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Today, we’re launching a sustained, multi-year media campaign in Utah to capitalize upon a growing shift in public opinion about wilderness in our state, and to further educate Utah residents about wilderness as an issue and a valuable part of our state and national heritage.
Relying heavily on broadcast and cable television spots, online ads throughout Utah, and outdoor advertising in the Salt Lake City metro area, the campaign aims to elevate the discussion and build greater support for permanently protecting Utah’s wilderness heritage.
This new media campaign builds upon a dramatic shift in public opinion that has taken place in Utah regarding our state’s incredible wild lands.
In 1989, when Utah Congressman Wayne Owens first introduced his bill for 5.1 million acres of BLM wilderness in Utah, 80 percent of Utahns who had an opinion about wilderness opposed it.
Today, 60 percent of Utahns who’ve made up their minds on the issue support protecting 9 million acres or more of Utah wilderness.
We believe this shift in opinion can be accelerated through education. Many Utah families already enjoy spending time in our state’s proposed wilderness areas. They hike, camp, hunt and fish in the areas that deserve wilderness protection.
But for many Utahns, wilderness as an issue has been obfuscated by the radical rhetoric of our opponents.
That’s why we’re committed to this campaign for the long haul. An intensive in-state advertising campaign can increase public awareness and understanding of Utah’s proposed wilderness areas, their accessibility to the general public, and the value that protecting Utah’s wilderness areas brings to our state’s economy.
By reaching out to the broad majority of Utahns who support a balanced approach to wilderness preservation and giving them a voice, we believe this campaign can change the game and help bring permanent protection for wilderness in Utah.
This video from SUWA's National Public Lands Day Service project was taken on September 25th, 2010. After consulting with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Price Field Office, SUWA Field Inventory Specialist Ray Bloxham worked with 15 volunteers for 6 hours to build post and rail fences signifying the vehicle route designations (in conformance with the Price Resource Management Plan motorized route designations) in the Muddy Creek canyon bottom riparian area. The BLM provided materials for the project and delivered a trailer to the project site prior to National Public Lands Day. See our Facebook page for photos from the project.
Thanks to everyone who helped and we look forward to continuing to provide the BLM with volunteer assistance!
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Maine for the Common Ground Country Fair, an event that combines the usual fair activities with a passion for organic and sustainable agriculture and environmental and social justice causes. For the past two years, I have been assisting the Mainers for Utah Wilderness state activist group with their table in the Environmental Concerns tent.
It is always amazing to see so many people in a state far from Utah with so many connections to redrock country. We were visited by folks who used to live in Utah, who had relatives or close friends who live in Utah, and/or have made frequent visits to southern Utah. Still others were planning trips out to Utah or hoped to visit someday. We even met some folks from out West who were up in Maine for the fair! Overall, most people were enthusiastic about our mission, and we were able to collect hundreds of postcards to President Obama and the Maine congressional delegation asking them to work to protect Utah wilderness.
The most common question? “Aren’t you a little far away from home? Why are you in Maine?” When we explained that these were federal lands, owned by Mainers just as much as those who live in Utah, they understood. Most expressed a desire to protect more wilderness in Utah for future generations to enjoy, and even those that were skeptical were surprised when they learned more information about our work.
Why do Mainers care about protecting Utah wilderness? Our Mainers for Utah Wilderness volunteers can best explain:
Thanks to those who volunteered and to those who stopped by the table! Meeting and working with passionate redrock activists always rejuvenates my own enthusiasm for working to protect Utah’s wild lands.
Looking through my colleagues’ photos and videos taken at last Saturday’s “Take Back Utah” rally, I became confused. For years, one of the main arguments against America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act – the Utah Wilderness Coalition’s flagship BLM wilderness bill – has been that since 1993 the legislation has been sponsored and supported by members of Congress outside of Utah. Ongoing battles rage between Utah counties and the federal government over ownership of roads and off-road vehicle routes on public land. From the rhetoric surrounding the rally, I figured all participants would be Utahns who believed the state should take control of federal lands –like the far-fetched eminent domain bill that recently passed the Utah Legislature.
Instead, I was surprised to see vehicles from states such as Tennessee and Montana, and astonished to hear Utah State Rep. Mike Noel paying tribute to participants from Elko County, Nevada.
On the Take Back Utah website, I saw a main sponsor was the Idaho-based Blue Ribbon Coalition. Even the credo of Take Back Utah “defends the freedoms of all Americans to explore and experience America’s Wild Places.” If you look at the Facebook group “Utahns Against the Red Rock Wilderness Act,” you would see many members from states outside of Utah – if the group is concerned with the state’s and locals’ rights to the land, why would they welcome “outsiders”? SUWA has always espoused the fact that people throughout the country should have a say in how our public lands are managed – hence, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. From the above examples, you would think that the elected officials and others who organized and participated in the rally believe the same.
But members of the Utah delegation, led by Sen. Bob Bennett, advocate for the “county-by-county” process of designating wilderness, which puts local county commissioners in charge of crafting bills to manage federal lands owned in equal part by every citizen of the United States. One county pushing such a bill is San Juan, which encompasses 5 million acres, including 1.3 million acres of gorgeous redrock BLM lands proposed for wilderness. County Commissioner Bruce Adams said the county’s proposal “favors opening up the area to everyone, including off-road vehicles, by creating a system of access roads” – not protecting some of the most intact wilderness-quality lands in the lower 48. In my work, I meet Americans from all over the country who want these lands protected, but this method of crafting so-called wilderness bills leaves them and Utahns from other parts of the state without a real voice. In San Juan County, Sen. Bennett wants to give three officials elected by a population of 15,000 (my neighborhood in Arlington, VA alone has a population of over 10,000!) control of creating legislation for lands owned and loved by millions of Americans. It just doesn’t seem right.
Back on the Take Back Utah webpage, I find some conflicting language: apparently the rally is also for “securing local rights” to the land or the “west will become unfairly subservient to the east.” Watching video from the event, I hear speakers denounce SUWA’s east coast supporters (wilderness designation also has ample support within Utah, by the way), Noel encourages locals to build illegal roads on public lands, and I see Governor Herbert promote the county commissioner method of crafting wilderness bills— a process that disenfranchises those who love the redrock but happen to live in other parts of the country.
Which is it? Are Americans outside Utah only allowed to be heard if they agree with the riding-roughshod-all-over-the-place method of managing our public lands?
Do you think this should be the case?
Last week, I left my home in Moab and traveled to Salt Lake City just in time to hit a “Red Alert” day — meaning the air quality was so poor that breathing could damage your lungs (yes, my driving contributed to the problem).
Somehow that made it all the more disappointing when two days later Governor Herbert spoke at the “Take Utah Backwards” (a.k.a. “Take Back Utah”) off-road vehicle rally at the state capitol. A crowd of pollution-belching ATVs and non-street-legal vehicles first joyrode up State Street, and then the governor shared the stage with elected officials and other sundry notables (like a representative of the Farm Bureau) competing for best at bashing environmentalists.
Why would our Governor promote more off-road vehicle use on our public lands? In the southeastern portion of our state, on
just BLM land alone, there are 20,000 miles of dirt routes for motorized use. He wants more?
Herbert shared the stage with Representative Mike Noel, whom the governor previously appointed to his so-called “Balanced Resource Council” — the committee intended to foster civility in public land discussions. When Noel recently learned that SUWA had resolved conflicts with an energy company over natural gas and wilderness at the north end of Desolation
Canyon, he declared that SUWA was an “enemy of the state and the people and the children of Utah” (I hope my wife
and kids don’t feel that way). You might have expected the governor to boot Noel from the BRC for that one. Instead, the governor’s staff sent a written defense of Noel to the Salt Lake Tribune, and on Saturday, the governor gave a shout-out
to his “good friend, Representative Mike Noel.”
If there is a silver lining to all this, it’s that only a few hundred attended Herbert’s speech, not the 10,000 predicted by promoters. These folks are losing momentum fast.
Off-road vehicle use is probably the greatest threat to Utah’s spectacular wilderness. We need political leadership, not pandering, if we’re going to resolve the Utah wilderness debate and protect the Redrock.
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance