Public land-management agencies can expect closer scrutiny from environmentalists now that the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance opened a new office here.
SUWA set up a branch office in downtown Moab during Easter Jeep Safari week, an event SUWA volunteers monitored to provide documentation for the courts on the effects of intensive trail use on BLM lands.Scott Groene, 33, a SUWA member and attorney, coordinated that effort and will remain in Moab to run the office.
He said in a recent interview that lack of funding always held up plans to open an office in Moab. SUWA headquarters is in Cedar City, and field offices are maintained in Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C.
A Moab office finally became a priority because SUWA decided someone needed to be close at hand to check on activities of state and federal land-management agencies here, Groene said.
The wilderness alliance is mostly involved at this point with issues concerning the Moab District office of the BLM, Groene said. But he will also keep tabs on the Manti-LaSal National Forest, Dixie National Forest, national parks and monuments, the regional office of state lands and forestry, and other agencies.
"The focus will be on Bureau of Land Management issues, although we'll also get involved in U.S. Forest Service and some park issues," he said.
District offices of the BLM are in Vernal and Price in addition to the San Juan Resource Area office in Monticello and the Grand Resource Area office, which are both administered by the Moab District.
"There's over 6 million acres of BLM land managed by that district, and a lot going on, and we just need to keep better track of it," said SUWA director Brant Calkin in Cedar City.
"A lot of it is that we're having problems with public notice," Groene said. "The advantage (to being) here is getting to keep track of what's going on. The BLM in the past has not really complied with public notice . . . and we would find out about stuff after it happened."
Groene said SUWA views the Moab area as "fabulous country we care about." Being able to watch over the administration on a daily basis will help ensure the public has a say in processes affecting public lands, he said.
Groene's background is in natural resources law, but he also became familiar with a wide range of issues of southern Utah through three years of work for DNA Legal Services in Mexican Hat.
He served as chief of staff for Congressman Wayne Owens (D-Utah) in Washington, D.C., before returning to the Southwest to take a job measuring beaches of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon for use in an Environmental Impact Statement.
He also worked for a year in the Salt Lake City office for SUWA, which at last count had about 7,000 members.
"Salt Lake, unfortunately, is the center for media, politics and the judicial system, but then the land is down here, and the people making the decisions on the land are here too," Groene said.
SUWA in Moab officially opened at 76 S. Main Street the week of March 23. Groene assessed the local response over the past three weeks as friendly, despite SUWA's involvement in several ongoing lawsuits over BLM issues, including the annual Easter Jeep Safari.
The wilderness alliance plans to challenge the BLM decision to renew the five-year permit for guided trail rides the Red Rock 4-Wheelers Club conducts on Easter and Labor Day.