February 2024 Redrock Report

Feb 22nd, 2024 Written by suwa

BLM Seeks Input on Proposed Solar Plan Affecting 11 Western States

Desolation Canyon (Ray Bloxham)In mid-January, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced it is seeking public input on the proposed Western Utility-Scale Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. This plan, commonly called the Western Solar Plan, is intended to update and expand solar energy development on BLM-managed lands in eleven western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Unfortunately, several of the plan’s proposed alternatives would allow at least some solar energy development on wilderness-quality lands across Utah—lands characterized by high mountain ranges, sagebrush flats, stunning redrock cliffs, and incredible opportunities for solitude. SUWA supports the urgent and necessary transition to renewable energy, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of Utah’s wildest lands.

As part of the public engagement process, the BLM has been hosting both virtual and in-person meetings about the plan. If no public meetings were held in your area, or you were unable to attend, please consider joining the final virtual meeting on March 6th, then urge the BLM to prioritize solar energy development in locations that avoid intact, wild places. Be on the lookout for our upcoming action alert with tips on submitting your comments to the agency.

>> Click here to register for the virtual public meeting on Wednesday, March 6th at 11 am MT

Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

SUWA’s 2024 Stewardship Project Calendar Is Live!

Stewardship Season Kick-Off 2024 GraphicSpring is fast approaching and SUWA’s Stewardship Program crew is busily preparing for another productive season in the field. If you’re interested in volunteering with us this year, we encourage you to check out our recently released project calendar. This year’s schedule includes everything from short stints in designated wilderness areas to four and five-day-long excursions into wilderness-eligible landscapes. In addition to first-time project locations, our volunteers will continue stewardship and restoration efforts in multiple locations within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Our Stewardship Program offers service-learning opportunities that allow supporters and members to experience firsthand the lands we’re all working to protect—from remote wilderness study areas in the West Desert to the ancient canyons of Utah’s restored national monuments and every America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act parcel in between.

This program is popular and trips will fill up quickly. We recommend registering early to avoid disappointment. Also note that SUWA has scholarships available for students enrolled at least half-time in an accredited college, university, vocational school, or technical school in Utah who would like to join a stewardship project.

Photo © SUWA

Utah Leaders Withdraw Support for Bears Ears Land Exchange

Bears Ears (Jeff Clay)In a disappointing turn of events, Utah Governor Spencer Cox and Republican leaders of the legislature have withdrawn support for a Bears Ears National Monument land exchange bill that was introduced last year and seemed destined for passage. Known as the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration Exchange Act of 2023, the bill would have traded state-owned lands in and around the monument for BLM-managed lands elsewhere in the state. The goal of the exchange, which received broad support from Tribal leaders, conservationists, and state and local elected officials last summer, was to unify ownership of lands within the monument and allow federal agencies to better protect the area’s outstanding natural and cultural resources.

Such land exchanges are important because monument lands are managed for resource protection whereas the checkerboard of state or “school trust” lands across Utah are typically leased or developed for short-term economic return. We hope this won’t be the last word on this important opportunity.

A draft management plan for the restored Bears Ears National Monument is expected this spring. Stay tuned for more information.

Photo © Jeff Clay

New Polling Shows Strong Support for Conservation!

2024 Conservation in the West Poll (UT Graphic)In mid-February, Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project released its annual “Conservation in the West” poll, which surveyed the views of voters in eight Mountain West states, finding that voters have a clear and resounding preference for conservation when given a choice in how public lands are managed. While all of the results are interesting—and show that conservation can be a winning issue for elected officials—we wanted to draw attention to a few Utah-specific findings:

  • 84% support the creation of new national parks, national monuments, national wildlife refuges, and tribal protected areas.
  • 70% prefer that leaders place more emphasis on protecting water, air, wildlife habitat, and recreation opportunities over maximizing the amount of land available for drilling and mining.
  • 82% think more emphasis should be placed on conserving wildlife migration routes than on new development, roads, ranching, or oil and gas production in those areas.

This year’s poll also found that 92% of Colorado voters support protecting public lands surrounding the Dolores River Canyon (an area often referred to as Colorado’s corner of the redrock wilderness) to conserve important wildlife habitat, safeguard the area’s scenic beauty, and support outdoor recreation. We encourage you to learn more about the proposal for a Dolores Canyons National Monument.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Against “Good Neighbor Plan”

This week, the US Supreme Court heard arguments to halt the government’s Good Neighbor Plan, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule under the Clean Air Act. The Good Neighbor Plan will save thousands of lives by requiring upwind states to limit pollution that travels across state lines, harming people and the environment downwind. SUWA and fellow nonprofit Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment intervened to defend the Good Neighbor Plan, represented by Earthjustice.

The Good Neighbor Plan requires power plants and other high-polluting industries to reduce emissions that create ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog, is linked to asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and premature death. The EPA estimates that the plan, when fully implemented, will prevent more than one million asthma attacks and at least a thousand premature deaths a year while also improving the health of forests and water bodies around the country.

“Utah’s wild places are well known for their wildlife, clean air, and remarkable vistas—all of which are threatened by smog and ozone pollution,” said SUWA Staff Attorney Hanna Larsen. “It’s unacceptable to see Republican politicians choosing to side with polluters and their attempts to stop the EPA’s Good Neighbor Plan, which would reduce pollution, help preserve ecosystems, and protect public health. By fighting measures like this, politicians will degrade our environment and endanger the health of Utahns now and into the future.”

>> Read more in this press release from Earthjustice