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The Wasatch Behind: Time to take back Utah

Sun Advocate Columnist

"Well, it finally happened," Uncle Spud proclaimed. "SUWA and the Bill Barrett Corp. worked out a deal to 'allow' drilling on the Tavaputs. Everyone signed off on the deal, including the county commissioners and the BLM."

"That's great," I said. "Drilling on the Tavaputs is good for everyone. We surely need the oil and gas, the jobs and the revenue."

"True," Spud agreed. "But we got something in the deal we didn't need."

"What's that?" I inquired.

"The Tavaputs is going to be locked up. There will be locked gates cutting public access to Horse Bench, Cedar Ridge, Jack Canyon and Jack Ridge."

"That covers a lot of ground," I winced.

"Yes," he said. "And a lot of it is being locked up without a good reason. Horse Bench is the south rim of Nine Mile Canyon from Cottonwood to the Green River, and the lower half of Horse Bench will be closed, even though there won't be any drilling there. The BLM maps also show that no drilling is planned for Cedar Ridge, but the road will be closed just the same."

"Why are they doing this?" I asked.

"It's a payoff to SUWA," Spud said. "SUWA agreed not to tie up the drilling in court if the public was denied access. It's a de-facto wilderness deal."

"Who is locking the gates?"

"The BLM will do that," Spud growled. "The newspaper said the roads 'probably' belong to Carbon County, but, 'there is not much chance of the county pursuing the matter,' according to commissioner Bill Krompel.

"So Barrett gets to drill. SUWA gets a huge chunk of our public lands converted to wilderness. Carbon County gets an economic shot in the arm, and the people of Utah get locked gates and closed roads. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, says this agreement will be a model for the future since everyone wins."

"Everyone didn't win," I argued. "The people of Utah got screwed. That country is public domain. My family has camped, hiked, and hunted deer up there since the 1930s. How can they lock us out? Public land belongs to all of the people."

"Not anymore," Spud declared. "It belongs to SUWA and the BLM now."

"What excuse are they using to lock it up?" I asked.

"The official BLM excuse, as reported in the newspaper, is they want to prevent, 'non-business traffic from disrupting the environment,'" Spud said.

"Disrupting the environment?"

"They claim public access puts natural and cultural resources in jeopardy."

"That's a crock," I growled. "The Tavaputs has been open to public access since Brigham Young was a pup. And, the BLM recently wrote that most of it still retains 'wilderness characteristics.' I think that reflects well on the people who go there. What's the problem? And then, the cultural resources, the Indian ruins and rock art, are in the bottom of Nine Mile Canyon, not up on the Tavaputs. I don't think the BLM can convincingly defend their argument for locking the gates. It's a payoff to the green people, pure and simple."

"I'm tired of these backroom wilderness deals," I said.

"You ain't seen nothin' yet," Spud assured me. "A secret White House memo was leaked last April that reveals the president is planning to make 3000 square miles of the San Rafael Swell, and 400 square miles of Cedar Mesa, in San Juan County, wilderness with a stroke of his pen. He intends to make the areas national monuments; the way Bill Clinton did in 1996 when he locked up the Grand Staircase Escalante. You'll remember that Clinton surprised Utah with the announcement back then, and Obama is plotting to do the same. The will of the people in rural Utah doesn't matter."

"What can we do?" I asked.

"To start, there will be a rally at the Utah state capitol this coming Saturday, August 28," Spud said. "They're calling it a 'Take Back Utah" rally. It's a way to show support for public access and multiple-use of public lands. A parade of RVs, ATVs, and outdoor enthusiasts will start at Liberty Park at 10 a.m. and proceed up state street to the capitol. At the capitol will be a big rally with lots of networking between like-minded people and organizations.

"If you love the great open spaces, the time has come to get involved. We are losing our great American west, one sleazy deal at a time."

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