Newsletter Archive

Abajo Mountains, Utah                                                                                                            Mike Painter

New Year’s Eve, 2011

Dear CalUWild friends —

Another year is past, and it’s a natural time to reflect on the past and to look forward as well. Since there are not many news or action items this month, I thought I would offer a few thoughts about wilderness, our work, and our organizational needs.

The writer Edward Abbey said: “The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders.” That may have been true when he said it first, but the truth is that the idea of wilderness needs some defense these days. There are those who have always seen the public domain as a resource to be exploited for economic gain. I suppose we will always have people whose vision is so limited. On the other hand there are people who are generally concerned about environmental issues in general, but see wilderness as merely a human construct or an elitist concept and, therefore, not something to be strongly protected.

It doesn’t matter that wilderness is a human designation; what is important is whether it serves a purpose. I don’t think there is any denying that it does. Two items came across my desk this month that I think are worth sharing. The first concerns wildlife; the second, the realm of the human spirit.

For the first time since 1924, there is a wild gray wolf in California. Earlier this week he crossed into Sikiyou County from Oregon, where he has been wandering since leaving his pack in Oregon (which in turn had migrated there from Idaho). Without wild places across the West, it is much less likely that he would have made it to California. It remains to be seen whether he stays or not, and of course he needs a mate if a population is to establish itself in the state. But the importance of wilderness as a place where natural processes can be re-established or continue without human interference cannot be overstated.

Here is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle about the wolf’s return as well as the announcement from the Department of Fish & Game.

On the human front, I’ve occasionally written about Tim DeChristopher, the young man who disrupted the BLM’s oil & gas lease sale in December of 2008 to protest the destruction of wilderness and the contribution of those energy sources to climate change. He’s now in a prison in California, serving a two-year term. The writer Terry Tempest Williams, who is also a member of CalUWild’s Advisory Board, talked with him recently, and their conversation was published in Orion Magazine. In this excerpt, DeChristopher talks about wilderness:

I spent eight days alone there. And it was a really powerful experience that led to my formation as an individual. I mean, it was the first time that I ever experienced myself without any other influences. Without any cultural influences, any influences from other people. And it was terrifying to experience that—I mean I really thought I was actually going crazy at that point. But it allowed me to develop that individual identity of who I was without anyone else around.

You know, when you spend all your time in a little room, you feel very big and very important, and everything that happens to you is a big deal. And when you’re out in the desert, you see that you’re really small. And that’s a very liberating sense—of being very small. Every little thing that happens to you isn’t that big a deal. Going to prison for a few years—it’s not that big a deal. …

[Wilderness is] a place where people can think freely. Tyranny can never be complete as long as there’s wilderness.

You can read the complete conversation here.

As we move forward into 2012, it’s worth reflecting a bit on how we got here. CalUWild was founded in 1997 in response to the designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It was a volunteer organization at first, but it soon became clear that there was much more that needed to be done at the grassroots level in California to protect wilderness in the West than could be done on a part-time, volunteer basis. So we formalized the organization a bit and expanded our scope, becoming a clearinghouse for information for interested and concerned citizens on issues all around the West, not just in Utah.

Membership has been open to anyone, from any state, interested in wilderness and public lands. From the beginning, the only membership requirement has been to write one letter a month to someone about something. Individual letters carry the most weight, especially with elected officials, so our philosophy has always been that we want people to have accurate and relevant information that they can use. Our Monthly Update goes out to close to 800 people on our own list, including Congressional and various agency staff people. In addition, it gets forwarded to a couple of other lists, bring the total number of recipients to over 1,200. We’ve come a long way.

From the beginning we’ve run a personalized organization, where every member counts, where every email is responded to (though not always immediately), where everyone is encouraged to ask questions and to offer critiques and suggestions. And we incorporate that feedback as appropriate.

Unlike other organizations, dues have never been mandatory. Because we do most of our communications via email, it costs virtually nothing to add names to the distribution list. We have always felt it was more important to have people involved, whether they contributed financially or not. So we’ve operated with the hope that finances would take care of themselves. Lately that has not been the case, especially since foundation support has dropped substantially.

Unfortunately, expenses have not dropped. We still need to pay the monthly phone bill, web-hosting and email expenses, toner cartridges and paper, postage, occasional travel, health insurance, and a modest salary for me. We are careful stewards of the funding we receive, not wasting it on direct mail appeals or unnecessary expenses. We have volunteers who help with research and website development. We run a pretty tight ship.

Though we are looking at other sources funding support, if we are to continue at this same level, we will need much more support from our members in the future. Many people have been faithful contributors, and we appreciate their ongoing support. If you haven’t contributed yet, please do consider a gift. Any size is welcome. We promise not to waste it. A form is appended to the end of this Update to send in with your donation.

One specific item that needs to be funded is access to the New York Times. In 2011, the Times instituted a subscription fee for online reading. We were given a complimentary subscription by one of the Times’s advertisers, but that expired today. An online subscription costs $15 every 4 weeks, but is free to print subscribers. If anyone would be willing to help figure out a way that we could continue access, please send me an email.

CalUWild has a strong and dedicated membership. You continue to make a difference with your advocacy for the wild places of the West. We look forward to working with you in 2012.

Happy New Year!

1.   BLM Issues EIS for Coal Mine Expansion
          Near Bryce Canyon National Park
          Comments Needed
          DEADLINE: January 6, 2012
           (ACTION ITEM)
2.   Utah to Sue Federal Government Over More Roads

3.   State Park Closure Update

4.   BLM Removes Grazing from Western Ecosystem Studies
5.   Wilderness Volunteers Service Trips for 2012

6.   Links to Articles of Interest


1.   BLM Issues EIS for Coal Mine Expansion
          Near Bryce Canyon National Park
          Comments Needed
          DEADLINE: January 6, 2012
           (ACTION ITEM)

The Kanab Field Office of the BLM is considering a proposal to enlarge the Alton coal strip mine on the outskirts of Bryce Canyon National Park in southwestern Utah. The original mine is on private land, but the company is now asking to lease public land so it can expand its operations.

BLM released a Draft EIS for the project, and the comment deadline is the close of business on Friday, January 6. Sorry for the short notice.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Sierra Club are leading the fight against this expansion. Please write the BLM and ask them to approve the No Action Alternative (Alt. A).

Here are some talking points for comments. Please use your own words. And if you have visited the area, please be sure to include comments about your experiences. Also: Please include “Alton Coal Lease Environmental Impact Statement” in your correspondence.

— Bryce Canyon has unique and special characteristics: very dark night skies and very clean air. Both are threatened by the proposal. The mining operations would produce light pollution, interfering with the unique opportunities the park affords for stargazing. The mine would also produce dust, further diminishing visibility and polluting the air.

— 50 trucks daily would transport coal on U.S. Highway 89, which is a designated scenic by-way. This is the road that most visitors to Bryce Canyon travel to get there, and it leads to Zion National Park as well. This amount of truck traffic will ruin this experience for visitors to the parks.

— Tourism is the driving force now behind the local economy. Industrial operations of scale no longer have a place.

— BLM should not be promoting coal any more as a power source because of its contribution to greenhouse gases. And mercury emissions from coal-fired plants are a serious problem.

You may read or download a copy of the  DEIS here.

Written comments may be submitted by e-mail to

or by U.S. Mail to:

          Attention: Keith Rigtrup
          Bureau of Land Management
          Kanab Field Office
          319 North 100 East
          Kanab, UT  84741

About half of the power produced by the generating plant receiving the Alton coal is sent to Los Angeles. Residents of LA should also contact their City Council members and the LA Department of Water & Power opposing the use of coal-generated power in the city.

2.   Utah to Sue Federal Government Over More Roads

Last month we reported on efforts by Kane and Garfield Counties to claim more roads. This month, Governor Gary Herbert of Utah announced that the state would sue the United States to gain title to nearly 19,000 roads all across federal lands in the state. The state is claiming them under the defunct R.S. 2477, a Civil War-era statue granting the right of way for the construction of highways across public land. The law was repealed in 1976, but existing rights-of-way were grandfathered in.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that of 18,784 routes named, 16,594 are considered Class D roads, meaning that they are dirt tracks that exist because of repeated use, rather than being purposely constructed. So it remains to be seen whether a court would recognize them as being “highways.”

We have reported previously on the attempt by San Juan County to open up Salt Creek in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The effort has been unsuccessful so far because the county has been unable to prove that the route there was constructed and maintained for long enough to qualify as a road under Utah law.

The state would have to show the same for each of the routes it is claiming, likely costing millions of dollars.

We’ll keep you posted as the cases develop.

3.   State Park Closure Update

Here are a couple of quick items relating to the State Park crisis in California:

1.   Mono Lake State Tufa Reserve was removed from the closure list when the Bodie Foundation stepped in to help with funding and operations of some of the sites in the Reserve. Congratulations to all who helped create the solution!

2.   Tom Stienstra, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Outdoors columnist, reported that even if facilities at state parks are closed, most of the parks will still be accessible to hikers and bikers. They just might have to climb over a locked gate.

That is a big step in assuring that the public won’t be completely shut out from public lands in the state. Visitors will have to be aware beforehand, though, that they won’t find visitor centers, restrooms, and other facilities that they might otherwise expect to be open. They will need to be more responsible about carrying out their own trash and otherwise being good stewards of their public parks.

You can read the full column here.

4.   BLM Removes Grazing from Western Ecosystem Studies

The Bureau of Land Management is undertaking studies of the forces that are causing changes in Western ecosystems. Strangely (or not, given the Bureau’s history), it decided to eliminate grazing as one of the factors influencing change. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has filed a scientific integrity complaint with the BLM over the issue, claiming that political pressure was behind the decision.

It is widely accepted that grazing on public lands in the West has had large impacts on the environment, affecting soils, vegetation, water quality, and wildlife populations. One wonders how grazing could be purposely left out of any such large-scale study of the West. This action by BLM is extremely disappointing—doubly so because this administration promised to base decisions on science rather than ideology and politics.

For more details, read the New York Times report on the controversy in its Green Blog, The Impact of Grazing? Don’t Ask. You can also read the press release from PEER here. That page also contains links to PEER’s complaint, as well as other documents and information.

5.   Wilderness Volunteers Service Trips for 2012

Every year we include at least one item for service trips run by our friends at Wilderness Volunteers, a 15 year-old national wilderness stewardship organization providing opportunities to spend a week in a favorite place “Giving Something Back.” In cooperation with public land managers, Wilderness Volunteers actively promotes one-week service projects that would otherwise go undone (trail maintenance, invasive plant control, rehabilitation & restoration) requiring groups of volunteers. In 2012, Wilderness Volunteers is hosting 51 low-cost service projects in 19 states across the country. Check out their project list and take advantage of this fun and worthy wilderness experience!

6.   Links to Articles of Interest

National Parks Traveler

          National Park Visits Help Grow Utah’s Tourism Industry By Nearly 5 Percent In 2010

          Economists, Academics Urge President Obama To Protect Public Lands, Create New National Parks

San Francisco Chronicle

          Hiking in grizzly country – or not, by John Flinn, former Travel Editor



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