There is some entertainment value to Senator Romney and Representative Curtis introducing an Illinois wilderness bill to contrast the more serious proposal from Senator Durbin to protect federally-owned wild lands located within the state of Utah. However, their bill covers the entire Shawnee National Forest regardless of what is still wild and what is not, so it doesn’t truly pass the laugh test.
So let’s talk about actions that are actually important and impactful.
The world is facing a climate crisis. The Colorado River is at all-time lows and shrinking, threatening water used for drinking and growing food for millions. Forest fires burn across the headlines. Bigger fiercer hurricanes are wreaking unprecedented damage. Storm patterns are harming agriculture in the American heartland. Refugees are beginning to flee from one nation to another due to climate impacts. Creation itself is in decline with the numbers of lifeforms and their wild homes crashing to unprecedented lows. This is just the beginning tip of the melting iceberg.
Instead of frivolous legislation, it would be helpful to see a serious proposal from the Utah delegation. Fortunately, we have “America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act” to fill the void.
Scientists – and the Paris Climate Agreement — tell us we need to remain below a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature increase if we are to avoid widespread and irreversible disaster. To accomplish that we need to stop emitting greenhouse gasses and sustain Mother Nature’s capacity to draw carbon out of the atmosphere via sequestration. America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act makes a sizable contribution on both fronts.
A new peer-reviewed research study shows that Senator Durbin’s bill would allow us to keep in the ground the equivalent of nearly 6% of the carbon budget necessary to avoid warming the earth more than 1.5 degrees. The same study shows that conserving the trees, desert shrublands and soils on these lands would retain their innate ability to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, allowing the amount of carbon sequestered by these lands to increase 10% over the course of this century.
And there are more benefits. America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would conserve substantial areas of “climate refugia” – wildland habitat that is crucial for animals and plants to adapt to and survive changing climate conditions. In addition, Utah’s wildlands sit in a uniquely productive place for sustaining multi-state wildlife corridors – five to be exact – that provide lifelines for deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, black bear and mountain lion in a changing climate.
Finally, Senator Durbin’s bill would help sustain flows in the shrinking Colorado River. This is because the bill would help prevent surface-disturbing activities which increase the amount of windblown dust that lands on Colorado snowpack. Studies show that “red dust on snow” causes the snow to melt faster and sooner, reducing flows by more than 5% in recent years.
These are positive impacts for people across the west, the entire nation, and the world.
What happens to the wild places on the United States public lands within the boundaries of Utah is of concern to all Americans. We elect United States Senators to represent their home state, serve the entire country and do what they can to help the world. We are grateful that Sen. Durbin is stepping into his responsibility, acting for our families and for our future.