Paul Andersen: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance kicks butt for state’s wildlife |

Paul Andersen: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance kicks butt for state’s wildlife

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

The redrock country of Southeastern Utah is sacred land. Sinuous canyons slice through eroded sediments of an ancient, miles-deep sea bed of layered sandstones and limestones.

Where an inland sea once spread from Mexico to Canada, a great uplift drained it off. The artful sculpting that remains is where a growing community of desert aficionados stride as mendicants amid the divine glories of nature.

Geology provides a palpable dimension of time to these canyons, and yet there is a timelessness here that is both humbling and grand. Walking this land is a walk through epochs so ancient it staggers the imagination.

Some would disfigure this natural sacredness for a nickel worth of profit. Thanks to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the plunderers are being held at bay. The profound beauty and deep silence — the inner stillness — remains sacrosanct.

U.S. Congress recently protected 663,000 acres of redrock desert landscapes that have been saved from the iron glacier of capitalism. A vast region of our natural treasure and our national heritage has been conserved for today and for future generations.

SUWA has long been waging an uphill battle against an entrenched Mormon mindset that defines the politics of the state, or used to. New blood is coming into the Beehive State that is slowly and tectonically shifting views on motorless recreation and conservation, which go hand-in-hand.

“In 1983,” reflects SUWA Executive Director Scott Groene, “when SUWA was born around a kitchen table in Boulder, Utah, the rallying cry of Utah politicians was ‘not one more acre of wilderness!’ It was a war cry, but it also seemed to take on elements of a quasi-occult incantation meant to ward off something — the inevitable, perhaps.

“In the face of this virulent anti-wilderness fervor, SUWA and the Utah Wilderness Coalition articulated a remarkable vision to protect 5.1 million acres of redrock wilderness. Utah’s political establishment dismissed our proposal as a pie-in-the-sky joke.”

The joke is on the Utah political machine that has until now held sway with Congress and the Utah state Legislature, which has spilled over into the Bureau of Land Management and conservative Utah counties. That spell may now be broken.

“Politicians come and go,” Groene acknowledges. “Wilderness remains and so do we. Our antagonists find the movement to protect the redrock abrasive. It is quite literally that, wearing down our opponents much as water shapes the slickrock — unceasing and relentless, if at times imperceptible.”

We who live in the mountains share a common bond with our desert brethren. We seek warmth and beauty in the deserts. They seek respite from summer heat amid lofty peaks in the mountains. Our goals are the same — to protect the lands that give meaning to our lives and a promise to the future.

Wilderness Workshop, born around a kitchen table in Aspen and now based in Carbondale, is in the same league as SUWA. WW is striving to protect existing wilderness and secure wilderness values for endangered lands like Thompson Divide.

Support for these embattled organizations is critical to endorsing their missions, and there is a huge spinoff of benefits of which most Americans are not even aware. Foremost is the life force required for healing our beleaguered culture.

I know this as a vital part of my life as I take troubled veterans of our military industrial establishment into nature for healing opportunities through Huts for Vets. We, too, were formed around a kitchen table, up the Fryingpan Valley, seven years ago.

Veterans who sustain moral injuries, for which there is no pill to erase the deep trauma of service, find comfort in wild places.

“This is what I fought for,” said an Iraq War veteran last week on a Huts for Vets trip to the Canyonlands of Utah.

We were hiking through a majestic slickrock amphitheater under a brilliant sun and deep blue sky. This man had been a sniper in Iraq. He had taken lives with the squeeze of a trigger. Wilderness, he says, gives him life sustenance.

Long live kitchen tables! They are the seedbeds for crucial, long-term action that saves land and saves lives.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at