• August 19th, 2022

    Last Earth Day, President Biden issued an executive order calling on the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to conserve mature and old-growth forests as a climate solution. This was a great step toward meaningful protections and policy, but now it’s up to us to ensure that this turns into real and lasting changes in how federal agencies manage —and  protect—older forests and ecosystems.

    In response to the executive order, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior have opened an official public comment period to solicit feedback on how “to define, identify, and complete an inventory of old-growth and mature forests on federal lands.” The deadline for public comments is Tuesday, August 30th.

    It is critical that we demonstrate widespread, overwhelming public support from every corner of the country for urgent action to permanently protect mature and old growth forests across all federal lands and, for wild lands here in Utah, to emphasize the importance of protecting old-growth dryland forests of piñon pine and juniper.

    Click here to submit your comments via the U.S. Forest Service web portal.

    A piñon-juniper forest on Utah’s Tavaputs Plateau. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    In your comments, please urge the Biden administration to conduct a comprehensive inventory of mature and old-growth piñon pine and juniper forests on the Colorado Plateau during this first stage of implementing the president’s executive order. It is important that ALL old-growth and mature forests, in dryland ecosystems as well as the better-known alpine and Pacific Northwest environments, are conserved for the benefit of wildlife, air and water quality, climate adaptation, and so much more.

    Here are some key points to convey:

    • Covering 15% of the land area in five states (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah), piñon pine and juniper forests are subject to temperature extremes and limited moisture availability. These forests are often the sole woodland provider of wildlife habitat, vegetative cover, watershed protection, and traditional food and medicine gathering in dryland and arid BLM-managed lands across the West.
    • Single-leaf piñon pine trees can reach ages of up to 600 years and juniper can reach ages of up to 1,600 years. These historic forests and associated undisturbed biological soil crusts store a disproportionate amount of carbon in dryland ecosystems, and are more resistant to disruptions caused by climate change.
    • Old-growth piñon-juniper forests are home to more than 70 bird species and are often the only suitable habitat for many of these species, whose populations are currently declining rapidly under intense pressure from climate change, development, and drought.
    • Although they cover hundreds of millions of acres and provide irreplaceable habitat and ecosystem benefits, piñon-juniper forests are among the least studied and most ignored North American forest types. The BLM should ensure that its inventory and criteria for mature and old-growth forests include piñon pine and juniper forests, which are the largest forest type by acreage managed by the agency.

    Please ask the Biden administration to properly inventory and protect old growth and mature piñon-juniper forests in Utah.

    As you know, threats to piñon-juniper forests on western public lands are many, including landscape-level mechanical deforestation projects (mainly for the benefit of cattle grazing) that tend to indiscriminately remove trees, including those that have existed on the landscape since long before Europeans landed on this continent. Making sure these ancient piñon-juniper forests and their characteristics are included in any nationwide definition of mature and old-growth forests (which will then be used to protect these areas) is extremely important, and would be a huge win for protecting the redrock wilderness.

    During this comment period, the BLM and Forest Service are focused on collecting input and information to help map and define old-growth and mature forests that they manage across America’s public lands. There are limited chances for the public to weigh in, so we need to take advantage of every opportunity. Policy decisions and recommendations for how to protect these forests and mitigate climate change, logging, development, and other impacts will happen in the next stage, and we’ll be sure to alert you to these engagement opportunities as they arise.

    Click here to submit your comments by the August 30th deadline.

    Thank you!

  • August 15th, 2022

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has officially kicked off its management planning process for the restored Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and has announced a series of public meetings—two virtual and three in person—where the agency will share information, answer questions, and accept public comment.

    While the restoration of Grand Staircase-Escalante last October was truly a cause for celebration, the devil is always in the details when it comes to honoring the letter and spirit of a monument’s proclamation. That’s why it’s so important that people like you, who know and love this wild landscape, take time to participate in the planning process.

    The BLM’s virtual public meetings are scheduled as follows:

    If you live in Utah or happen to be visiting, please consider attending one of the following in-person meetings:

    • Aug. 24, from 6–8 pm at the Escalante Showhouse, 50 W Main St, Escalante, Utah
    • Aug. 31, from 6–8 pm at the Kanab Center, Ballroom C, 20 N 100 E, Kanab, Utah
    • Sept. 7, from 6–8 pm at the Panguitch Elementary School Gymnasium, 110 S 100 W, Panguitch, Utah

    Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument. Copyright Jeff Foott

    We are currently in the “scoping” phase of the planning process, which means the BLM is actively seeking input on the range of issues it should consider as it develops a draft plan. The upcoming meetings are a great opportunity to learn how the process works, ask questions, and get a sense of how the agency intends to manage recreation, cultural and paleontological resources, native wildlife, natural dark skies, and other “objects and values” which the monument was established to protect.

    Though the agency will accept public input at these meetings, the comment period extends through September 27th. We’ll be in touch again soon with more information and suggested points to raise in your comments. We’ll also keep you posted on the planning process for Bears Ears National Monument, which is expected to launch soon.

  • August 15th, 2022

    On Friday, the U.S. House passed the Inflation Reduction Act, following  a deal by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) that saw it pass the Senate earlier in the week. President Biden is expected to sign the bill sometime this week.

    The White House says the “bill would make the single largest investment in climate and energy in American history, enabling America to tackle the climate crisis, [and] advancing environmental justice….”

    Some of the big environmental wins include:

    • Investments in clean energy and electric vehicles
    • Reducing U.S. emissions by about 40% below 2005 levels by 2030
    • Establishing a fee for excessive methane gas (a potent greenhouse gas) emissions from oil and gas drilling and development
    • Earmarking $60 billion for environmental justice initiatives in communities that are disproportionately affected by climate change, air pollution, and other environmental ills
    • Providing $250 million for conservation and resource protection projects to the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
    • Providing more than $2 billion for zero-emission equipment to reduce emissions at US ports
    • Addressing community needs (tribal, state, local government) in addressing pollution, weather resilience, and mine reclamation through a block grant program

    A lease was sold in the Eagle Canyon lands with wilderness characteristics area (pictured) noncompetitively for $1.50 per acre. This type of leasing will no longer be possible under the Inflation Reduction Act, preventing speculation by oil and gas companies. Photo by Ray Bloxham.

    But what does the bill mean for Utah and the Colorado Plateau?

    The bill contains important provisions that will reduce oil and gas lease speculation, which is rampant in Utah.

    First, under current law, anyone can nominate public lands for oil and gas leasing, and can do so for free. This process encourages companies to nominate as much land as possible throughout Utah (and the West), requiring the BLM to expend significant time and energy reviewing these lease nominations –most of which are entirely speculative. The Inflation Reduction Act would establish a $5-per-acre fee to nominate parcels for leasing, which will reduce speculation by forcing companies to put up funds to nominate parcels. 

    Second, the Inflation Reduction Act raises the minimum bid price and eliminates noncompetitive, or “over-the-counter,” leasing. Both changes are long overdue and much needed. Currently, there are two ways to lease a parcel: 1) Through a competitive sale via auction, with a minimum bid of only $2 per acre, or 2) By purchasing, within two years,  a “noncompetitive lease” that failed to sell at auction for just $1.50 per acre. These fire sale prices promote lease speculation and allow operators to lock up huge swaths of public lands. In contrast, the Inflation Reduction Act eliminates noncompetitive leasing altogether and raises the minimum competitive bid to $10 per acre.

    Third, the Inflation Reduction Act raises the royalty and rental rates for leasing and development on public lands, bringing these rates closer to what operators pay for state and private land leases and development. Presently, before a lease is put into production, operators pay a nominal rental fee of as little as $1.50 per acre to hold the lease (oftentimes holding these leases for decades without ever putting them into production). The Act modernizes these rates while discouraging speculation by requiring rentals of $3 per acre for years 1-2, $5 per acre for years 3-8, and $15 per acre thereafter.

    Finally, once a lease is put into production, operators currently pay just a 12.5% royalty on all oil and gas extracted from our public lands–a below market rate that, in effect, subsidizes development of publicly-owned lands and minerals. This rate is raised to 16.67% by the Act –which, while still too low, is a significant step in the right direction.

    While the Inflation Reduction Act has a myriad of good things for public lands, climate change mitigation, and environmental justice, it is not perfect. One provision, offered as a compromise to win Sen. Manchin’s support, is a requirement that the Department of the Interior offer 2 million acres of public lands and 60 million acres of offshore waters for oil and gas leasing and development each year for the next decade, or a total of 20 million acres of land and 600 million acres of offshore waters offered for development over the next decade.

    While this provision is concerning and frustrating to see included, the overall bill contains more good than bad, and represents the largest federal investment in climate mitigation and leasing reform to date.

  • July 19th, 2022

    UTAH SILVESTRE is a 4-part miniseries from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s WILD UTAH podcast. Hosted by Amy Dominguez and Olivia Juarez, each episode is available in both español and English, created for our gente to recognize that redrock wilderness is embedded in our community wellness, cultural histories, traditions, and our futures. We are breaking down barriers that America’s Hispanic and Latino/a/x community members encounter when they are concerned about the climate crisis and the state of nature.

    Podcast cover artwork by Mariella Mendoza.

    Episode 1: Public Lands Explained (English)

    What are federally “owned” lands? What does BLM have to do with wilderness? Get the answers with former Utah State Representative and SUWA Board Member Rebecca Chavez-Houck.

     

    Episode 1: Tierra Pública Explicado (Spanish)

    ¿Cuáles son tierras en la propiedad del gobierno? ?¿Cuál es la relación entre BLM y tierra silvestre? Obtenemos las respuestas con anterior Representativa del Estado de Utah, y miembro del consejo de SUWA, Rebecca Chavez-Houck.

     

    Episode 2: Wilderness Affects Your Daily Life (English)

    Focusing on the ways that wilderness benefits the climate, wildlife, or your own community’s wellness on a daily basis with the Co-Director of Uplift, Lyrica Maldonado.

     

    Episode 2: Tierras Salvajes y su Vida Cotidiana (Spanish)

    Enfocamos en las maneras en que la tierra silvestre beneficia la clima, la vida silvestre, y bienestar de comunidad a diario con Codirectora de Uplift, Lyrica Maldonado.

     

    Episode 3: Heritage, Inheritance, y Querencia (English)

    Latinos have called Utah home since before our gente were called Latino. We speak with University of Utah Professor Armando Solórzano to learn about the long history.

     

    Episode 3: Herencia y Querencia (Spanish)

    Latinos han llamado Utah a la patria antes de que nuestra gente fuera llamada latina. Hablamos con el Profesor Armando Solórzano de la Universidad de Utah para conocer la historia larga.

     

    Episode 4: Have Fun and Make a Difference! (English)

    Do two things this summer to feel good: get out into redrock wilderness for a visit, and get involved in demanding respect for la tierra. Carlos Prado (@Outdoorlos) joins us to give some tips.

     

    Episode 4: Diviértase y Haga La Diferencia! (Spanish)

    Haga dos cosas este verano para sentirse bien: visita a tierra salvaje de roca roja, e involúcrese en exigir respeto por la tierra. Carlos Prado (@Outdoorlos) se une a nosotras para dar consejos.

     

    Take action after this episode!

    Text UTAH SILVESTRE to 52886 to receive occasional text updates about Utah’s redrock wilderness in Spanish.

    Sign up to stay in the loop on redrock news and actions from SUWA!

     

    Thank you to our show supporters!

    Projects like Utah Silvestre and the Wild Utah podcast are made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Thank you for your support!

    Become a SUWA member today and support the Wild Utah Podcast

     

    Find Utah Silvestre and the Wild Utah podcast on your favorite streaming app!

    wildutah.info/Stitcher
    wildutah.info/Apple
    wildutah.info/Spotify

    Theme music is by Kevin MacLeod.
    Co-hosting is by Amy Dominguez and Olivia Juarez.
    Podcast cover art is by Mariella Mendoza.
    Audio production is by PROArtes Mexico and Laura Borichevsky.

    Posted by