On behalf of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), I would like to respond to Tom McCourt's recent guest editorial, complaining about SUWA and its involvement in the proposed Lila Canyon mine.
First, in regard to SUWA, Mr. McCourt asserts that SUWA is run by "wealthy benefactors" from out of state, that its support is waning, and that SUWA's membership is down.
The fact of the matter is that SUWA was formed by several Utahns in the mid-1980s and has since grown to a staff of about 20 people. SUWA's mission - the preservation of Utah's outstanding wilderness quality lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management - is enjoying broader support than almost ever before. This support comes from both Utahns and citizens from every other state in the Union. In these times of unparalleled threats to our public lands, SUWA's membership is on the rise.
Second, in regard to cryptobiotic soils (also known as biological soil crusts), Mr. McCourt states that "[o]ther than helping to seal the ground from wind erosion, the microorganisms in it have no known ecological, economic, or medicinal value." There's just not a whole lot of support for that argument.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, cryptobiotic soils form the living glue that makes life possible across much of Utah. These soils fix nitrogen, retain water, as well as prevent soil erosion. According to government scientists in Moab, damage to these soils can last from decades to centuries, not the few days or weeks that Mr. McCourt suggests. When bulldozers scrape an area clear of mature trees shrubs, and cryptobiotic soils the damage can be profound and long lasting.
As for Mr. McCourt's suggestion that the protection of these important soils is some government and SUWA-led conspiracy - we'll let you decide that one for yourselves.
Finally, Mr. McCourt rhetorically wonders "[w]hatever happened to the golden rule about live and let live," implying that SUWA should keep its nose out of Emery County's business. Our response is simple. The proposed Lila Canyon mine is located on public lands managed by the BLM on behalf of all Americans. This is our business. SUWA's job is to make sure that the BLM and other federal agencies have followed another golden rule before any ground is disturbed (letting the critters and plants at the mine site live for another day) - "think first, then act."
Stephen Bloch is a staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance