• March 19th, 2020

    In light of coronavirus impacting our communities and disrupting our day-to-day routines, we’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the fear and uncertainty that the world is facing right now.

    In a very short amount of time, our lives at work, school, and home have had to change so that we may prevent the further spread of COVID-19. While social distancing has become a best practice during this pandemic, we’ve also seen how much this is actually physical distancing.

    While we cannot share the same physical space with people outside of our homes—and, for many, at work—now is a time when remaining socially close to friends and loved ones and strengthening social ties is ever more important. This is a great time to make better use of your phone, video call platforms, pens and paper, and other technologies.

    If you spend time scrolling through social media, one positive message you may have seen in your newsfeed is that “the outdoors have not been canceled.”  One thing we can do right now is observe the arrival of spring. From outside of our homes in Utah, we can see forsythia, daffodils, and willows emerge as late-arriving turkey vultures soar above.

    Stay home for now. The wilderness isn’t going anywhere. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Right now might seem like a good time to pack your car and head into our wild public lands to take refuge in nature while maintaining safe physical distance from other people; this is not a good idea. We’d like to advise our members, supporters, and all public land lovers to stay at home and find solace in your own backyard or neighborhood park, or on local city sidewalks.

    Already, the Southeast Utah Health Department has closed hotels and camping in Grand, Emery, and Carbon Counties, and all restaurants are limited to takeout. Rural communities at the doorsteps of America’s redrock wilderness face serious challenges to providing healthcare services to rural residents when pandemics or other community health emergencies arise. Injuries sustained by visitors on nearby public lands add stress to local emergency services and medical facilities, and visitation may also promote the spread of coronavirus to local residents. The fact is, there are few resources to care for sick people in rural hospitals—including in Moab (in Grand County), which has only two ventilators and 17 hospital beds. Please, stay home.

    Wilderness is a treasure we work to save in part so that we may take refuge and recharge in it. But now is a time when we should prioritize protecting each other. By actively choosing to stay home and find peace in the springing life of our own locales, we can help ensure that the residents in rural gateway communities are safe through the duration of this pandemic.

    The more we can do as a community to follow CDC guidelines and avoid physical contact or proximity with others now, the sooner we can get past this pandemic and get out on our public lands again. Until we reach that point, please notice what nature is blessing you with right outside of where you live. If you feel nostalgia for the redrock, share photos and videos of your adventures on public lands, tag us @ProtectWildUtah on Instagram, and hold onto those travel plans for the future.

    And if you have the capacity, we hope any desires that arise in you to bask in the southern Utah sun can find an outlet through your advocacy.

    In spite of the pandemic, the US Department of Interior’s plans to lease public land for oil and gas development and to push through weakening of public oversight and environmental review will proceed as usual. Thus, SUWA’s litigation in courts, collaboration with BLM offices, field work, mapping, membership services, legislative advocacy, and grassroots organizing will carry on. All SUWA employees will remain on the job through this unusual spring; staff and volunteers are working remotely and practicing physical distancing. We’ll be counting on members and volunteers to help keep the pressure on congressional offices, engage in grassroots actions through new upcoming digital platforms, and stay vocal about the global imperative of preserving wild spaces for their myriad values in this era of climate crisis.

    Until the health of our communities is restored, this excerpt from Wallace Stegner’s 1960 Wilderness Letter comes to mind:

    The reminder and the reassurance that [wilderness] is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there.

    We promise, southern Utah wilderness will remain. It will be waiting for you. The waters will run from spring snowmelt, flowers will bloom, young raptors will take their first flights, and the sandstone guardians will remain vigilant beneath sun and stars. Let us practice patience in the way that our beloved canyons, slowly carved throughout time, have always known.

    Stay well,
    The Staff at SUWA

    P.S. Please note that our online store is temporarily closed and there may be delays in mailing out donation acknowledgement letters and thank-you gifts. Your patience is appreciated during this uncertain time.

  • March 19th, 2020

    Salt Lake City, UT (March 19, 2020): The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is preparing to offer a massive swath of treasured Utah public lands for oil and gas development.  The Washington Post reported on this new development on March 18th.

    BLM has received more than 230 oil and gas lease nominations covering more than 150,000 acres of public lands, near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Bears Ears National Monument, and Dead Horse Point State Park. Consistent with the agency’s actions to date, they will offer these lands for leasing and development at its September lease sale, in accordance with Trump administration directives and policies.

    A map of the nominated land is available here.

    The agency’s move will blanket this unmistakably Utah landscape of red rock canyons, natural arches, and colorful spires with drilling leases. Ultimately, this will replace the clean air, expansive vistas, quiet stillness, intense night skies, and sense of wildness, with the sights and sounds of industrial development, and expand fossil fuel emissions that are harmful to our climate. 

    Photographs of the public lands affected are available here.

    This proposal comes on the heels of the BLM’s decision last month to defer offering two proposed oil and gas leases atop the renowned Slickrock mountain bike trail near Arches National Park in June. BLM deferred the  land after hearing complaints from the public including the Moab City Council, Grand County Commission, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert.

    “Climate change requires immediate action. The BLM must put a halt to all new leasing of public lands if there is any chance of avoiding the most severe impacts of a changing climate,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Development of these leases will exacerbate the climate crisis, while also marring one of the nation’s most iconic redrock landscapes.”

    The nominated land is within the “Moab master leasing plan” area. The Moab MLP was a study completed in 2016 that was widely hailed as one that would provide certainty to all stakeholders about where leasing might be appropriate and under what terms and conditions. Unfortunately, the current administration has weaponized that plan and is now promoting leasing in a magnitude and scope that was never intended.

    The lands nominated for leasing and drilling encompass some of the wildest, most scenic, and culturally significant public lands in Utah:

    • The total acreage of nominated leases is greater than the size of three of Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks: Bryce, Arches and Zion.
    • Nominated leases are as close as one and a half miles to Arches National Park, with 25 lease parcels located within 5 miles of the park boundary.
    • Nominated leases are as close as half a mile to Canyonlands National Park, with 25 lease parcels located within 5 miles of the park boundary.
    • Nominated leases are as close as three-fourths of a mile to Dead Horse Point State Park, with 15 lease parcels located within 5 miles of the park boundary.
    • Nominated leases are as close as one mile to the original boundary for Bears Ears National Monument, with 30 leases within 5 miles of the monument boundary.
    • Nominated leases are as close as one-fourth of a mile to the Green River, with 45 leases within 3 miles of the river.
    • Nominated leases cross the Colorado River west of Moab.
    • The nominated leases encompass lands with wilderness characteristics including the Duma Point, Goldbar Canyon, Hatch Canyon, Horse Thief Point, Hunters Canyon, and Labyrinth Canyon areas. These are areas that appear natural (i.e., are free from signs of human development), and provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive types of recreation (e.g., hiking, camping, and hunting).

    “In the face of our climate crisis, the BLM is barreling in the opposite direction,” said Sharon Buccino, director of lands at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This foolish plan would dig us into a deeper hole and sacrifice magnificent Utah lands.  It’s truly shameful, and we aim to stop it.”

    “The BLM must deny these egregious requests to open oil and gas development outside of Arches—on lands double the size of the national park itself,” said Erika Pollard, Associate Director for the Southwest Region of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The BLM has the opportunity to reject this industry wish list that will only advance the climate crisis and threatens our national parks and treasured public lands, the Colorado River and the incredible outdoor experiences that millions of people come to enjoy each year.”

    With climate change on the rise, locking up more of Utah’s public land for oil and gas development is short-sighted and irresponsible. In addition, Utah, like most western states, already has a surplus of BLM-managed lands that are under lease but not in development—with only forty-two percent of its total leased land currently in development. There were approximately 2.6 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development (here—follow hyperlink for Table 2 Acreage in Effect) at the close of BLM’s 2018 fiscal year. At the same time, oil and gas companies had 1.1 million acres of those leased lands in production (here—follow hyperlink for Table 6 Acreage of Producing Leases).

    The mission of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is the preservation of the outstanding wilderness at the heart of the Colorado Plateau, and the management of these lands in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans.  SUWA has more than 14,000 members nationwide and maintains offices in Salt Lake City, Moab, and Washington, D.C.  For more information visit us at www.suwa.org or follow us on Twitter @SouthernUTWild.

    The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.NRDC.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​

    Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.  

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  • March 11th, 2020

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, 573-228-1061, kya@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (March 11, 2020) – Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) Wildlands Attorney Kya Marienfeld released the following statement in response to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) proposal to fast track approvals and eliminate public input and review on so-called “vegetation projects” that would clear-cut forests of native juniper and piñon pine in order to promote forage for cattle.  BLM is seeking to establish a new categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act as the vehicle for its proposal. 

    “This is a scorched-earth policy for Utah’s national monuments and public lands. This proposal would prevent the public from being able to weigh in on the process, methods, and science that BLM contends support these heavy-handed projects. This is especially concerning because the public has demonstrated increasing concern in recent years about large-scale mechanical removal of native vegetation on public lands. Several proposed projects — totaling more than 100,000 acres in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument alone — that were temporarily withdrawn by BLM as a result of public pressure could reappear at any time under this new policy and move forward without public review, scientific study, or accountability.

    Following administrative rulings showing that BLM has not followed the law or gathered the scientific evidence to justify the mechanical removal of native juniper and pinyon pine forests through mastication, chaining, and other large surface-disturbing methods, the BLM has now proposed excluding public oversight and environmental analysis of this program altogether.

    The Interior Department’s own internal review board, the Interior Board of Land Appeals, ruled in September 2019 that BLM’s proposal to remove 30,000 acres of forest in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument failed to meet National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. In response, BLM wants to create a new exception from NEPA review for destroying piñon pine and juniper forests, which will also eliminate the public’s right to comment on and challenge these proposals.

    Additional Resources

    Photos of vegetation removal projects (for use with attribution).

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

    SUWA lawsuit stops Tavaputs Plateau Devegetation Project.

    SUWA press release on withdrawal of vegetation projects in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. January 30, 2020.

    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

     

  • 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.