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Earlier this month, 24 activists with the Utah Wilderness Coalition (UWC) convened in Washington, DC to meet with congressional offices and discuss Rep. Rob Bishop’s draft Public Lands Initiative (PLI), the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) Expansion Bill, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (ARRWA), and the importance of protecting Utah’s extraordinary wilderness-quality lands. Activists from Utah and around the country stormed the Hill in teams of twos and threes, meeting with 120 offices in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Wilderness Week activists first learn the nuts and bolts of lobbying, how to talk with Congress and Hill staff, the inter-connectivity of all of the legislation that affects Utah’s wilderness-quality lands, “who’s who” on Capitol Hill, and the past actions of members of Congress. The day-long training was hosted by the Utah Wilderness Coalition, comprised of representatives of SUWA, Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. It can be an exhaustive cram session, but it was clear to us from the performance of our activists in their meetings that they were star pupils and had paid attention in class!
Congress was extremely busy during this year’s Wilderness Week, and the timing for the meetings was excellent. Appropriations season was in full swing and Utah Representative Chris Stewart’s UTTR Expansion Bill had a markup, which meant many of the activists were able to attend, wearing their yellow “Protect Wild Utah” pins, which Rep. Rob Bishop, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, certainly noticed from his front and center seat on the dais. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), the sponsor of the Red Rock Bill in the House, as well as Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) asked some very pointed questions which showed the activists that there are many members of Congress who care about Utah’s wild lands. Several of our activists were able to catch up with Lowenthal after the hearing to thank him and pose for a photo op.
The Utah Wilderness Coalition is so grateful to all 24 Wilderness Week participants for joining us in DC for this important week of lobbying. It’s because of these people, and supporters like you, that we are able to continue working to #ProtectWildUtah!
Are you interested in joining SUWA and the UWC for future lobbying events? Would you like to hold an in-district meeting with your representatives? If so, email your regional organizer for more information on how you can get involved.
Dave Pacheco – Utah
Terri Martin – Utah and Western US
Clayton Daughenbaugh – Midwest
Travis Hammill – Eastern US
The “Utah Test and Training Range Encroachment Prevention and Temporary Closure Act” (H.R. 4579), introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), aims to give away federal public lands under the guise of national security.
A companion to Senator Hatch’s S. 2383, the legislation would withdraw roughly 625,000 acres of BLM lands to expand the Utah Test and Training Range—already the largest military training ground in the United States—purportedly to accommodate a new fleet of F-35 jets. But it goes well beyond that mission by granting 6,000 miles of RS 2477 rights-of-way to Box Elder, Juab, and Tooele counties.
These so-called routes, many of which are simply faded two-tracks, cow paths or streambeds in the desert, run directly across federal public lands and fragment critical habitats, proposed wilderness, wilderness study areas, and even parts of the designated Cedar Mountain Wilderness! Caught up in the state’s land grab fever, these counties have sued the federal government to wrest control of these bogus routes, but are unlikely to win the majority in court. Forfeiting them now in this bill would set a dangerous precedent, not just in Utah, but throughout the West.
In addition, the legislation disregards bedrock environmental laws including the National Environmental Policy Act, undermines the protection of proposed wilderness areas such as the Newfoundland Mountains, Deep Creek Mountains and Dugway Mountains, and facilitates a land exchange that would trade away wilderness-quality lands.
Rep. Stewart’s proposed expansion is merely part of the broader effort by the State of Utah to seize our nation’s public lands. We need you to contact your member of Congress and expose this bill for what it is—a land grab shamelessly hiding under the guise of national security.
Last week, Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee introduced a bill that would create a massive “withdrawal” zone across Bureau of Land Management lands, effectively expanding the operational footprint of the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR). The training range in Utah’s West Desert is used by the Army, Air Force and Marines for operational exercises, and is off limits to the general public; the new withdrawal zone would be periodically closed to the public.
We’ve seen this bill before when Sen. Hatch attempted to attach it to national defense legislation in 2014, but it’s only gotten worse over time. S. 2383 would abandon bedrock environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, imperil future wilderness designations for places like the Newfoundland Mountains, Deep Creek Mountains and Dugway Mountains, and facilitate a land exchange to accelerate development in areas proposed for wilderness.
The bill also would transfer road rights-of-way to Box Elder, Juab and Toole counties. We don’t yet know which roads—we’re working on tracking down the maps–but we do know these counties have sued to get the so-called RS-2477 rights-of-way to thousands of miles of bogus two-tracks and cow paths across federal lands, including through designated and proposed wilderness. An earlier draft of the legislation referred specifically to those types of routes as the kind that would be summarily gifted to counties.
Speaking of gifts, the legislation includes a nice piece of window dressing: an advisory “Community Resource Group” that specifically calls for six special slots for county commissioners, seats for off-roaders, recreationists and livestock grazers, but no such reserved voice for conservation. The handpicked advisory group then faces the exhausting task of meeting “not less than once per year.”
Protecting national security in no way needs to come at the expense of protecting America’s precious public lands heritage. In 2006 we worked successfully with Rep. Rob Bishop on designating the Cedar Mountains Wilderness adjacent to the training range. When the bill passed, it was praised by the Utah delegation as a win-win for the UTTR and for wilderness, and Pentagon officials see wilderness as a complementary and desirable “buffer zone” near military facilities. Instead of using this opportunity to protect wilderness and accommodate the needs of our armed forces, the Utah senators are using national security as an excuse for yet another public lands giveaway.
Today, SUWA is running ads in the print and online versions of The Hill and Roll Call — two newspapers that are must-reads for the staff and elected officials on Capitol Hill in DC — to bring attention to how some members of the Utah delegation are using the proposed expansion of the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) as an excuse to harm wilderness and conservation values in Utah’s West Desert.
The Utah Test and Training Range is the largest training ground in the United States, covering almost 1.7 million acres in Utah’s West Desert. The Air Force, Army and Marine Corps all conduct training here.
Recently, in order to accommodate a new fleet of F-35 aircraft, members of the Utah delegation have proposed an expansion of this training range, which would overlap with about 700,000 additional acres of lands managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
But the delegation is also seeking to use the legislation as an excuse to give road rights-of-way across federal lands to several Utah counties, and to trade away public lands to mining interests. Neither of these add-on proposals have anything to do with national security, and would irreparably harm these unique public lands.
Many of the areas included in the proposed expansion are popular with hunters, hikers, campers and historic preservationists for their natural beauty, abundant wildlife and cultural and recreational value. As currently written, the expansion would not protect the wilderness values of places BLM agrees are wilderness caliber landscapes — including the Newfoundland Mountains, Dugway Mountains, and the Fish Springs Range — and could permanently compromise their future eligibility for protection.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In 2006, similar legislation in the West Desert led to a win-win solution for the Cedar Mountains Wilderness, which was designated as part of a larger military bill known as the Utah Test and Training Range Protection Act. Wilderness areas make ideal buffer zones for military facilities and have been intentionally designated in legislation seeking to protect military resources. That’s why the Cedar Mountains designation enjoyed the broad, bipartisan support of members of Congress. They knew it was possible to accommodate the needs of the military without compromising the beautiful public lands that make up the fabric of American life that our armed forces fight to defend.