Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Sen. Hatch Declares Herbert’s Land Grab Dead on Arrival

2:39 pm

Land Grab Billboard

Last Friday, Senator Orrin Hatch had some glum words for Utah legislators who support Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s quixotic wasteful attempts to get the federal government to hand over public lands to the state of Utah. Speaking before the Utah legislature:

Hatch told the Utah Legislature on Friday that its drive to gain control over public federal lands in the state isn’t likely to succeed anytime soon…

“We don’t have the votes right now, nor do we have support of the [Obama] administration” for the land-title transfer,” Hatch said in an annual appearance before the House. He added to the Senate, “I’m not sure how easy it would be with any administration.”

Yep. This crazy idea has been kicking around in the heads of certain Western ideologues since the Reagan and both Bush administrations — to no effect. But that hasn’t stopped Governor Gary Herbert from signing into law bills that continue to waste Utah taxpayer money on his pipe dream:

Two years ago, the Legislature enacted HB148 demanding control of most federal lands within the state — which it says was promised at statehood — but exempted all national parks and monuments except for Grand Staircase National Monument. Legislators expect the issue to land eventually in the courts.

HB 148 gave the United States government til the end of this year to hand over federal lands to the state of Utah. Yeah, so go ahead and mark that on your calendar.

The fact that such a transfer isn’t likely to happen — there’s the small matter of it being unconstitutional, as even the Governor’s own lawyers advised — hasn’t stopped the Utah legislature from doubling down on the dumb idea in this year’s legislative session:

Utah House Republicans spent their first caucus meeting of the 2014 Legislature rallying around the latest effort to take over the state’s federally controlled public lands.

“People say we can’t do it. Baloney. We can do it,” Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said…

After hearing from Noel and other members, the caucus voted unanimously to proceed with putting together a package of bills intended to make the case for the transfer of public lands….

RS2477 Ad

Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, told the caucus that’s probably going to mean a legal battle.

“No matter what happens, it’s very likely we’re going to be in court,” Stratton said, possibly all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oh yes, court. Governor Herbert and the Utah legislature love wasting taxpayer money to make an ideological point in the courtroom. Cf, e.g.: Governor Herbert continuing to pour millions of dollars into attorneys, analysts, GIS staff, etc. to push his 25+ R.S. 2477 lawsuits that seek to give the state the right to be able to punch thousands of miles of roads into the heart of Utah’s red rock wilderness.

It may not be a prudent use of taxpayer money — but it will prove a point, right?


Mathew Gross

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

Attend a Public Meeting on the Land Grab this Wednesday, Aug 14

9:51 am

Public Meeting: Can Utah Afford to Take Ownership of its Public Lands?

Wednesday, August 14, 1-3 pm
Auditorium of the State Office Building
Capitol Hill Complex, 350 North State Street

For anyone who loves Utah’s unspoiled landscapes, or who wants their tax dollars used responsibly, the obvious answer to the question above is a resounding “NO!”

So please, do what you can to attend and speak up at this meeting

This is a perfect opportunity to show that Utahns want our public lands left in public hands, not transferred to state ownership to exploit and destroy for short-term economic gain.

In 2013 the state legislature authorized a $450,000 study to analyze the economics of transferring 30 million acres of Utah’s publicly-owned federally-managed lands to the state.  This meeting invites citizens to speak with the team of economists completing the study.

Please attend Wednesday’s meeting if you can and speak out against the state’s effort to seize federal lands.

Here are some suggested points you could make:

  • State ownership of Utah’s federal lands would be an economic and environmental disaster.
  • The whole effort is an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars because the state’s own legal counsel declared that the land transfer law has “a high probability of being declared unconstitutional.”
  • State ownership would likely not make money for Utah.  Available info indicates the cost of managing federal lands is approximately equal to the additional revenue that the state might receive if it owned federal lands. (See * below.)
  • Proponents tout state ownership as a way to increase revenues by dramatically increasing dirty energy development (coal, oil and gas, oil shale, tar sands) and sidestepping federal regulations requiring consideration of environmental impacts and public comment.  This would devastate the unspoiled scenery, clean water and far-reaching vistas that now support Utah’s burgeoning outdoor recreation and tourism economies and attract new businesses and retirees to our state.
  • State ownership would exploit Utah’s unspoiled public lands for short-term economic gain, destroying lands Utahns hold precious and costing our children their natural heritage.

*The state of Utah’s Constitutional Defense Council’s “Report on Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act – HB 148” says that the US government spent $267 million on federal land management in Utah in 2011 and brought in $464 million.  However, revenue-sharing obligations required the federal government to give Utah $198 million of that revenue.  Thus, the federal government netted only $266 million – about the same as it paid to manage its lands.

Please spread the word about this meeting by sharing the event on Facebook.  Thanks, and we hope to see you at the meeting!


Terri Martin

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 ( 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



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