Winter 2015

Volume 19, No. 2

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

Blaeloch in the
New York Times
In early November, the Times contacted Janine to write a column
for its online forum “Room for Debate” on the subject of solar development impacts on public land. Debating along with her were a staffer
from The Nature Conservancy and an environmental lawyer, both
essentially supporting the current policy, with improvements. The full
debate can be found at http://tinyurl.com/hvzz6ay

Federal Lands are Being Ruined for Inefficient Solar Energy
Janine Blaeloch, Western Lands Project

T

he U.S. government is committed to a mistaken and damaging

In This Issue:

2
4
5
7

Protecting the desert in
southwestern Utah
BLM considering Montana
land exchange again
Boulder-White Clouds
­Wilderness bill passes
U.S. Army to invade wilderness?

renewable-energy policy that promotes and heavily subsidizes
industrial-scale solar and wind development on public lands.
This industrial assault is already under way, and may ultimately
cover hundreds of thousands of acres of our public land – much of
which consists of intact ecosystems that provide habitat for rare and
endangered plants and animals, sequester carbon, and offer the chance
for ecosystem adaptation to climate change.
Utility-scale solar and wind generating plants, most with footprints
of several thousand acres, are transforming ecologically rich, multipleuse lands to single-use industrial facilities, in effect privatizing vast
areas of public land. Those lands cannot be returned to their previous
state; conversion is total and permanent, even though most projects
will generate power for only 15 to 30 years.
The thousands of miles of new transmission infrastructure necessary to carry power from remote generating plants to urban demand
Continued on page 3

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

The town of St. George has grown rapidly, pushing up against surrounding public land. Photo:
Western Lands Project

Plan could give strong protections to desert
lands in southwest Utah
The St. George, Utah office of the Bureau
of Land Management (BLM) recently
released an environmental impact statement that looks at various alternatives for
management of two National Conservation Areas (NCAs) under its purview. The
Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash NCAs
were established in the 2009 Omnibus
Public Lands Act. These lands comprise
critical habitat for the desert tortoise
and other species, and their protection is
particularly important in light of the rapid
growth that has occurred in St. George and

Western Lands has requested that livestock
grazing be eliminated in the Red Cliffs NCA
and that motorized vehicles be banned in both
NCAs.
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surrounding Washington County in the
past two decades-plus.
Western Lands Project has been
involved in public land matters in St.
George since very soon after our founding,
when we began to scrutinize the numerous
land exchanges the BLM was implementing with private landowners inside the
Desert Cliff Tortoise Reserve, now NCA.
In 2006, we began watching legislation sponsored by U.S. Senator Bob
Bennett (R-UT) that mandated the sale
of almost 25,000 acres of public land in
Washington County and directed that
the sale proceeds stay within the county.
The bill also required construction of a
road, the Northern Corridor, that would
cut through the Desert Cliffs Reserve. A
large coalition of environmental groups
opposed the bill, and Bennett was never
able to gain passage of his original proposal. Thanks to now retired Senator

Western Lands Update

Winter 2015

Vol. 19 #2

Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), then chair of the
Senate’s public lands committee, Bennett’s
bill was gutted before it was folded into
the 2009 Omnibus. The land sale mandate
was removed, and the road project was
replaced by a study for the road project.
The BLM’s current planning effort will
lead to a decision as to how much protection the NCAs will receive. The agency’s
Alternative C is gaining a lot of support
from environmentalists, because it affords
the highest level of protection of any of the
options, including a prohibition on rights
of way for the Northern Corridor and for
ant transmission-line or renewable-energy
developments. That alternative also suspends livestock grazing in the Beaver Dam

Blaeloch in The Times…
From page 1
centers drastically inflates the cost of
renewable energy, with ratepayers footing
the bill for the utilities’ built-in transmission profits.
U.S. taxpayers have provided billions
of dollars in subsidies for industrial-scale
renewable developments to many of the
same corporations that have dominated
the Fossil Fuel Era and in fact created the
problems renewable energy is designed to
rectify.
We must create a better energy future
that serves both humans and the environment. Let’s pursue efficiency upgrades
and “distributed generation”– point-ofuse generation on rooftops, in parking
lots and highway medians, brownfields
and throughout the built environment.
These are cost-effective, efficient, clean
and democratic approaches that are faster

Western Lands Update

Wash NCA. Western Lands submitted
comments in support of Alternative C, but
we have requested that livestock grazing
also be eliminated in the Red Cliffs NCA
and that motorized vehicles be banned in
both NCAs.

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to implement; they have far less environmental impact than industrial-scale solar or
wind power on intact ecosystems; and they
make our power grid far less vulnerable to
catastrophic failure and sabotage.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Re-Powering America’s Lands”
program has identified 15 million acres of
degraded or contaminated land potentially
suitable for renewable energy development, and works to facilitate remediation
and development of the sites. This is a
superb example of where our national
policy should be focused.
The current, very damaging approach
to renewable energy is based upon false
storylines: that in order to confront the
climate crisis, we must deploy huge infrastructure on public lands; that those who
oppose these developments are either
climate-deniers or coal-industry sympathizers; and that the sacrifice of desert
ecosystems is a necessary tradeoff in the
pursuit of renewable energy. None of these
stories are true.

Winter 2015

Vol. 19 #2

3

BLM looking again at exchange with
Montana’s largest private landowners

T

exas brothers Dan and Farris

Wilks have been on a buying spree
in Montana the past few years after
selling Frac Tech Services for more than
$3.2 billion in 2011. They are now the
largest private landowners in the state,
with more than 340,000 acres, mostly
ranchland. (For an interesting look at the
brothers and their politics, see http://
preview.tinyurl.com/jjz694q).

The Wilks purchased a 60,000 acre
ranch near the Snowy Mountains of central
Montana in 2011. The ranch completely
surrounds 12 parcels of public lands totaling about 4,900 acres, known as the Durfee
Hills, some of the best elk habitat in the
state. Although there is no road access to
the Durfee Hills, sportsmen hire airplane
and helicopter pilots to fly them onto the
land to hunt in fall.
In the spring of 2014 the Wilks proposed a land trade to acquire the Durfee
Hills. They offered 4,000 acres of another
ranch they owned, adjacent to the Upper
Missouri Breaks National Monument. The
4000 acres were to provide access to more
than 50,000 acres of land in the Upper
Missouri Breaks that were closed off to the
public in 2006 when the former owners
of the ranch claimed that the portion of a
road across the ranch was private (a court
upheld that claim in 2009).
The public overwhelmingly opposed
the Wilks’ proposal because it would
close the Durfee Hills to hunting. The
BLM rejected the offer before it was even
formally evaluated. Distrust of the Wilks
was reinforced when the grassroots group
Enhancing Montana’s Wildlife & Habitat
(EMWH) visited the Durfee Hills in the
fall of 2014 and documented that the Wilks
had placed illegal fence on the portion
of their ranch that bordered the Durfee
Hills, effectively encircling the public land.
EMWH also found that the Wilks fence
encroached on the public lands in trespass
and that several BLM survey markers had

The Wilks brothers have fenced and damaged
public land in the Durfee Hills. Photo: EMWH

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Western Lands Update

Winter 2015

Vol. 19 #2

been bulldozed. The BLM is still investigating the trespass.
Later that fall BLM announced that
it was considering building a different
access road for the Upper Missouri Breaks
National Monument. At a public meeting
to discuss the access road, a commenter
suggested reconsidering the land exchange
with the Wilks.
Apparently, the suggestion was entry
enough for the Wilks to alter their proposal and bring it to the BLM again. The
revised offer includes a permanent access
easement to Lewis & Clark Nation-

al Forest lands and a managed hunting
opportunity on a portion of their ranch.
Despite an earlier statement from BLM
saying it didn’t want to spend taxpayer
money potentially litigating a trade that
the public vehemently opposed, the agency
has again engaged the Wilks and is in the
process of deciding whether to formally
consider the offer through the National Environmental Policy Act process.
Western Lands will continue to work with
EMWH to monitor the proposal.

Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill passes,
minus awful provisions

I

n 2003 we first got wind of a legisla-

tive proposal from Rep. Mike Simpson
(R-ID) called the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act
(CIEDRA), a bill that would turn out to
be a notable and very egregious example
of what we call “quid pro quo Wilderness.” Part of an emerging trend in public
lands legislation, CIEDRA commingled
proposed ­Wilderness designations in the
Boulder and White Clouds mountains
with giveaways of public lands and other
bad provisions intended to appease wilderness haters. Wilderness protection would
essentially be paid for with the outright
gifting of federal lands to several towns
and two counties in central Idaho, as well
as a huge area of public land that would be
dedicated to off-road vehicle access.
When news of Simpson’s bill began
circulating, local authorities had already
been busily cherry-picking pieces of public
land they wished to have conveyed to their
jurisdictions for housing development and
other uses, while the public was left in the
dark. Starting in 2004, CIEDRA was intro-

Western Lands Update

duced numerous times with placeholder
text that referred to land conveyances but
provided no acreages or locations. The
bill language was so continuously under
revision that at one point, Simpson submitted to the House Clerk a version in
which he had forgotten to include the land
giveaways to one of the counties. Oops.
Nevertheless, as time passed, it was apparent that some 5,000 to 7,000 acres of public
land would be handed over.
Dozens of grassroots environmental
groups from around the West and even
across the country coalesced in opposition
to CIEDRA, fearing that its passage would
cement a precedent of using public land as
a cash cow for economically-challenged
rural areas all over the West. One piece of
federal land poised for privatization was
a 162-acre parcel in the beloved Sawtooth
National Recreation Area (SNRA) targeted for residential and commercial development, inspiring a group of Forest Service
retirees to join in opposition to the bill.
The fight over CIEDRA was one of
the first of many that would highlight

Winter 2015

Vol. 19 #2

5

a growing schism between grassroots
public land advocates and larger, often
D.C.-based, environmental organizations.
Rep. Simpson’s supporters on the deal
included the Idaho Conservation League,
­Wilderness Society, and the Campaign
for America’s Wilderness – an arm of the
Pew Charitable Trusts. These groups were
so deeply invested in getting wilderness
designations at any cost that they easily
acceded to the public land giveaways and
lobbied hard and expensively for the bill’s
passage.
Despite their efforts, the bill could not
cross the finish line. CIEDRA was intro-

Dozens of grassroots environmental groups
from around the West and even across the
country coalesced in opposition to CIEDRA.
duced in every two-year congressional
session from 2003 to 2014; it was heard in
committee once, in 2006, and passed the
House on a voice vote, only to languish in
the Senate. In the meantime, even lacking
the resources of the proponents – lots of
money, and offices located steps from the
Capital – grassroots opponents had made
the case that CIEDRA’s land giveaways
would establish a chilling precedent and
potentially open the door to wholesale
public-land privatization. That is something that Americans of every political
quirk deeply dislike.
With Republicans controlling both
chambers between 2003 and 2007,
CIEDRA had seemed unstoppable and
the environmental groups supporting the
bill were justifiably smug. Yet even after
passage in the House, it could not clear the
hurdle of the Senate because of a member
of Simpson’s own delegation, Sen. Larry
Craig (R-ID), who opposed any new wil-

6

derness designation. Then, alas, the Senate
went Democratic from 2007 to 2014 and
the chair of the Senate committee overseeing public lands was assumed by Sen. Jeff
Bingaman of New Mexico, who offered
this denunciation of quid pro quo wilderness legislation:
“…I fear that if we follow the practice of some recent and proposed wilderness bills, we will essentially be undoing
decades of Federal land policy and instead
put in place a new policy encouraging the
­disposal of public lands, only this time on a
­county-by-county basis …”

Bingaman retired in 2013 and of course
Congress went to a Republican majority in 2015, but by that time, Simpson’s
CIEDRA had become moribund. When
rumors began to circulate in 2014 about
the possibility that President Obama
would declare a National Monument
designation for the Boulder-White Clouds,
Simpson asked the Administration to give
him six months to come up with legislation
that could pass.
After numerous false endings – including an attempt by some Republicans to
attach language to Simpson’s bill that
would forbid the President to designate
any national monuments in Idaho without
Idaho’s permission – Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill passed
into law in August 2015. Now called the
Sawtooth National Recreation Area and
Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act, the
legislation had been stripped of the land
giveaways and other harmful provisions,
ending a 12-year battle by grassroots
groups to keep that precedent at bay.

Western Lands Update

Winter 2015

Vol. 19 #2

The Army proposes
intensive helicopter
training in Wilderness.
Photo: Seattle Backpackers Magazine

Joint Base Lewis-McChord plans
invasion of Wilderness
The U.S. Army has just begun a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
process for a proposal to land training helicopters on state and federal public lands
in Washington State. The Army states that
it is challenged by the limited number of
“High Altitude Mountainous Environment Training” helicopter sites available to
BLM personnel, with the closest being in
Colorado.
While the maps provided in the initial
documents do not identify them as such,
some sites are located in the Alpine Lakes,
Glacier Peak, Henry M. Jackson, and Lake
Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness Areas, and
one site is very close to the Pacific Crest
Trail. In the Army’s summary of the proposal, the required list of laws and policies
pertinent to the project does not include
the Wilderness Act, a stunning omission.
Landings in Wilderness are illegal, and
special legislation would have to be passed
to allow circumvention of the current law.
Under the Army’s preferred plan,
training helicopters would have access to
the sites 24 hours per day and 365 days

Western Lands Update

per year (minus federal holidays, oddly).
Operations may include up to 75 landings
per month, in sessions comprised of 10 to
20 landings with seven helicopters over
a period of four hours. These operations
would surely have a profoundly disruptive impact on wildlife in proximity to
the flight paths and landing areas. People
living in nearby communities and anyone
trying to enjoy the solitude of Wilderness or the beauty of the nearby National
Forest would also be extremely negatively
affected. Overall, the unique qualities of
Wilderness and the multiple-use character of the other public lands close to the
training operations would essentially be
obliterated.
Western Lands Project submitted
scoping comments on the project, requesting a full accounting of the impacts to
public lands, Wilderness, and wildlife.
Ultimately, however, we do not want the
project to go forward and will oppose this
unnecessary militarization of public lands
just as we oppose their privatization.

Winter 2015

Vol. 19 #2

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7

A Message from Board President Erica Rosenberg
I’ve had the privilege of serving as Board
President for the Western Lands Project
over seven years, and the satisfaction of
following its work for nearly twenty.
Here’s why Western Lands is my handsdown favorite NGO:
No mission creep: While other groups
chase dollars to create short-lived programs on the latest trendy topic, Western
Lands stays laser-focused on its singular
mission of keeping public lands in public
hands by watchdogging land deals and
other privatization efforts.
Lean and mean: With its sharp focus,
Western Lands operates on a modest
budget, which for years has supported
a staff of three—an Executive Director,
a lawyer, and a fundraiser. No gigantic
budgets or huge salaries, just an outsize
impact. And no doubt about it: every
dollar is used wisely.
Savvy: Western Lands just knows how
to get things done. With media coverage
of its issues from National Public Radio
to the Idaho Mountain Express to the
New York Times, it gets the word out.
Its publications help and inspire citizens
to participate in public lands protection.

8

When it spots a threat like industrial solar
development or quid pro quo wilderness (a
term Janine coined, btw), it builds strategic
coalitions to tackle the problem.
Effective: Western Lands has accomplished more in almost 20 years in terms
of on-the-ground land protection, public
consciousness-raising, and policy change
than many well-funded groups with
dozens or even hundreds of employees. In
fact, in large part due to its single-handed
efforts, trends are positive: even under
Republican control, Congress introduces and passes fewer and fewer egregious
land deals, and land management agencies
have markedly improved their processes,
routinely proposing deals that now pass
muster more often than not.
Principled: Western Lands uncompromisingly sticks to its principles. It simply
advocates for public lands and for taxpayers. It has integrity. It doesn’t need hyped
or alarmist messaging to make its case--it
just sticks to the facts. Its track record
speaks for itself.
I hope you’ll join me in supporting
Western Lands Project.

Western Lands Update

Winter 2015

Vol. 19 #2

Thank you, wonderful members!
Marlin Ard
Jerry and Mildred Asker
Janine Blaeloch *
Brett Haverstick
Dr. Bart and
Martha Brown
Tom Budlong
Linda Campbell
Irene Cannon-Geary
Rob Castleberry
Mark Collier
Charles Couper
Betsy Dennis
Ann Down
Sheila Dugan
Mark and Lois Eagleton
George Early
Josiah and
Elizabeth Erickson *

Donald Ferry
Kelly Fuller
Linda Garrison
Lydia Garvey
William Gefell
Stacy Goss
Ginger Harmon
Duke and Sarah Hayduk
John Horning
Dave Kaiser and
Kristin­Temperly *
Fayette Krause
Chris Krupp *
Jerome Krupp, in Memory
of Vicki Krupp
Joseph D. Krupp
Kurt and Karen Largent
Phyllis Lindner
Sandy Lonsdale

Mike Maloney *
Brandt Mannchen
Rick McGuire
Russell McMullen
John Middleton
John Montoya
John Osgood
Giancarlo Panagia
Debra Patla and
Merlin Hare
Sandra Perkins and
Jeffrey Ochsner
Theresa H. Potts
Rick Reese
Anne Rickenbaugh
Marian Robertson
The Rogland Family Fund
Erica Rosenberg and
Dan Sarewitz
Lin Rowland

Susan Saul
Dr. Justin Schmidt
Mary Ann Schroeder
Richard Spudich
Sheryl Stich
Thad King
Janet Torline
Jeanne Turgeon
Clarinda Vail
David Vassar and
Sally Kaplan
Wade and Shirley Vaughn
Sally Vogel
Chris Vondrasek
Cathy Weeden *
Steve Wolper *
*Monthly donors

We are grateful to the foundations & businesses supporting our work!
AmazonSmile Foundation
Astrov Fund
Cadeau Foundation
CLIF Bar Family Foundation
Colymbus Foundation
Conservation and
Research Foundation
The Darby Foundation
Deer Creek Foundation
Desert Protective Council
Firedoll Foundation
Foley Conservation Fund
Fund For Wild Nature
David and Melinda Gladstone
Horizons Foundation
JiJi Foundation
Kuehlthau Family Foundation

Leiter Family Foundation
The Maki Foundation
New-Land Foundation
The Norcliffe Foundation
PCC Natural Markets
Public Safety Research Institute
Quail Roost Foundation
Safety Systems Foundation

The Seattle Foundation-GiveBIG
Weeden Foundation
The White Pine Fund
Whole Systems Foundation

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9

Western Lands Update

Winter 2015

Vol. 19 #2

Western Lands Project
P.O. Box 95545
Seattle, WA 98145-2545

We’re scrappy… & we get the job done!
Making a donation is easy. You can give online or by mail – for yourself or to honor your
Erica Rosenberg, Washington, DC (President) family and friends. No matter how you give, your generosity helps Western Lands Project
keep public lands public. To make your donation today, please complete and return this form
Marianne Dugan, Eugene, OR
with your tax-deductible contribution.
Steve Gilbert, Helena, MT

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Janine Blaeloch, Director

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