Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Utah Wilderness News, February 29, 2012

1:08 pm

The Greater Canyonlands campaign has spread to Colorado!

“In this election year, Coloradans could play a critical role by asking President Obama to proclaim the Greater Canyonlands region as a National Monument. President Obama has the power, through the federal Antiquities Act of 1906, to make such a proclamation with the stroke of a pen, and 1.4 million acres of federally owned public lands have been identified as worthy of this action. These acres have long been a destination for front-range families, and protecting them will ensure that current and future generations can renew spirits, bond with family and friends, and create memories that last a lifetime.”  Guest column – Boulder Daily Camera

“A campaign to ‘Protect the Greater Canyonlands’ – 1.4 million acres of land surrounding Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah – has been sweeping across Colorado campuses, encouraging students to call on President Obama’s ability to preserve this wild space from ‘rampant off-road vehicle abuse, proposed uranium and tar sand mining and oil and gas development.’”  Read more – Denver University Clarion

“I am one Coloradan of many who has a deep connection with the red rock country of Utah and visit as often as possible. Not only is it home to visual and historical treasure, its desert offers a restorative peace that is like nothing else I’ve experienced.

Unfortunately, only some areas are protected; many are still vulnerable to destruction due to off-road vehicle use and mining. It is time that President Obama recognize the threat and take action to ensure that the wild lands of Utah are unequivocally protected.”  Letter-to-the-Editor – Boulder Daily Camera

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Holt, Grijalva press BLM on Utah’s Phantom Roads Lawsuit

2:21 pm

We’ve known for months that the State of Utah plans to bring a reckless suit against the Department of Interior to get claim to 18,000 “routes” across federal lands–most of them dirt tracks, dry washes and cow paths. Today we learned members of Congress are aware of it too, and they’re not happy.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) defended Utah’s wild lands today in a budget hearing before the House Natural Resources Public Lands Subcommittee, questioning Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey about the strength of the agency’s resolve to fight the lawsuit.

“I’d like to know whether the bureau intends to vigorously defend against this attack,” said Holt. “Anti-wilderness folks have been known to say ‘Roads are the antidote to wilderness’ as if wilderness is something that needs to be stamped out.”

Abbey answered that “ we need the opportunity to do so,” but he indicated that the agency’s preference would be for Utah to drop the lawsuit in favor of Title V rights-of-way, an administrative mechanism prescribed by Congress that allows parties to claim rights-of-way on federal lands through an authorized, public process.

“Let me just say, please be vigorous,” Holt reiterated.

When it came to claims in designated wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas, however, Abbey was more clear, insisting they would not be honored.

“Those are not roads, or [the areas] wouldn’t have been declared wilderness and WSAs,” Abbey said.

Grijalva, in turn, asked about the need for increases in law enforcement on the 18,000 road claims. Abbey said that the agency didn’t need help and cooperated with local law enforcement, but it’s hard to square that with local Utah law enforcement’s recent penchant for aiding scofflaws and “investigating” the BLM for closing roads.

It’s a good sign that Holt, Grijalva and other members of Congress are keeping an eye on the irresponsible litigation coming out of Utah and pushing for a robust defense of America’s wild, public lands. Next time Director Abbey visits the Hill to discuss the budget, we hope he’ll acknowledge their deep concern about this issue and clearly explain just how “vigorously” the agency will defend not only the wilderness and WSAs that make up the National Landscape Conservation System, but the millions of acres of unprotected wilderness-quality lands that make up the BLM’s spectacular Utah portfolio.

R.S. 2477 Returns with a Vengeance – Redrock Report February 2012

2:13 pm

Here’s what is happening this month with the redrock:
1.  We’re now staring down the barrel of a massive lawsuit…
2.  Join the campaign to protect Greater Canyonlands!
3.  SUWA asks agency to protect the Colorado and Green Rivers.
4.  Attend redrock events in Colorado and New York this March.

Utah to file lawsuits for over 18,000 R.S. 2477 claims and seize federal public lands to boot

“The right of way for the construction of highways across public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted.”

Little did Congress know when it enacted this innocuous-sounding law in 1866 that it would wreak havoc on the nation’s public lands 145 years later, threatening the future of the very same scenic lands that Congress later sought to protect in national parks, national monuments, wilderness and wilderness study areas, national forests, national wildlife refuges and other fragile public lands.  They strike at the heart of places that have been protected for years, like Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, dozens of wilderness study areas, and they spread like a web of red tendrils across the entire redrock wilderness.

There are even R.S. 2477 claims in the Cedar Mountains Wilderness, designated under President Bush in 2006, and in the wilderness areas designated in the Washington County lands bill, enacted in 2009.  Clearly, Utah politicians who crowed about the passage of these bills only to slice them apart later with dozens of “highways” cannot be trusted to negotiate true wilderness bills in the future.  We can see that now, and so can everyone else.

Today, R.S. 2477 has become the most serious threat to the future of Utah’s remaining wild lands, designated wilderness, national parks and national monuments we’ve seen in decades.

Find out what you can do to help fight a few very loud Utah politicians trying to seize control over someone else’s land – ours – by clicking here.

Tell President Obama: Protect Greater Canyonlands!


Steven Sadleir was the
lucky winner of February’s
prize — a Petzl headlamp.
Will it be you next month?

President Obama has the power to protect the 1.4 million acres of public BLM land surrounding Canyonlands National Park with the stroke of a pen – if we can convince him to do so.

Join the effort to protect the spectacular Greater Canyonlands region by visiting greatercanyonlands.org and participating in our Facebook photo campaign, collecting postcards to the President, and joining our Colorado banner brigade.

By taking part in the “President Obama: Protect Greater Canyonlands” photo campaign (if you’re not on Facebook you can still participate by sending a photo to jackie@suwa.org), you will also be eligible to win a monthly prize and the grand prize of a custom Ultralight backpack this fall.  Steven Sadleir (see photo at left) was the lucky winner of a Petzl headlamp in February — will it be you next month?  Thanks to Ultralight and Petzl for their generous prize donations.

SUWA and the Sierra Club have also recently teamed up to create a Protect Greater Canyonlands Facebook page and a Flickr group for you all to post your photos.  Please share far and wide!

SUWA petitions state agency to protect Colorado, Green Rivers


In early February, SUWA petitioned a little-known state agency to protect the mighty Colorado and Green Rivers from activities like oil and gas leasing.  The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands oversees the management of so-called “sovereign” or “state lands,” which include the lands underlying navigable waters within Utah like the Great Salt Lake and larger rivers, like the Colorado and Green.

SUWA has petitioned DFFSL to prepare a comprehensive management plan for the Colorado and Green Rivers to guide how that agency manages these remarkable resources. In the meantime, we’ve asked them not to offer or sell any new oil and gas or other leases.  In other words, “think first, lease later.”  DFFSL has done the same thing on the Great Salt Lake – deferring new mineral leasing while it prepares a new comprehensive plan.  It only makes sense to do the same thing here.

To learn more, visit our blog by clicking here.

Beyond 127 Hours and other upcoming redrock events


Join Aron Ralston, inspiration for the Oscar-nominated film 127 Hours, in Boulder, CO on March 8 for a free presentation to protect Greater Canyonlands.  See the event flyer by clicking here, and invite friends on Facebook too.

Also, see our Wild Utah: America’s Redrock Wilderness slideshow in New York this March.  For the full schedule of national grassroots events, click here.

To schedule an event in your area for 2012, contact Terri in the Southwest (terri@suwa.org), Brooke in the Northwest (brooke@suwa.org), Clayton in the Midwest (clayton@suwa.org), and Jackie in the East (jackie@suwa.org).

A QUICK REDROCK BILL UPDATE
This past month, three new Representatives have cosponsored America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (H.R. 1916/S. 979) — Congressmen Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Hansen Clarke (D-MI) and Ed Markey (D-MA).  All three cosponsorships were the product of great work by local redrock activists.  Please say thank you if one is your member of Congress! If your members of Congress are not on the list of cosponsors, please ask them to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act today!

Sign the petition to save Greater Canyonlands

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SUWA petitions state agency to protect Colorado, Green Rivers

1:05 pm

In early February, SUWA petitioned a little-known state agency to protect the mighty Colorado and Green Rivers from activities like oil and gas leasing.  The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands oversees the management of so-called “sovereign” or “state lands,” which include the lands underlying navigable waters within Utah like the Great Salt Lake and larger rivers, like the Colorado and Green.

Unlike the BLM with its multiple-use mandate and Utah’s School Trust Lands Administration with its myopic focus to maximize short term gain, the DFFSL is required to manage its lands according to something called the “public trust doctrine.” This requires that the state put the long term protection and preservation of natural resources above short term economic gain.

How does the DFFSL actually manage these lands? A bit haphazardly it turns out.  DFFSL is supposed to prepare something called a “comprehensive management plan” which outlines management objectives for specific water bodies and then develop site specific plans for particular issues like recreation and mineral development.  There is no such comprehensive plan for the Colorado and Green Rivers.  Instead, DFFSL follows a 1998 mineral leasing plan for the rivers which allows for oil and gas leasing in special places like Labyrinth Canyon, Westwater, and the Daily Section of the Colorado.

The folks at DFFSL would tell you – “hold on a minute, we sell these leases with ‘no-surface occupancy stipulations” – meaning that companies can’t put up a drill rig on the river’s edge.  What they won’t tell you is that these leases can drive development just a few hundred feet away or on the hills overlooking the river.

We’ve had DFFSL officials tell us that they have talked with BLM staff about this and have been told they (BLM) can’t imagine allowing such a thing to happen on neighboring public lands.  Sure, and we’ve got some great oceanfront property to sell in Utah’s west desert.  That kind of “promise” will be cold comfort when a company is given the green light to drill on the BLM lands along the Daily Section.

Back to our story.  SUWA has petitioned DFFSL to prepare a comprehensive management plan for the Colorado and Green Rivers to guide how that agency manages these remarkable resources. In the meantime, we’ve asked them not to offer or sell any new oil and gas or other leases.  In other words, “think first, lease later.”  DFFSL has done the same thing on the Great Salt Lake – deferring new mineral leasing while it prepares a new comprehensive plan.  It only makes sense to do the same thing here.

Steve Bloch

R.S. 2477 Returns with a Vengeance

3:58 pm

Utah to file lawsuits for over 18,000 R.S. 2477 claims and seize federal public lands to boot

“The right of way for the construction of highways across public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted.”

Little did Congress know when it enacted this innocuous-sounding law in 1866 that it would wreak havoc on the nation’s public lands 145 years later, threatening the future of the very same scenic lands that Congress later sought to protect in national parks, national monuments, wilderness and wilderness study areas, national forests, national wildlife refuges and other fragile public lands.  They strike at the heart of places that have been protected for years, like Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, dozens of wilderness study areas, and they spread like a web of red tendrils across the entire redrock wilderness.

There are even R.S. 2477 claims in the Cedar Mountains Wilderness, signed by President Bush in 2006 and in the wilderness areas designated in the Washington County lands bill, enacted in 2009.  Clearly, Utah politicians who crowed about the passage of these bills only to slice them apart later with dozens of “highways” cannot be trusted to negotiate true wilderness bills in the future.  We can see that now, and so can everyone else.

Today, R.S. 2477 has become the most serious threat to the future of Utah’s remaining wild lands, designated wilderness, national parks and national monuments in decades.

We’re now staring down the barrel of a massive lawsuit, to be filed no later than June 14th of this year.  That suit will allege more than 18,000 R.S. 2477 highways across Utah.  More than 16,000 of those claimed highways are the so-called Class D routes which have never been maintained or constructed and they are not the result of an intelligent assessment of the state’s legitimate transportation needs. These claims are on the state’s map now because some off-roader, long-forgotten prospector, oil and gas operator with a seismic truck, or anonymous wanderer once followed a whim and took off cross-country, destination unknown.

The truth — It’s all about a few very loud, Utah politicians trying to seize control over someone else’s land – ours – and to try to make a fast buck by selling to friends in the oil, gas and mining industries.

This is crystal clear when viewed in the context of what the Utah legislature has been up to this year.   In most years, the Utah legislature is far out on the fringe, but this year Republican politicians vying for higher office have been an utter embarrassment to the state, proposing nonsense bills that their own lawyers say are unconstitutional.  These include bills that would allow the state to tax federal public lands and eventually turn over lands owned by every American to the State of Utah – which can’t even manage to keep their own small state parks system fully operational.

And the state is willing to spend millions to litigate the ownership of these routes.  What an embarrassment.

We’ll planning a full court press on this issue, including gearing up for litigation.

What can you do? Voice your outrage over the legislature’s and Governor Gary Herbert’s scheme to undermine protection for federal public lands and spread a web of roads and ORV trails across the redrock wilderness.

  • Write a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune:  e-mail to letters@sltrib.com (no attachments), fax to 801-257-8950, or mail it to Public Forum, The Salt Lake Tribune
    90 S. 400 West, Suite 700, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101.
  • Call Gary Herbert and tell him to cut ties with the fringe element at the legislature that’s wasting millions of dollars on unconstitutional and just plain crazy bills. His number is 801.538.1000.  Light up those phones!

We’ll stop this, but we need your help to battle one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced yet.  And thanks for all you’ve already done for Utah’s wilderness.

Heidi McIntosh