Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

New ATV Route Threatens Indian Creek

1:15 pm

Location of Indian Creek proposed ATV right-of-way. Copyright Liz Thomas/SUWA

The Monticello Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office is moving towards giving a right-of-way to San Juan County to build a new, and redundant, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trail on your public lands in the Canyonlands Basin.

The proposed right-of-way cuts through famously scenic lands east of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, along Indian Creek. The proposed ATV route and right-of-way would be located on lands that are included in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. The new ATV route would unquestionably impact the naturalness of the area as well as the quiet, wilderness experience that can be enjoyed there today. In addition, the new ATV route would be a significant conflict with other non-motorized recreational uses of the area, including its famous rock-climbing opportunities.

There are hundreds of miles of existing off-road vehicle routes that currently provide vehicle access and recreational opportunities in the Indian Creek area, and there is no compelling need for the construction of a yet another ATV route. Rights-of-way (typically granted for 30 years or in perpetuity) are supposed to be part of a “necessary” transportation system that is in the “public interest” pursuant to federal law governing rights-of-way on public lands. This proposed ATV right-of-way is neither. Please urge BLM to deny the county’s request for a right-of-way to build a new ATV trail on your public lands, by adopting the “no action” alternative.

The Indian Creek corridor is a world-class recreation destination and should be managed as such. There is absolutely no reason the BLM should relinquish its  control over these spectacular public lands by granting a right-of-way to the county to construct a new, and superfluous ATV route, especially when there are hundreds of miles of existing routes in the Canyonlands Basin already. However, the BLM is being badgered by San Juan County and appears ready to cave to anti-wilderness, pro-motorized-access county commissioners.

We are opposing this right-of-way and are working with other conservation groups to protect the impressive public lands around Indian Creek and in the greater Canyonlands Basin from the unnecessary and damaging proliferation of ATV routes.

Liz Thomas

A glorious weekend in the San Rafael Swell

12:14 pm

It was a glorious sunny weekend in the San Rafael Swell as about 85 wilderness supporters gathered from Sept. 21-23 for this year’s SUWA Roundup.

The tradition stretches back to 1986, when the first Roundup – a mini-conference of sorts – was hosted by Ken Sleight (the inspiration for Ed Abbey’s character “Seldom Seen Smith”) at Pack Creek Ranch near Moab.  The Roundup “campout” as we know it today was born in 1992 and has been held at Hidden Splendor for the past 18 years.

As we reunited with old friends this year, we were pleased to see many new faces as well.  Attendees came from points north, south, east and west, including: Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Washington, California, Arizona, Nevada, Maryland, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, and all across Utah – from Roosevelt to Saint George.

To our surprise, one member actually flew to the Roundup from Tucson via a tiny 4-seater STOL aircraft.  Hidden Splendor was the site of an active uranium mine from the 1950s to 1960s and the old dirt airstrip used to transport supplies is still used by backcountry pilots today.  Interestingly, another Roundup attendee was actually among the workers who delivered supplies to the mine back in its heyday (this was her first return to the site since).

After a day of hiking and canyoneering in the Muddy Creek proposed wilderness, everyone gathered under the main tent Saturday night for a delicious potluck dinner including such treats as beef stew, homegrown tomatoes and a tub of chocolate ice cream!

Every year we meet interesting, passionate, committed wilderness supporters at the SUWA Roundup and this year was no exception.  We thank them for making the long journey to Hidden Splendor, for participating in our grassroots strategy discussion on Sunday, and for speaking out year after year for the protection of Utah’s magnificent wild places.  We look forward to meeting even more of our amazing members and activists at next year’s Roundup!

Here are a few photos . . .

Diane Kelly


1:30 pm

Ted Zukoski, Earthjustice, 303.996.9622
Heidi McIntosh, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.541.5833

Case is Part of Utah’s Campaign to Transform Primitive Trails on Federal Lands into Highways

DENVER – The federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Wednesday morning in a case involving an alleged highway right of way located in an ecologically critical streambed in Canyonlands National Park.  The National Park Service had closed the stream to jeep use in 2005 due to the water pollution, crushed vegetation, degraded wildlife habitat and other impacts caused by vehicle use.  San Juan County and the State of Utah sued the Park Service, arguing that the Park could not close the streambed to jeeps because it  was a county and state highway.  The trial court ruled that the few travelers who had ventured up the stream before Canyonlands became a national park in 1964 did not transform the creek into a “highway” under federal law.

The appeal is significant because the appeals court may rule on key issues that will govern how and whether states and counties can establish highway rights of way across all types of federal public lands under a now repealed law commonly known as “R.S. 2477.”  Congress enacted the law in 1866 as a way to facilitate the orderly settlement and development of the West and to give lasting recognition to existing highways; it repealed the law in 1976, subject to valid existing rights.  Now the State of Utah is attempting to stretch the law beyond Congress’s original intent in an effort to undermine federal ownership, management and conservation of national parks and other sensitive federal lands.

Conservation group the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice filed a friend-of-the-court brief earlier this year asking the appeals court to reject Utah’s extreme arguments.  Grand Canyon Trust, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, and the National Parks Conservation Association joined the brief.

Heidi McIntosh, associate director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, explained:  “The state’s misguided effort to overlay some of Utah’s most beautiful and remote landscapes with a spiderweb of roads will be devastating to the health, scenery and quiet of unique natural treasures like Salt Creek.  And at a cost of over $1 million in attorneys’ fees, it’s a financial boondoggle to boot.”

Earthjustice attorney Ted Zukoski added:  “Salt Creek is a rare desert gem, a stream bursting with life, and the area with the highest recorded density of archeological sites – including ancient cliff dwelling – in Canyonlands.  Turning this creek into a highway would not only degrade one of America’s iconic national parks, it would be wrong as a matter of law.”

This appeal is an early legal salvo in the State of Utah’s campaign to gain judicial recognition of approximately 15,000 highway rights of across federal public land, including areas that have been protected from roads and off-road vehicle use for years.  These remarkably scenic lands include Utah’s awe-inspiring  national parks, wilderness areas, wilderness study areas, national wildlife refuges, the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  The State of Utah and a number of Utah counties filed twenty two lawsuits in May 2012 that would blanket the state with about 15,000 thousand “highways,” many of which are actually faint trails, cow paths, streambeds and long-abandoned prospector tracks.

Maps and photos of the state’s thousands of R.S. 2477 claims are available at

A slideshow of Salt Creek is available at

The alleged Salt Creek “highway” in 2006. Ted Zukoski photo.

Heidi McIntosh

Citizens speak out against Utah Governor Herbert’s Public Land Grab

11:34 am

Outdoor enthusiasts, business owners and educators gathered at Utah’s State Capitol today to deliver a petition and postcards signed by more than 5,400 Utahns opposed to Governor Gary Herbert’s federal land grab.

Click here to add your voice to the petition opposing Governor Herbert’s Public Land Grab.

The message in Salt Lake City today was clear:  Herbert’s effort to seize control over Utah’s federal lands by transferring them to state ownership and by claiming ownership over 40,000 miles of dirt routes that crisscross federal wild lands is a bad idea – bad for hunters, bad for business owners and tax-payers, and bad for families who want to share Utah’s majestic wildlands with their children.

“Never in our nation’s history has a governor from any state attacked out American public land heritage on such an extraordinary scale,” said Mathew Gross of SUWA.

Jack Nelson, an avid hunter and fishermen and retired BYU journalism professor, stressed that citizens could encounter “No Trespassing” signs and scarred landscapes where they now go to recreate.  “I have hunted and fished across Utah’s federally-owned forests and lakes for more than 60 years without having to ask permission or pay anyone for access,” he said. “The Governor’s land grab would change that. These are our lands and should not be sold off.”

Jack Nelson, one of four founders of the Utah Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Jack is a retired outdoor writer, a retired professor of journalism at BYU, and an avid hunter and fisherman.

Dwight Butler, who has operated a popular outdoor equipment store in Utah for forty years, highlighted the harm Herbert’s land grab could do to the state’s thriving outdoor recreation economy.

Dwight Butler, the co-founder, owner and manager of Wasatch Touring.

“Our customers bike, ski, hike and camp on Utah’s federally-managed public lands,” he said. “They are a powerful calling card.  Rather than filing quixotic lawsuits, the Governor should work to preserve and protect our public lands, and to enhance our image as one of the last refuges of wild lands in the lower 48 states.”

Dede Carpenter, an expert in the hospitality industry, similarly emphasized that the Governor’s land grab could destroy the single greatest reason why many people and businesses choose to locate and invest in Utah – the state’s unspoiled federal lands.  “Why is the Governor trying to sell off and exploit these lands when good business sense calls for protecting and promoting them?”

Dede Carpenter. Dede spent 36 years working in the hospitality industry, working for the Snowbird Corporation and then Utah Food Services.

Middle school teacher Laurel Legate challenged the Governor’s claim that the land grab could help fund education.

Laurel Legate, a middle school teacher who grew up in Utah and is now raising her daughter in Salt Lake City.

“Nationwide there is no correlation between a state’s per pupil funding and the amount of non-federal land within its borders,” she said.  “Our children deserve leaders who will protect our public lands and make education funding a priority – not pretend we have to choose between the two.”

She closed her comments with a personal comment to the Governor, “Like many of the people who signed the petition and postcards we are delivering today, I grew up in a middle class family that spent our vacations camping in our federally managed forests and redrock canyons.  Your land grab robs me of the chance to share these precious places with my daughter.  It robs all Americans of that opportunity.”

Utahns deliver over 5,400 postcards and petition signatures to the Governor's office, asking Herbert to drop his federal land grab - a bad idea for Utahns and all Americans.

Terri Martin

Reflecting on the 77 leases ruling

5:51 am

On Wednesday the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a favorable ruling in Impact Energy v. Salazar.  We blogged a short “breaking news” blurb that day.  It is worth further reflection since it encapsulates some of the most important issues on the public lands front over the last few years.

Impact Energy v. Salazar was a lawsuit—brought by three oil and gas companies and three Utah counties—challenging Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s February 2009 decision to withdraw the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) offer to lease the infamous 77 oil and gas lease parcels on public lands.

However, Secretary Salazar was not acting in a vacuum.  SUWA’s members and others raised an intense outcry regarding these leases in December of 2008.  This produced significant media coverage and scrutiny of the lease sale.  The following month, in January 2009, SUWA won a temporary restraining order in federal court preventing the BLM from issuing the 77 leases in the first place. Within in a few weeks, the newly appointed Sec. Salazar realized the mistake the agency had made and scrapped the leases.

Upset at this outcome, the companies and counties filed a lawsuit challenging the Secretary’s decision.  Earthjustice intervened in this litigation on behalf of SUWA and other environmental organizations.  The Utah District Court dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the companies and counties had filed too late in the day.  They then appealed to the Tenth Circuit but Wednesday’s ruling confirmed the original outcome and dismissed their claims based on their late filing.

This is good news in the short run for the lands threatened by the 77 leases.  The long-run outcome for these lands, however, remains uncertain.

These 77 leases included some of Utah’s most spectacular public lands (see photos and maps).  The BLM proposed leasing parcels at the doorstep of Arches and Canyonlands national parks, at the head of Desolation Canyon, in the depths of the White River’s amazing canyon, in Labyrinth Canyon, and even immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument.  This fire sale in the waning days of the last president was made possible by one of the Bush Administration’s most lasting and pernicious legacies: six resource management plans (RMPs) completed in the fall of 2008.

Do not be fooled by the boring sounding title, resource management plans are critical documents that guide the BLM’s day-to-day management of public lands.  They act like city zoning plans, determining where and when certain activities can take place.  SUWA constantly is fighting poor choices made by the BLM to allow oil and gas development on sensitive lands, off-road vehicle travel in inappropriate places, and so on.  These mistakes often have their genesis in the fact that a given RMP may make 90% of an entire field office available to oil and gas development or the fact that the six plans combined designate over 20,000 miles of dirt routes for vehicle travel.

It is these RMPs that the BLM relied on to determine that it would offer the 77 leases in the first place.  Although the 77 leases may be dead, those RMPs are not.  Hence, these same remarkable public lands remain available for the chopping block.  The whims of the current administration and random bureaucrats are all that prevent them from being placed in the crosshairs again shortly.

SUWA is seeking to change those RMPs and is currently engaged in litigation to do just that.  We hope that our efforts will ultimately pay off in a more thoughtful approach to public lands management that remove us from this gerbil wheel of ill-advised leasing decisions.

David Garbett