Winter 2014

Volume 18, No. 2

Western
Lands
Project
P.O. Box 95545
Seattle, WA 98145-2545
(206) 325-3503
westernlands.org

In This Issue:

3
5
8

Bad Deal In Utah

Big Solar Update

Other Public Lands News

The Relevancy of
Wilderness

J

ust a few weeks ago, I attended a conference in Albuquerque marking the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the
law that created the National Wilderness Preservation System.
The ­conference provided a much-needed opportunity to celebrate
­Wilderness – a designation affording public lands the highest level
of protection currently available under our laws. It was also a time
to contemplate challenges to Wilderness, whether physical, climatic,
political, or philosophical. The latter two provide contexts for major
debates around Wilderness these days.
One is the debate by now familiar to our readers regarding the
quid pro quo land deals lately engineered by some of the national
­environmental groups, securing Wilderness designation in one place by
­agreeing to privatization or development of other public lands. I spoke
at the conference on this issue in a presentation entitled “Quid Pro
Quo Legislation and the Devolution of Wilderness,” which you can
read on our website at http://westernlands.org/publications/papers.
Yet there is another debate roiling around Wilderness that has
broader and more chilling implications: one that questions the relevancy of Wilderness, given the impact that humans have had on global
systems in the current epoch, which the questioners have taken to calling “the Anthropocene.”
One of the leaders of what might be called the “neo-environmentalists” is Peter Kareiva, Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy,
which is the richest and possibly least-conservationist organization
with such a name. Kareiva’s basic premise is that nature is not fragile and in need of protection, but resilient and in need of more human management. Another adherent, Emma Marris, is the author of
­Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World and says,
Continued on page 2

Western Lands Update • The Newsletter of the Western Lands Project • http://westernlands.org

Wilderness…
From page 1

as one blogger summarizes: “that wilderness is gone forever; we should all get used
to the idea of the environment as humanconstructed; and that this is potentially a
good thing.” The neos like market-based
approaches, technology, and placing
­humans at the center of any action we
take with regard to nature. They point out
that their movement is optimistic – which
in a strange way makes sense, given their

“The neo-environmentalists have a great
advantage over the old greens…They are
telling this civilization what it wants to hear.”
embrace of total human agency.
This philosophy has received a lot of
play, in the New York Times, New Yorker
magazine, Scientific American, The Economist, National Geographic, Smithsonian.
And it has also prompted publication of
a book called Keeping the Wild: Against
the Domestication of Earth (Island Press)
comprised of more than twenty essays by
environmental thinkers (and doers) who
strongly take issue with the neo-environmentalists’ views.
In his concise essay, “Rise of the Neogreens,” English activist and writer Paul
Kingsnorth beautifully summarizes and
counters the essential arguments of the
neo-environmentalists.
For example, neo Emma Marris has
stated, “For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal
is to preserve nature in its pristine, prehuman state. But many scientists have
come to see this as an outdated dream that

2

Western Lands Update

thwarts bold new plans to save the environment.”
To which Kingsnorth replies “I’ve met
a lot of… environmentalists…and I don’t
think I’ve ever met one who believed
there was any such thing as ‘pristine,
pre-human’ nature. What they did believe
was there were still large-scale, functioning ecosystems which were worth getting
out of bed for to help protect them from
destruction.”
Kingsnorth warns that these bold new
plans Marris and others are promoting are
based on the ideas that “nature doesn’t
matter… that the interests of human beings should always be paramount… and
that the political and economic settlement
we have come to know in the last twenty
years as ‘globalization,’ is the only game
in town, now and probably forever.” And,
he says, “The neo-environmentalists have
a great advantage over the old greens,
with their threatening talk about limits to
growth, ­behavior change, and other such
against-the-grain stuff: They are telling
this civilization what it wants to hear.”
As the impacts of our actions become
increasingly evident on a planetary scale –
and especially where government power
goes to those who are pro-unrestrainedgrowth and anti-saving-anything – we are
bound to see more of the neo-environmentalists and their triumphalist ­arguments.
The essays in Keeping the Wild are a
solid response to them, as well as moving
reminders of why Wilderness and the wild
are as relevant as they have ever been.
– Janine

Winter 2014

Vol. 18 # 2

A Possibly Not-So-Grand Bargain in Utah

I

f you have been reading Western Lands Update for a while, you will have seen a

lot of news about Utah, beginning with an article back in 2000 highlighting two big
land exchanges brokered by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt – both widely
­perceived to have ripped off American taxpayers and lavishly gifted the State of Utah.
We’ve followed many more Utah deals since then, from a small but harmful land trade
between the Manti-La Sal National Forest and a power company, to land exchanges in
southwest Utah implemented with appraisals manipulated to benefit private landowners,
to the ill-fated, multimillion-dollar congressional rip-off that would have constituted the
San Rafael Swell land exchange.
Utah is among the states with the high- an existing or proposed Wilderness area.
est percentages of federal land within their The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
borders, at around 60 percent, and these
asserts that most of the so-called roads the
lands have long been the subject of intense local governments are claiming are “stream
disputes and frantic land-dealing.
bottoms, cowpaths and two-tracks in the
At issue:
desert that may have been briefly used de• Utah’s Schools and Institutional Trust cades ago by ranchers or prospectors and
Lands Administration (SITLA) oversees
only occasionally visited since.”
lands granted by the federal government at • Like rural areas all over the West,
Utah’s counties bemoan the amount of
statehood to fund schools; these are interpublic land within their borders and the
mingled with federal lands (there are four
lack of tax revenue from those lands. Alschool sections per 36-section township:
see diagram on this page) and the State has though their economies benefit by recreation and tourism associated with public
made repeated attempts over the years –
land, they consistently call for more direct
some successful – to put together massive
control over federal land and more intenland trades that would let them trade their
sive development. Utah is a center of the
school sections for public land containing
oil and gas, minerals, or other development western movement to return federal land
to the states.
potential.
• In 1866, Congress passed R
­ evised
• At just one percent of its lands area,
Statute 2477 (“RS 2477”) to encourage the
Utah has the least amount of designated
settlement of the West through development of highways. The Statute granted a
right-of-way across federal land to counties and states when a highway was built.
RS 2477 was repealed in 1976 when the
Federal Land Management & Policy Act
(FLPMA) was passed, though the Act preserved valid rights that were in e­ xistence at
the time of the repeal. In the last few years
counties and the State have attempted
to claim rights-of-way on public lands,
particularly in Wilderness. Because Wilderness areas must be at least 5,000 acres
in size and cannot contain roads, a valid
road claim under RS 2477 could disqualify

Western Lands Update

Winter 2014

Vol. 18# 2

Sections 2, 16, 32, and 36
of townships in Utah are
designated for the support of public schools in
the state.

3

Utah…
From page 3

Wilderness among the western states. The
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has
been working to gain Wilderness designation for about nine million acres in Utah
since 1989, when America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act was first introduced. The bill
has since been introduced in every session
of Congress, but it has received support
largely from members of Congress outside
the West and is strongly opposed by the
Utah congressional delegation.
Now, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) has big
plans for legislation that would purportedly resolve these land-use conflicts through
exchanges and conveyances of federal land,
settlements of road disputes, and wilderness designations. What some are calling a
“grand bargain” would put together a deal
for each of six eastern Utah counties and
load them all into public lands legislation
to be put together next year. Bishop has
brought together numerous “stakeholders”
with widely divergent interests – county
commissioners, hunters, local and national
environmental groups, all-terrain vehicle
(ATV) groups, economic development
interests – with the idea that a big piece of
legislation can give everyone part of what
they want and “strike a balance” between
land protection and resource extraction.
It is not surprising that Bishop has
gained participation from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Wilderness Society, and Nature
Conservancy, all of whom have happily
participated in negotiations over our public land many times. More eyebrow-raising
is that the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a group that has previously remained
steadfast against making big trade-offs to
secure Wilderness designations, has bought
into it.

4

Western Lands Update

Representative Rob Bishop

Bishop is in a good position to advance
his legislation, as he is expected to take
over as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee in the new Congress.
Among the public lands-related bills he
has sponsored is the terrible “Border Bill,”
which would waive 15 environmental laws,
including the Wilderness Act, Endangered
Species Act, and National Environmental
Policy Act anywhere within 100 miles of
the northern and southern borders of the
U.S., supposedly to make enforcement of
immigration laws easier. Bishop has also
spoken strongly in favor of handing management of federal land over to the states.
Bishop currently chairs the Public
Lands subcommittee. Hearings in that
subcommittee have been marked by his
paroxysms of sardonic “wit” and occasional sneering at witnesses. Now, he is at pains
to appear statesmanlike as he tries to keep
the stakeholder group on board.
The first general agreement to come out
of the group pertains to Daggett County,
Utah. Details are lacking, but it involves
“large” land trades between the federal

Winter 2014

Vol. 18 # 2

land agencies and the State of Utah; conveyances of federal land to the county;
the opening of ATV routes; a settlement
of RS2477 disputes; designation of Wild
& Scenic Rivers; Wilderness designations,
and establishment of a National Conservation Area. It is difficult at this stage to
know how legislating these actions will
comport with environmental laws, but
it appears that the land exchanges would
override Forest Service and BLM landuse plans already in place that have been
vetted through the public –and that would
­constitute waivers of the Federal Land
Management & Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.
One news article about the proposal
stated that Bishop is urging preservationaverse county officials to view wilderness
designations “as ‘currency’ that could
be traded for ‘tangible benefits’ such as

control over roads, energy projects, timber
development and acquisition of federal
lands for parks or airports.”
Bishop would be a fool not to have
observed how effectively the “currency” of
wilderness has lured conservation groups
into land deals over the last decade or so.
In the new Republican Congress we can
expect to see many similar proposals coming from an emboldened right wing and
pliant conservation groups. Paul Spitler,
the Wilderness Society’s director of wilderness campaigns, said at the announcement
ceremony for the Daggett County deal,
“The agreement resolves land disputes
that have lasted for decades…It is a good
model, not only for the rest of the state,
but for the rest of the nation.” We take that
as a very clear warning.

News on Big Solar

variance process. BLM’s California State
Director Jim Kenna issued a denial of the
permit on November 20, stating that the
project would not be in the public interest.
The permit denial prompted a gargantuan sigh of relief among those who know
the valley, as well as critics of the solardevelopment policy. The Silurian Valley
contains many significant cultural resources, including part of the Old Spanish Trail
linking Santa Fe and Los Angeles, used by
Native Americans and other travelers and
known by the Spanish as early as the late
1500s. The impact of a massive solar facility on the valley’s magnificent viewshed
would be nothing short of devastating.
The valley is also an important corridor
for wildlife, including the desert tortoise
and migratory birds. The latter use the area
when rain fills its dry lake beds, and it is
now understood that migratory birds are
attracted to solar arrays, mistaking them
for water bodies. Birds can be stranded
once they land. Iberdrola has a right to

P

roject denied: At last, there is
something to celebrate on the solarindustrialization front: DENIAL of
the permit for a project that would have
developed over 1,600 acres of public land
in the Silurian Valley, about 15 miles north
of Baker, California. The Spanish company Iberdrola had applied for a permit
from the BLM to build a solar plant in this
quiet, largely undisturbed, breathtakingly
beautiful desert.
The BLM’s plans for solar development on public lands in six western states
identifies both Solar Energy Zones (SEZs)
– lands the agency considers most appropriate for development – as well as some
19 million acres of public land for which
applicants face more rigorous environmental analysis and decision criteria to gain
the variance that allows them to develop
outside an SEZ. The Silurian Valley project was the first to advance through the
Western Lands Update

Winter 2014

Continued on page 6

Vol. 18# 2

5

Big Solar…
From page 5

appeal the decision but has not yet announced whether it will do so.

Salazar advisor had conflict of
interest
The Interior Department’s Inspector General recently released a report revealing
that Steve Black, senior advisor to former
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for energy
and natural resource policy, may have
acted improperly to facilitate permitting
for public-land solar and wind projects.
Black pressured scientists and agency staffers working on permits for solar projects
to issue opinions that would be favorable
to the developments, to the extent that the
head of the US Fish and Wildlife Service
and the California director of the BLM
both had to order him to stop harassing
their staffs. Black was also trying to grease
the skids for two solar projects proposed
by NextEra at the same time that he was

dating a NextEra lobbyist. Ethics rules
don’t prohibit relationships between regulators and the regulated, but Black should
have recused himself from any decisions
involving the company and did not do so.
Black has long since left Interior and is
working in the private sector, but one issue
he tried to influence is of ongoing interest: there is state-federal planning effort
currently in play called the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP),
intended to determine which areas of the
California desert will be developed and
which spared. At the same time that he was
applying to become CEO of the American
Wind Energy Association, Black pressured
staff to open up more areas in the DRECP
for wind development. Black’s actions led
to several areas that biologists deemed
inappropriate for development being
qualified instead as Development Focus
Areas (DFAs). Environmentalists who
are currently reviewing the DRECP hope
to find out the location of these DFAs.
In typical revolving-door fashion, Black
is now working for one of the country’s
ten largest law firms, with work focused
on “renewable and conventional energy
project siting and infrastructure permitting
on public and private lands.”

Update on Ivanpah
The Ivanpah Solar plant – first to be fasttracked through the permitting process and
first to go online in the Obama Administration – has been in the news fairly constantly
since it began operations in December 2013,
and the news has not been good.
(1) News originally broken by our
colleague Chris Clarke was later taken up
by the Associated Press – solar plants kill
birds. In his ReWire blog at KCET.org,
Chris revealed dangers to birds posed by
the “solar flux” emanating between Ivanpah’s fields of mirrors and power towers
– birds were being incinerated after being attracted into the plant area either by

The Silurian Valley. Photo: Bob Wick, BLM

6

Western Lands Update

Winter 2014

Vol. 18 # 2

insects flying into its light and/or by the
so-called “lake effect” wherein birds see
the panels as lakes in the desert. When the
AP spread the story, public concern about
the technology surged.
(2) NRG, Ivanpah’s operators, recently
asked for and got permission to burn 60
percent more natural gas at the site for the
auxiliary boilers that get power generation
started in the morning and kick in when it’s
cloudy. The plant can now consume 1.575
billion cubic feet of natural gas per year. According to the American Gas Association,
1 billion cubic feet of natural gas is enough
to meet the needs of approximately 10,00011,000 American homes for one year.

(3) Actual power output from the plant
has been very disappointing. From January through August, the plant generated
254,263 megawatt-hours – in the course
of eight months just a little more than a
quarter of the planned annual output of one
million-plus megawatt-hours. The operators are blaming it on unexpected clouds.
So, there we have it – a project that
completely sterilized a stunning landscape
that had supported abundant desert wildlife is killing birds, increasing emissions,
and not even making good on its renewable-energy promise.

University and a master in public administration from Seattle University.

Greetings from Sheryl

Sheryl.

Welcoming Our New Development
Manager, Sheryl Stich
Western Lands Project’s longtime development manager Emily Crandall left us
to bring her and husband Drew’s second
child into the world. We are pleased to
welcome Sheryl Stich, who has more than
20 years’ fundraising experience, primarily in education and the arts. Sheryl holds
a BA in drama from Eastern Washington

Western Lands Update

Winter 2014

Vol. 18# 2

Before I came to WLP, I was aware that
there was public land, and private land, but
I had no idea how much government entities, corporations, private land owners and
politicians barter with OUR public lands
– and not necessarily always to the benefit
of the public.
To me, trading public land is similar to
trading baseball cards. The analogy is that
the government sometimes trades away a
valuable “Babe Ruth” for a card with less
worth. Pristine acreage with old growth
trees, endangered plants and animals are
exchanged for land that has been clear cut
or is pretty much unusable. And many
times the public is not even aware of the
trade.
My job at Western Lands Project is
to raise funds to support the work of
this unique organization, which helps to
maintain the balance and equity between
private and public lands. I am delighted
to be a part of this group that helps keep
OUR public land public.
Continued on page 8

7

Rep. Grijalva Obtains Leadership
Position
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) will be the
ranking member on the House Natural
Resources Committee in the new Congress. Western Lands Project and scores of
other conservation groups have repeatedly
called for the Democrats to give Grijalva
the leadership position on the committee, and we were finally heard. Unlike his
predecessor, Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Grijalva will be a very strong spokesman for
environmental protection. He is the only
member of the House who can be counted
on as a consistent defender of public lands.

WLP Will Monitor Las Vegas Plan for
Public Lands

Look for us and like us
on Facebook, where
we regularly post items
related to public land.

8

The Las Vegas Field Office of the Bureau
of Land Management has released a draft
Resource Management Plan (RMP and environmental impact statement for revision
of its current land-use plan, last revised in
1998. Among the many issues to be addressed will be which lands will be designated for disposal through sale or exchange
and where lands should or should not
be made available for renewable-energy
development. Western Lands Project does
not have adequate staff to routinely review
and comment on the BLM’s RMPs but will
make an exception in this case. We have
long been critics of the rapid disposal of
public land in the Las Vegas Valley, which
stems not only from the BLM’s land-use
plan, but from legislation sponsored by
Harry Reid that mandated sales of land at
auction. Even with a slowdown in housing
development, the auctions have continued,
with the result that lands are privatized,
scraped of habitat, and left idle while
developers wait for the market to improve.
Review of the proposed RMP revisions
will give us an opportunity to address that

Western Lands Update

issue; whether and how much solar development is appropriate in the planning area;
and the need to preserve habitat.

Our Challenge to Public-Land Solar
Policy Moves to the Court of Appeals
In February 2013, Western Lands Project,
along with our co-plaintiffs Western Watersheds Project and the Desert Protective
Council, filed a legal challenge against the
Interior Department’s plan for solar development on public lands. Western Lands
Staff Attorney Chris Krupp led this litigation, which focused on the agency’s failure
to analyze more environmentally-sound
alternatives, such as distributed generation
and development on degraded lands, as is
required by the National Environmental
Policy Act.
The lawsuit was filed with the Federal
District Court in San Diego. In late June
2014, we learned that the court had ruled
against us. After some deliberation, we
and our co-plaintiffs filed an appeal to the
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
District court orders granting motions
for summary judgment are reviewed de
novo, so the Ninth Circuit does not give
any deference to the district court’s decision. Essentially, the court of appeals
would look at the claim in the same manner the district court did.
We continue to believe that once Interior is forced to broaden its analysis there
is a possibility of changing the policy.
The briefing schedule for the appeal has
been set for this December. Chris anticipates that the briefings and hearing will be
completed before the end of 2015.

Winter 2014

Vol. 18 # 2

Thank you, wonderful members!
Dave Atcheson
Molly and Stephen Attell
Sylvia Barrett
David Beebe
Kitty Benzar
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Sheila Bowers
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Bob Buselmeier
Linda Campbell
Charles Couper
Emily and Drew
Crandall*
Betsy Dennis
Marianne Dugan
George Early
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Prof. Robert Fischman
Dot and John FisherSmith
Karl Forsgaard
Jack Freer
Lydia Garvey
Steve Gilbert
Tony Gioia
Shaun Gonzales
Jeffrey Grathwohl
Ginger Harmon
Ann Harvey and Mike
Campbell

Rebecca Haseleu
Darrell Howe
Dave Kaiser and Kristin
Temperly*
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Chris Krupp*
Joseph D. Krupp
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Joseph Lee and Susan
Eisner
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Mike Maloney*
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Fran Mauer
Rick McGuire
John Middleton
Rich Nelson and Rebecca
Hilliker
Andrew Nelson
George Nickas
Giancarlo Panagia
Deborah Paulson
Sandra Perkins and Jeffrey
Ochsner

Scott Phillips
David Reagan
Anne Rickenbaugh
Prof. Bill Rodgers
Paul Rogland
Erica Rosenberg and Dan
Sarewitz
Dr. Justin Schmidt
Mary Ann Schroeder
Michael W. Shurgot
Richard Spudich
Sheryl Stich
Rose Strickland
Janet Torline
David Vassar and Sally
Kaplan
Wade and Shirley Vaughn
Sally Vogel
Cathy Weeden*
Terry Weiner
Jane Whalen
Nat and Jean White
Steve Wolper*
Guy Yogi
*Monthly donors

Foundation Support:
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Foundation
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Conservation and
Research Foundation
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Melinda G. Gladstone
Foundation
Deer Creek Foundation
Firedoll Foundation
Kuehlthau Family
Foundation
Leiter Family Foundation
New-Land Foundation
The Maki Foundation
The White Pine Fund
Weeden Foundation

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2, 2014. If your gift was received after this date, you’ll be acknowledged in our next
newsletter. Thank you for your support – we could not do this work without you!

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Western Lands Update

Winter 2014

Vol. 18# 2

9

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