Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Into the Canyonlands: Happy Canyon

11:23 am

The lands to the west of Canyonlands National Park are some of the most beautiful and remote in southern Utah (easily equal to the lands inside the park), and Happy Canyon’s wide redrock valleys are no exception.  Unfortunately, Happy Canyon also has the distinction of being a part of the “Tar Sands Triangle”.

Happy Canyon. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.


Currently, Happy Canyon is threatened by the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to revive oil and gas leases that terminated decades ago for destructive tar sands development — including leases that are located within Wilderness Study Areas such as the French Spring-Happy Canyon WSA.

By protecting Greater Canyonlands, we can help prevent future tar sands leasing in Happy Canyon.  Visit www.greatercanyonlands.org and www.facebook.com/greatercanyonlands to take action!

Jackie Feinberg

Intern Files: On getting shut out of a meeting on Utah’s Land Grab

10:50 am

Guest blogger Matt Koschak, our DC intern, shares his experience trying to attend the Western Congressional Caucus HB 148 briefing.

It took just minutes for me to be removed from Room 1324 in the Longworth office building of the U.S. House of Representatives. I was attending a meeting by the Congressional Western Caucus to discuss H.B. 148, Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act—also known as the Utah legislature’s pipe dream that the federal government will give 30 million acres of American land to the state of Utah, just, well, because.

There to make his case for this national redistribution of land was Ken Ivory, the bill’s sponsor. I was curious about what he’d say, but shortly after I arrived two aides confronted me and asked for my affiliation. No more had the words “wilderness” and “alliance” left my mouth, than their demeanor changed, and I was politely but firmly asked to leave the “members-and-staff-only” briefing. Even the press was not allowed to hear the scheming to steal our treasured landscapes.

They were cordial, and I told them the truth—I heard about the meeting via phone calls and Ken Ivory’s Facebook and website activity. One staffer shook his head, sighed, and replied, “We asked him to take that down. He should know better.”

Back outside, I headed over to meet Jen Beasley, our Legislative Advocate, and Ashley Korenblat, the owner of Western Spirit Cycling Adventures, a Moab-based outdoor recreation company. Ashley also wanted to attend the meeting, but I was kicked out before she even arrived. She happened to be in DC to lobby during Great Outdoors America Week in support of public lands and the recreation economy, and was willing to take extra time to express her concerns about H.B. 148 despite an already packed schedule. She, too, was disappointed when the closed-door proceedings suppressed any opportunity for dialogue.

Talking to Ashley, I realized the comment from the aide was troubling. Ken Ivory “should know better” than to post his activities online? Better than what?

Should he know better than to inform Americans who treasure this land that he intends to steal it? Ashley Korenblat’s cycling tour business depends on the public landscapes like those in southern Utah. If Utah’s land grab succeeds, her scenic tours in iconic red rock country will soon give way to the sight of well after well, like so many vampires sucking oil from the stone, surrounded by fencing and no trespassing signs. Good for business?

Utah extremists claim the land grab will benefit Utah education, that stealing these beloved places is for the benefit of the people and businesses of Utah. Why then, did they close the meeting to the likes of Ashley Korenblat, the Utah small-business owner? Shouldn’t they know better?

This meeting shows the tip of the iceberg of closed doors and hush-hush deliberation surrounding the Utah government’s land grab. What they claim is the democratic process looks and feels a lot more like a business transaction.

Matt Koschak
DC Policy Intern

guest

The “Facts” about BLM’s Fictitious Gasco Project Approval Press Release

2:14 pm

Confused about some of the statements coming out of the BLM about its recent approval of the Gasco natural gas project? So were we. Call us crazy, but it was hard to understand how approving nearly 1,300 new natural gas wells, including 215 new wells in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness – over the objections of members of Congress, the outdoor industry, and conservation groups and their members – is a decision which will “responsibly [protect] the key landscapes and recreational resources.” So we dug a little deeper into the BLM’s press release . . . take a look.

Steve Bloch

BLM’s Bad Decisions Continue to Chip Away at Remoteness

7:40 am

Although the Utah BLM can’t seem to say no to a bad idea, it is getting better at bullet-proofing (read: appeal-proofing) its environmental analyses in order to squeak by the legal requirements imposed by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Prime examples include the BLM’s recent decisions to: 1) allow Garfield County to pave a portion of the Notom Road; and 2) allow very large groups to camp along the Hole in the Rock Road in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. In both cases, after reviewing public comments, the BLM tweaked its environmental analyses so they would minimally comply with the law. But they still stink.

BLM’s short-sighted Notom Road decision appeased county officials who go all quivery at the thought of paved roads. The paving decision thus placates the county officials but at the expense of the growing number of visitors who are trying to get away from the crowds, who cherish the experience of getting there via a lonely dirt road bordered by scenic wildlands to explore and experience quiet and solitude.

Similarly, the BLM caved to local pressure with its decision to permit large-group use along the Hole in the Rock road. Some Mormon church groups want large-group experiences when visiting the area that Mormon pioneers traveled on their journey from Escalante to the Colorado River. It is unlikely that most monument visitors will feel the same. They come to experience what the presidential proclamation called this “rugged and remote region…[an] unspoiled natural area that remains a frontier.” For them, encountering 145 people at Dance Hall Rock and huge tent cities strewn along the Hole in the Rock road will be a rude awakening.

The renowned landmark Dance Hall Rock, on the Hole in the Rock road, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.


Caving in to local pressures and papering over bad decisions to make them pass legal muster is not unique to the Utah BLM. But the agency here has mastered the game. All in all, it is a poor way to manage some of the most scenic, wild and remote lands in the nation.

Liz Thomas

BLM Refuses to Spare the ROD, Gives OK to Spoil Desolation Canyon

6:16 am

Yesterday was a bad news Monday.  The Obama Administration, in a disappointing move, approved the Gasco project in Utah’s Desolation Canyon wilderness.  By signing the Gasco Record of Decision (ROD), BLM has placed the interests of small-time speculators above that of the public and one of Utah’s largest primitive and roadless landscapes.

As we have blogged about before, the Gasco project is a large natural gas project in northeastern Utah, overlapping the Desolation Canyon wilderness complex.  This complex is one of the nation’s wilderness gems: a large and wild ecosystem replete with wildlife.  The Gasco project area alone covers habitat for deer, elk, pronghorn, sage grouse, and mountain lion.

The Obama Administration was faced with an easy choice here.  It could have approved a compromise version of the proposed Gasco project that would have steered development away from the sensitive wildlands of this region—lands that the most recent Bush Administration acknowledged were wilderness caliber—while still allowing the company to drill over 1,100 wells or it could eschew all compromise and give the company the authorization to drill nearly 1,300 wells.  Unfortunately, they went with the latter.  They did this over the objections of our members, congressional representatives, the outdoor industry, and many others.  Apparently, it was more important to them to give away public lands for speculative gas development in an unproven area during times of record low gas prices.

Contrary to the BLM and company’s clumsy wordsmithing and semantic gymnastics, the Gasco project is most definitely within the larger Desolation Canyon wilderness complex.  The BLM’s own environmental impact statement confirmed that the Gasco project overlapped with nearly 40,000 acres of the Desolation Canyon wilderness complex, an area that was “inventoried by the BLM and found to have wilderness characteristics” (Gasco Final EIS at 3-142).  Interior’s approval of the Gasco project undeniably places these lands at risk.

As these recent photos demonstrate, this is a wild and spectacular area.  Shame on the BLM for giving one company the green light to destroy it.

BLM’s approval of the Gasco project clears the way for development in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness (here in the mid-ground) and greater-Nine Mile Canyon region. Development could also proceed atop the Bad Land Cliffs (here in the background).

Gasco project area – wells would be located on high rims and central to left portion of this area.

Sand Wash and Desolation Canyon

Upper Desolation Canyon – Gasco could drill wells in the center flat landscape, coming to the river in the more relief area.

David Garbett