Utah Wilderness Activists Go to Washington

Wilderness Week 2016

Alissa Buckingham of NJ and Mike Abdo of Utah prepare “Hill Drop” packets that include fact sheets on the PLI and UTTR proposals. Photo by Kirsten Allen.

Earlier this month, 24 activists with the Utah Wilderness Coalition (UWC) convened in Washington, DC to meet with congressional offices and discuss Rep. Rob Bishop’s draft Public Lands Initiative (PLI), the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) Expansion Bill, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (ARRWA), and the importance of protecting Utah’s extraordinary wilderness-quality lands.  Activists from Utah and around the country stormed the Hill in teams of twos and threes, meeting with 120 offices in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Wilderness Week 2016

Activists prepare for their meetings on Capitol Hill. Photo by Travis Hammill.

Wilderness Week activists first learn the nuts and bolts of lobbying, how to talk with Congress and Hill staff, the inter-connectivity of all of the legislation that affects Utah’s wilderness-quality lands, “who’s who” on Capitol Hill, and the past actions of members of Congress.  The day-long training was hosted by the Utah Wilderness Coalition, comprised of representatives of SUWA, Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.  It can be an exhaustive cram session, but it was clear to us from the performance of our activists in their meetings that they were star pupils and had paid attention in class!

Wilderness Week 2016

Wilderness Week activists watched and listened as the fate of public lands near the UTTR was discussed by the Subcommittee on Public Lands. Photo by Maureen Sheldon.

Congress was extremely busy during this year’s Wilderness Week, and the timing for the meetings was excellent. Appropriations season was in full swing and Utah Representative Chris Stewart’s UTTR Expansion Bill had a markup, which meant many of the activists were able to attend, wearing their yellow “Protect Wild Utah” pins, which Rep. Rob Bishop, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, certainly noticed from his front and center seat on the dais. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), the sponsor of the Red Rock Bill in the House, as well as Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) asked some very pointed questions which showed the activists that there are many members of Congress who care about Utah’s wild lands.  Several of our activists were able to catch up with Lowenthal after the hearing to thank him and pose for a photo op.

Lowenthal and activists (Wilderness Week 2016)

Left to right: SUWA Legislative Advocate Jordan Giaconia, activist Alissa Buckingham of NJ, activist Jim Hines of CA, Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), activist Brad Stonebraker of NY, activist Shannon Gordon of Utah. Photo by Maureen Sheldon.

The Utah Wilderness Coalition is so grateful to all 24 Wilderness Week participants for joining us in DC for this important week of lobbying. It’s because of these people, and supporters like you, that we are able to continue working to #ProtectWildUtah!

Are you interested in joining SUWA and the UWC for future lobbying events? Would you like to hold an in-district meeting with your representatives? If so, email your regional organizer for more information on how you can get involved.

Dave Pacheco – Utah

Terri Martin – Utah and Western US

Clayton Daughenbaugh – Midwest

Travis Hammill – Eastern US