Bringing the Call to Protect Utah's Wild to Washington
Organizing to protect our public lands in a red state like Utah can be both extremely frustrating and extremely gratifying. For this blog entry, I'll focus on the latter.
First and foremost, there simply is no landscape for which I am more proud to call myself a public lands advocate than Utah's redrock desert country. None. The reason is simple: There is no landscape like it anywhere else in the world.
Second, it's the people who are drawn to this landscape, who identify and are connected with it, and who speak on its behalf that also bring me huge job satisfaction. I was reminded of this recently when I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the annual Utah Wilderness Lobby Week, sponsored by the Sierra Club and our Utah Wilderness Coalition partner, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA).
Approximately 35 volunteers from across the country converged on Capitol Hill for the event, walking the halls of Congress and meeting with their representatives in Congress and Obama administration officials to extol the wonders of Utah's amazing redrock wilderness and the Greater Canyonlands region of southeastern Utah and to explain why these beautiful lands deserve permanent protection.
It'’s a huge effort and challenge for 35 volunteers from across the country to spend their own time and hard-earned money to come to Washington, D.C. It means booking travel, finding hotels, and then finding time on the packed calendars of congressional members and staff. This week, it was even tougher, as we had to stare down an impending winter storm that looked so severe that weather experts dubbed it the "Snowquester." It all adds up to a week of stress, a lot of walking, and -– ultimately -- a lot of pride.
For me, the proudest moment was when I got to accompany approximately 15 Utahans to meet with the White House's Council on Environmental Quality staff for a discussion on the Greater Canyonlands National Monument proposal. From the student at Brigham Young University to the outfitter and lodge owner from Escalante to the husband and wife from Moab who belong to Utah Backcountry Horsemen, Utah citizens love their wild desert landscapes. CEQ staff listened intently and took copious notes on why we need to protect these lands from some very real threats.
Having the opportunity to meet face-to-face with representatives and senators to advocate for the issues we care about is an unforgettable feeling. But, even more than that, it can have an important impact. For many members of Congress, these conversations with their constituents can make a difference in how they think about an issue and how they talk about it with their colleagues. For some, these talks may even change their mind. If nothing else, there is no more enjoyable way to participate in our democracy than by taking your cause to the nation's capital. It'’s a powerful feeling to know you're doing everything you can to make your voice heard.
Overall, the week was a tremendous success, thanks to the many volunteers who made this long journey, SUWA's D.C. Staff, and the Sierra Club'’s D.C. lands team. You all made this Utah organizer especially proud. But the fight to protect our special places is far from over. Now, we'll get back to work building coalitions to strengthen our efforts and our alliances. This week,we've made our voices heard -– now it's time to turn up the volume.
Tim Wagner is the Utah-based organizer for Our Wild America Campaign. When he's not hanging out with his wife, Shawna, or daughter, Alexa, he's either skiing or biking the Wasatch or roaming Utah's vast redrock canyon country.