I live in Southern Utah. And boy, do I love Southern Utah. So much so that rarely in my time off do I venture out of the southern half of the state because it is so ripe for adventure and discovery in the outdoors. I’ve lived down here four years and feel like I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what this corner of the world (and state) has to offer.
So I’ve generally been a fan of Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. I mean, the first three words of the organization are three things I love, and even more so when they are all together! But I have a personal bone to pick with SUWA. And it started about a month ago when I was trying to educate myself on the ‘other side of the coin’ in local opinions for the Bears Ears/Escalante downsizes. Especially in local issues, I try to push myself to educate myself on viewpoints other than my own. Because especially in rural areas, these issues are more than politics and concern people’s livelihoods, even if I don’t personally agree with their opinions.
So how is this all connected? A major complaint of some local people in support of the government land grab state that the environmental organizations that are advocating for protecting/preserving natural and historical sites aren’t local and therefore don’t have local interests at heart. SUWA’s main office is in Salt Lake City. And while Salt Lake has the highest concentration of environmentally-interested voters in the state, it’s still perplexing to me that they would base themselves so far North when their name purports to support wilderness areas in the South.
SUWA does admittedly have an office in Moab. Moab is in the heart of some majorly important and fragile wilderness areas, and deserves local efforts of a big organization like SUWA. Meanwhile, the St. George metropolitan’s area has a population of upwards of 150,000 and . . . no office! It feels as if St. George gets overlooked because it is majority Republican, and tends to vote against environmental interests. But if you asks me, that’s all the more reason to get an office in this town and people on the ground advocating for the public land that needs protection all around us here too. And for those of us who are environmental activists in this area, although we are the minority down here compared to Utah county or Moab, we are mighty and will rally behind public and indigenous land protection work.
Bears Ears and Escalante have been SUWA and other environmental organizations’ focuses since 2017, and for good reason. It’s a huge and unprecedented move by this presidential administration. Here in St. George, we’ve been fighting to get recognition and protection for an incredible bouldering and mountain biking area outside of town that’s been under threat of development. When Southern Utah Climbers Association was rallying local climbers and outdoors enjoyers to attend city council meetings and write council members, a local lawyer did a TON of pro bono work to challenge the under the table rushed proposal that was being presented that day. Meanwhile, how did SUWA get involved? One Facebook post on April 3. On their website, it was never listed as one of their ‘issues’ of note. The SUCA community was super proactive, got involved in map-making, and got city council members on board to create a plan that will protect the area and promote both desert tortoise protection as well as bouldering, hiking, and mountain biking which consistently brings tourism to the area. SUWA is seriously missing out on this area, if you ask me.
And the longer I’ve thought about it, the more irritated I’ve gotten. SUWA frequently hosts fundraising and educational events, but they’re always in Salt Lake City. I’m grateful that the Northerners of this state care about the red rock desert. But as someone who lives here largely because of my love for this land, it’s frustrating to feel like an organization that is working to protect the land in the place I live isn’t noticing the people that actually live here. Don’t stop hosting events in Salt Lake, but I would love to see SUWA work to get more involvement in the towns in the SOUTH.
The final clincher for me, SUWA makes lawn signs that say “protect wild Utah.” You can request one and have it mailed to you. But only if you live in five select counties surrounding the Salt Lake City Valley. This is absurd to me!!! They can’t even ship them to the county housing Moab (Grand County) where they DO actually have an office!!! Southern Utah isn’t just for the Valley dwellers who like to escape South during the Winter or appreciate a short road trip to the red rock. Pay attention to the people who live here! Educate the people who live here who might not care or be interested yet!
I still love SUWA. They’re doing good political work to advocate for and protect land that I love deeply. I just wish myself and the outdoor community in the St. George area felt more included in the movement and conversation more than just my annual donation.