Have you ever experienced complete silence? It’s exceedingly rare. In our daily lives, we’re constantly receiving input. Traffic noise is always in the background. Heating, cooling, electrical systems—these sounds are constant. We even hear music and commercials while we pump gas.
The first time I experienced complete silence was in the Southern Utah desert. It was profound. I was sitting outside in the Arches National Park campground. When a hawk flew overhead, I could hear its wings beating. That’s when I truly fell in love with the desert.
Utah’s redrock country is indescribable. Its five national parks, scattered across the southern part of the state, boast distinct and unique landscapes. The national monuments and state parks are equally stunning, but not nearly as well protected—although in these times even our national parks are at risk. These lands are sacred to many who live here, and to visitors from around the world. That is why Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) was formed in 1983.
According to their website, “SUWA is the only non-partisan, non-profit organization working full time to defend Utah’s redrock wilderness. Our power comes from people like you from across the nation who want to protect this irreplaceable heritage for all Americans.”
SUWA is run by redrock enthusiasts from all around the country. Twenty-five full-time staff members and hundreds of volunteers work to protect Utah’s unique landscapes. While their mission sounds simple, protecting Utah’s public lands—lands that belong to all of us—is a complicated, multi-pronged process.
SUWA’S Current Concerns
Here are a few of the more pressing issues SUWA is currently addressing, according to longtimeUtah public lands advocate Dave Pacheco, the organization’s Utah Grassroots Organizer:
- Emery County Lands Management Act. This bill, crafted by Orrin Hatch, R-UT, and John Curtis, R-UT, undermines protections for beloved wild lands such as the San Rafael Swell and Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons. SUWA aims to fight the passage of this bill through advocacy and education.
- Protecting wilderness-quality lands from oil and gas development.
- Protecting national monuments, including the recently reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. SUWA’s Monument Watch program employs the eyes and ears of people in the field to report when lands are being violated.
- Fighting Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) chaining projects. Chaining isan operation where two bulldozers are chained together and driven through juniper forests, mowing down the forests in the interest of “improving wildlife habitat,” although the actual effect of chaining is to increase grazing land. So far, SUWA has successfully negotiated with BLM to keep chaining out of Hamblin Valley, Utah.
- RS2477. This revised statute has been a part of SUWA’s agenda since the beginning. The statute defines wilderness areas as roadless areas of 5,000 acres or more. Seems simple enough, but defining what is and is not a road is subject to interpretation, depending on the beholder’s agenda. People and industries that have wanted to get around the statute have defined such things as cow paths and dry washes as “roads” in order designate the land as unworthy of wilderness designation. “We inventory the roads,” says Pacheco. “If it’s graded, it’s legitimate.”
SUWA’s full-time employees and volunteers share a common goal: to educate the public about the value of these lands and the threats they face, and to utilize on-the-ground protectors as well as legal experts to ensure the lands are protected for future generations to enjoy.
If you talk to anyone who frequents Utah’s redrock country, almost everyone has a story about when they first fell in love with the land. Pacheco says his family’s first trip to Lake Powell, when it was still filling up, as the first time he fell in love with Southern Utah. For me, it was experience true silence. If you love Utah’s redrock country, you can thank SUWA for keeping up the good fight to preserve these precious landscapes.
There are many ways to get involved:
You can sign up here to receive emails about SUWA’s current projects and to get involved.