Blog Archives


  • White Canyon. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.
    August 26th, 2015

    Recently, newspaper stories and rumors have swirled around both a potential national monument in San Juan County, Utah, and Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative. Let me try and cut through the clutter to give you an idea where things currently stand.

    First, the monument. A historic coalition of Native-American Tribes and Pueblos have come together to call for a Bears Ears National Monument or National Conservation Area in Utah. This proposal, which we fully support, encompasses 1.9 million acres of dense cultural artifacts, stunning redrock canyons and plateaus, and high-elevation forests. The tribal coalition recently met at Bears Ears with officials from the departments of Interior and Agriculture to discuss their proposal.

    Second, the Public Lands Initiative. As you are likely aware, more than two years ago Rep. Rob Bishop announced his Public Lands Initiative as an effort to resolve public lands issues in Eastern Utah. We were impressed by Rep. Bishop’s willingness to undertake this difficult task and, in turn, we brought good faith and substantial resources to the table. We jumped into time-consuming discussions and dialogue with the Utah congressional delegation and the local counties.

    However, the dialogue and effort has not been uniform. San Juan County, for example, has opted for a process that excludes participation from anyone outside the county. Despite the fact that the Public Lands Initiative has been around for more than two years, only this month did the county commissioners finally put forward their proposal. As you might guess, for a county that has chosen to avoid “external” dialogue, the proposal is terrible.

    White Canyon. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    San Juan County leaves out deserving landscapes for protection (Hatch Point and White Canyon, above, to name a few of many), it asks for more land dedicated to energy development than it does for conservation, and it asks that the President’s authority to set aside national monuments be removed. In an act of pure chutzpah, it demands that Recapture Canyon be turned over to the county. Remember, current commissioner Phil Lyman was convicted of trespass and conspiracy for leading an illegal off-road vehicle ride down Recapture Canyon (which is closed to vehicle use in that part of the canyon).

    San Juan County ignored the requests of the tribal coalition that it propose meaningful protection for the Bears Ears proposal. Ironically, it even ignored the majority of its own county respondents who asked for protections in this area (opens in PDF). And no surprise, it ignored our proposal (see comparison below).

    SanJuan_Blog_Map_Aug18_2015

    This is where the national monument and PLI paths collide. In a move that would fail to surprise even the casual Utah political observer, the Utah governor and congressional delegation have recently opposed the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument. This opposition, though, is based on the potential for the Public Lands Initiative to resolve issues in San Juan County. Utah Governor Gary Herbert said that the Public Lands Initiative provides for “negotiation, compromise, and debate.” Unfortunately, those three factors have been completely absent from the discussion in San Juan County.

    It is worth reiterating that San Juan County completely excluded participation from anyone outside its boundaries. Allowing only 0.005 percent of the nation’s population to determine the future of our public lands (and, in reality, ignoring most of its citizens’ input at the same time) will not lead to a good outcome.

    We remain willing to engage in “negotiation, compromise, and debate.” It is the only way in which public lands issues will be fully resolved in San Juan County. We are anxiously awaiting details from Utah’s congressional delegation and governor as to how that will happen in San Juan County. Absent that, it is our fear that the Public Lands Initiative may become little more than an excuse to forestall a new national monument in Utah.

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  • Bridger Jack Mesa, Crusher Bartlett
    August 24th, 2015

    It’s a sad day for ATV “enthusiasts” in San Juan County and it’s back to the drawing board for the Monticello BLM.

    On August 10, 2015, pursuant to a motion filed by the BLM, the Interior Board of Land Appeals (“Board”) issued an order vacating the BLM’s approval of the Indian Creek ATV trail. The order invalidates the Indian Creek ATV trail and remands the issue back to the agency.

    Instead of defending the validity of the project, as it has done for nearly four years, the BLM finally admitted that its environmental analysis (EA) was illegal and asked the Board to vacate its decision accordingly. Moving forward, the BLM needs to either conduct significant additional analysis of potential adverse impacts from the project, or wisely put this irresponsible idea it to rest once and for all.

    Even in the face of extensive public opposition to the project – in the form of thousands of comments from individual quiet recreationists to the National Park Service – the Monticello BLM has proven itself incapable of standing up to the bully tactics of San Juan County and simply saying “no.” Instead, in a contortion performance that would impress the most seasoned acrobat, the Monticello BLM has revised its project proposal not once, not twice, not even three times, but four times in as many years. It’s simply a level of effort rarely witnessed by those of us who follow the BLM’s actions.

    Bridger Jack Mesa, Crusher Bartlett

    If you recall, we have been fighting this project since the BLM released its first draft analysis in 2011. After the BLM issued its final decision in 2014, SUWA (along with the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness) filed an appeal with the Board and obtained a stay that prohibited the BLM from implementing the project pending the Board’s ultimate decision on the appeal.

    It likely goes without saying, but the Monticello BLM has wasted significant public resources in a futile effort to approve an unwise and irresponsible ATV trail. Instead of going back to the drawing board for additional analysis in what is nothing more than an absurd effort to capitulate to the childish wants of ATV-crazed San Juan County, the BLM should once and for all declare this project finished. Dead on (re)arrival. It’s time to stand up to the San Juan County bullies, and stop wasting precious agency time and resources trying to push through a project that is, and has always been, a terrible idea.

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  • View of Castleton Tower and the La Sal Mountains from Dome Plateau. Copyright Tom Till.
    August 19th, 2015

    Last Friday, Utah BLM released the long awaited draft Moab master leasing plan (or Moab MLP) for a 90-day public review and comment period.

    View of Castleton Tower and the La Sal Mountains from Dome Plateau. Copyright Tom Till.

    View of Castleton Tower and the La Sal Mountains from Dome Plateau. Copyright Tom Till.

    BLM kicked off the master leasing plan process in May 2010 in direct response to litigation that SUWA and our partners brought in the last days of George W. Bush administration to stop oil and gas leasing on the door step of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and other remarkable wilderness landscapes. After we successfully blocked the sale of the infamous “77 leases” and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar withdrew them from sale, there was consensus that the Obama administration needed to do better.

    The plan released last week will give BLM the tools to protect roughly 750,000 acres of remarkable public lands around Moab that are illustrative of what Americans think about when they imagine Utah’s redrock country. Places like Porcupine Rim, Fisher Towers, Six-Shooter Peaks and Goldbar Canyon will be protected from the sight and sound of pump jacks and other oil field equipment. As things stand today, these places and many others in the region are vulnerable to the devastating impacts of oil and gas leasing and development, as well as potash mining.

    At the same time, the master leasing plan will provide for better management of oil and gas development and potash mining to avoid conflict with other resources. The MLP will also give industry certainty where leasing and ultimately development could take place, and companies will understand the terms and conditions for those activities

    Master leasing plans are one example of the Obama administration’s early promise to better balance protection of wild places, local economies, and energy development. The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality acknowledged as much as it blogged last week about the genesis of the Moab MLP and its potential to bring long needed balance to some of the west’s most significant landscapes.

    Predictably, the Moab MLP is far from perfect and leaves critical landscapes unprotected. For example, under the current “preferred alternative” the Labyrinth Canyon stretch of the Green River and its stunning side canyons remain open to leasing and development. With your help, we will work to ensure that this classic Utah landscape is protected.

    BLM has scheduled three open houses in late September and early October in Moab, Monticello and Salt Lake City and will also be accepting comments via email and letter. Look for updates from us in the coming weeks with suggestions about how to get involved.

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  • Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA
    August 14th, 2015

    A draft Bureau of Land Management plan released today could guide energy development away from sensitive lands near Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and many outstanding proposed wilderness areas that are too wild to drill, though places like Labyrinth Canyon and Indian Creek could still be threatened.

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