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  • 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.

  • August 13th, 2020

    Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) each recently sent separate letters to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt urging against the leasing of nearly 87,000 acres of redrock country near Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef National Parks, including significant landscapes that would be protected within America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

    Great news: it worked! The combined pressure from these members of Congress, conservation groups, and activists like you led the Bureau of Land Management this week to remove all parcels from the lease sale in San Juan and Grand Counties. The result is that no leases will be offered in the September sale that conflict with America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act!

    If your member(s) of Congress signed one of these letters, please click here to thank them.

    Joining Senator Durbin on his letter were 15 senators:

    Jeff Merkley (D-OR) Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
    Cory Booker (D-NJ) Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
    Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Patty Murray (D-WA)
    Edward Markey (D-MA) Tom Udall (D-NM)
    Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
    Ron Wyden (D-OR) Kamala Harris (D-CA)
    Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
    Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

    Representative Lowenthal was joined by 32 colleagues, who in the letter wrote, “Development of these parcels would threaten to ruin the stunning scenic beauty and visitors’ use and enjoyment of these iconic national parks, redrock canyons, and mesas with drill rigs, pipelines, and natural gas flaring. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive down demand for oil and gas leases on public lands while oil and gas wells are being shut-in or abandoned at unprecedented rates, providing little economic justification for this sale. We urge the Department of the Interior to cancel this lease sale.”

    Joining Rep. Lowenthal were the following representatives:

    Rep Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA)
    Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD)
    Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)
    Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO)
    Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
    Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
    Rep. Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL) Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)
    Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA)
    Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL)
    Rep. Nanette Barrigan (D-CA) Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)
    Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA)
    Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA)
    Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA) Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)
    Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)
    Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA)
    Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) Rep. A Donald McEachin (D-VA)

    To read the Durbin letter, click here. To read the Lowenthal letter, click here.

    This kind of pressure from Congress helps us protect the redrock we all love! If any of these members represent you, please take time to thank them today!

  • July 22nd, 2020

    Our guest is Leah Thomas, activist, eco-communicator and founder of Intersectional Environmentalist, a new and growing community of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color environmental writers and content creators. Intersectional Environmentalism advocates for the protection of both people and the planet by identifying ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and to the earth are interconnected. In this episode, Thomas shares her perspective as a Black environmentalist and discusses her experiences as a person of color on public lands.

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Our theme music, “What’s Worth?” was written and performed in Moab by Haley Noel Austin. 

    Listen on your favorite app!

    wildutah.info/Stitcher
    wildutah.info/Apple
    wildutah.info/Spotify

  • July 15th, 2020

    The Land

    Between Price, Utah and Grand Junction, Colorado, Highway 6 and Interstate 70 cross 170 miles of barren and windswept terrain. The drive would be lonely but for a constant companion: the thousand-foot-high wall of the Book Cliffs that parallels the highway just to the north. Winding for 250 miles across Utah and Colorado, it is the longest continuous escarpment in the world.

    Near the town of Green River, Utah, a second escarpment, the Roan Cliffs, rises above the Book Cliffs, and together the two climb a vertical mile above the desert. From a distance the double rampart appears to be a smooth, unbroken wall, but on closer inspection it resolves into a complicated network of spurs, ridgelines, and canyons.

    The Book Cliffs-Desolation Canyon wilderness is a merging of three different worlds: the great rampart of the Roan and Book cliffs, the high alpine forests and meadows of the Tavaputs Plateau, and the inner world of Desolation Canyon.

    It is all marvelous wilderness. Abundant wildlife and rugged beauty have made the Book Cliffs wilderness one of Utah’s most popular backcountry destinations. Each year the region draws more than 6,000 hunters, and an equal number of river runners make the float trip through Desolation Canyon annually.


    The Work

    We are headed to the remote reaches of Washington County’s Canaan Mountain Wilderness to monitor, manage and restore wilderness boundary signage. Destroyed or damaged signs and fencing have led to motorized incursions into the wilderness. Our crew will work to define and demarcate protected areas to prevent future impacts of ORV travel in Short Creek and Squirrel Canyon. 8 spaces available.

    Work tasks will vary by need, and are slated to include:

    • monitoring hikes of wilderness boundary
    • installation of WSA boundary signs
    • remediation of additional travel and camping impacts

    Our Objective: To appropriately manage and improve existing wilderness boundaries with the intent to prevent all future non-permitted motorized travel in the Canaan Mountain Wilderness.


    Itinerary
    A comprehensive itinerary will be provided to registered volunteers.

    • Friday, Aug 28th: [Optional] Pre-Project Campout
    • Saturday, Aug 29th: Orientation + Workday
    • Sunday, Aug 30th: Free Day!

    Project Rating 

    Level 2 – Our most common trip incorporates mid- to heavy-lifting, work in remote landscapes at varying elevations, an increased diversity of tool use, and an emphasis on physical fitness.


    Camping & Meals

    Volunteers will camp on site. Specific location will be indicated in the Welcome Letter provided to registered volunteers.

    Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, SUWA has suspended our provision of food during projects. Volunteers are responsible for all of their water and meal needs through the duration of the project. SUWA will provide a water reserve for contingency use. (Please note: Potable water is not available on site.)


    Volunteer Responsibilities

    Participants are responsible for their own food, water and camping gear as well as transportation to and from the project site(s). Volunteers should plan to be away from camp all day each of the work days. A recommended pack list will be sent along with the project Welcome Letter two weeks prior to the start date.


    Registration

    A Volunteer Agreement is required for this project. 

    When we have received your form, you will receive a confirmation e-mail within 5 working days of submission. The confirmation e-mail will indicate whether you have been placed on the “project roster” or a “waiting list.”

    Three weeks before the start of the trip, you will receive an RSVP to confirm your participation. Individuals on the Waitlist will be contacted if spaces open due to cancellation.

    Two weeks before the project start date, registered and confirmed participants will receive a Welcome Letter, with a comprehensive itinerary, including: driving instructions, a Project Map (for mobile devices), a notification about carpools and/or caravans, and additional information in a Pre-Departure email.

    If you have any questions at any point throughout the process, please don’t hesitate to contact our program coordinator: volunteer@suwa.org  or  (435) 259-9151.

    APPLY NOW