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Groups Look to Biden Administration to Save Utah Wildlands

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Thursday, December 24, 2020   

MOAB, Utah -- Utah conservation groups, battered by four years of Trump administration rollbacks of public-land protections, say they're looking for a new approach from the new administration.

Since 2016, Utah has seen reductions in the size of national monuments, new mineral leases on public lands and court battles over weakened environmental regulations.

The incoming Biden administration has vowed to undo many of the rollbacks, including restoring the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears monuments, reducing energy and mineral production and developing strict usage rules for public lands.

Jen Ujifusa, legislative director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said it's a good start.

"But that won't be sufficient," Ujifusa contended. "The other thing that needs to be done is not simply putting us back in order, but really implementing policies that address the climate crisis and the nature crisis, and moving us forward in a conservation sense."

She noted the Trump administration reversed many of the conservation gains of the Obama administration, in part by placing climate-change deniers and public-lands opponents in key federal agencies.

Ujifusa confirmed her group plans to challenge new oil and mineral leases, and new rules that allow more off-road vehicles in Utah's backcountry. She shared they are often most effective when they bypass federal and state lawmakers and work with local officials.

"We really don't engage with the state legislature," Ujifusa explained. "Where there are local initiatives, it's more worthwhile to engage with counties. The state legislature has sued the federal government to seize all public lands in Utah and give them to the state. They're not rational actors."

Despite the hurdles, Ujifusa stressed conservation groups believe they can help keep much of Utah's public land in pristine condition and available to all.

"We're optimistic," Ujifusa maintained. "It's been a hard four years, but we've managed to hold the line, I think, better than I thought we would have been able to after Election Day in 2016. Damage has definitely been done, but it's not irreparable."

She added they also approve of Biden's nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, for U.S. Interior Secretary.

Most of Utah's federal wilderness is on tribal lands, but she observed historically, Native Americans have had little say in how they are managed.


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