• February 14th, 2020

    This op-ed by SUWA Executive Director Scott Groene was published in the online version of the Salt Lake Tribune on February 13, 2020.

    With the reintroduction of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in Congress last week, it’s worth reflecting on how far wilderness has come in Utah.

    Over the past 15 years, more than one million acres of public land in Utah have been protected as wilderness. And through land exchanges, litigation and management plans, hundreds of thousands of additional acres of redrock canyons and mesas have gained some form of protection.

    During that same time, Utah politicians from top to bottom have spent millions of taxpayer dollars trying to prevent conservation and seize control of these lands from the public.

    How has so much been protected in a state so openly hostile to conservation? The answer is America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

    Over 30 years ago, Utahns recognized that over half of the wilderness in their state had been lost and decided they needed to act to protect the remaining canyon country. No one else would do it — not the politicians blinded by the past, nor federal agencies afraid to act. So volunteers spent years surveying the lands, and, with the leadership of Utah Rep. Wayne Owens, created America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (ARRWA) — legislation that today would protect 8.4 million acres of wilderness on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

    With this vision, Utahns set out to defend and protect these lands. The national support they organized translated into the political strength necessary to block the Utah delegation from enacting shortsighted legislation that would have sliced the redrock country to bits. And it gave Utahns the power to prevent administrations from tearing the backcountry apart with energy development, clear cuts and off-road vehicle routes. The ubiquitous yellow “Protect Wild Utah” signs are the tip of an iceberg of a great citizens’ movement.

    The latest fruit of these labors was the Emery County Public Land Management Act. What started as a political fight when Rep. John Curtis and former Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced terrible legislation for the San Rafael Swell ended up as a classic win-win scenario. Through hard work and difficult conversations, Republican Hatch and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin hammered out a deal to designate 663,000 acres of wilderness, ensuring that uniquely Utah landscapes like Muddy Creek, Labyrinth Canyon and the San Rafael Swell will be left undisturbed for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.

    The people of Emery County succeeded in determining their own future, avoiding designation of a national monument other than the one they wanted: Jurassic National Monument. It was a significant accomplishment all around, though ultimately the bill designated less than half of the acres proposed for wilderness in the county.

    Getting less than half of what we at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) know deserves protection was only acceptable because, as part of the bargain, Hatch and Durbin agreed that SUWA could continue to advocate for wilderness protection of the remaining undesignated lands through the landmark ARRWA legislation. That’s worth restating: SUWA’s ability to continue advocating for additional wilderness in Emery County was an explicit part of the deal.

    Durbin and SUWA offered not to pursue additional wilderness in Emery County in return for more wilderness in the San Rafael Badlands, but Hatch’s office declined the offer. After Hatch’s retirement, Durbin met with Sen. Mitt Romney and made the same proposal. Romney, likewise, declined it.

    Our members know SUWA wouldn’t walk away from hundreds of thousands of acres of redrock wilderness in exchange for nothing. Durbin’s insistence on doing what is right for the land is what got the protections added for Muddy Creek and Labyrinth Canyon in the first place.

    Unfortunately, some of Utah’s politicians are attempting to rewrite history — ignoring the way the Emery County negotiations happened and pulling out their tired old playbook to attack ARRWA when it was recently introduced. Romney even went so far as to introduce his own wilderness bill in Illinois as a ploy to get back at Durbin, an absurd tactic considering Durbin enthusiastically supports wilderness. These theatrics are typical of our delegation whenever ARRWA is reintroduced in Congress, but they only serve to emphasize the bill’s power and importance.

    As Utah’s population grows, protected lands become more precious. We need these places more than ever to hold carbon in the ground, to protect Native American homelands, to shelter stressed wildlife and, ultimately, for our own well-being. We’re always ready to roll up our sleeves and engage on tough public lands issues, and we look forward to the next opportunity.

  • February 7th, 2020

    It’s official! America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA). With your support to galvanize members of Congress, there are already 58 members who have joined the fight to protect wild Utah.

    We want to give these members a standing ovation to show how much we appreciate their efforts to protect the Utah we know and love.

    Below is the list of members currently signed on. If one of these members represents you, please click here to thank them for their support of the redrock! If either of your senators is already a cosponsor of the Senate companion bill, your message will go to them too.

    Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44)
    Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. (VA-8)
    Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-3)
    Rep. Brendan F. Boyle (PA-2)
    Rep. Julia Brownley (CA-26)
    Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1)
    Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-8)
    Rep. Sean Casten (IL-6)
    Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27)
    Rep. Lacy Clay (MO-1)
    Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-9)
    Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12)
    Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (VA-11)
    Rep. Suzan DelBene (WA-1)
    Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-4)
    Rep. Diana DeGette (CO-1)
    Rep. Debbie Dingell (MI-12)
    Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA-18)
    Rep. Bill Foster (IL-11)
    Rep. John Garamendi (CA-3)
    Rep. Deb Haaland (NM-1)
    Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-28)
    Rep. Jim Himes (CT-4)
    Rep. Robin L. Kelly (IL-2)
    Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-6)
    Rep. Dan Kildee (MI-5)
    Rep. Ron Kind (WI-3)
    Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-2)
    Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17)
    Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-8)
    Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13)
    Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-3)
    Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)
    Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)
    Rep. Stephen Lynch (MA-8)
    Rep. Tom Malinowski (NJ-7)
    Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-4)
    Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-2)
    Rep. Jerry McNerney (CA-9)
    Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY-5)
    Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-4)
    Rep. Seth Moulton (MA-6)
    Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)
    Rep. Jimmy Panetta (CA-20)
    Rep. William Pascrell (NJ-9)
    Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-1)
    Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-2)
    Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-8)
    Rep. Harley Rouda (CA-48)
    Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9)
    Rep. Adam B. Schiff (CA-28)
    Rep. Kim Schrier (WA-8)
    Rep. Tom Suozzi (NY-3)
    Rep. Paul D. Tonko (NY-20)
    Rep. Lori Trahan (MA-3)
    Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14)
    Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-7)
    Rep. Peter Welch (VT)

    This legislation was first envisioned by people just like you who were adamant about protecting these lands for all to enjoy. By thanking your member of Congress, you’ll let them know how important these landscapes are—with their archaeological, biological, and recreational wonders—to all Americans.

    Please thank your member of Congress today!

  • February 6th, 2020

    Salt Lake City, UT (February 6, 2020) – In response to the release today of the management plans for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA)  released the following statement:

    “We’re disappointed but not surprised that the BLM has finalized terrible management plan for what remains of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. These plans represent the lowest common denominator for BLM stewardship of the irreplaceable cultural, paleontological, and biological resources on these awe-inspiring public lands. The plans also set the stage for destructive chaining of native vegetation, unmanageable recreation, and increased off-road vehicle use,” said Neal Clark, Wildlands Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  

    “Our members and the public should rest assured that these management plans will not be the final chapter for the management of these remarkable public lands.  We are confident that the lawsuits challenging President Trump’s unlawful attack of the monuments will succeed and these plans, which are the fruit of Trump’s poisonous actions, will be undone,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    “At Grand Staircase, Trump’s plan openly admits that it will result in the destruction of countless paleontological, cultural, and ecological resources that form the backbone of why this monument was established in the first place,” said Bloch. “One of the wildest landscapes in the lower forty-eight states will be lost if these plans are carried into action over the next few years.”

    “At Bears Ears, we expect that the litigation brought by Native American tribes, conservation and scientific organizations, and businesses challenging Trump’s unlawful attack on this monument will succeed and the management plan will be thrown out,” said Clark.

    # # #

     

  • January 30th, 2020

    Withdrawal Means Planned Vegetation Treatments in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Have Been Reduced From More Than 135,000 Acres to Zero 

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (January 30, 2020) – The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is praising the withdrawal by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of multiple major vegetation removal projects the agency had been planning in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.

    Last weekend, the BLM officially listed the 90,000+ acre “Paria River Watershed Habitat Improvement Project” as “withdrawn” on its online bulletin board. The Paria River Project underwent public scoping in late 2018, and had been one of the Utah BLM’s priority projects for 2020.

    The Paria River decision follows BLM’s late December withdrawal of three additional proposals at the heart of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument totalling more than 13,000 acres (at Alvey Wash, Last Chance Gulch, and Coal Bench), as well as a decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) on September 16, 2019 to set aside BLM’s plan to remove more than 30,000 acres of pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush from the Monument’s Skutumpah Terrace area.

    All told, the BLM had planned to use heavy machinery including chaining and bullhog masticators to strip more than 135,000 acres of native vegetation from Grand Staircase, including pinyon and juniper trees and sagebrush. 

    SUWA praised the withdrawals of the final remaining vegetation removal projects in the National Monument.

    “The BLM’s withdrawal of these proposals means that, for now, there are currently no new deforestation projects planned within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” said SUWA wildlands attorney Kya Marienfeld. “We started 2019 with more than 135,000 acres within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument threatened by intensive mechanical removal. We are now starting 2020 with zero acres of these projects completed and zero planned.”

    “This is good news and proof that our vigilance on this issue and our successful legal challenges have had an impact,” said SUWA wildlands director Neal Clark. “It is our hope that BLM has taken a step back in order to seriously consider whether these risky projects are legal and scientifically-defensible.” 

    “Large-scale mechanical vegetation removal projects are an extreme management approach that simply do not belong on our public lands, and should never have been proposed in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” added Marienfeld. “These projects are completely incompatible with protecting the fragile ecological, paleontological, and archaeological resources in Grand Staircase.”

    SUWA launched a statewide television campaign in January, 2018 opposing the BLM’s vegetation removal plans in the Monument. In the wake of a scientific report that found little evidence to support the BLM’s assertion that vegetation removal projects improve wildlife habitat, reduce stream erosion, or prevent wildfire, SUWA again called for the agency to scrap all vegetation removal plans within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in April 2019

    Additional Resources

    Paria River Project Summary (ePlanning)

    Alvey Wash, Coal Bench, and Last Chance Project Summary (ePlanning)

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order on Skutumpah Terrace, Sept. 16, 2019.

    National Geographic, September, 2019: Forests on Utah’s public lands may soon be torn out. Here’s why.

    Gambling with Our Public Lands: The Scientific Uncertainty and Fiscal Waste of BLM’s Vegetation Removal Program in the West

    Do mechanical vegetation treatments of pinyon-juniper and sagebrush communities work? A review of the literature. 2019. Jones.

    George Wuerthner (former BLM botanist), The Salt Lake Tribune, September 12, 2019: BLM is attacking juniper to help cows, not sage grouse