• May 24th, 2018

    Greetings from Southern Utah –

    Summer is upon us and our Field Crews are gearing up for a season of high elevation volunteering! Several spots remain open on our first batch of June-July-August Projects and I invite you to join the ranks of our 111 volunteers who have put in over 1,255 service hours to date in 2018! Scroll down for an overview of our early to midsummer project calendar:

    House Range Service Project
    June 2nd & 3rd

    High above the West Desert, Notch and Swasey Peaks have become hot spots for user impacts on nearby Wilderness Study Areas. Work with us to address motorized compliance issues and illegal campsite impacts within and along the Notch Peak and Swasey Mountain WSAs.

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    Bears Ears Service Weekend Part I
    July 21st & 22nd

    Join our crews working to improve infrastructure adjacent to a significant cultural site, where increased visitation is dramatically changing the landscape and jeopardizing the integrity of the resource. We will focus on establishing naturalized boundaries for vehicle and foot access to the site and trailhead, in an ongoing effort to contain impacts.

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    Bears Ears Service Weekend Part II
    July 28th & 29th

    Return to Elk Ridge high above the Dark Canyon Wilderness. We will work with a Forest Service Biologist and field crew to install exclosure fencing to protect emerging aspen shoots from browsing elk and other ungulates. We will be camping at our favorite meadow adjacent to a Forest Service cabin a meandering way down from the Bears Ears buttes.

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    La Sal Mountains Service Project
    August 11th & 12th

    Our annual trip to the La Sal Mountains outside of Moab, Utah brings us back to Medicine Lake for a weekend campout and two days of trailwork. Balancing service with protections, this project delves into the world of trailbuilding.

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    To apply for a particular project, fill out our Volunteer Form, or contact volunteer@suwa.org. As always, please feel free to reach me directly with any queries, questions or calls to action: (435) 259-9151.

    Thank you for your ongoing support and service working with SUWA to protect wild Utah on the ground. I hope to see you high above the desert this summer!

    Jeremy Lynch

    Jeremy Lynch

    Service Program Director
    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

  • May 9th, 2018

    On May 9, 2018, Senator Orrin Hatch and Rep. John Curtis of Utah introduced “The Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018” — a bill that would significantly impact YOUR public lands in Emery County, Utah.

    In response, SUWA is launching a statewide television ad campaign to raise awareness of the impacts and implications of the new bill on Utah wilderness. The TV ad is complemented by digital and print ads in Washington, DC and in Utah.

    To learn more about the bill and take action, click here.

  • May 9th, 2018

    Bill is a “Big Step Backwards” for Conservation and Wilderness on Public Lands in Emery County, Utah

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Jen Ujifusa, 202-266-0473, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance jen@suwa.org 

    Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club, 804-519-8449, Virginia.cramer@sierraclub.org 

    Anne Hawke, 202-513-6263, Natural Resources Defense Council ahawke@nrdc.org 

    Washington, DC (May 9, 2018) — Today, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. John Curtis of Utah introduced the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018, a bill that would significantly impact the management of federal public lands in Emery County, Utah. 

    Emery County is home to world-class wilderness landscapes such as the San Rafael Swell and Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons, and contains more than 1.5 million acres of land worthy of wilderness protection. 

    Conservation groups immediately blasted the bill for offering insufficient protections to the area.

    “The same politicians who instigated and celebrated the illegal repeal of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments are now trying to claim that their San Rafael bill is a ‘conservation bill’,” said Scott Groene, Executive Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “In fact, Hatch’s bill represents a big step backwards for wilderness, emphasizing motorized recreation over conservation and leaving more than 900,000 acres of wilderness-quality lands without protection.”

    “This bill represents a rollback of conservation gains for some of the most spectacular places in Southern Utah, and attempts to do an end-run around the courts by undermining a settlement reached by conservationists, the Trump administration, and off-road vehicle advocates that resolved nearly ten years of federal court litigation,” said Bobby McEnaney, Senior Lands Analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The settlement requires BLM to produce new travel plans for the San Rafael area that comply with federal regulations, minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources, and minimize conflicts between resource users. This legislation enshrines the old, illegal travel plan.”

    “Sen. Hatch’s bill is a giveaway to Emery County and a loss to the people who love these public lands,” said Athan Manuel, director of Public Lands Protection for Sierra Club. “Truly world-class landscapes like Labyrinth Canyon and Muddy Creek, which deserve full wilderness protection, are instead given paltry protection under the guise of a National Conservation Area that is riddled with anti-conservation language. This NCA would actually limit land managers’ ability to protect these lands for future generations.”

    “This bill fails to provide even the bare minimum of protection necessary for this world-class wilderness area. Rather, it promotes development opportunities that will degrade and devalue these spectacular landscapes, under the guise of a conservation bill. As the rollbacks and concerted attacks on our public lands continue, this bill is simply another attempt to shortchange Utah’s public lands and sacrifice our wild spaces,” said Sierra Club Utah Director Ashley Soltysiak. 

    In addition Sen. Hatch and Rep. Curtis’s: 

    • Fails to protect nearly two-thirds of the wilderness proposed by America’s Redrock Wilderness Act: approximately 900,000 acres of proposed wilderness is omitted from designation.
    • Undercuts a settlement reached by conservationists, the Trump administration, and off-road vehicle advocates that resolved nearly ten years of federal court litigation by requiring new travel plans for the San Rafael area, based on conservation values. Instead, the bill takes the unprecedented approach of excluding all motorized routes from the NCA and Wilderness areas, effectively ensuring that they will remain open in perpetuity. This includes the illegal travel plan routes and additional motorized routes and trails sought by Emery County.
    • Allows the state of Utah to continue its federal court litigation seeking highway rights-of-way through newly designated Wilderness and the NCA, instead of resolving the RS 2477 issues.
    • Removes existing Wilderness Study Area protection to facilitate coal mining.
    • Creates an NCA with management language that is terrible for conservation, including giving undue influence to local and state interests, and allowing new motorized and mechanized recreational development in remote areas.
    • Furthers the state of Utah’s land grab and robs the American taxpayer by conveying federal public land to local ownership and control for no monetary consideration.

    Additional Resources: 

    Comparison of Hatch and Curtis bill to America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act:

    https://suwa.org/wp-content/uploads/ARRWA_vs_EmeryCoBill_2018.pdf

    Corrected Fact Sheet on the Emery Public Land Management Act of 2018:

    https://suwa.org/wp-content/uploads/Emery-Rebuttal-Factsheet-The-Truth-2-Pager.pdf 

    # # #

  • May 3rd, 2018

    As early as next week, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative John Curtis could introduce legislation for the San Rafael Swell and portions of Labyrinth and Desolation Canyons.

    Labyrinth Canyon. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    While we haven’t yet seen a final version of the bill, our review of previous drafts and recent communication with the delegation make us very concerned that this bill could significantly undercut these remarkable landscapes.

    So far, the Utah delegation has refused to compromise on a one-sided wilderness proposal drummed up by local politicians — a proposal that omits Wilderness designation for more than one million acres that deserve protection.

    And from the maps we’ve seen, the boundaries of what would be designated as Wilderness are absurd. For example:

    • Only one side of Labyrinth Canyon would be protected, and the portion that is designated is pitifully small.  
    • The largest intact wilderness in the Swell — Muddy Creek — would be chopped down in size by cutting it up with off-road vehicle routes.
    • None of the western Swell Badlands — Molen Reef, Upper Muddy Creek, Cedar Mountain and similar places — would be given any protection at all.   
    • WSAs would be released in the Sids Mountain region to ensure that off-road vehicle use in those canyons would be perpetuated.   

    While the main failure of this bill would be the lack of protection for the Swell’s iconic wilderness landscapes, we’re also concerned that the bill could include other poison pills:  

    • Control of the southern San Rafael Reef — including areas such as Chute and Crack Canyons — could be handed over to the State of Utah, which would then charge us for visiting what were formerly our lands, with proceeds given to the state or Emery County.
    • The bill may allow Utah politicians to continue their litigation against the United States to force off-road vehicles trails into the same lands designated as Wilderness by the bill.
    • The bill could undo a protected WSA to allow for coal mining.

    From what we’ve seen, there is little or no conservation gain in this bill.  In fact, this bill wouldn’t close a single off-road vehicle route.  No lands that are threatened by leasing would be closed to leasing. We understand that part of the intention of the bill is, in fact, to prevent future conservation gains.  

    Sids Mountain, San Rafael River. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    If the legislation turns out as bad as we fear, then with your support we’ll work to either block it, or work to improve it so that it’s legislation worthy of places like Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek and the San Rafael Swell Badlands.

    We’ve seen the Utah congressional delegation do this over a dozen times before: pursuing legislation for a handful of rural politicians, while ignoring the views of all other Utahns — let alone the American people who all share ownership of these lands.    

    We may know as soon as next week if this is just déjà vu all over again.   

    Stay tuned…

  • April 24th, 2018

    Reports From the Field is a blog of SUWA’s Field Volunteers, accounting experiences, reflections and activism from time spent in direct service of Utah’s wild and public lands. 

    When hiking and exploring Bears Ears National Monument, it is easy to lose oneself in the beauty and isolation of its many canyons. The serene beauty found in the region now widely associated with the Bears’ Ears buttes is one of the main appeals of this landscape. However, a scan of the canyon walls and alcoves reveals glimpses into the distinctive and vibrant cultural history of the region. While many call Bears Ears a wilderness, it was called home by generations of indigenous peoples, whose artwork, architecture, and objects of daily life may still be found throughout the Bears Ears cultural landscape. As an archaeologist, I can attest to the scientific significance of these sites, but more importantly these are places of cultural identity and spiritual importance to descendant Native American communities.

    Ruins visible from a great distance across the canyon expanse.

    I had the chance earlier this month to explore one such cultural space with a backcountry cleanup project organized by SUWA at Fish and Owl Canyon. Our crew of volunteer scientists and professionals performed trail maintenance, cleaned out and dispersed illegal fire pit rings, and carried out trash left by hikers. All the while, we were witness to archaeological sites throughout the canyons. A granary tucked beneath a rock overhang. A scatter of ceramic sherds on a talus slope. A stark white pictograph above a habitation site.

    Increasingly rare potsherds indicate the cultural landscape of the canyons.

    These were all created by the Ancestral Pueblo culture over 700 years ago, amid a time of social unrest and environmental uncertainty. The placement of dwellings in nearly inaccessible canyon alcoves has been interpreted by many archaeologists as an indicator that defense and security were a priority for the people who called these canyons home. Our small contingent approached one such site, but were appropriately foiled by the steepness of the surrounding slickrock. Even amid a time of uncertainty, the people who dwelt in Fish and Owl Canyons still filled their lives with beauty, craftsmanship, and sustenance, as seen in pictographs adorning the canyon walls, black-on-white ceramic sherds found beneath a site, and corn cobs lying on a dry alcove floor.

    I first hiked Owl Canyon in 2009 and remembered well the ruins, rock art, and artifacts found throughout the canyon. On this return trip I was happy to see that the ruins and rock art appeared undamaged and still in good condition. However, I was disturbed to find the wealth of ceramic sherds that once adorned sites were largely gone. In less than a decade, a deluge of visitors had carried away these pieces of the Bears Ears cultural landscape. As we all continue to fight for the legal protection of Bears Ears, it is just as important to continue to educate a public unfamiliar with the proper etiquette required to visit cultural sites. Our cleanup work helped reverse recent human impact on the canyon environment, but a respect for the cultural legacies of Bears Ears is essential for the continued preservation of this landscape.

    Our responsibility resides in the honoring and protection of a cultural legacy.

     

    Maxwell Forton, Archaeologist
    Binghamton University

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