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.
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.
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.