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Do you want to hear the sound of helicopters in Utah’s backcountry? Moab-based Pinnacle Helicopters wants to fly wealthy tourists into wilderness quality areas, using a loophole that would allow them to land on state lands inside a Wilderness Study Area near Canyonlands National Park. The National Park Service has raised concerns. SUWA is fighting the proposal.
The Moab Times-Independent reports on the latest issue hovering above Moab — and Utah’s wild lands:
A local helicopter company’s plans to charter flights to state lands within a federal Wilderness Study Area (WSA) near Canyonlands National Park has met some pushback from conservation groups and others who cite potential impacts regarding noise and solitude.
Moab-based Pinnacle Helicopters is currently seeking a right-of-entry permit with Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) for transportation and charter flights on four state-owned land parcels.
These state parcels — arranged in a “checkerboard” pattern across the map — are within or adjacent to a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) WSA. One parcel sits directly adjacent to Horseshoe Canyon, home to the “Great Gallery” rock art site in Canyonlands National Park.
Kya Marienfeld, wildlands attorney at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), said this right-of-entry application reveals how differently state and federal lands are managed.
“This [WSA] designation was put in place to ensure that a pristine wilderness-quality area remains unimpaired until Congress decides to officially designate the area as wilderness,” Marienfeld said. “Aircraft lands are not permitted in these Wilderness Study Areas, but because SITLA parcels are managed differently, they essentially allow an island within wilderness-quality lands where any activity the state chooses can be allowed, no matter how incompatible with the surrounding uses on public lands.”
According to Marienfeld, SUWA has expressed concerns that these helicopter flights would have a “terrible effect” on the wilderness characteristics of the area, which include solitude and remoteness.
“It’s noise and the effects on solitude. Helicopters are loud, and this area being so remote … it’s pretty untrammeled because it’s a little ways out,” she said.
Stay tuned for ways you can get involved…..
Once again the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is poised to auction off outstanding federal public lands in redrock country for fossil fuel development. The latest ill-conceived proposal targets some of the most culturally significant and dramatic lands in southeastern Utah, threatening the region’s air quality, cultural resources, dark night skies, wilderness-caliber landscapes, and even national monuments—including Bears Ears.
Not only is this lease sale terribly misguided, it’s also totally unnecessary. At the end of the BLM’s 2016 fiscal year, about 1.1 million acres of BLM managed lands in Utah were in production out of approximately 2.9 million acres leased to oil and gas operators—that’s less than forty percent of the total land under lease. Given the current surplus of oil and gas leases in Utah, there is simply no need to open up more public land to fossil fuel development, particularly in sensitive and wild places.
Specifically, the BLM is proposing to lease for oil and gas development:
• Parcels located in the Goldbar Canyon, Hatch Point/ Hatch Canyon, and Labyrinth Canyon proposed wilderness areas in Grand County and the Cross Canyon, Monument Canyon, and Tin Cup Mesa proposed wilderness areas in San Juan County.
• Parcels in the Alkali Ridge Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), designated for its impressive density of cultural and archaeological sites. The BLM itself has recognized that the area contains “[l]arge pueblos with complex architecture and connecting prehistoric roads” and calls it “one of the best-known and influential examples of scientific archeological investigation in the southwestern U.S.”
Under the Trump administration, the BLM is rushing to sacrifice the most outstanding and significant public lands—lands that belong to each and every one of us—for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. If we don’t act, we stand to lose something truly irreplaceable.
Thank you for taking action.
Our e-newsletter with the latest on redrock wilderness news and events.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 18, 2017
Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.236.3762
Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
Last Friday afternoon, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed a lawsuit in Utah’s Third District Court alleging that San Juan County repeatedly violated Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act when county commissioners met with Interior Secretary Zinke, Interior Department officials and Members of Congress in closed-door meetings to discuss the fate of Bears Ears National Monument. In the lawsuit, SUWA asserts that on multiple occasions in May and June of this year, San Juan County commissioners met with Interior Secretary Zinke and other officials in both Utah and Washington, DC regarding the future of Bears Ears National Monument. The meetings were not publicly noticed and county commissioners did not allow members of the public to attend or participate in the meeting.
“The San Juan County Commission’s repeated closed-door meetings are blatant violations of Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act. County commissioners are required to conduct public business out in the open, not in secret,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney for SUWA.
Last month, SUWA filed suit against Kane and Garfield Counties for similar violations of the Open and Public Meetings Act regarding the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Congress is back in session following its summer vacation and, unfortunately, a return of Congress often means a fresh set of attacks made on public lands. These assaults come in the form of three bills: the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, the Native American Energy Act, and the Federal Lands Freedom Act, all of which received docket space in front of the House Committee on Natural Resources over the past two weeks. And make no mistake, the bills’ cheerful, benign-sounding names belie the damage they are designed to inflict on public lands.
The SHARE Act (H.R. 3668), which passed the House last Congress but died in the Senate, is back for another round and has progressed quickly, advancing yesterday out of the committee just one day after it received a hearing in front of the same body. Though it’s purported to be about improving the experience for sportsmen on public lands, the SHARE Act actually does that by allowing land managers to bypass large portions of the Wilderness Act so long as hunting, fishing, or recreation are being prioritized. Practically speaking, any non-compatible use that could conceivably be pursued in the service of recreation—from building structures and tampering with habitats, to allowing motorized access—would be suddenly allowed in wilderness under the terms of this bill.
Much of the focus in any press you may have heard on the SHARE Act has centered on America’s gun debate, as the bill contains a provision to ease restrictions on the sale of silencers. But our congressional champions were on the ball regarding the bill’s bad public lands provisions. Amendments that would have improved the bill—one from Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) removing states’ veto power for fishing and hunting restrictions, and one from Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) that would solidify protections for wilderness areas—were defeated on party lines. After crankily accepting roll call votes for each amendment, Committee Chair Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) cheerily accepted the eventual 22-13 party-line vote to advance the bill.
Also scheduled for a markup this week was the Native American Energy Act (H.R. 210), which rigorously limits citizen engagement and government transparency by amending the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to restrict public input on environmental reviews, diminishing the voices of those who would be affected by potentially catastrophic environmental projects.
And finally, the Federal Lands Freedom Act (H.R. 3565/S. 335) was given a hearing in the House last week. This piece of legislation is an escalation of the tactics being used by those whose goal is to ultimately privatize and dissolve America’s system of public lands. But rather than proposing to transfer the lands outright, as we’ve seen before, the bill seeks to remove federal oversight of oil and gas drilling on public lands, essentially handing crucial land management decisions over to state authorities. The bill would also limit public access to public lands and circumvent federal environmental laws like NEPA.
It’s a good reminder that we’re often better off when Congress is in recess, but we’re here watching them when they’re not. As these bills move through Congress, we’ll keep you updated about what you can do to help stop them.