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Finishing the Job in Red Rock Country

Canyonlands_Tim Wagner
Without question, the Canyonlands region of southeastern Utah is home to some of the most stunning and unique geological features on the face on the planet. It’s where millions of acres of red rock desert canyons, mesas, and spires layered with junipers, sagebrush, rabbit bush, and prickly pear cactus intersect with 11,000 foot peaks covered in alpine forests rich in conifers and aspen. In the heart of this country is the 337,000-acre Canyonlands National Park, first designated in the early 1960s.

This is also where the Durango-based Great Old Broads for Wilderness held their annual “Broads Walk” the last week of September. Attendees at the four-day event, including a few husbands (referred to as “bros”), joined with the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, which was also hosting an outing to the same region. Together the groups celebrated this landscape, learned about old and new threats to the region, and discussed what many hope will be a future designated national monument of the Greater Canyonlands.

The event included camp-based information sessions and field trips to witness impacts from decades of mismanaged grazing, unprotected historic Indian ruins, and newly proposed off-road vehicle routes through sensitive areas. The highlight for many of us though was an hour-long flight over the entire region courtesy of Ecoflight from Aspen, CO.

The proposed 1.4 million-acre Greater Canyonlands National Monument would in many ways right a wrong perpetrated by politics. Originally dubbed the Escalante National Monument in the 1930’s and proposed by then-Secretary of Interior Harold L. Ickes, the designation would have protected approximately four million acres encompassing some of Utah’s most stunning unbroken landscapes.

But it would take another 30 years before Congress would find the political will to designate Canyonlands National Park. Even more troubling was the size – 337,000 acres – a mere fraction of what should have been protected.

Canyonlands event vandalismToday we face new challenges but we’re still fighting for protections for the rest of this amazing region. The highly politicized nature of public lands protection, demonstrated by the vandalism of a Great Old Broads banner during the event, and ongoing state efforts to hand over public lands to polluters and developers looking to make a quick buck, make it more important than ever to have constructive and inclusive discussions about the future of our wild places.

Work to protect such special places, whether it be the Canyonlands region or the boundary waters north of Minnesota, is high-road work. It’s the positive choice, not one driven by fear, rather one borne out a true love for this special place we call home and a love of humanity, now and for future generations.  I hope you’ll join us as we work to continue America’s conservation legacy.

-- By Tim Wagner, Sierra Club, Utah Representative 


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