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Bears Ears Alternative Moves Into House of Representatives as Opponents Cry Land Grab

bears_ears_sunset-tim_peterson

The Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, touted as an alternative to granting National Monument status to 1.9 million acres in Utah, does not include the two sacred peaks that give the region its name. Photo by Tim Peterson

A congressional bill touted as an alternative to the Bears Ears proposal, an intertribal request to designate nearly two million acres of land as a national monument in southeast Utah, is moving forward to the full House of Representatives.

The Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, H.R. 5780, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) passed 21–13 in the Republican-majority House Natural Resources Committee on September 22.

Committee Democrats, including ranking member Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, expressed several concerns with the bill, saying it did not contain a tribal consultation component or protect half a million acres identified by the tribes in their larger Bears Ears designation request.

Grijalva offered an amendment that would remove the Bears Ears National Conservation and the Indian Creek Wilderness areas from the bill. The Public Land Initiative designates about 1.4 million acres of federal land for “conservation and recreation,” according to a media release from the bill’s sponsors, as well as “exchanges and consolidates certain federal and non-federal land; and provides for economic development within the State of Utah.” Opponents say the measure would open the land to natural-resources development and give a fair amount away to unspecified private interests.

Committee Republicans rejected a total of six amendments from Democrats, including one by California Rep. Raul Ruiz that would have protected land, water, roads or other resources within the Uintah and Ouray Ute Reservation. Calling H.R. 5780 “legislation that tramples over sovereignty and self-determination” and “a modern-day Indian land grab,” Ruiz said the Ute tribe was denied an opportunity to present their concerns to the committee in a formal hearing and that the bill was fast-tracked to avoid a hearing in the Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs (IIANA) Subcommittee, where Ruiz is a ranking member.

“Without a hearing in the IIANA subcommittee we’re not able to fully discuss the true status of these lands within the Ute Indian Tribe’s reservation,” Ruiz said. “H.R. 5780 would be the first bill to take away these lands from these tribes. Attempting to justify taking away these lands based on misleading questions raised at the federal land subcommittee hearing last week is wrong and glazes over the disastrous impact on the tribe’s reservation and impact on federal Indian policy.”

Located in northeastern Utah, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation—made up of the Whiteriver, Uncompahgre and Uintah bands—is rich in oil and gas deposits. The Bureau of Land Management currently oversees land and minerals for sections of tribal land, but Ute officials, citing that the issue of ownership has been settled by past litigation, affirmed the BLM-managed land lies within its boundaries and say the land should have been placed under trust through the Indian Reorganization Act. The tribe opposes the bill, stating it “proposes to take Indian lands and resources to fix Utah’s problems.”

Democrats during the hearing continually referred to opposition from area tribes, including the bill’s exclusion of 500,000 acres of the Bears Ears region named after two 9,000-foot twin buttes, an area residents say is sacred and contains more than 100,000 archeological sites.

RELATED: Bears Ears 1.9 Million–Acre Monument Would Be Unique Tribal-Federal Collaboration

California Republican Tim McClintock said the movement to protect Bears Ears came from outside the Four Corners area, and several tribes in the area have supported the Public Lands Initiative (PLI), including a single elected Navajo official, Republican San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally.

“The testimony that we received from the county commissioner called the claim of the Native American support for the Bears Ears monument campaign a sham,” McClintock said. “She says, ‘I’m here to help you unmask it.’ She did. I’m sorry she didn’t have more sway.”

Ruiz took issue with the characterization of Benally as a spokesperson for the entire Navajo Nation and reminded McClintock about tribal sovereignty.

“First of all, saying that one woman, this Navajo woman acting as a commissioner, using her as a token spokesperson for her tribal nation, that is wrong and not right,” Ruiz said. “The Navajo Nation under their president and their council opposes this land grab and are in solidarity with the Ute Nation. It’s their land; they can decide what to do with their land.”

The Navajo Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Uintah and Ouray Ute Indian Tribe and the Hopi and Zuñi Pueblos support the monument proposal, and created the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition last year after failed attempts to work with Utah representatives.

RELATED: Bears Ears Coalition Splits From ‘Disrespectful’ Congressional Reps

The coalition formally asked President Obama to designate 1.9 million acres in the area as a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the President signing power to create such monuments on federal lands.

RELATED: Tribes Ask President Obama to Designate Bears Ears as National Monument

During a press tour of the region in July, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the President plans to make a decision on the issue before the end of his term.

RELATED: Sally Jewell Visits Bears Ears, Says Obama Will Decide on National Monument Before Leaving Office

The issue has deeply divided the Four Corners community. The day before the House Natural Resources hearing a group of Utah Navajos during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol opposed the monument, saying a monument designation would interfere with Bears Ears access and their traditional way of life. Six of seven Navajo communities in Utah have passed resolutions supporting a monument.

Standing with Utah lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert, Navajo resident Susie Philemon made a direct plea to the President, “Please do not take this land from us. Please don’t break more promises not again,” according to the Associated Press.

In a video posted on the day of the Natural Resources meeting, Rep. Bishop, who is committee chairman, said the Public Lands Initiative is a compromise after 1,200 meetings, 50 field trips, and public and private hearings.

“There has been no bill before Congress that has had this kind of transparency and this kind of scrutiny,” Bishop said. “And, in the end of it when we take it to the floor of the House, it will be a good bill that will solve the problems and provide stability moving forward into the future.”

Twenty Arrested at Utah Tar Sands Mine

By Canyon Country Rising Tide

SUNDAY JUNE 19, PR SPRINGS, UT: Thirty people walked onto the country’s first tar sands mine and sowed seeds to regrow land destroyed by tar sands – a fossil fuel more polluting than coal and oil. With butterfly puppets, songs, and banners, protesters trespassed onto the mine site and took the remediation of the stripped land into their own hands with shovels, pick axes and seed balls.

Evidently displeased with the sowing of native grasses and flowers, law enforcement intervened to arrest 20 of the planters, who banded together and sang until arrest. The action was planned by the Tavaputs Action Council, a coalition of grass roots social justice groups of the Colorado Plateau, and came as the conclusion to a 3-day event dedicated to celebrating land and biodiversity. Over 100 people participated, camping on public land next to the tar sands mine and attending workshops, panels, and music shows. People came together to hear about indigenous resistance to fossil fuels and colonialism, and to imagine a more equitable future together.

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Canadian mining company US Oil Sands has leased 32,005 acres of public lands for oil shale development. In the future, 830,000 acres of public land could be at risk of irreversible tar sands strip mining in the western United States. Tar sands requites large quantities of water for processing into crude oil, putting extra pressure on a water system already under threat of running dry.

Kim, Nihigaal Bei Iina, said: “We must remember that if we do not fight we cannot win, we don’t even have a chance of winning. By planting seeds we have a chance of winning another round for mother earth, we still have more battles to fight within us. These seeds planted will harvest another generation of fighters and warriors.”

“The boom and bust failures of coal, tar sands, and oil shale show that we cannot rely on the fossil fuel industry to provide long-term jobs and a steady economy.  We are demanding a ‘just transition’ away from subsidizing dirty energy and towards a stable and sustainable way of living,” says Moab resident and CCRT member Melissa Gracia.  “That is an enormous task and yet people all over the world are rising to the occasion.  We need policies and institutions to support a just transition and we are building the people power to make it happen.”
According to Will Munger, “All across the region people are facing a similar situation. Take for example the recent bankruptcy of Peabody Coal.  They must be held accountable for their destruction of indigenous land on Black Mesa and we must ensure that the CEO’s don’t bail with bonuses while workers and local communities suffer.  We must take the money generated by the fossil fuel industry to repair the land and water while supporting local communities’ transition away from a fossil fuel-dependent economy.”

The Tavaputs Action Council includes Canyon Country Rising Tide, Peaceful Uprising, Utah Tar Sands Resistance, Climate Disobedience Center and Wasatch Rising Tide.

Utah Lawmakers Scheme to Fund California Coal Terminal

By Center for Biological Diversity

SALT LAKE CITY­— Republican lawmakers in Utah are attempting an eleventh-hour maneuver that would use $53 million in state sales tax money to pay for a California coal-export terminal.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams (R-Layton) has proposed using $53 million in sales-tax revenue targeted for highway improvements to fund a proposed coal terminal in Oakland. The scheme would ship millions of tons of coal from four Utah counties to be burned abroad, further deepening the climate crisis. Under legislative rules, Wednesday is the last day bills can be taken up in committee to be considered this session, which has eight scheduled days remaining.

The redevelopment of the waterfront in Oakland, California, is generating new controversy over a proposed coal export terminal. Image: "Port of Oakland 'Round Sunset" by Russel Mondy/CC BY-NC 2.0

The redevelopment of the waterfront in Oakland, California, is generating new controversy over a proposed coal export terminal. Image: “Port of Oakland ‘Round Sunset” by Russel Mondy/CC BY-NC 2.0

“This is clearly a cynical maneuver to sneak legislation into the waning days of the session,” said Wendy Park of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It makes no sense to use highway-improvement money from Utah to build a coal terminal in California. On top of that, Utah would be doubling down on coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet and one of the primary reasons our climate’s in serious trouble.”

“With China’s coal consumption falling, and coal exports down more than 20%, this bill is a risky bet,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney at Earthjustice.  “Apparently, one of the few places it’s legal to gamble in Utah is at the state legislature, where it’s OK to raid taxpayers’ wallets to wager on an industry in historic decline.”

Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund, designed to offset the effects of mining on rural communities, last year agreed to loan $53 million to four Utah coal-producing counties, which planned to invest the money in the coal terminal. The state agency asked state Attorney General Sean Reyes to review the deal’s legality. The results of the review have not been made public.

“The lack of transparency in the attorney general’s office on this review makes one wonder whether there is a legal reason that the Community Impact Board review has not been made available and could explain this last-minute attempt to shift the burden of this scheme to taxpayers,” Park said.

“It’s clear this bill is being pushed because there’s concern that the CIB loan is illegal,” said Zukoski. “The Attorney General should release his analysis now – before the bill is considered – so the public can know whether SB 246 is also vulnerable to challenge.”

In a letter to Reyes in November, environmental groups, including the Center, Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Grand Canyon Trust, argued that the $53 million loan violated federal and state laws.

The proposed coal terminal that is to be built on a former Army base in Oakland has been vigorously opposed by Mayor Libby Schaaf and many city officials, faith leaders, residents and environmental groups in the Bay Area who do not want to see trainloads of dusty coal pass through their neighborhoods. Several bills have been introduced in the California legislature to block funding for the $1.2 billion terminal project over concerns about effects of transporting coal locally and the burning of coal globally.

China announced last week that it is closing more than 1,000 coal mines due to a “price-sapping supply glut” and the government’s new determination to clean up dangerous air pollution across the country.

The Obama administration has also paused all new federal coal leasing until a comprehensive review of the federal coal-leasing program is completed. Some of the coal that would supply the Oakland terminal could come from the publicly owned coal from the Greens Hollow mine, but the president’s coal moratorium offers no guarantee that this coal will be mined, making the legislature’s gambit to bet state sales tax revenue on the coal-export terminal a very questionable move.

Motorized access advocates “Bureau of Renegades” arrested for assault

By Rudy Herndon, Moab Sun News

Randall Gaines and Misty McKee were fast asleep early one morning last month when the sound of “obnoxious banging” outside their Wingate Avenue home jolted them awake and out of bed.

Before the couple could even get from their bedroom into the hallway to find out what was happening, someone kicked down their front door. Four intruders then rushed toward Gaines and began to beat him violently, according to McKee.

As she ran into another room to call 911, the assailants dragged Gaines out of the home. She watched helplessly as they drove off in a truck with her boyfriend, who was severely beaten under captivity until they finally returned and threw him onto the street outside, according to a police report on the incident.

Keith Leavitt (left), Joshua Laurio (third from left), Gabriel Laurio and Jeffery Tranter protested in front of the Grand County Courthouse last year in support of motorized access to public lands. Prosecutors have charged the four men with numerous felonies in connection with an alleged assault and kidnapping last month. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Keith Leavitt (left), Joshua Laurio (third from left), Gabriel Laurio and Jeffery Tranter protested in front of the Grand County Courthouse last year in support of motorized access to public lands. Prosecutors have charged the four men with numerous felonies in connection with an alleged assault and kidnapping last month. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Police subsequently arrested Jeffery Dee Tranter, Keith Condie Leavitt, Joshua West Laurio and Gabriel Lorenzo Laurio on suspicion of numerous felony and misdemeanor charges, including first-degree assault, kidnapping and aggravated burglary. All four suspects have since been released from custody after they posted bail, which ranges from $74,000 to $76,000.

Read more at Assault victim, girlfriend recount attack

BLM Utah Halts Oil and Gas Lease Sale

By Center for Biological Diversity

SALT LAKE CITY— Climate activists are celebrating today as the Bureau of Land Management made a last-minute decision to halt an oil and gas lease sale owing to a “high level of public interest.”

Photo by Andres Sheikh, Center for Biological Diversity

Photo by Andres Sheikh, Center for Biological Diversity

Dozens of citizens were planning to protest the auction on Tuesday morning in Salt Lake City. Instead they will now celebrate the Bureau’s decision to postpone the auction of 73,000 acres of publicly owned oil and gas in Utah—which harbor an estimated 1.6 million to 6.6 million tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. The planned protest had been led by Elders Rising, calling on the BLM to act to prevent catastrophic climate change and to ensure a livable future for generations to come.
The victory is the latest from a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to define his climate legacy by stopping new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans—a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution from escaping into the atmosphere. Similar “Keep It in the Ground” protests were held in Colorado and Wyoming in recent weeks and more are planned for upcoming lease sales in Reno, Nev., and Washington, D.C.

“The BLM knows the public is watching, and that they don’t want our lands and our climate auctioned off to the highest bidder,” said Valerie Love with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We pushed the BLM to stop this lease sale, and we won’t rest until all new fossil fuel lease sales on America’s public lands are ended.”

 

Aspen trees in La Sals stricken with leaf blight

Editor’s note: Ongoing climate change and drought due to industrial civilization are having a cumulative negative effect on aspen trees of the intermountain west.  The world we live in is changing right before our eyes.  

by Eric Trenbeath, Moab Sun News September 19, 2015

Defoliated Aspens

Blight has defoliated these aspen stands along the Geyser Pass Road in the La Sal Mountains. An estimated 80 percent of aspen stands between Utah and Montana have been impacted by a fungal disease this season. [Photo courtesy of Brian Murdock / U.S. Forest Service]

Golden quaking aspen leaves won’t be making an especially grand appearance in the La Sal Mountains this fall due to a rampant iinfection of aspen leaf blight, or Marssonina, that has left many stands wilted and defoliated.
The disease, caused by fungal pathogens, is the result of a wetter-than-average May that has allowed the fungi to grow, according to U.S. Forest Service pathologist Elizabeth Hebertson. Hebertson said the condition is widespread throughout the intermountain West from Utah to Montana, and that 80 percent of the stands she has observed are infected.

“Almost in any given year, in any location, you can probably find infected aspen,” Hebertson said. “But this year was unusually high.”

A grove of affected aspens in the La Sal Mountains. Stands along the roads to Geyser Pass and Oohwah Lake, and along the east side of the range on the flanks of South Mountain, have been particularly hard hit by leaf blight. [Photo courtesy of Brian Murdock / U.S. Forest Service]

A grove of affected aspens in the La Sal Mountains. Stands along the roads to Geyser Pass and Oohwah Lake, and along the east side of the range on the flanks of South Mountain, have been particularly hard hit by leaf blight. [Photo courtesy of Brian Murdock / U.S. Forest Service]

Manti-La Sal National Forest Moab-Monticello Ranger District Ranger Mike Diem told the Moab Sun News that we probably won’t see the same spectacular colors that we have in the past.

Stands along the roads to Geyser Pass and Oohwah Lake, and along the east side of the range on the flanks of South Mountain, have been particularly hard hit.

Diem said that under normal conditions, leaf blight isn’t a serious concern, and that affected trees should recover the following season. But, he said, prolonged drought conditions and factors associated with climate change have also likely had an effect.

“When you put it in conjunction with other stresses, it’s hard to say what the cumulative effects of something like this will be,” he said.

Diem said that aspen forests in the La Sal Mountains, as well as those in other areas of the Southwest, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the ravages of drought.

Read the rest of this article by Eric Trenbeath of Moab Sun News

Ecowatch: Utah Oil Boomtown Hostile to Midwife’s Concern Over Skyrocketing Infant Deaths

By , originally appearing on Ecowatch

When a polluting industry creates jobs and economic activity, especially in the very poor areas where these industries often land, there’s a tendency of citizens to want to deny any impact on its health or environment. Such a clash of interests has reached a sad impasse in a Utah oil boom town where some citizens are scapegoating a midwife who is raising questions about a spate of infant deaths.

UintahBasin
The ozone levels in the Uintah Valley have been found to be as high as in Los Angeles, thanks to oil and gas operations. Photo credit: Scott Sandberg/NOAA

A heartbreaking story in the Los Angeles Times tells about 20-year midwife Donna Young, who noticed what she thought was an exceptional number of gravestones for infants at the local cemetery in Vernal, Utah.  She wondered if there could be a connection to the oil industry, which underpins the area’s economy and provides about half the town’s annual budget.

A state investigation is underway, but in the meantime, area residents—even mothers of some of the deceased infants—are already angrily denying the connection and demonizing Young for asking questions, reports the L.A. Times. She’s gotten threatening calls, been attacked on local talk radio and online, and even found rat poison in the animal feed on her ranch, exposing the fear, anger and denial some people feel when fossil fuel industries are the linchpin of an economy. As Vernal’s Mayor Sonya Norton aptly told the paper, “People get very protective of what we have here. If you challenge our livelihood, it’s considered personal. Without oil, this town would be a couple of storefronts and a gas station.”

After spotting the graves, Young dug into obituaries and cemetery records and found that the number of graves for an infant skyrocketed from one in 95 in 2010 to one in 14 in 2013. That concern led her to contact the Tri-County Healthy Department. When its director Joseph Shaffer called a public meeting and Young’s involvement in raising concerns was revealed, blowback began. And as the matter was referred up to the state, it intensified with Shaffer taking heat as well as Young. Even area doctors were angry with her. Digging around for anything that could deflect blame from the oil industry, some citizens are blaming drug use or poor nutritional habits among oil field workers.

Vernal is located in the Uintah Basin, where a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed elevated levels of winter ozone pollution caused by the widespread oil and gas exploration and extraction activities in the region. That was alarming because ozone pollution generally spikes in warmer weather. “Chemicals released into the air by oil and gas activities can spark reactions that lead to high levels of ozone in wintertime, high enough to exceed federal health standards,” said NOAA. Ozone pollution in the Uintah Basin has been measured at levels as high as the Los Angeles basin. And ozone is known to cause respiratory problems which are most acute in the old and the very young, including infants.

Meanwhile, the number of infant deaths in 2014 dropped to just two, after 13 died in 2013, which is likely to only fuel blowback and the depiction of Young as an anti-oil demon. The Los Angeles Times quoted the George Burnett, owner of a local smoothie and juice bar, saying “Drilling brings the Earth’s energy to life” and accusing Young of “alarmist thinking that has gotten ahead of good science.”

How to Stop Off Road Vehicles, Part 2

By Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Law enforcement has been so ineffective in preventing illegal ORV use that citizens are usually left to face the problem on their own. Stopping ORVs isn’t easy, but short of an end to gasoline—which we can’t wait for—impacts will continue to worsen if there’s no intervention. In remote areas like the Mojave Desert and Colorado Plateau, where would-be activists are scattered and overwhelmed and the police are essentially powerless and blasé, all strategies for stopping ORVs involve active and sustained effort. Here are a few:

Pressure law enforcement to do their jobs. Carry a camera with you always, and photograph illegal activity, if at all possible getting clear images of license plates. Document the time, place, and circumstances. Bring it to the attention of both the local and federal police, if on federal land. Be polite but persistent.

Physically close illegal trails. This can be surprisingly effective. Adopt an area and close off illegal trails with rocks, logs, whatever is handy and doesn’t further disturb the land. ORVers will keep trying to use the trail, but continued discouragement might eventually work.

Physically close legal trails. Similar to the last category, people may choose to carry out underground actions that close legal routes.[1] There must be a strict firewall between aboveground and underground activists: people or groups choosing to use underground tactics should not engage in aboveground actions, and vice versa.[2]

Close and reclaim established, authorized routes through administrative and legal channels. It’s the open roads that draw ORVs deeper into land they can then illegally violate, so every closed road is particularly helpful. This, too, takes a long and sustained effort. One helpful organization is Wildlands CPR (Now Wild Earth Guardians),[3] but don’t expect any non-profit group to have the resources to do the job for you. If you love the land you live in, be prepared to fight for it—a simple solution of hard, dedicated effort. Organize with those who agree with you, and fight.

 

Coyote Canyon Revisited

Private landowners neighboring Coyote Canyon in southeast Utah fought the originally illegal ORV use of the canyon, and tried to stop the BLM from sanctioning it. They pleaded with the public via every venue they could think of to write letters to the BLM opposing the move, yet ORV interests grossly outnumbered the effort. Fewer than ten opponents to the trail even bothered writing letters, and when the decision to open the canyon to ORVs was made the BLM didn’t even bother notifying the respondents, a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Otherwise, however, the agency had prepared its documents thoroughly and neighbors were advised that a legal challenge probably wouldn’t have been effective. Although the BLM offered a number of concessions—the trail is only open Friday and Saturday to registered users, from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., among other restrictions—the agency legitimized crime, rewarding criminals with the sacrifice of another dwindling scrap of feral public land.

The Coyote Canyon example highlights several reasons why so few are willing to protect the land, and why they’re losing so badly. One is fear of reprisals from enemies (such as intentional trespass and vandalism of property, already an issue for neighbors of Coyote Canyon). Another is a reasonable assumption that their efforts will be ineffective—though of course making no effort will certainly be ineffective. Yet people tend to accept whatever situation they’re given. It’s uncommon to question an established arrangement, whatever it may be, and if one continues to question it life gets more uncomfortable. A resister will always face ridicule, accusations of poor mental, emotional and social adjustment, eventual ostracizing and occasionally murder. Yet social changes demand challenges to established practice.

When the BLM announced their decision to open Coyote Canyon to oil spills, noise, litter, piles of shit and soiled rags of toilet paper, almost everyone who was asked to help offered only a passing moment of sympathy. Not “what can I do,” not “what are our options,” but “that’s too bad.” It’s no wonder fights like this are frequently lost, when reactions are so feeble.

Industry and recreation groups, by contrast, are well organized and ready to rush to their own common cause. The right wing tends to be more accepting of orders; the boss says jump, they ask how high. They have something tangible they’re working for, a thing they like doing, a righteous maintenance of their privilege—such as driving anywhere they want. They stand to gain something where resistance stands only to prevent something—at least in situations like Coyote Canyon, where no comparable force opposes them.

Fighting Back

Resistance is tough. It means making one’s self unpopular, a hard thing to do among those who’ve been taught their whole lives that popularity is everything. Organizing can provide the possibility of overcoming our fear of reprisal, of ridicule, and of failure; it’s the only chance at effectively confronting injustices.   Those who wish to prevent agency actions like the Coyote Canyon trail, or to promote re-localization of food production—any defensive or restorative action—can become an effective force if they work together, consistently and reliably supporting one another. Many progressives have been bled off by dogmas of non-confrontation, by intoxicating feel-good-ness, and by the idea that individualism is of primary importance. They’ve become lazy, fatalistic, and cynical; committed, organized struggle seems to be the sorry lot of desperately poor people in faraway places.

The examples that we have of committed resistance movements often are of desperately poor people, immediately threatened by the activities of rich and powerful enemies. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is one good example, and so are the more than 130 First Nations governments in western Canada that have gathered against the tar-sands Enbridge Northern Gateway Project and the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker projects.[4] We who are in a position to protect the land mostly lack the ability to respond, to turn our empathy for places like Coyote Canyon into action.

The situation at the frontiers of wild land is desperate, too. Wealth and privilege let us pretend it isn’t, because we get food from supermarket shelves and water from a tap. We see little or no connection between the health of the land and our own well-being. Public land use is an issue that can be influenced relatively easily—unlike, say, racism—because land managers so routinely ignore or violate laws and effective tactics usually have to do with citizen enforcement. But environmentalists continue to lose, partly because exploiters have miscast conflict as user-group obstruction—framing the terms of the debate to ridicule love of the wild world, separating its fate from human fate. By allowing this, would-be activists surrender the land and leave the future to sadists and imbeciles.

The destruction of the planet, however easy it is to ignore, will catch up with us all. The civilized economies that steal from the poor to give to the rich will eventually end. They need to consume limited resources to exist and those resources—fossil fuels, topsoil—will not last forever. When this happens, we will again depend upon the land to sustain us. If that land is stripped of its capacity to sustain life by industry, agriculture, and recreation, then there will be nowhere else to go, and nothing to do but wage war and starve.

Abuse of the land is now normalized by faith in nonexistent frontiers (of renewable energy and electric cars, for example) and by misguided tolerance. Naming abuse—the destruction of the land in the name of fun or individualistic pursuits and the destruction of our selves by abusive people and systems—is often portrayed as abusive in itself. This is outrageous and infuriating, but should be expected.

Though it is far less damaging than industry and agriculture, the evidence for ORV destruction is well documented and easy to come by. It’s not even really contested by ORVers themselves. Those of us determined to stop this behavior face the same problem law enforcement does: the damage is so widespread and difficult to regulate that there’s little anyone can do. But there’s also a serious lack of activists with effective tactics and a coherent strategy to follow through on. This doesn’t mean, though, that we should back down.

 

Identifying with the Real World

Once on Cedar Mesa, in Southeast Utah, I watched an ORV intentionally veer to crush a dozing snake. The reptile churned and writhed in the machine’s track, dead or near dead as its nerves popped and struggled and ran down. I went to it, to witness its pointless death. A thick and handsome bull snake, it spent its last moments bleeding out in the dust. Why? Why do this? What drives this sick, stupid behavior? Why does our culture hate every living thing?

I lifted the snake into the sage and blackbrush so it could at least die in its home. “If they can’t evolve to get out of the way,” someone once told me about road killed animals, “then that’s their problem.” Of course, not evolving to changing conditions is what causes extinction. There’s little doubt that our culture will not voluntarily evolve to halt the worsening conditions that industry and recreation are creating on the planet. So how does anyone fight activity like this? How do we stop deforestation, global warming, ocean acidification? And given those immense problems, is ORV land abuse something to focus limited energy and resources on?

In addition to the suggestions made in these articles, activists can develop tactics and strategies and their way forward will eventually become clear. With hard work and determination a chance of winning would almost certainly emerge. But in a world of Keystone XL pipelines and epidemic levels of fracking, is the effort worth it? If you caretake a few acres of land, blocking travel and pulling weeds, how much does it matter if you stop, or get distracted, or die? If those acres are again immediately vulnerable, is your effort a waste?

Few things anger me more that seeing wanton destruction for fun. I wonder, though, if this is an unhelpful distraction. It’s easy to get angry at something so obviously disrespecting of the land. In terms of permanent impacts, though, industry is much worse, and the scale of destruction is enormous. Of course what runs it is oil. Always this—the temporary, illusory power locked in a liquid hydrocarbon, driving ORVs, factory fishing trawlers, factory farms, and industrial agriculture. It’s warming the atmosphere and leading us to a horribly impoverished future, where most of us will be unable to afford the lifestyle we’ve been subjected and addicted to, let alone find enough to eat.

Remove the oil and the engines stop, and a besieged biosphere can begin to heal. This is part of the strategy that Deep Green Resistance has proposed.[5] But in the meanwhile…ORVs, just one part of the picture, continue to cut apart what little wild life remains, the last seed bank of evolution as we’ll ever know it. The momentum of established civilized practice is now enormous—seemingly unstoppable—and its terminal is in global destruction, the eradication of all complex life. Challenge to this system is so psychologically and practically difficult that most of us ignore it.

Fighting for the real, wild world can begin with the understanding that humans are not everything, and that the fate of the world is ultimately our fate. It is much different to fight for your own beloved family than for a rocky canyon you’ll never visit. We progressives like to talk about how hatred of “other” races cannot be tolerated (not that much is ever done about that). But we hardly ever extend this principle to the non-human world—constant victim of our culture’s violence—because we’ve been conditioned to believe that humans are all that matter. The loons, the snakes, the too-slow creatures smeared across the roads and ground under rubber tires into the dirt, they and the people yet to come who won’t be able to live as we have because the oil is gone—none of them will care about our abstract, self-indulgent moral wrestling. That is the wall that human supremacy has built around us; it must be torn down.

Imagine again that an occupying culture, whose every act is force and theft, was destroying the means of your survival. Imagine them extracting fuel to use the world as a playground. Of course, it is not enough to stop them from driving their toys in every possible place. To survive in the long term we must also stop the extraction, the root of the problem, and eliminate the fuel for destruction. We must reclaim our adult responsibilities and stand up to defend the land where we live, knowing that until oil extraction and consumption is ended, there will always be a new group of occupiers finding new ways to destroy the land.

Endnotes

[1] Foreman, Dave. Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. Tucson: Ned Ludd Books, 1987, 89-109.

[2] Security Culture: A Handbook for Activists, accessed August 30, 2014, http://security.resist.ca/personal/securebooklet.pdf

[3] “Resources,” Wild Earth Guardians, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.wildlandscpr.org

[4] Carrie Saxifrage, “How the Enbridge Pipeline Issue Unified Northern BC,” The Vancouver Observer, February 13, 2012, http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/2012/02/13/nation-building-how-enbridge-pipeline-issue-unified-northern-bc

“Interior First Nations Pipeline Ban,” Dogwood Initiative, You Tube, December 2, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G5KtqPSW8Q

Carrie Saxifrage, “No Oil Pipeline Here: Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel in Smithers finds 100% opposition,” The Vancouver Observer, January 17, 2012, http://www.vancouverobserver.com/sustainability/2012/01/17/enbridge-northern-gateway-joint-review-panel-smithers-finds-100-opposition

[5] “Decisive Ecological Warfare,” Deep Green Resistance, accessed August 28, 2014, http://deepgreenresistance.org/en/deep-green-resistance-strategy/decisive-ecological-warfare

How to Stop Off Road Vehicles, Part 1

By Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Imagine a time when you never once worried about losing your home or your means of making a living. Imagine your community used to be prosperous and well-run, providing everything you needed. You never gave a thought to giving back to it, though you always did and everyone else did, too. It hasn’t been this way for a long time—an invasion of thieves and murderers has taken all that away—but you remember what life was like.

The land is now impoverished by an unwelcome, occupying culture so self-important that they take everything without shame or even thought. These aliens have built their roads, power lines, and reservoirs all around you, siphoning every bit of your community’s resources for their own purposes. You have no recourse when an oil rig is set up in your town’s park, hospital, or swimming pool. You are helpless when they cut your watershed forest. There is nothing you can do about it, so you and your parents and your children and everyone else you know struggle on with no police to protect your health or property, no court to hear your grievance. You’d turn to your neighbors for help, but they’re in the same situation. The occupiers are everywhere, and they are all-powerful.

It’s not enough they’ve poisoned your water, built roads through your desert, and grazed their cattle across your range, stripping the grass from the ground which whips up into gritty brown curtains in the smallest wind. Many of your friends have been shot and left to rot in the street, but this doesn’t trouble the invaders; indeed, some of your children have been taken and kept in cages for their amusement. Now they want what’s left. They want everything, every inch of ground that once gave you all the wealth you ever wanted, all you could ever want.

In this dusty fragment that once was rich and whole, you barely get enough to eat and often feel ill because the water tastes of some sharp chemical. One day, engine noise comes from where no one has heard it before. Not along the ribbons of pavement where your kin are occasionally crushed to death, but in the last sad vestige of the flowering provident earth you’ve always loved. The machines come in packs. Aliens guide them over hills and through streams, muddying the water you and your children must drink. They roll over your friend’s house and you can hear them screaming inside, see their torn bodies, their bones stirred into the wreckage, smell their blood. You run away in pure bright panic as the machines veer insanely this way and that, destroying the neighborhood you grew up in. You might get away, but very likely you won’t. If you’re noticed at all, the end of your life will only be entertainment for the one who takes it.

This is what off road vehicles do.

 

Coyote Canyon

Coyote Canyon

Coyote Canyon and Other Sacrifices

Coyote Canyon is a small rocky tributary to Kane Springs Creek on Bureau of Land Management property just south of Moab, Utah. It recently became another off road vehicle (ORV) trail. Like many such trails, it began illegally when specialized, expensive ORVs called “rock crawlers” began using it without BLM authorization. ORV users prompted the BLM to write an Environmental Analysis to make the route official, and now Coyote Canyon is in the BLM’s words “an extreme trail specifically designated for rock crawler-type vehicles only. The route is one-way up a small canyon and down another, and although it is only 0.65 miles long can easily take all day to navigate as refrigerator-sized boulders must be traversed. Only HEAVILY modified vehicles can make it through. This route provides rock crawler enthusiasts an opportunity to challenge both their rigs and skills in a unique setting.”[1] One of the main reasons ORVers wanted the “unique setting” is that a roll-over accident, not uncommon to rock-crawlers, won’t pitch the vehicle and its occupants off a cliff.

The noise and disturbance of ORVs fragment habitat and push public-lands policies toward more development by turning vague routes into established roads. In some instances ORVs are exclusively to blame for the endangerment of a species—such as at Sand Mountain, Nevada, formerly “Singing Sand Mountain” until it was overrun by machines churning to dust the habitat of the Sand Mountain blue butterfly. The Center for Biological Diversity writes that the butterfly “is closely linked to Kearney buckwheat; larvae feed exclusively on the plant, and adult butterflies rely on its nectar as a primary food source. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management has allowed off-road vehicle use to destroy much of the Kearney buckwheat that once thrived on the dunes at Sand Mountain.”[2]

Land management agency inertia is easily the most immediate reason the ORVs have caused so much damage, since law enforcement is underfunded and policy-makers don’t make a priority of protecting the land and wildlife that’s entrusted to them. The Center for Biological Diversity had to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service to even get a response to a petition to list the Sand Mountain blue butterfly under the Endangered Species Act, and the agency’s response was that they wouldn’t do it. “Not warranted.” In this case (and others such as manatees being killed by speedboats), there aren’t even any jobs being held hostage. This is recreation and nothing more, taking ever more animals, plants, and habitat from the biological legacy of the planet.

Desert Iguana, Sonoran Desert

Desert Iguana, Sonoran Desert

The Utah Wilderness Coalition had this to say about off road vehicles: “Most public lands are unprotected from ORVs in Utah. Roughly seventy-five percent, or 17 million acres out of 23 million acres, of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in Utah still lack any real protection (including designated routes, maps, trail signs, and other tools to ensure that these natural areas are protected) from ORV damage.

 

“Utah has over 100,000 miles of dirt roads, jeep trails, and old mining tracks. Driving all of these trails would be the equivalent of driving four times the circumference of the Earth.

 

“The BLM allows nearly uncontrolled ORV use in areas that have known but unrecorded archeological resources, putting these resources at risk from vandalism and unintentional damage. ORVs can cause damage to fragile desert soils, streams, vegetation, and wildlife. Impacts include churning of soils, distribution of non-native invasive plants, and increased erosion and runoff. Rare plant, wildlife, and fish species are at risk.

 

“ORV use is growing nationwide. In the past 30 years, the number of off-road vehicles in the United States has grown from 5 million to roughly 36 million ORVs. The BLM has fallen woefully behind in the management of these machines on public lands.”[3]

 

 

“The Best Trails are Illegal”

 

Because illegal ORV use is so dispersed, it’s rare for underfunded and understaffed public lands law enforcement to catch anyone in the act. Usually what they see—what anyone sees—are the long-lasting impacts (tire ruts, crushed vegetation) and not the machines themselves. Without any evidence, there can’t be any enforcement. If you complain to the BLM or Forest Service about illegal trails, this is the response you can expect. If you can catch someone in the act, a license plate number—especially if you can photograph it—will be helpful, but there’s still the underlying issue of it not being all that illegal in the first place. A fine isn’t much of a deterrent, particularly when it’s extremely unlikely to happen at all.[4] The 30 million-odd ORVers in the US alone probably won’t ever be fined for illegal trails.

One reason why opposition to ORVs and the destruction they cause is so feeble and inadequate is because opponents are portrayed by ORV groups as wealthy elitists trying to corner access to common lands at their expense. This human-centered framing entirely discards other beings’ lives that depend on the land and water at stake.

Unfortunately, potential defenders seem to be disarmed by this tactic. A kayaker I know once explained how she used to resent jet-skis and speedboats on the lakes she paddles on, but decided she was being selfish and to just accept it. But personal peace and quiet is somewhat beside the point. Oil and fuel spilled by gasoline boat engines is toxic to fish, birds, and invertebrates, and wakes from motorized watercraft swamp nesting birds such as the loon. In terrestrial habitat, as road density increases habitat security for large animals like bears and wolves decreases. Habitat effectiveness for elk, for example, falls steeply from a hundred percent where there are no roads to 50 percent with two road miles per square mile to 20 percent with six road miles.[5] Acceptance of the destruction wrought by others might make one feel nicer and ostensibly more democratic, but it means abandoning the defenseless.

The entitlement taken by the ORVers themselves is even more aggressive and unconcerned for life. A motorcyclist, enraged by new restrictions on off-roading in the Mojave Desert, shouted at me: “It’s the fucking desert! Nothing lives out there!” Anyone who’s spent time in the desert and seen the many reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants who live there knows this is ridiculous. The Mojave is the smallest desert in North America, and is being dissected by solar energy projects, military bases, and an ever-worsening ORV infection. Desert tortoises are being displaced to the point of extinction, followed by every other Mojave lizard, snake, and ground-nesting bird in the way of the dominant culture’s activities.

Even on private land, where ORV activity is considered trespassing, landowners are often frustrated by law enforcement’s ineffectiveness.

A California organization called Community ORV Watch advises: “Given current conditions, assistance in dealing with lawless OHV [off highway vehicle] activity in the vicinity of your home is more likely from the Sheriff’s Department than either the BLM or the California Highway Patrol. None of the three agencies consider unlawful OHV activity to be a high priority, so if you are to gain any benefit from an attempted contact with them it is important that you be willing to take the time and effort to see the call through. This isn’t always easy; responses are frequently hours late in arriving or do not come at all, so be prepared for a wait…this can be inconvenient, and it’s tempting to just let it slide rather than commit to a process that could tie you up for hours…

“By not calling, we participate in our own victimization by succumbing to a ‘what’s the use?’ attitude. This hurts community morale and perception over time, and lowers community expectations for services we are absolutely entitled to.”[6] This organization’s focus, the Morongo Basin in Southern California, is especially unfortunate to be near large population areas where there are lots of ORVers.

Remote areas have their own problems, and even law enforcement organizations are admitting they’re powerless to control ORV use in their jurisdictions. In a 2007 memo, an organization called Rangers for Responsible Recreation writes:

 

“The consensus of [law enforcement] respondents is that off-road vehicle violations have increased in recent years. Specifically: A majority of respondents (53%) say that ‘the off-road vehicle problems in my jurisdiction are out of control.’ Nearly three quarters (74%) agree that the off-road vehicle problems in their jurisdictions ‘are worse than they were five years ago.’ Fewer than one in six (15%) believe that ORV problems are ‘turning around for the better.’”[7]

 

GlorietaMesa.org, “an umbrella organization consisting of ranchers, horseback riders, hikers, environmentalists, wood-gatherers, residents, hunters and off-roaders, who are dedicated to protecting Glorieta Mesa from irresponsible Off-Road Vehicle recreation” writes:

“A 2002 Utah report reveals that a high percentage of riders prefer to ride ‘off established trails’ and did so on their last outing. Of the ATV riders surveyed, 49.4% prefer to ride off established trails, while 39% did so on their most recent excursion. Of the dirt bike riders surveyed, 38.1% prefer to ride off established trails, while 50% rode off established trails on their most recent excursion.

“More than nine out of ten (91%) of respondent rangers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) agree that off road vehicles represent ‘a significant law enforcement problem’ in their jurisdictions. According to one BLM respondent, ‘90% of ORV users cause damage every day they ride. Most will violate a rule, regulation or law daily.’”[8]

ORV damage is just another example of privileged access to limited and stolen resources, and it extends beyond the impacted land to the airborne dust that worsens early mountain snowmelt[9] and to the spread of invasive weeds.[10] Human communities are negatively affected, too. Moab merchants make many thousands of dollars on ORV tourism, but the menial jobs that support it are taxing and degrading. ORV tourists tip small or not at all, and are notoriously rude and spiteful. This is why Moab restaurant waiters call the annual “Jeep Week” ORV event “Cheap Week,” when you see hundreds of wealthy strangers swaggering around in t-shirts reading: the best trails are illegal.

 

 Endnotes

[1] “Coyote Canyon Motorized Route,” U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/moab/recreation/motorized_routes/coyote_canyon.html

 

[2] “Saving the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly,” Center for Biological Diversity, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/invertebrates/Sand_Mountain_blue_butterfly/index.html

 

[3] “Protecting America’s Redrock Wilderness: THE FACTS ABOUT OFF-ROAD VEHICLE DAMAGE,” Utah Wilderness Coalition, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.suwa.org/wp-content/uploads/ORVDamage_FactSheet_V2.pdf

 

[4] “One possible reason for this trend [in increased ORV violations] is a failure to provide sufficient penalties to offroad riders who are caught breaking the law. ‘Possibly the greatest weakness in the ORV enforcement program is the lack of bite in judicial penalties,’ wrote one ranger from the Bureau of Land Management. ‘There is often little penalty in not paying tickets. In California… you only have to pay tickets when you renew a license,’” “First-Ever Survey of Federal Rangers Shows ORVs Out of Control, Need for Tougher Penalties,” Rangers for Responsible Recreation, December 11, 2007, http://www.glorietamesa.org/RangersForResponsibleRecreation.pdf

 

[5] T. Adam Switalski and Allison Jones, eds., “Best Management Practices for Off-Road Vehicle Use on Forestlands: A Guide for Designating and Managing Off-Road Vehicle Routes,” Wild Utah Project, January 2008, http://www.wildearthguardiansresources.org/files/ORV_BMP_2008_0.pdf

 

[6] “Report ORV Abuse,” Community ORV Watch: Protecting Private and Public Lands From Off Road Vehicle Abuse, November 7, 2011, http://www.orvwatch.com/?q=node/5

 

[7] “First-Ever Survey of Federal Rangers Shows ORVs Out of Control, Need for Tougher Penalties,” Rangers for Responsible Recreation, December 11, 2007, http://www.glorietamesa.org/RangersForResponsibleRecreation.pdf

 

[8] “Facts About OHV (ORV) Use,” GlorietaMesa.org, accessed July 15, 2014, http://www.glorietamesa.org/ohv-orv-facts-sheet.php

 

[9] Andrew P. Barrett, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado; Thomas H. Painter, University of Utah; and Christopher C. Landry Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, “Desert Dust Enhancement of Mountain Snowmelt,” Feature Article From Intermountain West Climate Summary, July 2008, http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=7&ved=0CEcQFjAG&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwwa.colorado.edu%2Fclimate%2Fiwcs%2Farchive%2FIWCS_2008_July_feature.pdf&ei=dtTGU_2FE9KJogTDp4HQAQ&usg=AFQjCNEM1fS-iGyJ_40WWALM4-tCHr04Bw&sig2=0UIU30HMtiZAGr2fBnj-uw&bvm=bv.71198958,d.cGU&cad=rja

 

[10] Thomas P. Rooney, “Distribution of Ecologically-Invasive Plants Along Off-Road Vehicle Trails in the Chequamegon National Forest, Wisconsin,” The Michigan Botanist, Volume 44, Issue 4, Fall, 2005, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mbot/0497763.0044.402/1

“Utah’s Carbon Bomb”: State Plots Massive Tar Sands & Oil Shale Projects Despite Climate Concerns

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition:

Map of oil shale and tar sands deposits in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.

While the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline and the Alberta tar sands has galvanized the environmental movement, far less attention has been paid to a related story here in the West. The state of Utah has begun making preparations for its own major tar sands and oil shale extraction projects. According to one U.S. government report, land in the region could hold up to three trillion barrels of oil — that’s more recoverable oil than has been used so far in human history. Critics say Utah is sitting on a tar sands carbon bomb. The Utah Water Quality Board has recently begun giving out permits for companies to extract from the state’s tar sands reserves. We speak to Taylor McKinnon, energy director of the Grand Canyon Trust.

TAYLOR McKINNON: In Utah, we have vast deposits…

Read the full interview.