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Susan Tixier, a tireless voice for conserving wilderness in Utah, has reached the end of her trail after many decades exploring the West's desert wildlands and explaining why those places matter.
Tixier, who died Thursday at age 73, is best remembered as a founder of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, the irreverent advocacy group now based in Durango, Colo. At the time, Tixier was a lawyer and associate executive director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
Timed with the 25th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in 1989, the Broads launched in Escalante to challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch's assertion that the wilderness designations in southern Utah would harm the elderly by denying them access to unroaded backcountry.
"Several of us took umbrage and decided the honorable senator from Utah, as well as others in Congress, should hear from some Great Old Broads for Wilderness about how we felt about roads in wild places," Tixier wrote in a 2001 blog post. "We started the organization without any thought to its becoming a nationally known, professionally staffed organization with about 3,000 members."
The Broads staged events aimed at shaming and poking fun at those who despoil scenic wildlands on the Colorado Plateau. For example, attired as cleaning ladies, members picked up trash left by ATV riders following big motorized gatherings in areas proposed for wilderness.
Under Tixier's leadership, the group took its grass-roots advocacy to Washington to promote the idea that wilderness renews the human spirit and preserves civilization.
"Susan was always a gracious friend, full of energy and enthusiasm, and a lot of fun. She had spontaneous and daring ideas. Calling the organization Great Old Broads for Wilderness was a stroke of imagination," said co-founder Frandee Johnson of Boulder, Colo. "She was innovative and a great leader, and she did amazing things for the environment for which we are all grateful."
One memorable thing the Broads accomplished was convincing the Bureau of Land Management to close Utah's Recapture Canyon to motorized use in 2007 after showing how unauthorized trail construction had damaged the canyon's ancient American Indian sites. That move earned the group a lot of enemies among San Juan County residents who have long resented federal decisions they say keep citizens off the public lands they have long considered their backyard.
County Commissioner Phil Lyman led a protest ATV ride into the canyon last year, earning him a conviction on federal misdemeanor charges and the honor of being named "commissioner of the year" by the Utah Association of Counties.
Tixier, who had lived in New Mexico the past several years, was active in other organizations including the founding of the New Mexico Environmental Legal Center, the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies (now Western Lands Advocates), and Forest Guardians (now WildEarth Guardians). She also directed the Colorado Environmental Coalition (now Conservation Colorado).
At a 2009 Broads gathering, according to the AARP Bulletin Today, she had this to say about the value of wild places:
"It is our calling to spread the word to great broads everywhere, that the experience of waking up in your sleeping bag in the middle of the canyon country with too-close yipping coyotes under a full moon, walking through a rising river in the rain, seeking shelter from a late snowstorm under a ledge … standing quietly to watch a mama bear and cubs cross the path in front of you that these events are a living metaphor for how best to live our lives. Without the opportunity to experience wilderness, civilization becomes sterile, safe and dead."