Redrock Activists Descend on Nation’s Capital
Earlier this month, 50 wilderness advocates from 26 states, including Utah, converged in Washington, DC for the Utah Wilderness Coalition’s 2023 “Wilderness Week” event. These activists scheduled and held over 150 meetings with senators and representatives, urging them to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, the landmark legislation that would protect more than 8 million acres of wilderness-quality land in Utah.
This kind of work is not easy. Our volunteer activists covered many miles each day between House and Senate offices and answered a lot of tough questions. Fortunately, after a full day of training with SUWA and the Sierra Club, they were well prepared and did an excellent job. Thanks to their hard work on the Hill, we hope to have a large contingent of cosponsors when America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act is officially introduced this spring.
If you haven’t already done so, please add your voice to this effort by emailing, tweeting, and/or calling your elected officials today and asking them to become cosponsors!
>> Click here to take action now!
Photo © SUWA
Conservation Groups Granted Intervention to Defend Utah National Monuments
In 2022, the State of Utah sued in federal district court over President Biden’s decision to reinstate the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments after Trump shrank them without lawful authority. Last week, the court granted a motion to intervene filed by SUWA and other conservation groups. This ruling means we can fully participate in defense of the monument restorations. Late last year, the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes’ motion to intervene was also granted.
“Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments are two of the crown jewels of America’s system of federal public lands,” said SUWA Legal Director Steve Bloch. “The irreplaceable geologic, cultural, and biological wonders of these national monuments should be preserved for current and future generations to study and appreciate. We’re grateful we now have a seat at the table to work and make sure that’s the case.”
Photo © Tom Till
BLM Terminates Oil & Gas Leases above Desolation Canyon
We recently received notice that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Utah state office has terminated four long-disputed oil and gas leases overlooking Desolation Canyon. The details are a bit convoluted, but suffice it to say that the agency’s decision is the culmination of more than a decade of work by staff at all levels of SUWA. Most recently, Staff Attorney Landon Newell led the way, confronting the BLM with facts and law and arguing that by their own terms the leases terminated several years ago. The agency’s recent action confirmed that this was so.
The leases sit atop Horse Bench, which is south/southeast of Nine Mile Canyon, and stretch across an area that is rich in wilderness and dense with cultural sites significant to Native American Tribes. The BLM sold these leases in 2011 and we’ve been working ever since to overturn that decision and keep this beautiful landscape wild.
Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA
Appeal by SUWA and Partner Stalls Washington County Segment of High Desert Trail
We’re happy to report that a proposed 77-mile off-road vehicle trail across Washington County, Utah is getting a closer look following an appeal by SUWA and our friends at Conserve Southwest Utah. Late last summer, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) used a “categorical exclusion” (CX) to exempt the project from the normal legal process and approve this southernmost stretch of a proposed 700-mile High Desert OHV Trail across western Utah.
This quick approval allowed the State of Utah and Washington County to sign, promote, and encourage new and increased off-road vehicle use on lesser-used motorized routes in sensitive conservation and backcountry areas, including the Doc’s Pass, Slaughter Creek, and Cougar Canyon Wilderness Areas and in the Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area. The trail, as approved, would have bisected the heart of critical habitat for the Mojave desert tortoise, a federally-listed threatened species and the primary reason the conservation area was established by Congress over a decade ago.
Because there was no public process under the National Environmental Policy Act, interested parties—including local public land users, Washington County residents, wildlife experts, and SUWA members—had no opportunity to suggest alternate routes or mitigation measures, or otherwise engage with the BLM in project planning. After filing an appeal last fall and then our opening brief earlier this year, we are pleased to share that the BLM decided to vacate its CX authorization of the 77-mile trail segment and has remanded the decision back to the St. George field office for review and reconsideration.
We are hopeful that if the agency considers authorizing the trail again, it does so with opportunities for public comment and engagement, and that it takes a harder look at the potential impacts of allowing new and expanded motorized travel in wilderness areas and sensitive wildlife habitat.
Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA
SUWA Is Celebrating 40 Years of Redrock Advocacy!
This year rounds off SUWA’s fourth decade of defending Utah’s incomparable redrock wilderness and we’re excited to celebrate this incredible milestone with you! Please mark your calendars for our 40th anniversary celebration on Saturday, September 9th from 6-10pm at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City.
Since our founding in 1983, we’ve secured some form of enduring protection for more than 5.5 million acres of Utah’s wild country— from the San Rafael Swell and Desolation Canyon to the Grand Staircase and Canaan Mountain—and we couldn’t have done it without your support. So start gathering those rad dirtbag duds, dayglo tees, and oversized shoulder pads from your attic or local vintage store ‘cause we’ll be channeling that 1980s vibe with a costume party! Stay tuned for more details (and historical flashbacks) in the weeks to come.
Art Meets Activism at Upcoming Repertory Dance Theatre Performance Highlighting Utah Landscapes
SUWA is excited to announce our partnership with the Repertory Dance Theatre in their upcoming performance of FLIGHT, a concert designed to raise consciousness about how we relate to land, water, and habitats that are vital to our communities. The performance will feature three dance works that focus on the Utah landscape: The Winged by José Limón, I’ve Known Rivers by Donald McKayle, and Dancing the Bears Ears by Zvi Gotheiner.
To provide context for the show, five organizations have been invited to participate in an interdisciplinary conversation about critical environmental issues. They include SUWA, Friends of the Great Salt Lake, Great Salt Lake Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and Utah Diné Bikéyah. Join this free pre-show symposium, “Preserving our Land, Water, and Culture,” on Friday, April 21st at 6:30pm. Staff Attorney Laura Peterson will represent SUWA on the panel and we’ll have an outreach table in the lobby for all three dance performances.
Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Salt Lake City
When: Symposium on April 21 at 6:30pm / Performances from April 20-22 at 7:30pm
Use promo code “suwa” for $10 off your tickets to FLIGHT. For more information visit https://rdtutah.org/show-item/flight/