By Wayne Hoskisson
The Sierra Club supports protecting 30% of the lands and waters of the United States by 2030. Eventually we need 50% of land and water protected by 2050. We need to protect this much land to accomplish some crucial objectives: sequestering carbon while eliminating the use of fossil fuels, mitigating the extinction crisis by securing adequate habitat and connectivity for all species, and solving the nature deficit by providing accessible nature for everyone.
In Utah we have an unusually great opportunity and an unusually dreary problem in achieving this goal. Utah includes a lot of public lands, amounting to about 34,200,000 acres. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 22,800,000 acres (43%), the Forest Service (FS) manages 8,200,000 acres (16%), and the National Park Service manages 2,000,000 acres (4%). We have the rare opportunity to contribute a lot of land to a protected status. Congress has already protected about 3% of land in Utah. We have an additional 15% with some level of administrative protection but this protection varies widely and much is not sufficiently protected to count towards strong and lasting protection. This calls us to protect far more than this if we want to curb climate change, protect biodiversity, and maintain a planet hospitable to humans.
America's Red Rock Wilderness Act is Utah specific and would protect about 9 million acres in Utah. The lands in America's Red Rock Wilderness Act are particularly important for biodiversity and species connectivity. These lands connect the Greater Grand Canyon region to the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the central mountain ranges in Utah's spine, and northward into the northern Rockies of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.
Protecting 30% of the land in the United States will require a lot of work. Right now about 12% of the United States is protected adequately to meet our needs. If we pass America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act it will add about 1.5% for a total of 13.5% of protected landscapes. America's Red Rock Wilderness Act is the largest wilderness proposal in the contiguous 48 states currently introduced in Congress. Only Alaska has a larger wilderness proposal in Congress.
The Utah Chapter was a key organization in creating the Utah Wilderness Coalition (UWC includes the Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and the Natural Resources Defense Council). We participated in the wilderness inventory that resulted in the original version introduced in Congress in 1989. We also helped in the 1990s inventory that resulted in our current 9 million plus acre wilderness proposal. Learn more about Sierra Club's work to advocate for America's Red Rock Wilderness Act here.
Our dreary problem remains our extremely conservative Congressional delegation who either do not understand conservation, or the urgent need to stop climate change. At this point it looks like Utah leaders do not comprehend the consequences of continuing our over consumption of resources, the continued use of fossil fuels, and our failure to manage the resulting climate change, pollution, and loss of Nature.
A 2021 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) highlights the importance of confronting climate change and biodiversity loss together. The report states, "Biodiversity loss, climate change and securing a good quality of life for all lie at the centre of the challenges for a thriving planet in the Anthropocene, and a sustainable global future for people and nature remains possible." People are deeply intertwined with biodiversity, and life as we know it will be impacted by what we do or fail to do in the face of climate change. The time is now to advocate for bold policies that protect our communties and the environment. Please consider applying for a leadership role in the Sierra Club, Utah Chapter, and turn your concern into action.