Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Robert Redford speaks up for Desolation Canyon

12:35 pm

In the Denver Post yesterday, Robert Redford wrote:

We have few places left that represent the raw beauty and the history of our American West like Desolation Canyon, in my home state of Utah.

It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968 for good reason. John Wesley Powell explored Desolation Canyon a century earlier, one of the last uncharted places in the lower 48 states. For thousands of years before that, the region was home to American Indian tribes including the Hopi, Fremont and Ute people. Their pictographs and petroglyphs still line the canyon walls; silent reminders linking us to the most fundamental roots of civilization.

Yet now, much of that is at risk.

The Interior Department is on the verge of approving a Denver company’s proposal to drill nearly 1,300 gas wells in northeast Utah.

Denver-based Gasco Energy wants to drill more than 200 of these wells in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness area alone. It wants to put more holes into the surrounding plateaus that until now have remained unthreatened for all of history.

Think about the consequences:

Scenic roads throughout the region would suddenly be clogged with diesel trucks and drilling equipment. Debris from drilling and construction of pipelines and service roads would threaten tributaries to the Green River. Sounds of drilling would replace the last vestiges of natural silence and would be heard at Sand Wash, the put-in for recreational river runners vital to Utah’s tourism industry. One of the most remote places in America would be despoiled.

Is this what we really want to do to our country? Certainly, it’s not what most Americans want.

Read the rest of his op-ed by clicking here.

Then, join Robert Redford’s call to protect Desolation Canyon by signing our petition and spreading the word!


Conservation Groups Applaud Signing of Greater Natural Buttes Record of Decision

3:42 pm


For Immediate Release: May 7, 2012

Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
Bobby McEnaney, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202.289.2429
Mark Clemens, Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, 801.467.9294 x.102

(Salt Lake City):  National and regional conservation groups applaud tomorrow’s planned signing of the Greater Natural Buttes Record of Decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.  The decision to allow the Anadarko Petroleum Corp., to drill some 3,500 natural gas wells in a heavily developed area in northeastern Utah, to be announced Tuesday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Tuesday, shows how competing interests can be balanced in a way that is a win-win for all sides.

“We appreciate Anadarko’s willingness to meet with us, listen to our concerns, and adjust its project to eliminate and mitigate impacts,” said Stephen Bloch, energy program director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  As a result, the company’s final proposal eliminated several locations in the White River proposed wilderness area.  In addition, Anadarko acquired private lands along the river corridor for conservation purposes and is taking other steps to mitigate or eliminate the sight and sound of development for families and river runners on the White River.  “These kinds of compromise agreements confirm that Utah can have a robust energy sector while at the same time protect its wildest public lands.”

The Interior Department’s approval of the Greater Natural Buttes project stands in stark contrast with its support for the controversial Gasco natural gas project.  That project, which has been heavily criticized by conservation groups and in the New York Times, Akron Beacon-Journal, and Salt Lake Tribune, would permit Gasco Energy, Inc. to drill more than 200 new natural gas wells in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness, an area recognized by the Interior Department and conservationists as being wilderness caliber. (,,

“The Interior Department’s apparent willingness to support Gasco’s project and its devastating impacts on the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness is bewildering,” said the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Bobby McEnaney.  “Rather than follow in the footsteps of several recent compromise agreements between conservation groups, the oil and gas industry and state and federal agencies, the Interior Department is turning its back on this type of collaborative approach.  That’s just not acceptable.”

“There’s a stark contrast between the landmark Anadarko deal and the Gasco proposal.  Hundreds of new wells, as proposed by Gasco and supported by the Interior Department, in rich habitat for elk, antelope and gamebirds, and within the sight and sound of the river would spoil opportunities for hunting, wildlife viewing, and river rafting,” said Mark Clemens with the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club.


Steve Bloch

Has Obama caught monument fever?

1:41 pm

Here’s what is happening this month with the redrock:
1.  Support for protecting Desolation Canyon spreads nationwide.
2.  Today Fort Ord, can Greater Canyonlands be next?
3.  House continues its war on wilderness.
4.  Attend events in Moab and Boulder, CO to celebrate Greater Canyonlands!

Drumbeat continues against Desolation Canyon drilling proposal

Last month, we told you about the Interior Department’s ill-conceived plan to allow Gasco to drill over 200 natural gas wells in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness.

This photo is of Desolation Canyon – at the Sand Wash airstrip looking north to the Sand Wash put-in. Drilling of gas wells proposed by the Obama administration could be seen and heard from this site.

Since then, voices from across the country have stood up and urged Interior to instead adopt an alternative proposal that would spare Desolation Canyon’s wild lands from the impacts of energy development.

In the past month, the Salt Lake Tribune has not once, but twice declared that this is not the way to do things.  The New York Times also editorialized against this boondoggle. The Akron Beacon-Journal in northeast Ohio joined in on the criticism of the project.

Additionally, six public lands champions in Congress sent the Obama administration a letter asking Interior to fix the Desolation Canyon drilling plan.

But most importantly,YOU have taken action against drilling in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness, sending almost 20,000 messages to the Obama administration so far through action alerts and petition signatures.

Let’s keep up the drumbeat! While the initial “waiting period” for the final decision on this proposal ended on April 16, the BLM hasn’t issued its ‘record of decision’ for the Gasco project and can still change its mind about which alternative to adopt.

You can help spread the word by sharing our petition throughout your social networks — tell your friends to also take action to protect Desolation Canyon!

Obama declares second national monument – what will be next?

Today, Friday, April 20, President Obama designated the second national monument of his first term by protecting Fort Ord in California.  Has he caught a serious case of monument fever?

Colorado College students are wild about protecting Greater Canyonlands!

That has yet to be determined, but Greater Canyonlands supporters across the country sure have.  From participating in our Facebook campaign to waving “President Obama: Protect Greater Canyonlands” signs at events, redrock activists are going wild about protecting Greater Canyonlands.

Last week, college students from Colorado College donned bright yellow and black “Tell President Obama: Protect Greater Canyonlands” t-shirts when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited campus.  Elsewhere around Colorado, college students have been busy collecting postcards and Facebook messages in support of the campaign.  And local organizations in Moab are planning to celebrate Greater Canyonlands as part of their Earth Day celebration.

Want to help convince President Obama to make Greater Canyonlands the next national monument? Here’s how:

1) “Like” the Protect Greater Canyonlands Facebook page and invite friends to “like” the page as well.

2) Send a photo message to President Obama and use it to spread the word about protecting Greater Canyonlands.  Visit our Facebook app or to get started.  You’ll also be entered to win a prize in a monthly drawing — a Petzl headlamp is the prize for May!

3) Send President Obama an email message by clicking here.

4) Visit to find out other ways that you can amplify your message to President Obama.

Angling to chip away at conservation, House passes flawed “hunting” bill

This week the House of Representatives passed a deeply flawed “hunting” bill, H.R. 4099, chipping away wilderness and Wilderness Study Area protections, and watering down the President’s authority to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act.

The latter occurred when the House passed an amendment requiring national monument designations to be approved by the state legislatures and governor of the host state. Had such provisions been in effect previously, national treasures like Arches, Bryce and Zion National Parks, and the Grand Tetons National Park would not have been protected by the short-sighted Utah and Wyoming legislatures of the time.

And though it was ostensibly about guaranteeing hunting and fishing rights on federal land (rights which are already robustly protected, and which we support), the effective language of the bill raised concern it would allow commercial development and motorized use in areas managed as wilderness if those activities could be justified by hunting or fishing. An amendment to clarify such activities would not be allowed failed, indicating that indeed, the intent was chip away at habitats—not protect hunters.

It’s now up to the Senate to keep this bad bill language—which guts the Antiquities Act and tramples wilderness—off of the President’s desk.

Celebrate Greater Canyonlands in Moab, UT and Boulder, CO!

Planning to be in southeastern Utah tomorrow, Saturday, April 21?  Don’t miss the 1st Annual Moab Earth Day Bazaar: An Ode to Greater Canyonlands! This free event starts at 11 a.m. at Swanny Park.  Click here for more information.

Next month, renowned climbers Lynn Hill and Steve “Crusher” Bartlett will talk about the Greater Canyonlands region as a resource for climbers and a place worthy of protection at Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, CO on May 17.  More info coming soon!  Email Jackie at with questions.

Sign the petition to protect Greater Canyonlands


Last Week to Help Save Desolation Canyon!

4:20 pm
Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness
These badlands near Sand Wash in Desolation Canyon
will be littered with well pads and roads if the Gasco
Project is approved as is.  Photo courtesy of Bruce


This is the last week to tell the Obama Administration to protect Desolation Canyon before it releases its decision on the potentially disastrous Gasco project.

Remember, this is the project that places at risk one of the lower 48’s largest unprotected roadless areas.  The Bureau of Land Management’s current preferred alternative for this project would locate more than 200 wells inside of proposed wilderness surrounding Desolation Canyon.  This destruction is needless, as the agency could instead select “Alternative E” and eliminate all wells inside of proposed wilderness while still allowing Gasco to drill over 1,100 wells.

Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of SUWA members and supporters, people are starting to take notice of this misguided project and the harm it could cause.  Even the New York Times editorialized last week against this boondoggle.  The Salt Lake Tribune has not once, but twice declared that this is not the way to do things.

Your voice makes a difference.  Please take this opportunity to chime in and point the Obama administration in the right direction.

The BLM has announced that it plans to finalize its decision on the Gasco project after the close of a thirty-day waiting period, which ends on Monday, April 16.  Please let Interior Secretary Ken Salazar know before then that you expect him to make the right decision and protect Desolation Canyon by selecting Alternative E.

While you are at it, make sure to sign our petition and tell your friends to take action to protect Desolation Canyon.

Looking southeast from a bench off the Wrinkle Road — a Gasco well would be drilled in this approximate area under Alternative F.

Looking into Nine Mile Canyon (Nine Mile Creek) from the Sand Wash airstrip (no proposed wells visible, though drilling of proposed wells could be seen/heard from this location).

Sand Wash airstrip looking north to the Sand Wash put-in (no proposed wells visible, though drilling of proposed wells could be seen/heard from this location).

Looking north/northwest from the Sand Wash airstrip (Sand Wash road leading to the river put-in below).  Wells would be drilled atop the Bad Land cliffs (background) and on the western (left) edge of the Wrinkle Road in the photo.

Sand Wash airstrip looking west/northwest into the Gasco project area. Wells would be located on the top of the Bad Land Cliffs in the background and along the intermediate bench (Wrinkle Road).

Looking east from a bench off the Wrinkle Road — a proposed well would be drilled in this approximate location under Alternative F.

David Garbett

Six members of Congress ask the Obama administration to fix Desolation Canyon drilling plan

7:54 am

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) just issued the following press release:

Hinchey Leads Coalition to Protect Utah’s Desolation Canyon from Irresponsible Drilling Plan

Letter to Interior Secretary Salazar Urges More Responsible Alternative

Washington, DC - Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) this week sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar opposing a drilling plan in northeastern Utah that would devastate Desolation Canyon, a nationally important wilderness area that is home to spectacular, but sensitive, landscapes. The letter signed by several other key House Democrats, including Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Jim Moran (D-VA), Rush Holt (D-NJ), and Diana DeGette (D-CO), urged the adoption of an alternative plan that would allow the vast majority of drilling activity to move forward, while protecting important wilderness areas.

“The wild public lands of Desolation Canyon are a national treasure that belong to the American people and should be protected for generations to come,” said Hinchey. “What we are asking for is that 1,100 wells be drilled instead of 1,300. By making this modest adjustment we can preserve Desolation Canyon and the surrounding wilderness areas. What took millions of years for nature to create should not be destroyed by an irresponsible decision at the Department of the Interior. I am hopeful Secretary Salazar will make the right decision and protect the wild lands of Desolation Canyon.”

Multiple drilling scenarios were examined in a recently released Bureau of Land Management environmental impact statement. The preferred alternative of BLM would allow approximately 1,300 wells to be drilled, disturbing 9,466 Wilderness acres. The plan endorsed by Hinchey and his colleagues would allow 1,100 wells to be drilled without any significant disturbance to wilderness acres.

The full text of the pdf letter follows:

Honorable Ken Salazar
United States Department of the Interior
1849 C St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20005

Dear Mr. Secretary,

We are writing to you to express our concern over the effects on wilderness of the preferred alternative identified in the recently released Gasco final environmental impact statement. Under the Department’s current preferred alternative for this project, a substantial portion of the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness – an area the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and conservation groups agree is a wilderness caliber landscape –could be devastated. This iconic western landscape is a key component of H.R. 1916, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, a piece of legislation we have long championed and that enjoys substantial support in the Congress. Protecting this area is a matter of preeminent importance to us.

Though the BLM recognizes that Desolation Canyon is a wilderness resource, the area is managed under a significantly flawed plan finalized in the last administration and those values are not being upheld. You, Deputy Secretary Hayes and Director Abbey have all stated publicly that the decisions made in the Vernal resource management plan regarding wilderness – made without the benefit of any wilderness guidance whatsoever – should not be the final word on how to manage this critical resource. “Alternative E” would protect the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness while still allowing significant natural gas development. According to the BLM, under “Alternative E,” the company would drill 1,114 new natural gas wells, compared with 1,298 under the agency’s preferred alternative. Therefore, we urge you to select “Alternative E” for the Gasco project, which will better balance the need to protect these special areas while allowing for the responsible development of our natural gas resources.

In its comments on the draft environmental impact statement, the Environmental Protection Agency urged the BLM to adopt Alternative E because it would allow the company to aggressively develop its leases while minimizing the project’s footprint. Alternative E is also the choice of Utah’s important outdoor recreation industry, conservation organizations, and thousands of Americans, including many of our constituents.

Most importantly, Alternative E is consistent with the President’s commitment to develop our nation’s natural gas resources in a way that does not sacrifice clean air, clean water, or our wild public lands. We fully support that commitment which is best embodied by this win-win alternative.


Maurice D. Hinchey

Ed Markey

Raul Grijalva

Jim Moran

Rush Holt

Diana DeGette


Here at SUWA, we’re thrilled to see these Congressional champs holding the Department of Interior accountable to improve this flawed plan to drill the spectacular Desolation Canyon wilderness, and we thank them for their leadership on this issue. If you haven’t signed the petition to encourage a more responsible drilling alternative, please sign it here.