Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

RS 2477 Roads Litigation Update: SUWA Heads into the New Year on a Strong Note

12:18 pm

Last year at this time we were reeling under the weight of the State of Utah’s 25+ newly filed R.S. 2477 lawsuits which claimed title to more than 14,000 roads covering more than 36,000 miles. Few wild places were spared from this onslaught. Not national parks. Not the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. And certainly not Utah’s red rock wilderness.

A San Juan County RS 2477 Claim in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

A San Juan County RS 2477 Claim in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

What a difference a year makes.

While all of these places are still threatened by the State’s tsunami of litigation, SUWA and its partners– working closely with more than two dozen attorneys from six national and local law firms and our own in-house legal team– have clawed our way to have a seat at the table. Much work remains to be done but it’s worth pausing to consider what we’ve accomplished:

  • SUWA has successfully intervened in the 18 cases that threaten Utah’s red rock wilderness. This is no small feat when you consider the sheer number of legal briefs, exhibits, etc. that had to be filed for each of these cases. It’s also notable given a string of close losses that we suffered from 2008-2011 which made it harder for us to intervene and participate as parties in these critical cases. Remarkably, the Obama Justice Department has opposed our status as an “intervenor of right” at every turn, arguing that only the United States should be able to fully defend against the State’s lawsuits.
  • Just last week a federal judge granted us the right to participate in the State’s so-called “preservation depositions” where the State is trying to memorialize the testimony of aged and/or inform witnesses.  These depositions are one of the State’s primary tools to proving its cases.  Prior to this ruling, we had to rely on the US Justice Department to ask our questions for us, which they didn’t always want to do.  This decision is a significant step towards defending Utah’s red rock wilderness.
  • The Tenth Circuit court of appeals recently (and provisionally, pending review by a three-judge panel) granted our motion to intervene in the United States’ appeal of a March 2013 decision by a federal judge which granted 12 rights-of-way to Kane County and the State.  These included the so-called “North Swag” route, a claimed highway (impassable in some places) within the Grand Staircase national monument and a wilderness study area.  The United States, State of Utah, and Kane County all strongly oppose our motion to intervene.

What hasn’t changed over the past year is the State’s zeal to do what it takes to be able to punch roads into the heart of Utah’s red rock wilderness. That’s why it continues to pour millions of dollars into attorneys, analysts, GIS staff, etc. to push these cases. In short, these lawsuits remain one the biggest threats we face today.
Thanks to your support, we’re starting to turn the corner and will be bringing the fight to the State in 2014.

Steve Bloch

2013 Year End Dragons and Daisies

9:02 am

As 2013 draws to a close, the Redrock wilderness faces both great threats and opportunities. Yet despite a busted Congress and a disappointing Obama administration, the future of the canyons looks brighter now than it did on Jan 1st — thanks to supporters like you.

The threats:

Utah’s War on Wilderness: You’ll recall that the State of Utah is demanding the U.S. surrender over 30 million acres of public land to the state. This ideological fantasy would be an ecological and economic disaster for Utah. We’ve fought back through organizing and media, and the land grab movement is losing speed.

On the other hand, the State of Utah is busy pouring money down the litigation rat hole through twenty-plus lawsuits against the U.S. seeking control of more than 36,000 miles of “roads” crossing public lands. If Utah succeeds, the BLM and National Park Service will be virtually powerless to stop all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes from ripping through proposed wilderness.

Since the litigation was filed, we’ve fought back by building a team of nearly 25 lawyers and succeeded in intervening in the cases. And hairline cracks are showing in the State’s cases. Witnesses are trying to testify as to the condition of routes over a half century ago– an understandably difficult task.

Still, this litigation remains the greatest threat we’ve faced in at least 15 years.

The opportunities:

First, on November 4th, in the biggest legal victory in our 30-year history, a Utah federal district court struck down the BLM’s land use plan controlling over 2 million acres surrounding the Dirty Devil, Factory Butte, and the Henry Mountains.

This decision involves one of the six Bush-era land use plans which together control nearly 5.4 million acres of proposed Redrock wilderness. With this decision, we expect to win the rest of the cases.

Second, we also face a historic opportunity to protect large landscapes on the Colorado Plateau through ongoing discussions, led by Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, intended to result in federal legislation controlling the fate of over 5 million acres of proposed Redrock wilderness– places like Desolation Canyon, the San Rafael Swell, Labyrinth Canyon, the Dirty Devil, and Cedar Mesa.

Our victory on the BLM plan above may play an important role in these discussions. The decision wrecks the status quo, overturning the Bush plans tthat county commissioners liked. Now they face uncertainty — and this should motivate them to deal. We’ve told the Utah delegation that if we can agree on wilderness and RS 2477, then we’d be willing to resolve our litigation against the remaining plans.

We’ve got a long ways to go, but these discussions could be the payoff for our 30 years of advocacy for the Redrock.

Third and finally, President Obama could reverse his administration’s disappointing record on the Redrock wilderness by designating Greater Canyonlands as a national monument. The area is now managed under a hodgepodge of plans, putting at risk extraordinary cultural and wilderness resources in places like Labyrinth Canyon, The Dirty Devil, Hatch Point and White Canyon. With our friends at the Sierra Club and Grand Canyon Trust, we’ve made monument protection a viable proposal in a very short time.

Everything that’s been accomplished for the Redrock wilderness in 2013 is due to supporters and activists like you. From all of us here at SUWA, thanks!

Scott Groene

Preserving Utah Wilderness Could Protect Colorado’s Snow

2:48 pm

dustsnow2memeOver at HCN’s The Goat Blog, Sarah Jane Keller reports on a new study that shows how helping desert soil could save Western Colorado’s snowpack:

Southwest Colorado’s snowpack is the West’s hardest-hit when spring winds carrying tiny dust particles slam into the mountains. That cinnamon layer coating the snow means that it absorbs more of the sun’s radiation heats up, and melts faster than clean snow…. As water managers in the Colorado Basin plan for the region’s impending water crunch, and more dust is blowing around the West, they are starting to realize that dust is a hydrological game-changer.

The Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, in Silverton, Colo., began tracking dust on snow in the San Juan Mountains in 2003, but dust has been worse in recent years, including 2013. In a recent study looking at the combined impact of climate warming and dust on the Upper Colorado River Basin’s snowpack, researchers found that “extreme” dust years like 2009 and 2010 advance spring runoff timing by three weeks, compared to moderate dust years. That’s a total of six weeks earlier than runoff from clean snow.;

The new study “adds more detail to what earlier research has shown,” Keller writes: “That at least in the short term, dust has a bigger impact on the speed of mountain snow melt than increasing temperatures do.

For many years, SUWA has been pointing out the connection between protecting the wild lands of the Colorado Plateau with other critical issues like climate change and water allocation for the Colorado Basin.

That’s why it’s so critical to protect places like Greater Canyonlands, where an explosion of off-road vehicle use and mining and drilling has helped to hasten the seasonal demise of Colorado’s snowpack and the resulting pressure on the Colorado River’s 40 million water users.

Click here to learn more and to take action.

Mathew Gross

Job Opening: Utah Grassroots Organizer

3:07 pm

Are you a skilled grassroots organizer with a passion for wilderness? Then we may have the job for you.

SUWA is now accepting applications for its Utah Grassroots Organizer position. The Utah Grassroots Organizer works to advance the goal of building and maintaining cohesive statewide support for SUWA’s congressional and administrative efforts to protect Utah’s wilderness lands.

A competitive benefits package includes health care coverage, a retirement plan, and paid vacation and sick days. Opportunities for additional training are available. This position will work out of SUWA’s Salt Lake City office.

Applications are due by Friday, December 13, 2013. For a complete job description and how to apply, click here (opens in PDF).


SUWA’s 30th anniversary gala was a smashing success, thanks to all of you!

3:27 pm

SUWA’s 30th anniversary “Redrock & Pearls” gala on Saturday night was an evening we’ll long remember.  Roughly 400 attendees packed the Canyon Atrium of the Natural History Museum of Utah, which was enchantingly lit to simulate the colors and textures of a starlit night in Utah’s canyon country.  Members, activists, supporters, staff, and board (both current and former) talked, laughed, reminisced, and celebrated 30 successful years of protecting Utah’s magnificent redrock wilderness.  For those of us who have been around a long time, it was wonderful and inspiring to see activists who have been with us for two or three decades standing side-by-side with so many new folks who have recently and enthusiastically joined the redrock cause.

We were also very pleased to honor three enormously important voices in the Utah wilderness movement: Brant Calkin (former SUWA executive director and visionary), Terry Tempest Williams (author, naturalist, and wilderness activist), and Peter Metcalf (Black Diamond CEO and outspoken champion of wild places).  Without such courageous individuals, SUWA would not be where we are today.  Nor would we have reached this remarkable milestone if it weren’t for all of our fantastic members and activists who stand up for the cause again and again, writing letters to elected officials, showing up at rallies, speaking out at hearings, sending in their annual donations, and so much more.  From the bottom of our hearts, we thank each and every one of you!

Special thanks to the Dough Wintch Band and our event sponsors: Black Diamond, Salt Lake Printing & Mailing, Squatters/Wasatch Beers, Treasure Mountain Inn, and Hansjoerg Wyss.   We’d also like to thank Culinary Crafts, Ed Pratt Sound, Alliant Event Services and Larry Holder for helping make the evening such a wonderful success.

Doug Wintch performs at Redrock & Pearls

The Doug Wintch Band performs at SUWA’s Redrock & Pearls gala.















SUWA Executive Director Scott Groene addresses the crowd.















Redrock & Pearls

Hundreds of wilderness supporters joined us in the Canyon Atrium at the Natural History Musuem of Utah.















Redrock & Pearls

Redrock revelers listen to the evening’s presenters and honorees.















Redrock & Pearls

Former SUWA Executive Director Brant Calkin accepts an award from former board member Johanna Wald.















Redrock & Pearls

Terry Tempest Williams captivates the audience with her poetic words.















Redrock & Pearls

Black Diamond CEO and wilderness champion Peter Metcalf takes the stage.