Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

BLM Needs Balanced Approach to 10-Year Jeep Safari Permit

3:19 pm

Segment of a new proposed Jeep Safari route near Deadman Point. Copyright Neal Clark.

The Moab BLM office appears ready to sacrifice wilderness-quality lands for off-road vehicle (ORV) use instead of taking a balanced approach that protects remaining wild lands.  At issue is a 10-year permit to allow the Jeep Safari, other permitted motor vehicle events, and commercial ORV outfitters to use nearly 900 miles of routes, including 100 miles of routes in areas proposed for wilderness under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

The 900 miles of routes include 150 miles of new routes the BLM is considering adding to the permit, thereby expanding heavy ORV use into new areas.  Yet the agency’s own visitor survey indicates that only 10% of the visitors to BLM lands in the Moab area are ORV recreationists, while the vast majority of visitors are interested in non-motorized types of recreational opportunities such as hiking, biking, river rafting, climbing, and visiting historic sites and natural features.  Adding new Jeep Safari routes will displace these other visitors.

The BLM’s Environmental Assessment acknowledges that the official Jeep Safari routes get publicized and promoted via the web and in commercially available books, maps and videos, and thus get the vast majority of use among Moab area trails.  In other words, once a Jeep Safari route is established, it tends to become popular among the majority of private ORV recreationists who visit the Moab area throughout the year, not just during the annual Jeep Safari.

Please urge the BLM to take a balanced approach by approving only the 800 miles of Jeep Safari routes that are NOT within proposed wilderness, rather than tilting the scales heavily in favor of one special interest group.  A balanced approach will help preserve the full range of recreational opportunities and the scenic and wild land qualities of the area that attract nearly 1 million visitors annually.

Click here to send your message to the BLM.

Liz Thomas

More than 100 Outdoor Businesses Urge Pres. Obama to Protect Greater Canyonlands as a National Monument

2:39 pm

Yesterday, more than 100 outdoor-related businesses sent a letter to President Obama urging him to protect Greater Canyonlands as a national monument.

Can you add your voice to the effort to protect Greater Canyonlands by contacting President Obama today?

Click here to tell President Obama to protect Greater Canyonlands.

Yesterday’s announcement is big news, and it represents a major milestone in the effort to protect the magnificent Greater Canyonlands region.

Some of the biggest names in the outdoor industry – including Patagonia, Eastern Mountain Sports, and Black Diamond – along with 43 Utah businesses stepped forward to make the case that land conservation and a strong economy go hand in hand.

As the business leaders wrote in their letter to Obama: “The future of our outdoor recreation economy depends on protecting iconic landscapes – such as Greater Canyonlands – where people go to recreate. And monument proclamation is an important and effective way to provide the protection that is needed.”

The reaction from Utah Governor Gary Herbert and the Utah congressional delegation was predictable. But in truth, Utah politicians have invited this call for greater protection of Greater Canyonlands. Governor Herbert’s radical attack on our public lands – including filing 22 lawsuits against the federal government and signing a law demanding that the federal government give him 30 million acres of public land – is a threat not just to the wildlands of Southern Utah, but to the workers and businesses that rely upon those wildlands as part of the recreation economy.

People’s favorite places are threatened by Gov. Herbert’s attack, and so are their livelihoods. That’s why more than 100 businesses wrote to President Obama seeking protection of Greater Canyonlands.

Please add your voice — tell President Obama to make Greater Canyonlands a national monument.

Thank you for taking action.

Scott Groene

Report: Taking Over Public Lands Not a Money Maker for Utah

1:51 pm

In response to the Report on Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act (H.B. 148) presented to the Utah State Legislature Interim Committees today, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Executive Director Scott Groene released the following statement:

“In today’s report, the state of Utah was forced to admit that their proposal to take control of federal public lands is not a money maker for the state and will not help fund Utah schools.

“Governor Herbert and the Utah legislature should have investigated how much money Utah would lose in a land transfer six months ago, before they passed a law demanding that the federal government hand over 30 million acres of public lands to the state.

“Today’s report –along with the state’s 22 lawsuits against the federal government over RS 2477 issues — demonstrates that Governor Herbert and the Utah legislature are wasting legislative time and taxpayer money on a fool’s errand.

“This is not a balanced approach to public lands issues; it’s an idea so radical that voters in Arizona just last week shot down a similar proposal by a 2 to 1 margin. The Utah legislature should similarly drop this idea.”


What the election means for redrock wilderness

8:59 am

Elections matter for our public lands. This one broke both ways for the redrock wilderness.

At the top of the ticket, President Obama’s re-election was critical. The White House directs the Department of the Interior which manages the redrock wilderness and more public land than any other bureaucracy in the world. The administration selects the federal judges deciding federal land lawsuits, unilaterally designates national monuments, and vetoes bad legislation.

Yes, it’s a very good thing Mitt Romney lost — he would have been a disaster for western public lands, and Utah in particular. Though we can’t ignore that the Obama administration’s first term was a disappointment for wilderness. For example, who could have imagined this administration would defend in court the Bush administration’s resource management plans which opened up millions of acres of proposed wilderness to drilling and ATVs?

But it is our job to push a vision beyond the limitations of today’s politics, one that excites the national public, at the same time we persist in the day to day struggles before congress, in courtrooms and along dusty roads. With your help, we’ll overcome this administration’s past timidity and protect Greater Canyonlands.

With Democrats holding the Senate, and Republicans the House, expect a dysfunctional Congress to stay broken. We’re in the longest national drought of successful wilderness legislation since the National Wilderness System was created in 1964, and that appears unlikely to change. We can expect ridiculous anti-environment legislation to continue to spew from the House Natural Resources committee, and the Senate, as the grownups in the room, blocking these tantrums.

There have been key player changes. We lost retiring New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman who as chair of the Senate Energy committee long prevented the worst of public lands legislation by upholding basic public lands principles. He’ll likely be replaced by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, and it unclear the extent to which he will follow Bingaman’s precedents. We’re excited that New Mexico elected Senator Martin Heinrich who knows southern Utah and defended America’s redrock wilderness when he served on the House Resources committee. It appears Rep. Doc Hasting will give up being chair of the House Resources committee and may be replaced by incumbent Utah Rep. Rob Bishop. Any name out of a phone book would be better than Hastings. We appreciated a good relationship with Congressman Bishop on the Cedar Mountains wilderness, but his positions — including advocacy of federal land disposal — generally clash with ours.

So wilderness gains are more likely to come through the executive branch than congress, recognizing the public must provide support to embolden the Obama administration on public land issues. The silver lining to a busted congress is it should be easier to kill bad legislation, such as what Emery County has prepared for the San Rafael Swell and Desolation Canyon.

In Utah, overall, things tilted a bit further towards crazy. Utah now has 4 congressional districts and voted in one new representative, Chris Stewart. He will represent Utah’s West Desert and the Grand Staircase. He believes — drum roll please — Utah should seize control of federal lands.

Lone democratic congressional representative Jim Matheson narrowly survived Utah’s republican legislature’s gerrymandering. Jim is a blue dog, and not a Redrock supporter. But he’s stood up against bad wilderness processes in the past.

Senator Orrin Hatch, who first entered the senate nearly two scores ago, won another term by pandering his soul to the tea party as a born again sage brush rebel. He’s joined by Senator Lee, who believes federal lands are unconstitutional. Utah’s new top lawyer, Attorney General John Swallow vociferously campaigned to “take back” Utah’s lands, even though of course these were never Utah’s. Governor Herbert cruised to re-election, as his war on public lands was never much of an issue in the race.

So Governor Herbert’s war on Utah’s public lands will now be aided by an enthusiastic Attorney General, and likely have more support from Utah’s congressional delegation. Which means we’ll spend considerable time in federal court this year, fighting to stop Herbert’s land grab – all twenty two lawsuits worth- and continuing our legal challenges against the Bush Resource Management Plans.

On the bright side, the land grab craziness stays confined to Utah. Arizona voters knocked down a proposition to take over federal lands 2:1.

This political environment might discourage a wilderness advocate: but it shouldn’t. We know we’ll face tough political challenges all the way to protecting the 9 million acres of the Redrock landscape – as we always have. And we’ll continue to incrementally increase the amount of land protection despite our opponent’s upper hand politically here in Utah.

All this said, election results can be unpredictable. I recall the absolute hopelessness we felt in 1994, when political upheaval opened the door for the Utah delegation to try to ram through the worst wilderness bill ever (leading one SUWA board member to recommend “equal amounts of despair and alcohol”). But with a national grassroots uprising we slammed that door shut and instead won the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument thanks to the overreaching of Senators Hatch and Bob Bennett. And of course there was our euphoria after Obama was first elected in 2008, and the disappointment for wilderness advocates that followed (though now we have a second bite at the apple of hope).

Politicians come and go, but our collective passion to defend and protect the redrock as a national treasure endures. Our citizen action is an unstoppable force. The election is over, now let’s get to work.

Scott Groene