Newsletter Archive

Canyonlands National Park, May 2011                                      Mike Painter

June 2, 2011

Dear CalUWild friends —

Travel and the Memorial Day holiday conspired to delay the May Update, but here we are with the latest on a couple of ongoing topics. There are just a few items this month, making it relatively short. That just gives you more time to write a letter or make a call. Wilderness is not getting much support from the Administration these days (see Item 4), so it’s important that we who do care about it let our representatives know of our concern for wild places. But also let the Administration know. It might give them some resolve.

Summer is coming slowly to the West this year—rain continues and snow lingers in many areas. I hope you’ll be able to take some time soon` to get out and enjoy the places we are all working so hard to protect!

Thanks for all your efforts,

1.   Red Rock Wilderness Act Reintroduced
             (ACTION ITEM)
2.   Greater Canyonlands Campaign Begins
             (ACTION ITEM)
3.   Court Victory: Salt Creek NOT an RS 2477 Route

4.   Secretary Salazar Cancels His Wild Lands Policy
             (ACTION ITEM)

 5. Articles and reports of interest


1.   Red Rock Wilderness Act Reintroduced
             (ACTION ITEM)

America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act was re-introduced in both the House and Senate last month. The bill would designate as wilderness land managed by the Bureau of Land Management that “generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; and has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation,” in the words of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Although we do not expect this Congress, dominated in the House by anti-environment legislators, to pass the bill, it remains the benchmark against which protection efforts will continue to be measured.

In the House, the bill’s number is H.R. 1916. It currently has 68 cosponsors, including principal Sponsor Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and 15 are from California:

          Mike Thompson (D-01)
          Lynn Woolsey (D-06)
          George Miller (D-07)
          Jerry McNerney (D-11)
          Jackie Speier (D-12)
          Pete Stark (D-13)
          Mike Honda (D-15)
          Zoe Lofgren (D-16)
          Sam Farr (D-17)
          Lois Capps (D-23)
          Howard Berman (D-28)
          Adam Schiff (D-29)
          Laura Richardson (D-37)
          Grace Napolitano (D-38)
          Bob Filner (D-51)

Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-16) and Adam Schiff (D-29) are new since the last Update.

We’re still hoping to get the following representatives signed on:

          Doris Matsui (D-05)
          Barbara Lee (D-09)
          John Garamendi (D-10)
          Anna Eshoo (D-14)
          Brad Sherman (D-27)
          Henry Waxman (D-30)
          Xavier Becerra (D-31)
          Judy Chu (D-32)
          Karen Bass (D-33)
          Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-34)
          Maxine Waters (D-35)
          Jane Harman (D-36)
          Linda Sanchez (D-39)
          Loretta Sanchez (D-47)
          Susan Davis (D-53)

In the Senate—where there are six cosponsors, including principal sponsor Dick Durbin (D-IL)—the bill number is S. 979.  Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) is a cosponsor. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is not and is not likely to become one. It’s important for her to hear that people care about Utah, though.

If your representative is on either of these lists, please call or send a note of thanks or a request to cosponsor. Complete contact information may be found at and

2.   Greater Canyonlands Campaign Begins
             (ACTION ITEM)

Canyonlands National Park, west of Moab in southeastern Utah, is a spectacular place, with a variety of landscapes in its three main sections: Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. The confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers is its heart.

The Park does not sit in isolation, and its boundaries are really artificial, the result of political compromises made at the time of its establishment. It lies in the middle of a larger basin, surrounded by lands managed by the BLM and the Forest Service. These lands have no particular special protection, and therefore, impacts on them may have negative impacts on the Park itself. Among those impacts are oil & gas development, off-road vehicles, and the potential for tar sands development.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other members of the Utah Wilderness Coalition are embarking on a campaign to protect these lands surrounding the Park. As the first step, SUWA has petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to ban ORVs on 1,050 miles of routes designated by the BLM within the Greater Canyonlands region. Many of these routes were designated with no regard to their impacts on archaeological and other sensitive resources such as streams or riparian habitats.

You may view and download a copy of SUWA’s petition here.

SUWA has an online email generator that you may personalize and sign here.

Better yet, write your own letter of support to the Secretary in support of SUWA’s petition. Ask him to implement the recommendations in the petition for protection of the Greater Canyonlands submitted by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Make your letter personal, talking about what the landscape means to you, how often you’ve visited (or if you still hope to) and what you saw, including any damaged resources, etc. Send your letter to:

          Hon. Ken Salazar
          Secretary of the Interior
          U.S. Department of the Interior
          1849 C Street, NW
          Washington, DC  20240

We’ll keep you posted as the campaign continues.

3.   Court Victory: Salt Creek NOT an RS 2477 Route

Continuing the Canyonlands theme, there was good news for the Park last week, when a federal court in Utah ruled that San Juan County had not been able to prove “by clear and convincing evidence” that “continuous” vehicle travel by the public had taken place for the ten years necessary to establish a public highway, as required by Utah state law.

Salt Creek is the only perennial stream in Canyonlands National Park and contains important riparian habitat. The Park Service had closed it to vehicle traffic in 1998, but the County Sheriff opened the gates several times to force the issue. Finally the County sued the Department of the Interior, with support from the State of Utah.

You may view and download a copy of the clear and detailed 81-page ruling here.

The judge ordered the County and State to pay the costs of the suit. There has been no word on whether the County will appeal the ruling. But you can be sure that the R.S. 2477 battle will continue. Garfield County in Utah has filed a “notice of intent to sue” claiming more than 70 rights-of-way in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We’ll keep you posted.

4.   Secretary Salazar Cancels His Wild Lands Policy
             (ACTION ITEM)

Yesterday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar canceled his new Wild Lands policy, which he had announced only last December. It was a surprise move, but the announcement was couched in such neutral language that it’s not clear what the practical effect will be. (You may read the Secretary’s memo here.) However, from the standpoint of defending the principle of protection of wild places, the announcement is a major disappointment.

In the last funding bill, the Administration had agreed to a provision prohibiting the use for funds for implementing the new policy in 2011, so it’s possible that the announcement is a simple recognition and restatement of that fact, meant to reassure his critics. Secty. Salazar said nothing about what might happen after Fiscal Year 2011 is over.

One thing is clear: the Wild Lands Policy was controversial from the day the Secretary announced it. Anti-wilderness representatives in Congress mis-characterized it as an “end-run” around Congress’s sole authority to designate wilderness. In fact all the policy did was restate BLM’s authority under the Federal Land Policy & Management Act to inventory lands for wilderness characteristics and manage them to preserve those characteristics until Congress acts on their designation. And both Republican and Democratic administration had used this authority previously.

Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton unilaterally gave up that authority when she signed a settlement in 2003 with then-Governor Mike Leavitt of Utah settling a lawsuit over BLM inventories. The judge in the case ruled that the agreement was not binding on future administrations, so Secty. Salazar decided to reclaim the prerogative.

My feeling is that a good part of the problem was that rather than state that BLM simply would be going back to the way it had done things prior to the Norton-Leavitt settlement (inventories and wilderness study areas), Secty. Salazar invented the brand new designation of “Wild Lands,” which had no definition in the law. Given the polarized political situation in Washington right now, wilderness opponents were in no mood to listen to any rational explanation of the policy. The ironic thing is that these Wild Lands would have had less protection than the old WSAs—the new policy wasn’t even as strong as what the law originally provided for. That didn’t stop wilderness opponents from going ballistic, though, and their campaign against the policy started immediately.

We’ll have to see what happens, but the Administration will need every bit of encouragement possible, if we want it to move ahead with any enthusiasm. So it’s important that people let the Administration and Congress know that support for wilderness is widespread, and it is the federal government’s duty to protect wilderness.

Contact information for relevant officials:

          Hon. Ken Salazar
          Secretary of the Interior
          U.S. Department of the Interior
          1849 C Street, NW
          Washington, DC  20240


          Ms. Nancy Sutley
          Council on Environmental Quality
          360 Old Executive Office Building
          17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
          Washington, DC  20503


Contact information for the Senate and the House may be found at and

The announcement received widespread coverage in the press. To read some of it, click on the following links.

          New York Times

          Washington Post

          Salt Lake Tribune

          Los Angeles Times

 5. Articles and reports of interest

Parade magazine article and slideshow on the National Landscape Conservation System.

San Francisco Chronicle article looking at shifting political views over protecting the California Desert.

National Parks Conservation Association report on dams and how they affect parks along the Colorado River. Follow the links here.

New York Times writer on the plans to close California state parks.