The lands in question are already federal and lie under the clear authority of the BLM to administer in the national interest.
The San Rafael Swell is among a long DOI list of potential national monuments. Photo credit: Ray
Cedar Mesa and the San Rafael Swell are being considered for monument designation because their national significance been recognized for decades. Both are included in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and SUWA is working to provide them with the highest form of protection: wilderness designation. We are doing this by continuing to push for passage of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in Congress and through constructive dialogue with local leaders, the Utah congressional delegation, and congressional champions of redrock wilderness. For example, over the last year in Emery County (which encompasses most of the San Rafael Swell), we have been meeting and taking field trips with county officials and other stakeholders, resulting in productive discussions about potential wilderness legislation. If conservationists and county officials can reach an agreement over wilderness designation, we believe those
lands would be taken out of consideration for national monument designation. Officials in San Juan County, where Cedar
Mesa lies, have also indicated an interest in developing wilderness legislation.