Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Utah Wilderness News, October 29, 2010

12:07 pm

Widely criticized “No More Wilderness” Policy should be changed

Seven years ago, the U.S. Interior secretary and the governor of Utah cut a land management deal that has reverberated across the West ever since.

Through an unprecedented interpretation of federal law, this agreement allowed for the removal of federal protections from some 2.6 million acres of public land in Utah being contemplated for wilderness preservation. The resulting national policy, which came to be known as “no more wilderness,” has left some 500,000 acres of prime wilderness areas in Colorado vulnerable to activity, such as drilling, that could make it forever ineligible for protection.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar should order his agency to reverse course. These wild and beautiful places ought to be safeguarded while federal lawmakers mull whether they ought to be given more permanent protection.  Editorial – The Denver Post

Conservation Groups ask BLM to abandon 2003 wilderness policy

“But without secretarial guidance on the establishment of WSAs, the Interior Department is putting at risk millions of acres of remote Western lands, some of which could be opened to oil and gas exploration or off-highway vehicle (OHV) access, said Nada Culver, director of the Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center in Denver.

‘Everywhere BLM manages land there has been damage, there has been impacts,’ she said. ‘It’s directly attributable to the lack of guidance and the related downgrading of the wilderness resource that came from the settlement.’

In Utah alone, BLM has finalized six resource management plans since the 2003 settlement covering roughly 11 million acres, but those plans established no new wilderness study areas, said Heidi McIntosh, associate director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

In the 1.8-million-acre Moab planning area, for example, BLM identified 266,000 acres that contained wilderness qualities but was able to set aside only 48,000 acres as a ‘special recreation management area,’ McIntosh said.

‘This agreement really drove a stake right through the heart of some of these really fabulous places,’ she said.

McIntosh said the establishment of WSAs is an increasingly important tool for the Interior Department at a time when so much Western land is in flux, with varied interest groups vying for access and development rights on wilderness-quality tracts. Bills that could designate more than 4 million acres of new wilderness are currently in the legislative pipeline, but prospects for passage are dim given Congress’s short November-December session.

And with Republicans projected to reclaim the House and possibly the Senate in next week’s mid-term elections, the designation of new wilderness could become even less likely, she said.

‘It’s always a difficult task, and it’s only going to get harder’ if Republicans gain a majority in one or both chambers, she said. ‘It becomes even more important that the administration use its authority to protect these special places.’  Read more – Land Letter (subscription only)

Nine Mile Canyon has a new corporate partner

“An energy company drilling for natural gas above Nine Mile Canyon is offering up to $5 million in grants to help study, protect and promote thousands of rock-art panels and long-abandoned American Indian sites.

Denver-based Bill Barrett Corp., which previously reached a compromise with environmentalists and archaeologists to use the canyon road to reach its West Tavaputs Plateau well field, this week announced the grant program to assist in protection.”  Read more – The Salt Lake Tribune


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Utah Wilderness News, October 22, 2010

1:58 pm

Sign the Petition to Overturn the "No More Wilderness" Policy

"It was the dark days of 2003, and environmental groups still hadn't quite grasped the full scope of the Bush administration's outrageous disregard for the planet.

Then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton was in closed-door negotiations to settle a lawsuit with the state of Utah. At stake were 2.6 million acres of wild lands that the department had set aside for a potential wilderness designation, the highest form of land protection the government can give.

The outcome—a twisted and unprecedented legal interpretation known as the "No More Wilderness" policy— was even worse than expected, and seven years later, the repercussions still sting because the Obama administration has kept the policy in place."  Read more – Environment Blog

Uinta Basin Ozone Some of the Worst in the Country

"David Garbett, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), said he was 'pretty shocked' by the results from last winter’s ozone monitoring — the first time comprehensive data were gathered in the area.

'This is up there,' he said, 'with the worst ozone pollution problems anywhere in the country.'"  Read more – The Salt Lake Tribune

Eminent Domain bill not really about schools

"In fact, according to the U.S. General Services Administration, after Alaska and Nevada, Utah ranks third highest in the percentage of land controlled by the federal government. To the other extreme, on average in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, North Carolina and South Dakota, the federal government controls only 5.3 percent of land, yet these states, according to the U.S. 2008 Census, are in the bottom 10 states in spending per student along with Utah, which consistently ranks last.

Hence, there is no correlation between the amount of land controlled by a state and its public school expenditures. The Land Backers should therefore stop asserting that their quest to control federal land is to better fund education and stop pretending that pairing the word tax with education turns this into a tax with a smiley face."  Read more – The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Help Protect Wilderness and Save Sevier Lake – Redrock Report October 2010

5:35 pm

Here's what is happening this month with the redrock:
1.  21 conservation groups and YOU ask the Obama administration to protect wilderness.
2.  Take action to help save Sevier Lake!
3.  Read a recap of the 2010 SUWA Roundup.
4.  Remember to talk to candidates about Utah wilderness this election season!
5.  See SUWA's Wild Utah slideshow this November.

Join 21 Conservation Groups in Asking the Obama Administration to Protect Wilderness

Fiddler Butte
Fiddler Butte proposed wilderness is under threat from the "No More Wilderness" policy.  Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

Today, SUWA and 20 other national and western-based conservation groups delivered a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar renewing our request for new wilderness guidance that would lead to the protection of new wilderness study areas.  Please join us in asking the Obama administration to protect wilderness in the West!

Even though President Obama proclaimed National Wilderness Month in September, the administration still has not overturned the "No More Wilderness" policy which leaves millions of acres of wilderness-quality lands in Utah and throughout the West threatened by energy development, mining, and off-road vehicle abuse.  Now, we have a new petition on which makes it easy for you to send a message to the Obama administration and to encourage your friends to do so as well.  Thank you for the messages you have sent to Secretary Salazar thus far on this issue — now please take a moment to help us spread the word!

And a big thanks to's environment page for blogging about this topic today.


Threatened Places: Sevier Lake

View of Sevier Lake from the House Range
View of Sevier Lake from the House Range. 
Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

Despite its harsh surroundings and intermittent nature, the Sevier Lake is a key component of the Great Salt Lake migratory pathway for shorebirds.  Undeveloped and remote, it sits bookended by proposed wilderness on both the west and east.  Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management is now considering leasing this entire area for potash development, an industrial process requiring large dike networks and holding ponds.  Such development would ruin the natural beauty of this area and potentially compromise its important ecological function.  Please take a moment to let the BLM know that you oppose its current plan to lease the Sevier Lake bed for potash development by sending a message to George Cruz, Natural Resource Specialist in the Fillmore BLM Field Office.

Link to the Sevier Lake leasing proposal:


2010 SUWA Roundup Recap

Roundup Voices YouTubeWe held our 2010 SUWA Roundup on the weekend of September 24-26 at Hidden Splendor in the San Rafael Swell.  Seventy redrock wilderness supporters from around the country joined SUWA staff for the event.  Attendees enjoyed fabulous weather, went on some fantastic hikes, and participated in discussions about Utah wilderness protection issues.  In honor of National Public Lands Day (Sept. 25) a team of 15 Roundup volunteers participated in a 6 hour long service project, signing and fencing areas closed to off-road vehicles along Muddy Creek.  Click here to view interviews with some of the Roundup participants.

Remember the Redrock During This Campaign Season

Leading up to Election Day on November 2, candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate will be on the road and speaking to potential constituents near you.  If you attend an event with a candidate, this is a fantastic opportunity to ask him/her to support protecting Utah wilderness!  Please remember to thank current cosponsors of America's Red Rock Wilderness Act for their support, and to ask other candidates to cosponsor the red rock bill if elected.  Hearing straight from you about why people in your state/district care about protecting Utah wilderness is one of the most effective ways to convince members of Congress to become cosponsors.

If you are able to speak to a candidate about Utah wilderness, please send an email to Jackie Feinberg, SUWA's National Grassroots Organizer at so that if the candidate is elected, our DC staff will be able to follow up with his/her office next year.  Thanks for all of your efforts to help protect the redrock!  


Attend a Wild Utah Presentation in November

SUWA's multi-media slideshow presentation, Wild Utah: America's Redrock Wilderness, will be traveling in Fall 2010!

SUWA's Midwest Field Organizer, Clayton Daughenbaugh, will be presenting in Indiana and Iowa this November.  For more information or to schedule a slideshow in the Midwest, email Clayton at

SUWA's National Grassroots Organizer, Jackie Feinberg, will be showing the slideshow in Maryland in November.  For more information or to schedule a slideshow along the East Coast, email at    


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Disturbed Desert Dust and Early Snowmelt

12:25 pm

How We Lose 18-Months-Worth of Water for Los Angeles Every Year

A recent scientific study has found that the Colorado River is losing 35 billion cubic feet a year due to early snowmelt caused by the deposition of windborne dust in the mountains of the Upper Colorado River Basin.  That is enough water to supply Los Angeles for eighteen months!

The study, “Response of Colorado River Runoff to Dust Radiative Forcing in Snow,” reports on research by Dr. Thomas Painter of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a team of scientists.  In a nutshell, it explains the following: 

Wind storms pick up desert soils from the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin that have been disturbed by activities such as “grazing, drought, fire, plowing, or vehicles” and deposit it on mountain snow pack throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin.  When that dust lands on snow it causes enhanced absorption of solar radiation—just like wearing a dark t-shirt outside on a hot sunny day.  Amazingly, dust is being deposited at rates approximately five times those of the era predating European settlement.  Read more about this on our website.

Using computer modeling, Painter’s team found peak runoff at Lees Ferry on the Colorado River near the Utah/Arizona border occurs on average three weeks earlier than it would without the impact of this dust.  They also determined annual runoff is decreased by 5 percent on average compared to pre-European settlement levels due to evapotranspiration (water transpiring from plants and soils which normally would not be exposed yet) and snow sublimation (snow turning to water vapor).  This loss adds up to over 1 billion cubic meters, or around 35 billion cubic feet, of water a year.

What can be done about this?  As the article explains, stopping those activities that lead to soil disturbance generally results in the stabilization of soils.  Stabilized soils result in less dust and, therefore, longer snowpack life.

Because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages such vast tracts of land on the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin, the agency could make a significant contribution to dust reduction if it reconsidered some of its current land management practices.  BLM needs to assess the true toll that soil disturbing activities such as ORV use, grazing, and energy development are having on our public water supply.  Action is sorely needed because, as the study’s author’s point out, various models predict that climate change will cause a 7 to 20 percent reduction in current runoff in the Colorado River Basin.

Wilderness protection, like that proposed in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, would be one step in the right direction, because such protection would prevent some soil-disturbing activities in the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin.  Fixing the BLM’s unbalanced and harmful resource management plans that were recently completed for the Colorado Plateau—which, among other things, designated over 20,000 miles of dirt trails for vehicle use—would also be a step towards addressing this problem.


350 Mile Walk Kicked Off By Backpacking in San Rafael Swell with Salt Lake High School Students

5:13 pm

Guest post by Jamie Pleune

Jamie and Ryan Pleune kicked off the first ten miles of their 350 mile walk with a ten mile backpack in the San Rafael Swell accompanied by eleven high school students.   The Pleunes are walking 350 miles through Utah to raise awareness for climate change and the importance of protecting wild places.   They were pleased that the symbol for the first mile that they walked on this journey was a wilderness study area boundary.  You can learn more about their journey at


Wilderness boundary