Mathew Gross, SUWA’s new media director 

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The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance recently launched a massive media campaign and a new Website (UtahWilderness.org) to spread the message of wilderness protection. SUWA’s new media director, Mathew Gross, talked to City Weekly about the SUWA’s efforts and Utah’s wilderness.

Why is SUWA’s media campaign necessary?
The attitude toward wilderness has shifted, just as the economy has shifted. As tourism becomes a bigger part of the Utah economy, it’s hard to miss the fact that people come from all over the world to see the landscape of Utah. There’s recognition that protecting that makes economic sense, and sense for our children and future generations. The idea for the media campaign was, how do we accelerate that shift? How do we reach out to the majority of Utahns who haven’t given wilderness much thought and get them thinking about wilderness and its value to Utah’s heritage and what makes Utah a special place to live?

But how can people appreciate the land if they can’t use it?
That’s one of the big misunderstandings. Most of Utah’s wilderness is accessible, and a lot of people are using it. If you drive through the Valley of the Gods, you’re driving right next to, and looking at, a wilderness study area. The idea that these lands are untouchable doesn’t really hold true. Certainly, motorized access is limited, but people drive to the trailhead and hike. I think there is an understanding that some lands need to be protected for people to hike and hunt and fish. When you look at the amount of roads in Utah, on BLM land, there are 17,000 miles of roads. Almost all public lands are accessible, and part the goal of the campaign is to clarify that wilderness land is accessible to people.

Are you trying to convert the ATV-lovin’ SUWA haters?
We’re trying to reach out to the middle ground and people who support a balanced approach to wilderness, and people who aren’t familiar with the issue and don’t necessarily know what we’re talking about when we talk about wilderness. A great number of people haven’t thought about wilderness as a politicized issue. It is a politicized issue, but I think for mom and dad sitting at the dinner table, they maybe haven’t really thought about what is wilderness and what should be protected. This campaign was designed to get that conversation going.

Did SUWA’s donors support hiring a new position?
The response from our membership has been very positive. They’ve said that they’ve been waiting for something like this, to make that effort to reach out beyond just environmental activists, but to the general public. That’s something that most organizations do—simply talking to activists or people who already support your cause. There’s a lot of excitement that we’re making an effort and making an investment to reach out to people who might not consider themselves wilderness activists and speak to them about why they might support wilderness and why wilderness is beneficial to Utah in the long run. There’s a sense among our membership that that’s important.

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