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These are the sights and sounds from an oil and gas drill rig on state lands only about 6 miles from the picturesque Arches National Park.
The redrock is particularly lucky to have a large number of articulate and passionate activists dedicated to achieving lasting protections for Utah wilderness. Last week, 20 of those folks (half from Utah and half from across the country) traveled to Washington, DC for Utah Wilderness Week 2011 to ask their members of Congress to support protecting America’s redrock wilderness and to defend against anti-wilderness attacks in Congress.
The mission: Convincing Senators and Representatives to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in the 112th Congress, and also to ask them to preserve administrative tools (the “Wild Lands” policy and the Antiquities Act) that could be used by the Obama administration to protect special places in southern Utah. After a full day of lobby training and learning about the issues in more detail, the activists were ready to take on Capitol Hill, proudly displaying their bright yellow and black “Protect Wild Utah” buttons.
Some of the highlights of the week:
Maryland activist Claire Gardner (pictured 2nd from left) met with her Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD, pictured 2nd from right), who did not cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act last Congress after supporting the bill in the past. Not only was she and her teammate John Hoener (UT, pictured first on right) able to meet with the Congressman himself, but emerged from the meeting with a promise to cosponsor the bill. Rep. Van Hollen followed up on his word and was one of the first Representatives to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in the 112th Congress.
The Utahns were able to meet with 3 members of their delegation personally: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT, pictured 4th from left). Although the Utah delegation does not often see eye to eye with Utah wilderness supporters, the meetings were productive and reminded these members of Congress that Utahns do support protecting the remaining wild lands in their state.
The activists were also able to attend a House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing on the Bureau of Land Management’s “Wild Lands” policy. While it was disappointing to see how wilderness foes on the committee had stacked the deck of witnesses against the policy, everyone was excited to display their yellow “Protect Wild Utah” buttons and listen to wilderness champions on the committee such as Reps. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Ed Markey (D-MA), John Garamendi (D-CA), and Rush Holt (D-NJ) defend the BLM’s authority to manage lands for their wilderness characteristics.
Overall, the week was very successful and we already have a list of Congress members who have officially signed on as cosponsors of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. Thank you to all who participated!
How can you help?
1) Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and speak with your Senators’ or Reprensentative’s DC offices, asking that they cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.
2) Go to our Action Center and send emails to your members of Congress, asking that they cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.
3) Sign the petition asking Congress to protect America’s Redrock Wilderness:
SUWA’s Outreach Director Deeda Seed interviews our Associate Director Heidi McIntosh about the Department of Interior’s “Wild Lands” policy. Interior Secretary Salazar issued a secretarial order in December that restored the Bureau of Land Management’s authority to protect wilderness-quality lands.
Last week, wilderness protection in Utah got a needed boost as National Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey came to Utah to discuss the new BLM wilderness guidance that has the potential to give needed protection to 6 million acres of wilderness-quality lands across the state.
In the face of some antagonistic questioning by Utah Governor Gary Herbert and his “Balanced Resources Council,” Director Abbey held firm, saying that the new wilderness guidance is a tool to provide protection to BLM-managed wild lands until Congress acts to officially designate wilderness.
Over a hundred Utah wilderness supporters showed up to the meeting to thank Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and BLM Director Abbey for their commitment to giving wilderness its rightful place as an equal among the range of other resources BLM must manage and protect — a critical first step towards ensuring the permanent protection of our last remaining wild lands in the West.
Click on the video below to view clips from a news conference we organized featuring SUWA’s Heidi McIntosh along with Utahns Bryson Garbett, a former Republican legislator and owner of a prominent home building company, and Eve Miller, a new mom and co-founder of Women Protecting Wilderness.
The new policy also reverses the much-maligned and illegal 2003 back-door agreement between former Utah governor Michael Leavitt and former Interior boss Gale Norton by which Norton renounced the BLM’s authority to manage public lands to protect their wilderness character.
But, we all know that good policies are only good if they are implemented correctly, so we’re going to be watching implementation of this new wilderness guidance closely, and will urge the BLM to take a robust approach to protection of wild lands under its jurisdiction.
A big thanks to all of you who love and support Utah’s wild lands! Working together we can continue to ensure that these amazing places remain wild so the generations that come after us can experience them in their natural splendor.
If you haven’t done so already, please take a moment to thank Secretary Salazar for the new wilderness guidance policy.
Lately, my job as “Field Advocate” has involved driving the boundaries of the areas in the Book Cliffs included in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in order to get familiar with boundaries and edges and specific landscape features. This has to be one of the largest, most spectacular, wildest regions in Utah. On a recent trip with the writer/activist/SUWA Board Member/wife, Terry Tempest Williams, I was reminded of why Wilderness is so important to us, personally.
– Brooke Williams