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  • April 6th, 2020

    Comments due by April 13th, 2020!

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) spends tens of millions of taxpayer dollars destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of native pinyon pine and juniper forests throughout the West each year. In recent years, public input has stopped many of these controversial projects or helped the BLM make better, more scientifically-sound vegetation management decisions that leave pristine, sensitive wilderness-quality lands and habitat intact.

    Now, despite the critical role of public input and oversight on these controversial vegetation removal projects, the BLM is proposing a new categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that would allow up to 10,000 acre projects to mechanically remove pinyon pine and juniper trees on public lands with no environmental analysis, public accountability, or public input. 

    We must use this opportunity to remind the BLM why public input is crucial to a rational and science-based decision-making process, provide evidence that the environmental effects of vegetation removal projects vary significantly from project to project, oftentimes causing significant long-term harm to native ecosystems, and make the public voice heard.

    Comments on the proposed categorical exclusion are due April 13th, 2020. Click here to submit comments through our online action center.

    When writing your comments, please consider the following points:

    • 10,000 acre projects are an extremely unreasonable size to categorically exclude from NEPA and public review. This area is larger than many cities. Congress in the past has called for agencies to establish categorical exclusions for some projects up to 4,500 acres in size. BLM’s proposed categorical exclusion is more than double that, with very few limitations on where, when, and how treatments can be conducted.
    • The best available science shows that these projects do have significant environmental effects, making any blanket determination that future projects need not go through the NEPA process because there are no significant environmental effects wildly inappropriate.
    • BLM has misrepresented available scientific research on the effects of these projects in its categorical exclusion proposal, erroneously concluding they have a net positive effect on the ecosystem. This completely excludes science showing that mechanical pinyon pine and juniper removal is overall very harmful for woodland-dependent species, including migratory birds whose populations are already in drastic decline.
    • BLM should not be able to categorically exclude any projects in National Monuments, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Wilderness Study Areas, or other special-status public lands. There are many proposed vegetation removal projects in recent years that were removed from these sensitive areas because of public input and engagement. It is improper for BLM to be able to plan, approve, and execute projects using heavy machinery to clearcut native forests in these special management lands with no public oversight and without robust, site-specific environmental analysis.
    • These projects help accelerate climate change by causing large-scale surface disturbance that increases desertification, contributes to atmospheric dust levels, and removes valuable forest carbon sinks. BLM must continue to do project-specific, public, NEPA analysis for pinyon pine and juniper removal projects because of their potential contributions to climate change.
    • BLM has not demonstrated that it has adequately monitored past vegetation removal projects to ensure that the treatments do not cause significant, long-term damage to overall ecosystem health by disturbing and destroying biological soil crust or spreading invasive species like cheatgrass. BLM must provide long-term monitoring data from past projects to demonstrate their success before categorically excluding future projects from NEPA. BLM must make this data publicly available.
    • BLM has not provided any criteria or guidelines in the proposed CX to determine what qualifies as sage-grouse or mule deer habitat, and because there will be no public process, the BLM will not need to justify these determinations. Therefore, the BLM could ostensibly use the proposed CX to remove 10,000 acres of forest wherever it wants with no public accountability. Distressingly, the public may not even know these large-scale projects were happening until after they were completed and the deforestation was irreversible.

    Please consider all of these points as you make your comments, and make sure to add your own! Tell the Bureau of Land Management why large-scale mechanical removal of pinyon pine and juniper forests across the west continues to be a very significant action deserving of careful environmental review and public input.

    >> Click here to submit comments through our online action center (personalize if possible)
    >> Click here to submit comments via the BLM’s web portal (use points above to craft a message in your own words)

    Aftermath of a BLM “mastication” project on Utah public lands. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

  • April 1st, 2020

    Twenty-eight redrock volunteers traveled to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC in the waning days of February to participate in our annual Wilderness Week event. Their advocacy will lay the groundwork for the next big step forward in protecting Utah’s magnificent wild lands.

    The purpose of February’s Wilderness Week was to ramp up support for America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act—the flagship legislation for our redrock protection campaign. Coordinated by the Utah Wilderness Coalition, whose leading organizations are SUWA, Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the 28 volunteers (from Utah and 17 other states) worked together in 12 teams and held 140+ meetings with legislators. Over the course of several days, they crisscrossed Capitol Hill and walked the marble corridors of Congress wearing their highly visible “Protect Wild Utah” buttons.

    2020 Wilderness Week activists in front of the U.S. Capitol.

    With activists’ efforts concentrated on the Emery County bill last year—which permanently protected 663,000 acres of wilderness in Utah’s San Rafael Swell and Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons—reintroduction of the redrock bill got a late start in the 116th Congress. Nevertheless, we’re already up to 74 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 17 in the Senate. You can click here to see if your representative and senators are among them.

    If any of your elected officials are not listed, click here to ask them to endorse America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act today!

    Just as our Wilderness Week activists were leaving Washington, the coronavirus hit the United States hard. That’s why your emails and calls to Congress are even more crucial today—so that we can sustain the momentum created by these dedicated individuals who volunteered their own personal time to travel to our nation’s capital on behalf of the spectacular landscapes we all love.

    Southern Utah’s national treasures need your support! Please click here to contact your members of Congress today.

    Thank you!

  • March 19th, 2020

    In light of coronavirus impacting our communities and disrupting our day-to-day routines, we’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the fear and uncertainty that the world is facing right now.

    In a very short amount of time, our lives at work, school, and home have had to change so that we may prevent the further spread of COVID-19. While social distancing has become a best practice during this pandemic, we’ve also seen how much this is actually physical distancing.

    While we cannot share the same physical space with people outside of our homes—and, for many, at work—now is a time when remaining socially close to friends and loved ones and strengthening social ties is ever more important. This is a great time to make better use of your phone, video call platforms, pens and paper, and other technologies.

    If you spend time scrolling through social media, one positive message you may have seen in your newsfeed is that “the outdoors have not been canceled.”  One thing we can do right now is observe the arrival of spring. From outside of our homes in Utah, we can see forsythia, daffodils, and willows emerge as late-arriving turkey vultures soar above.

    Stay home for now. The wilderness isn’t going anywhere. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Right now might seem like a good time to pack your car and head into our wild public lands to take refuge in nature while maintaining safe physical distance from other people; this is not a good idea. We’d like to advise our members, supporters, and all public land lovers to stay at home and find solace in your own backyard or neighborhood park, or on local city sidewalks.

    Already, the Southeast Utah Health Department has closed hotels and camping in Grand, Emery, and Carbon Counties, and all restaurants are limited to takeout. Rural communities at the doorsteps of America’s redrock wilderness face serious challenges to providing healthcare services to rural residents when pandemics or other community health emergencies arise. Injuries sustained by visitors on nearby public lands add stress to local emergency services and medical facilities, and visitation may also promote the spread of coronavirus to local residents. The fact is, there are few resources to care for sick people in rural hospitals—including in Moab (in Grand County), which has only two ventilators and 17 hospital beds. Please, stay home.

    Wilderness is a treasure we work to save in part so that we may take refuge and recharge in it. But now is a time when we should prioritize protecting each other. By actively choosing to stay home and find peace in the springing life of our own locales, we can help ensure that the residents in rural gateway communities are safe through the duration of this pandemic.

    The more we can do as a community to follow CDC guidelines and avoid physical contact or proximity with others now, the sooner we can get past this pandemic and get out on our public lands again. Until we reach that point, please notice what nature is blessing you with right outside of where you live. If you feel nostalgia for the redrock, share photos and videos of your adventures on public lands, tag us @ProtectWildUtah on Instagram, and hold onto those travel plans for the future.

    And if you have the capacity, we hope any desires that arise in you to bask in the southern Utah sun can find an outlet through your advocacy.

    In spite of the pandemic, the US Department of Interior’s plans to lease public land for oil and gas development and to push through weakening of public oversight and environmental review will proceed as usual. Thus, SUWA’s litigation in courts, collaboration with BLM offices, field work, mapping, membership services, legislative advocacy, and grassroots organizing will carry on. All SUWA employees will remain on the job through this unusual spring; staff and volunteers are working remotely and practicing physical distancing. We’ll be counting on members and volunteers to help keep the pressure on congressional offices, engage in grassroots actions through new upcoming digital platforms, and stay vocal about the global imperative of preserving wild spaces for their myriad values in this era of climate crisis.

    Until the health of our communities is restored, this excerpt from Wallace Stegner’s 1960 Wilderness Letter comes to mind:

    The reminder and the reassurance that [wilderness] is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there.

    We promise, southern Utah wilderness will remain. It will be waiting for you. The waters will run from spring snowmelt, flowers will bloom, young raptors will take their first flights, and the sandstone guardians will remain vigilant beneath sun and stars. Let us practice patience in the way that our beloved canyons, slowly carved throughout time, have always known.

    Stay well,
    The Staff at SUWA

    P.S. Please note that our online store is temporarily closed and there may be delays in mailing out donation acknowledgement letters and thank-you gifts. Your patience is appreciated during this uncertain time.

  • February 26th, 2020

    One of our most important tools in protecting Utah’s redrock wilderness is under unprecedented attack.

    As you may have heard, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—our nation’s bedrock environmental law—is now in the Trump administration’s crosshairs.

    The administration has proposed rolling back and significantly weakening NEPA, a move that  “strike[s] at the heart of the public’s right to know what our government is doing or failing to do on our behalf and to speak to the lasting impact those actions might have,” as SUWA board member Sharon Buccino put it in The New York Times.

    NEPA is the legal foundation for transparent protections of our environment and public health. It ensures that Federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), thoroughly analyze and disclose to the public the environmental impacts of a proposed action, and  guarantees that relevant information is made available to the public so that they can play a role in the decision-making process.

    Environmental reviews and public participation, required by NEPA, are one of the most important tools we have in the fight against climate change, and the proposed weakening of NEPA will make it easier to mine, drill, and chain our public lands.

    Without the current NEPA protections, SUWA would have been unable to:

    NEPA is everything when it comes to protecting Utah’s red rock wilderness.  If implemented, the Trump administration’s rollback of NEPA will, among other things, exclude climate considerations from NEPA reviews, restrict public input, and  narrow the scope of NEPA reviews.

    This attack on our nation’s bedrock environmental law is unprecedented. It is counter to everything we stand for as a democracy, and is a thinly-veiled attempt to make it easier for the Trump administration to rubber stamp development permits and entrench federal climate denial, without public participation or oversight.

    SUWA and partner groups are submitting comments on the proposed rollback of this critical environmental law. We’ll let you know when your voice can make a difference.

  • February 14th, 2020

    This op-ed by SUWA Executive Director Scott Groene was published in the online version of the Salt Lake Tribune on February 13, 2020.

    With the reintroduction of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in Congress last week, it’s worth reflecting on how far wilderness has come in Utah.

    Over the past 15 years, more than one million acres of public land in Utah have been protected as wilderness. And through land exchanges, litigation and management plans, hundreds of thousands of additional acres of redrock canyons and mesas have gained some form of protection.

    During that same time, Utah politicians from top to bottom have spent millions of taxpayer dollars trying to prevent conservation and seize control of these lands from the public.

    How has so much been protected in a state so openly hostile to conservation? The answer is America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

    Over 30 years ago, Utahns recognized that over half of the wilderness in their state had been lost and decided they needed to act to protect the remaining canyon country. No one else would do it — not the politicians blinded by the past, nor federal agencies afraid to act. So volunteers spent years surveying the lands, and, with the leadership of Utah Rep. Wayne Owens, created America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (ARRWA) — legislation that today would protect 8.4 million acres of wilderness on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

    With this vision, Utahns set out to defend and protect these lands. The national support they organized translated into the political strength necessary to block the Utah delegation from enacting shortsighted legislation that would have sliced the redrock country to bits. And it gave Utahns the power to prevent administrations from tearing the backcountry apart with energy development, clear cuts and off-road vehicle routes. The ubiquitous yellow “Protect Wild Utah” signs are the tip of an iceberg of a great citizens’ movement.

    The latest fruit of these labors was the Emery County Public Land Management Act. What started as a political fight when Rep. John Curtis and former Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced terrible legislation for the San Rafael Swell ended up as a classic win-win scenario. Through hard work and difficult conversations, Republican Hatch and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin hammered out a deal to designate 663,000 acres of wilderness, ensuring that uniquely Utah landscapes like Muddy Creek, Labyrinth Canyon and the San Rafael Swell will be left undisturbed for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.

    The people of Emery County succeeded in determining their own future, avoiding designation of a national monument other than the one they wanted: Jurassic National Monument. It was a significant accomplishment all around, though ultimately the bill designated less than half of the acres proposed for wilderness in the county.

    Getting less than half of what we at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) know deserves protection was only acceptable because, as part of the bargain, Hatch and Durbin agreed that SUWA could continue to advocate for wilderness protection of the remaining undesignated lands through the landmark ARRWA legislation. That’s worth restating: SUWA’s ability to continue advocating for additional wilderness in Emery County was an explicit part of the deal.

    Durbin and SUWA offered not to pursue additional wilderness in Emery County in return for more wilderness in the San Rafael Badlands, but Hatch’s office declined the offer. After Hatch’s retirement, Durbin met with Sen. Mitt Romney and made the same proposal. Romney, likewise, declined it.

    Our members know SUWA wouldn’t walk away from hundreds of thousands of acres of redrock wilderness in exchange for nothing. Durbin’s insistence on doing what is right for the land is what got the protections added for Muddy Creek and Labyrinth Canyon in the first place.

    Unfortunately, some of Utah’s politicians are attempting to rewrite history — ignoring the way the Emery County negotiations happened and pulling out their tired old playbook to attack ARRWA when it was recently introduced. Romney even went so far as to introduce his own wilderness bill in Illinois as a ploy to get back at Durbin, an absurd tactic considering Durbin enthusiastically supports wilderness. These theatrics are typical of our delegation whenever ARRWA is reintroduced in Congress, but they only serve to emphasize the bill’s power and importance.

    As Utah’s population grows, protected lands become more precious. We need these places more than ever to hold carbon in the ground, to protect Native American homelands, to shelter stressed wildlife and, ultimately, for our own well-being. We’re always ready to roll up our sleeves and engage on tough public lands issues, and we look forward to the next opportunity.