Uncategorized Archives


  • April 24th, 2018

    Reports From the Field is a blog of SUWA’s Field Volunteers, accounting experiences, reflections and activism from time spent in direct service of Utah’s wild and public lands. 

    When hiking and exploring Bears Ears National Monument, it is easy to lose oneself in the beauty and isolation of its many canyons. The serene beauty found in the region now widely associated with the Bears’ Ears buttes is one of the main appeals of this landscape. However, a scan of the canyon walls and alcoves reveals glimpses into the distinctive and vibrant cultural history of the region. While many call Bears Ears a wilderness, it was called home by generations of indigenous peoples, whose artwork, architecture, and objects of daily life may still be found throughout the Bears Ears cultural landscape. As an archaeologist, I can attest to the scientific significance of these sites, but more importantly these are places of cultural identity and spiritual importance to descendant Native American communities.

    Ruins visible from a great distance across the canyon expanse.

    I had the chance earlier this month to explore one such cultural space with a backcountry cleanup project organized by SUWA at Fish and Owl Canyon. Our crew of volunteer scientists and professionals performed trail maintenance, cleaned out and dispersed illegal fire pit rings, and carried out trash left by hikers. All the while, we were witness to archaeological sites throughout the canyons. A granary tucked beneath a rock overhang. A scatter of ceramic sherds on a talus slope. A stark white pictograph above a habitation site.

    Increasingly rare potsherds indicate the cultural landscape of the canyons.

    These were all created by the Ancestral Pueblo culture over 700 years ago, amid a time of social unrest and environmental uncertainty. The placement of dwellings in nearly inaccessible canyon alcoves has been interpreted by many archaeologists as an indicator that defense and security were a priority for the people who called these canyons home. Our small contingent approached one such site, but were appropriately foiled by the steepness of the surrounding slickrock. Even amid a time of uncertainty, the people who dwelt in Fish and Owl Canyons still filled their lives with beauty, craftsmanship, and sustenance, as seen in pictographs adorning the canyon walls, black-on-white ceramic sherds found beneath a site, and corn cobs lying on a dry alcove floor.

    I first hiked Owl Canyon in 2009 and remembered well the ruins, rock art, and artifacts found throughout the canyon. On this return trip I was happy to see that the ruins and rock art appeared undamaged and still in good condition. However, I was disturbed to find the wealth of ceramic sherds that once adorned sites were largely gone. In less than a decade, a deluge of visitors had carried away these pieces of the Bears Ears cultural landscape. As we all continue to fight for the legal protection of Bears Ears, it is just as important to continue to educate a public unfamiliar with the proper etiquette required to visit cultural sites. Our cleanup work helped reverse recent human impact on the canyon environment, but a respect for the cultural legacies of Bears Ears is essential for the continued preservation of this landscape.

    Our responsibility resides in the honoring and protection of a cultural legacy.

     

    Maxwell Forton, Archaeologist
    Binghamton University

  • March 9th, 2018

    What happens when the government is controlled by friends of the oil/gas/mining industry and decides that public lands should be destroyed for short-term rewards? People get angry, and that anger turns to ACTION. Earlier this week, Congress heard from 30 impassioned activists in Washington, D.C. during the Utah Wilderness Coalition’s annual Wilderness Week, co-hosted by SUWA, Sierra Club, and NRDC.

    Wilderness Week activists in front of the U.S. Capitol this past week.

    After an extensive training session covering the ins and outs of lobbying, Utah wilderness issues, and the legislative process, activists took to Capitol Hill to put their newfound skills to good use. Teams scheduled over 200 meetings with members of Congress. In office after office, their stories of the redrock reinvigorated old legislative champs, educated new ones, and challenged the assertions of opponents.

    Now we’re asking you to amplify their voices and help keep up the momentum.

    Click here to ask your members of Congress to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and oppose the Curtis and Stewart national monument giveaway bills!

    A love for the redrock drove these activists to share their personal stories and connections to the landscape during their meetings on the Hill. Whether they grew up near Utah’s magnificent public lands, hiked through slot canyons on family vacations, or have a deep cultural connection to the landscape, their stories struck a chord in many offices.

    For those of you reading this who were not able to attend Wilderness Week, there is still a part for you to play. No matter where you live, contact your members of Congress and tell them to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act!

    If they are already cosponsors, click here to thank them!

    Or if you prefer to contact your members via your smartphone, text “ARRWA” to 52886 to take action now!

    To find out if your members of Congress have already endorsed America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, click here for the current list of cosponsors

    Thank you!

  • January 3rd, 2018

    Federal Public Lands Targeted for Oil and Gas Development near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, and Culturally Significant Areas in Southeast Utah

    For Immediate Release
    January 3, 2018

    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991

    Salt Lake City (Jan. 3): Yesterday, a coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) formally protested the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to auction off more than 51,400 acres of remarkable Federal public lands in southeast Utah for oil and gas leasing and development.  Included in BLM’s lease sale, scheduled for March 20, 2018, are public lands near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, as well as in the culturally rich Alkali Ridge Area of Critical Environmental Concern and along the Green and San Juan rivers.

    “BLM’s short-sighted decision threatens Utah’s red rock wilderness as well as significant cultural and archaeological resources,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “BLM’s ‘lease everything, lease everywhere’ approach to oil and gas development needlessly threatens iconic red rock landscapes and irreplaceable cultural history in the ill-conceived push for ‘energy dominance.”

    “We won’t sit idly by while President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke auction off America’s cultural and public lands heritage to the oil and gas industry,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “This lease sale flies in the face of historic preservation and environmental laws that Congress put in place to make sure that BLM thinks before it acts; not ‘lease first, and think later.’”

    In addition to offering leases near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, BLM plans to auction off culturally and ecologically significant public lands throughout southeastern Utah including:

    • Several tracts in a culturally rich part of southeastern Utah known as Alkali Ridge. In 2015 BLM briefly considered leasing in this area before acknowledging that it did not have enough basic information about the cultural resources in the area and backed away from that proposal.  BLM still lacks this information but nevertheless is now willing to put these cultural sites at risk;
    • Several tracts along segments of the Green River and San Juan River popular with families, recreational business, and tourists for river running, as well as home to several endangered fish species; and
    • Several tracts near Moab, Utah, including in the Goldbar Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon proposed wilderness areas.

    “It is shameful that the Trump administration is attempting to sell off our cherished wild places for the benefit of the oil and gas industry,” said Lena Moffitt, Senior Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign. “We will continue to pursue all legal options to protect America’s public lands from the greed and recklessness of this administration.”

    “Through lease sales like this one, Interior Secretary Zinke is handing the reins of our public lands to his pals in the oil and gas industry, despite their proximity to iconic national parks, monuments, and archeologically-rich canyons,” said Marc Thomas, with the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club.  “This unfortunate giveaway is taking place even though the industry has already stockpiled more than 1.7 million acres of leased, but unused, BLM-managed lands in Utah.  This is not the sort of stewardship Americans, including those of us living in southeast Utah, want for our special places.”

    The following groups protested the Canyon Country District’s environmental assessment for the March 2018 lease sale: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Colorado (protested two lease parcels near Colorado border), Green River Action Network, Living Rivers, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society (protest available here).  BLM’s environmental assessment is available here.

    The following groups protested the Canyon Country District’s Determination of NEPA Adequacy for the March 2018 lease sale: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Green River Action Network, Living Rivers, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club (protest available here).  BLM’s Determination of NEPA Adequacy is available here.

    At the end of BLM’s 2016 fiscal year, there were approximately 2.9 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development (here—follow hyperlink for Table 2 Acreage in Effect). At the same time, oil and gas companies had less than 1.2 million acres of those leased lands in production—less than forty percent of the total land under lease (here – follow hyperlink for Table 6 Acreage of Producing Leases).  This disparity makes clear that there is no need to sacrifice any of these remarkable areas for oil and gas leasing and development.

    Click here for photos of areas to be auctioned off by BLM in southeastern Utah for fossil fuel development.

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  • December 7th, 2017

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    December 7, 2017

    Contact: Jen Ujifusa, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (202) 266-0473

    This week, following the outrageous and illegal repeal of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments by President Trump, Utah’s representatives in Congress doubled down on the effort to unprotect these iconic landscapes by introducing two bills that would essentially ratify Trump’s actions.

    On Wednesday, Rep. Chris Stewart introduced H.R. 4558, a bill that creates three new national monuments—Escalante Canyons, Kaiparowits, and Grand Staircase, respectively. These monuments match the 48 percent reduction of the original Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument perpetrated this week by Trump’s Executive Order, but the language nullifies Trump’s proclamation in favor of that of the bill. The bill also creates the so-called “Escalante Canyons National Park and Preserve,” but puts management planning for that park and the three national monuments in the hands of local officials in Kane and Garfield County despite the fact that these are federal lands belonging to all Americans.

    All of the new designations prioritize recreation, hunting and grazing over conservation, and the bill reopens the lands not included in the Trump monuments to mineral leasing. The bill also includes a public lands giveaway, handing the Hole in the Rock Road to the State of Utah, and will likely reopen destructive off-road vehicle routes that have been closed for decades to protect sensitive resources.

    “This bill is a brazen handout to the extremist voices who wish to eliminate federal control of public lands that belong to all,” said Scott Groene, Executive Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Though it purports to protect these landscapes, by handing control almost exclusively to development interests in Kane and Garfield County, it is clear the remnants of Grand Staircase-Escalante would become playgrounds for destructive recreation, poor lands management and dirty energy. The bill, with its throw away National Park designation, is a bait and switch. No one should bite.”

    The other bill, H.R. 4532, introduced Tuesday by new delegation member Rep. John Curtis, alongside Reps. Bishop, Stewart and Love from the Utah delegation, ratifies the new boundaries that Trump’s proclamation put forth for Bears Ears National Monument, replacing the Bears Ears with two significantly diminished landscapes: the 142,337-acre Shash Jáa National Monument, and the 86, 447-acre Indian Creek National Monument. These new boundaries are an 83 percent reduction in the original Bears Ears National Monument.

    Like the Escalante bill, Rep. Curtis’ bill creates a new management council comprised of the same local elected officials that sought the undoing of the monument, as well as members of Tribes who are picked not by Tribal governments, but by the Utah delegation. Furthermore, the bill excludes three of the five tribes who advocated for protection of Bears Ears from the council. This framework ensures that the protective status of the original Bears Ears National Monument will not be honored in these newer, decimated parcels.

    “The fact that these bills even exist is evidence that the Utah delegation knows Trump’s actions were illegal, and they are scrambling to set up a Plan B,” Groene said. “But the two million acres of lands that Trump stripped from the original Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments still belong to all Americans, and we will work with our allies in Congress, who are more motivated than ever, to ensure that neither of these efforts to hand over these national treasures ever see the light of day.”

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    White Canyon in Bears Ears National Monument. Copyright Jeff Clay

     

  • December 5th, 2017

    On December 4th, President Donald Trump swooped into Utah and committed the most destructive act against public lands in the history of the presidency by repealing both the decades-old Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the not-yet-a-year-old Bears Ears National Monument.

    Grand Staircase was shrunk by 47 percent, with about 1 million acres remaining. And in a slap in the face to the five tribes who advocated for it, Bears Ears was decimated, its 1.35 million acres reduced by 83 percent to just 229,000 acres.

    7,000 Utahns rallied in support of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments at the State Capitol just two days before President Trump repealed them. Copyright Diane Kelly/SUWA

    Of course, we’ve seen this coming almost since the election last November. When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke began his so-called “review” of 27 national monuments, it was clear from the get-go that the number one targets were our monuments in Utah.

    And it was sadly unsurprising when Zinke’s initial findings were leaked to reveal that he had ignored the overwhelming consensus of more than 2.8 million public comments that made it clear that the American people wanted their monuments left alone, instead recommending the types of major cuts that we have now seen.

    Rest assured that we have not been caught off guard. For months we’ve been preparing for this moment, and we are taking this fight to the courts. There is no precedent for a president undoing a national monument, and we believe Trump has acted illegally. We are joining hands with our allies across the environmental community and the Tribes that have been so wronged in this act, and we will never stop fighting for these lands.

    In the meantime, here’s how you can take action:

    Take heart and stand with us. We are on the right side of history and we will win eventually.

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