More than 81% of Utah residents surveyed in the Utah 30 x 30 survey said the state’s red rock wilderness needs more protection, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of TWIG Media Lab, St. George News
St. George – On Thursday morning, representatives from more than a dozen local, state and national environmental organizations participated in a virtual press conference to introduce the Utah 30×30 Alliance.
The partnership’s overarching goal is to ensure that at least 30% of Utah’s land and waterways are adequately protected by 2030, similar to The national goal set by the executive order Issued by President Joe Biden in January 2021.
Daniel Schilling, a geologist and activist with Save Our Canyons, explained the background to the conservation goal.
“Scientific research and data analysis indicate that we are facing dire consequences from human-caused climate change, particularly global warming, as evidenced by increasingly intense wildfires and extreme weather events,” Schilling said. Combined with climate change, habitat loss and pollution are fueling the ongoing extinction crisis. We are losing species at an alarming rate worldwide.”
Putting habitats aside and keeping the landscape in its natural state are key to mitigating the long-term threats facing Utah and the world, Schilling said.
Isabelle Adler, director of the public lands program at Conserve Southwest Utah, said the St. George-based nonprofit joined the coalition because Washington County is in a unique position to contribute to the 30×30 project effort.
“Washington County is expanding rapidly, and we want to ensure the survival of native species while preserving the landscape for the benefit of current and future generations,” Adler said. “Public lands in our region are essential to ensuring the survival of endangered species such as the Mojave desert tortoise, as well as species only native to this region such as the bear’s claw poppy.”
As part of local efforts to achieve the 2030 goal, Adler said her organization remains opposed to the Northern Corridor Highway project and seeks to retain protections for the regional protection zones.
The Utah Alliance joins five other statewide conservation-based cooperatives in Colorado, California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. Dida Seid, senior advocate for the Center for Biodiversity in Utah, said Western states are leading the campaign for a number of reasons.
“One of the reasons is that we are a place in the country with the largest stretches of public land,” Syed said. The effects of climate change are really being felt in the West in a very immediate way. I mean, you all can remember last summer when we were breathing hard because of the smoke from the wildfires.”
Even by Western country standards, Utah is a remote country when it comes to public lands. The Beehive state ranks third in the state for public lands (as a percentage of total area), with approximately 73% of Utah’s 54 million acres administered by state and federal agencies.
Although public land encompasses more than twice the area sought by the coalition, the current use/management of the vast majority of that land does not meet the highest standards set by the USGS.
“Wild areas are basically the gold standard for protection,” Syed said. “It’s something called GAP 1…hence GAP 2…it’s almost as protected as a wilderness area, but not quite. What we found from the analysis is that about 12-13% of Utah falls into those first two categories, so We are working to protect the other 17% by 2030.”
The USGS defines areas as GAP 1 or GAP 2 if they are managed primarily for biodiversity, with permanent protection and a management plan focused on preserving the natural state with little or no use.
Syed said GAP 3 includes most of Utah’s public lands, which means it’s open to grazing and multiple uses. GAP 4 is the land already developed.
While some of the organizations participating in the coalition represented specific regions – such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Federation – or cultural and religious groups – such as the Utah Dane Piqué or the Mormon Coalition for Environmental Stewardship – many areas were highlighted by representatives and public contributions as key habitats to be set aside or To give more protection.
The health and future of the Utah River Gorges and watersheds were a top priority, closely followed by the preservation of Salt Lake and the surrounding area, the Utah National Forest, and then the red rocky wilderness of Utah.
These areas of focus were confirmed as overall priorities in an ongoing survey conducted by the coalition. Seed shared preliminary findings at the press conference, with more than 92% of 1,129 respondents indicating they would like to see more natural areas in Utah’s future.
In terms of protection, survey respondents preferred protected areas and wildlife corridors as well as wilderness areas and rivers over national monuments and state parks, although each of the types of protection listed had the support of the majority.
“Urgent action is required, and based on the results of our survey, Yotanes is ready to escalate,” Syed said. “Our next step is to put together some very specific proposals for the White House in terms of how to protect public lands in Utah. We’re really interested in knowing where Utahns are most important, but the next step is to really get into the details.”
Utah residents can still submit their thoughts and share their priorities in the survey, as well as find more information about Utah 30 x 30 and its goals on the Alliance website.
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