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.

(more…)

Mathew Gross

Audubon: Area Around Canyonlands a “Globally Important Bird Area”

1:58 pm

The area around Canyonlands National Park has been identified as a “Globally Important Bird Area” by the National Audubon Society.ibabirdimage359_Max

As Mark Miller of the NPS says: “The Canyonlands area is known worldwide for its many recreational opportunities and expansive scenic views. This special recognition by the National Audubon Society now brings significant attention to the fact that this striking area also is tremendously important as habitat for a diversity of wildlife including Mexican spotted owls and a large number of other bird species.”

Another interesting fact? There’s only one other “Globally Important Bird Area” in Utah — in Zion National Park.

National Parks Traveler has more.

Mathew Gross

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

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

9:28 am

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 (blm_ut_vernal_comments@blm.gov) 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

 



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Redrock Wilderness Summer 2013 Highlights

6:35 am

Greater Canyonlands: Completing a Vision

Colorado River, Greater Canyonlands We launched a campaign to encourage President Barack Obama to designate a Greater Canyonlands National Monument; it has spread across the nation.  It began with SUWA members but now boasts the support of many other organizations and their members, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Grand Canyon Trust, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and more than 100 local and national businesses from the outdoor recreation industry.  Read more . . .

RS 2477 Litigation Update: Road Toll Rises

Kane County RS 2477 Claim (North Swag Route) Litigation over Utah’s right-of-way claims to roads across public lands is gathering steam.  Relying on a 19th Century law known as Revised Statute (RS) 2477, the state and rural counties are asserting claims covering 36,000 miles across the state.  If Utah and its rural counties succeed in this litigation they will shred wild Utah.  Faint two-track routes, present-day cow paths, and impassable desert routes could all become “highways.”  Read more . . .


BLM Okays Potash Drilling on Hatch Point

Hatch Point The Moab office of the BLM has approved a mining company’s proposal to drill four wells to explore potash deposits on Hatch Point, a scenic promontory that draws thousands of visitors every year.  The agency has acknowledged that its current management plan (rushed out the door in the last hours of the Bush administration) failed to correctly identify areas where oil, gas and potash development should occur.  Read more . . .

 

SUWA members receive our full Redrock Wilderness newsletter three times a year.  Click here to join today!

 

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