Andersen: Utah wages war against nature

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

In Mormon mythology, Brigham Young stood on a high vantage overlooking the Great Salt Lake and proclaimed, “This is the place!” His words reflected a divine vision, the reverberations of which echo today with a haunting refrain.

The Mormon stronghold has grown since Young’s proclamation. It now includes most of the state of Utah, where zealots have laid claim — or hope to — on a vast expanse of Western lands that millions of Americans cherish as a national asset.

Here a land battle rages with harsh words against protecting landscapes millions of years in the making: “We’re not taking no more cuts on the mountain.” “There will be bloodshed.” “If anyone here likes the Antiquities Act the way it is written, die, I mean stupidity out of the gene pool.”

Utah land-grabbers want to privatize huge swaths of public property and offer it up to the highest bidders of extractive industries and grazing allotments and, especially, to encourage motorized proliferation of all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and off-road vehicles of every stripe.

If you appreciate hiking the Canyonlands and the desert mountain ranges jutting from high mesas and floating the deep gorges of wild and scenic river courses winding through wilderness, then you won’t like what the Utah Legislature and various rural Utah counties are trying to do to heritage landscapes that are technically owned by all Americans.

If not for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, some of the most glorious wilderness landscapes in the world, as seen in Southeast Utah, would be marginalized by mechanical industrial overkill. That group is the salvation of these sacred lands known as the Red Rock Wilderness.

Fighting the good fight in Utah for the sake of the land and for the legacy of the American West defines the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s mission. It is boldly and bravely taking on the entrenched status quo with conservation-minded activists and attorneys who are attempting to thwart what amounts to a war against nature.

If you’ve ever witnessed the murky air pollution that often smothers Salt Lake City, you have seen the laissez-faire approach to industry and air quality in Utah. That same attitude when imposed upon the land reveals itself in the form of rampant development and unbridled motorized recreation.

At risk is the profound silence of the desert, where natural wonders soothe the eye, the mind and the soul. At risk are rare artifacts evincing ancient peoples who left signs of their cultures in hidden alcoves and remote recesses. At risk are delicate ecosystems that allow desert bioregions to thrive with life and diversity. At risk are public lands held in public trust for future generations.

“Doesn’t the present owe the future and chance to know the past?” asked Rod Nash, author of “Wilderness and the American Mind.” Right now that can only happen as long as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is there, defending the Red Rock Wilderness from the plunder of ignorance and greed.

A so-called wilderness bill recently drafted by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) threw the alliance under the bus after a long and seemingly fruitful series of negotiated compromises between their opposing camps. The alliance calls Bishop’s proposal “the worst wilderness bill we’ve faced … in three decades.”

Not only does the bill seek to parcel off public land for industrial uses; it obviates the proposed Bears Ears Wilderness, a collaborative conservation effort of Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Northern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute people — the true natives of Utah.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is standing guard over millions of pristine acres despite threats and hostilities that have made their leadership and staff targets. Utah has become more and more divided, and while the contest may eventually tip toward conservation, legal defenses are essential to staving off irreversible destruction of wilderness-quality lands.

If you love the wild desert, then you will love the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance for its steadfast commitment to conservation, for its powerhouse legal team, for its dedicated field staff and ultimately for its stalwart supporters.

Giving support to the alliance in this ongoing, pitched battle is like an insurance policy against destructive forces trying to deface inspiring desert landscapes. Go to its website and give at ​​ ​

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays when he’s not hiking the high slickrock and remote canyons of Utah. He can be reached at