Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Grand County’s Proposed Public Lands Plan: How Bad Is It?

5:07 pm

We expected bad, but this is far worse.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah. Image credit: Josh Myers, winner of National Parks Photo Contest on Trails.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah. Image credit: Josh Myers, winner of National Parks Photo Contest on Trails.

Background: On April 9, 2014, the Grand County Council Public Lands Working Committee identified 3 alternatives, along with maps, for long term designations of public lands in Grand County as part of Representative Rob Bishop’s proposed land use bill for eastern Utah.

Unfortunately, even the best alternative (Alternative #3) proposed by the Working Committee would roll back environmental protection in Grand County.

All the alternatives ignored the public input that the county received. Of the 182 letters received by the Council from Grand County residents and business owners, nearly 90% favored strong wilderness and public lands protection.

And yet, the County’s best alternative (Alternative #3):

  • Protects just over half (58%, or 484,446 acres) of the proposed wilderness in Grand County — and then riddles that “protected wilderness” with ORV routes. The Working Committee decided that places like Porcupine Rim, Mary Jane Canyon, Fisher Towers, Goldbar Rim, the Dome Plateau, and most of Labyrinth, including Mineral, Hell Roaring, Spring, and Tenmile canyons, were unworthy of wilderness protection.
  • Would punch a hole through the heart of the Book Cliffs — one of the largest remaining roadless areas in the lower 48 states — to build a “Hydrocarbon Highway” for fossil fuels extraction. The county proposes a mile-wide “transportation corridor” (proposed as 2 miles wide in the other alternatives) to ship fossil fuels from the Uinta Basin and proposed tar sands mining in the Book Cliffs to dreamed-of refineries in Green River, or to the railway.
  • Leaves open to oil and gas drilling the entire view shed east of Arches National Park, including the world-famous view from Delicate Arch. The Working Committee rejected proposed wilderness areas east of Arches. This is the same area that caused a national uproar and sent Tim DeChristopher to prison when the George W. Bush administration sold the famous 77 oil and gas leases in its waning days. Under the county’s best proposal, leasing and drilling in that region would be allowed.
  • Allows oil and gas drilling and potash mining on the rim of Labyrinth Canyon (upstream from Spring Canyon). The lack of real protection in the greater Labyrinth Canyon area in all three proposals is a glaring and curious omission.
  • Supports continued off road vehicle abuse and offers zero concessions on ORV routes designated in the Bush-era BLM travel plan — even though the planning of those routes likely failed to follow the law. The county would codify the BLM’s Bush-era route designations even though a federal judge recently set aside a nearly-identical travel plan in the Richfield BLM office for failure to comply with legal mandates to protect archaeology, riparian areas and other natural resources.  It is likely just a matter of time before the Court overturns the challenged Moab travel plan.
  • Fails to protect Moab’s watershed. There is no wilderness proposed for the La Sal Mountains on US Forest Service land.
  • Prohibits the use of the Antiquities Act in Grand County — the same act that was used by three different Presidents to protect what is now Arches National Park. Although protection of Arches was opposed by Utah politicians, today Arches National Park injects more than $116 million into the local economy each year and supports more than 1,700 jobs in Grand County.

Alternatives 1 & 2 are even worse.  Both would impose a 2-mile wide transportation corridor for the Hydrocarbon Highway through the heart of the Book Cliffs.  This is wide enough to build an entire city within the corridor.  Alternatives 1 & 2 provide even less protection for Grand County’s proposed wilderness and less protection from oil & gas and potash development.


Mathew Gross

Conservation Group and Energy Company Reach Agreement on Planned Helium Development in Emery County, Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and IACX Energy, Dallas, TX, announced today that they have reached an agreement regarding IACX’s planned helium development in Emery County, Utah. The agreement was reached in advance of any appeals or litigation and resolves concerns raised by SUWA regarding the impacts of development of the potential helium resource on the Lost Spring Wash proposed wilderness area.

“This agreement gives SUWA certainty about the impacts that helium development may have to the Lost Spring Wash proposed wilderness area,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “We appreciate that IACX was willing to sit down with us and negotiate an agreement that protects an important public landscape.”

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with SUWA that allows IACX to proceed with this strategically important helium project. IACX appreciates that while the U.S. urgently needs more helium, developers must earn the social license to operate on federal lands. It made good business sense to listen to the many stakeholders who care about the management of these lands and find a middle ground that allows for the timely development of helium,” said Scott Sears, the company president. IACX uses proprietary processes to capture and purify helium at lower pressures and ambient temperatures. The company recently commenced operations on another helium project at Harley Dome, Utah.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is analyzing IACX’s proposal to drill a helium test well on a location previously disturbed by natural gas development. If successful, IACX hopes to drill two additional test wells in the vicinity. IACX’s activities are located in the Woodside Dome field and in an area that was classified as United States Helium Reserve #1 by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

Helium is an indispensable commodity for many high tech uses including MRI machines, semiconductor manufacturing, the NASA program and fiber optics.


Constitution: 1; State of Utah: 0 – Redrock Report July 2013

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Here’s what is happening this month with the redrock:
1.  The Utah state legislature’s anti-federal government campaign hits a brick wall called the U.S. Constitution.
2.  Take action for wild Utah this summer!
3.  SUWA’s annual Backyard Bash celebrates our community of citizen activists.
4.  The BLM has a lot of bad ideas for Utah public lands.
5.  Our challenge to a Bush-era land use plan is finally heard in court.

Constitution: 1; State of Utah: 0

Drill Pad No Public Access Sign
This could be the norm if Utah Gov. Herbert and the Utah state legislature get their way.  Photo copyright Liz Thomas/SUWA.

Recently, Utah Governor Gary Herbert and the Utah state legislature ran into a little problem we like to call “the U.S. Constitution.”  Over the past two years, Utah state leaders have been on a roll passing laws that would, in their minds, overrule the federal government’s authority when it comes to public lands.  Earlier this month, the Utah state legislature was forced to repeal one of these laws or face a losing legal battle.  Back in May, a federal judge blocked implementation of a law that would have prohibited Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service employees from enforcing state laws anywhere in Utah.  In June, the judge issued a preliminary injunction pending a final ruling at trial.  Instead of wasting even more taxpayer dollars on this sure-to-fail court case, cooler heads prevailed and the law was repealed this month.

However, the assault lives on in Gov. Herbert’s Utah public land grab, which includes a demand that over 30 million acres of federal land be handed over to the state of Utah and a slew of lawsuits aimed at wresting control of tens of thousands of miles of dirt routes crisscrossing Utah’s public lands.  After the above mentioned law was repealed, notorious anti-wilderness state Rep. Mike Noel was quoted as saying his “horse might be down, but it will rise again.”

What can be done to stop this nonsense?  Please let Gov. Herbert know that you want him to stop his public land grab!  Add your name to our petition by clicking here, and be sure to share it with friends.

It’s never too hot to help protect Utah wilderness

Congress may be taking August off, but summer is a fantastic time to take action to help protect Utah wilderness!

Greater Canyonlands postcard
Volunteer to collect postcard signatures in support of protecting Greater Canyonlands this summer!

Here’s what you can do:

1)  Volunteer to visit your Representative’s and/or Senators’ district office when they are home this August and ask that they support protecting wild Utah.  Click here to sign up and SUWA’s grassroots staff will help you prepare for an in-district meeting or a district office visit.

2)  Request a stack of Protect Greater Canyonlands postcards that you and your friends can sign (send them back to us and we’ll forward them to President Obama).  Click here to volunteer.

3)  Easiest of all: Help grow support for protecting Greater Canyonlands by liking and sharing the Protect Greater Canyonlands Facebook page.

SUWA celebrates our community of activists at “Backyard Bash”

Backyard Bash 2013
Photo by Edward P. Kosmicki. 

Sometimes we all just need to kick back and celebrate the amazing community of citizen activists who play such an important role in so many different ways in the ongoing effort to protect Utah’s wild lands.  That’s what we did two weeks ago at SUWA’s annual “Backyard Bash” in Salt Lake City.  About 100 wilderness enthusiasts of all ages – from babes in arms to those of us more seasoned – mingled and chatted, ate some good food, imbibed our beverage of choice and enjoyed some excellent music (provided by the wonderful band SYNKOFA).  As SUWA’s Executive Director noted, SUWA’s members and supporters really are the lifeblood of the organization.  They are what energizes and sustains the campaign to win permanent protection for the redrock, and the reason we have made so much progress over the last three decades.  Thank you!  We wish you all could all have joined us!

The BLM is again wreaking havoc in southern Utah

Mexican Mountain airstrip
Abandoned airstrip in the Mexican Mountain WSA.  Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

Recently, the BLM has come up with a lot of bad ideas for Utah public lands.  If you haven’t already, please take action to tell the BLM to protect wild Utah!

1)  The BLM is starting a multi-year environmental study to consider the impacts of an Estonian-owned company developing a large-scale oil shale mine, conducting on-site refining, and transporting the product to market.  It will also look at impacts from several rights-of-way across BLM land leading to the mine site itself, which is located on private lands.  Tell the BLM “NO WAY!”  You can submit written comments via email ( or mail (Vernal field office, BLM, Attention Stephanie Howard, 170 South 500 East, Vernal, UT 84078).

2)  The BLM Price field office appears ready to give in to the demands of the Utah Back County Pilots Association (BCPA) by allowing the naturally reclaimed landing strip in the heart of the Mexican Mountain Wilderness Study Area (WSA) to be upgraded to its pre-WSA condition.  There are several other backcountry airstrips in and near the San Rafael Swell that are available for BCPA and others to use and enjoy.  Please tell the BLM to preserve the integrity of the Mexican Mountain WSA by denying the proposed maintenance project.

3)  The BLM’s Monticello field office has announced a proposal to add more off-road vehicle (ORV) routes to the 3,000-plus miles of routes in San Juan County that were designated in the 2008 Resource Management Plan and Travel Plan (RMP/TP).  Please tell the BLM to do its homework first!

First of six public land use plan challenges heard in federal court

Mt. Ellen
The Mount Ellen proposed wilderness in the Henry Mountains.  Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

Attorneys for SUWA and Earthjustice recently argued in federal district court to overturn a Bush-era land use plan.  The Richfield Resource Management Plan and Off-Highway Vehicle Travel Plan was completed in late 2008 and prioritized oil and gas development and motorized vehicles above all other uses of the public lands.  Of more than 680,000 acres of BLM identified wilderness character lands, the Richfield plans only manage 78,600 acres to protect wilderness values (and then just barely).  This is just the first of six Bush-era plans challenged by SUWA and our conservation partners to be heard in court.

Read more on our blog by clicking here.

change.orgSign the petition to protect Greater Canyonlands



Utah BLM Relinquishes ORV Routes on Cedar Mesa

8:08 am

The BLM’s Monticello Field Office recently capitulated to pressure from San Juan County and ceded control and management of public lands for four rights-of-way for new off-road vehicle (ORV) trails on Cedar Mesa.

Please tell the Utah BLM State Director to instead defend the public’s interest in retaining management and control of our public lands.

Lower Grand Gulch, copyright Robert Fillmore.

Lower Grand Gulch, copyright Robert Fillmore.

Recall that in 2008 the BLM designated routes across public lands in southern Utah, effectively ending the out-dated and ridiculous policy of unrestricted cross-country travel.  Although the BLM’s travel plan for public lands in San Juan County isn’t perfect (SUWA has a pending legal challenge to the travel plan in federal court), it is a big improvement over the unmitigated chaos of cross-country travel.

However, even though the BLM designated more than 3,000 miles of routes and trails in San Juan County, it was nevertheless too few for the fanatical road cultists there.  And, inexplicably, the BLM rolled over, giving the county rights-of-way to build new ORV trails on Cedar Mesa.  The new trails will connect ORV routes on the east side of Cedar Mesa with routes on the west side of Cedar Mesa, thereby allowing ORV riders to “travel back and forth” between the two areas more conveniently!


Two of the new rights-of-way bisect lands in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, places even the BLM agrees are of wilderness caliber.  The BLM’s decision to allow new ORV routes in these areas effectively negates the wilderness and roadless character of large tracts of land.  It would have been bad enough for the BLM to merely designate and add these new ORV trails on Cedar Mesa to the agency’s travel plan.  But it defies logic why the BLM would hand over management and control of public lands to the county by granting rights-of-way for these ORV trails.  What’s more, these rights-of-way can be renewed after 20 years, ad infinitum, effectively giving the county ownership of these routes in perpetuity.

It boils down to this: The BLM is legally responsible for protecting archaeology and natural resources on our public lands; beyond argument, ORV use results in increased vandalism and looting of archaeological sites, degrades water quality and stream functioning, increases soil erosion and fragments wildlife.  With this in mind, it makes little sense to allow San Juan County to chainsaw old-growth juniper trees to bulldoze new routes across roadless wildlands in areas with some of the richest archaeology on the planet.  Yet that’s exactly what the BLM has done.

There’s more

San Juan County has additional ORV rights-of-way requests in the queue – one in Indian Creek and the other in Recapture Canyon.  Please ask the Utah State BLM Director to stand up to the pressure from San Juan County and deny the county’s request for ORV rights-of-way in Indian Creek and Recapture Canyon.

Liz Thomas

Tell BLM: Don’t sacrifice Labyrinth Canyon for fertilizer! – Redrock Report June 2013

10:45 am

Here’s what is happening this month with the redrock:
1.  Don’t let the BLM sacrifice Labyrinth Canyon for fertilizer!
2.  Support in the Senate for protecting Utah wilderness is on the rise.
3.  Educators tell Utah legislators they are chasing imaginary unicorns.
4.  Moab residents discuss the Greater Canyonlands National Monument proposal.
5.  Join us for SUWA’s annual Backyard Bash this July!

BLM poised to sacrifice Labyrinth Canyon for fertilizer!


Labyrinth Canyon, Tom Till
The Green River in Labyrinth Canyon.  Copyright Tom Till.

The BLM is poised to approve American Potash LLC’s application to drill four core holes to explore for potash in the Labyrinth Canyon area.  The company, a wholly owned subsidiary of a Canadian potash development company, has applied to explore for potash (an ingredient in commercial fertilizer) on the eastern flanks of the Green River as it flows through Labyrinth Canyon.  Three of the proposed core drilling sites are within America’s redrock wilderness and the Greater Canyonlands region.

Labyrinth Canyon’s geological and archaeological wonders are internationally recognized, with artifacts dating back to the mammoth hunter era 10,000 years ago.  Boaters treasure the long stretches of quiet that pervade this section of the Green River as they glide on the calm water and explore the winding side canyons.  Labyrinth Canyon is a sparkling gem in Greater Canyonlands.

The proposed potash exploration will necessitate widening and upgrading existing vehicle routes, and constructing several new routes across the desert to allow access for drill rigs and other drilling equipment.  Visitors to the area will encounter heavy equipment, truck traffic, noise, dust, night lighting, and sludge pits if the BLM approves the exploration.  This should not happen!

Please urge the BLM not to sacrifice wilderness-quality lands for fertilizer and a private corporation’s bottom line!

Read more on our blog by clicking here.


It all adds up: Volunteer action leads to a rise in Senate support for the redrock

Just 2 months after America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (S. 769, H.R. 1630) was reintroduced in the 113th Congress, we have surpassed the number of Senate cosponsors from the 112th!  Currently, 16 U.S. Senators, along with 86 U.S. Representatives, have signed on in official support of the legislation that would protect over 9 million acres of spectacular redrock wilderness in Utah.  Click here to read about how activists like you have stepped up to make this happen.

YOU can help make cosponsorship happen for your members of Congress too!  If your Representative and/or Senators are not on the list of cosponsors for America’s Red Rock  Wilderness Act yet, please consider taking action this summer to help add to the growing list.

Here’s what you can do:

1)     Volunteer to visit your Representative’s and/or Senators’ district office this summer.  Click here to sign up, and SUWA’s grassroots staff will help you prepare for an in-district meeting or to drop by a district office.

2)     Call your members of Congress and ask that they cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (S. 769, H.R. 1630).  Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak with your Representative’s or Senators’ DC office.  Remember to tell his/her staff why protecting Utah wilderness is important to you as a constituent.

3)     Use SUWA’s action center to send an email to your members of Congress.

Click here for more info.


Educators to Utah land grabbers: “You are chasing an imaginary unicorn!”

Imaginary UnicornEducators in Utah spoke out again last week against Governor Herbert’s public land grab – this time directly to legislators on the Natural Resources Interim Committee.

Heather Bennett, a three-term Salt Lake City Board of Education member, spoke on behalf of For Kids and Lands, a new group calling for the protection of Utah’s public lands and realistic solutions to education funding.  Bennett took land grab proponents to task for claiming that the effort to seize Utah’s lands could help fund education. “You are chasing an imaginary unicorn, rather than working on realistic solutions” she said, pointing out that the state’s own lawyers have said the land transfer bill has “high probability of being declared unconstitutional.”

In addition, Bennett emphasized that the state’s 30 lawsuits claiming title to 35,000 miles of dirt routes would cost the state millions, diverting money that could go to education, while harming the scenic values that “make Utah a fabulous place for family recreation and renewal.”

Read more on our blog by clicking here.

Discussing Greater Canyonlands in Moab

Panelists discuss Greater Canyonlands at Star
Hall in Moab on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.


Earlier this month, more than 80 Moab locals turned out to Moab’s historic Star Hall to take part in a panel discussion about the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument and other issues affecting public lands in the region.

Following presentations by TrekWest adventurer and Wildlands Network co-founder John Davis and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, a panel of experts and activists answered questions from the audience about the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument, tar sands mining, and hunting and vehicle access to public lands, among other topics.

Read more on our blog by clicking here.

To get involved in the campaign to protect Greater Canyonlands, visit


Join us for the SUWA Backyard Bash in SLC!

Backyard Bash Icon

It’s time for the annual SUWA Backyard Bash at our office in Salt Lake City!  Enjoy live music by SYNKOFA and spend time with other redrock wilderness fans.  Light appetizers and beverages will be provided.

When: Wednesday, July 17 from 6-9pm
Where: Wyss Wilderness House, 425 E 100 S, Salt Lake City

Please RSVP here:

Click here to invite friends on Facebook.  Hope to see you there!


change.orgSign the petition to protect Greater Canyonlands