Press Releases Archives


  • Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA
  • January 4th, 2016

    SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE * EARTHJUSTICE

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    January 4, 2015
    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
    Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, 303.996.9611

    SALT LAKE CITY: Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, CO rejected a request by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to indefinitely delay surveys for cultural artifacts on public lands managed by the Richfield Field Office in Utah.  In May of 2015, environmentalists and historic preservation advocates secured a victory when a Utah federal district court judge ordered BLM to conduct on-the-ground surveys to identify cultural artifacts in need of protection on more than 4,000 miles of dirt roads and trails where BLM has permitted off-road vehicles to be driven.  The Tenth Circuit confirmed that BLM must comply.

    “This region is home to an abundance of archaeological resources, including caves, rock shelters, and rock art, that provide a window in to the lives of the early inhabitants of the Colorado Plateau,” said Kevin Jones, former Utah State Archaeologist.  “Off-road vehicles pose a serious threat to these irreplaceable resources.”

    The Richfield Field Office covers 2.1 million acres of red rock country in south-central Utah, largely sandwiched between Canyonlands National Park and Capitol Reef National Park.  This land is held sacred by Native American tribes, including the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi Tribe.  Thousands of significant cultural properties have been identified in the field office including structures, ceramics, petroglyphs, and lithic scatters.  In a land use plan adopted in late 2008, BLM gave the green light to off-road vehicles to drive on more than 4,000 miles of trails and tracks without first surveying them to ensure that these irreplaceable cultural resources would not be harmed by such use.

    “This is an important decision from the Tenth Circuit,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “In practical terms the ruling means that BLM can no longer delay following federal historic preservation laws which require the agency to ‘look before it leaps,’ and determine what irreplaceable cultural resources in the Richfield field office are at risk from off-road vehicle use.  Rather than some new requirement, this is work that BLM was required by law to have undertaken 15 years ago when it first began the Richfield plan.”

    Less than five percent of the public lands managed by the Richfield Field Office have been surveyed for cultural resources.  BLM is required to survey the routes designated for off-highway vehicle use within three years.

    “For decades, BLM has allowed off-road vehicles to carve up the landscape without first ensuring that the remnants of region’s rich history are preserved,” said Robin Cooley, Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups.  “The court’s order means that BLM will finally have to take the steps required by law to identify and protect cultural artifacts.”

    BLM’s request to delay the cultural resource surveys was also opposed by the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Indian Peaks Band of Paiute, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Morning Star Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting native traditions, culture, and art.

    The Richfield land use plan is one of six plans—covering more than 11 million acres—adopted at the end of the George W. Bush administration.  These plans were widely criticized for prioritizing motorized use and energy development over protection of Utah’s spectacular red rock canyon country.  The conservation and historic preservation groups have challenged all six plans in court.  The Richfield plan is the first to be litigated, but the plans all suffer from similar legal flaws.

    The conservation groups challenging the plans include the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utah Rivers Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Rocky Mountain Wild.  The groups are represented by attorneys at SUWA, Earthjustice, and Robert Wiygul of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside.

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  • Red Cliffs NCA (Bob Wick)
    October 13th, 2015

    The St. George BLM recently released its draft management plan for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs National Conservation Areas (NCAs) and is accepting public comments until November 16th.

    If you care about these areas, now is the time to act.

    As you may recall, the 2009 Washington County public lands bill (i.e., the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009) established the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs—both located in a unique corner of Utah where the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert ecosystems meet.  The NCAs were created to “conserve, protect, and enhance . . . the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources” of the designated lands.

    Red Cliffs NCA (Bob Wick)

    Red Cliffs NCA, copyright Bob Wick/BLM.

    Now, anti-conservation voices in Washington County have made it their goal to undermine any effort to protect wildlife and wilderness-quality lands through management of the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs.  They have attacked the BLM for proposing measures to ensure long-term conservation within the NCAs and have attempted to skew reality by arguing that the BLM must designate a highway corridor through the Red Cliffs NCA.

    Please tell the BLM to implement the highest level of protection for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs by November 16th.

    BLM’s Alternative C, the “conservation alternative,” would ensure long-term protection for wildlife and wilderness-quality lands.   These protections include:

    • Prohibiting a right-of-way for a highway corridor through the Red Cliffs NCA (the “Northern Corridor”), which was established for the purpose of protecting the Mojave desert tortoise (a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act).
    • Designating a multispecies wildlife corridor and removing the “open” motorized vehicle designation in the protected area.
    • Managing BLM-identified wilderness-quality lands for the protection of wilderness values.
    • Designating Areas of Critical Environmental Concern for threatened, endangered, and at-risk species.
    • Limiting new motorized and non-motorized recreational development.
    • Prohibiting new transmission and pipeline rights-of-way through protected areas.
    • Removing livestock grazing and livestock developments from the Beaver Dam Wash NCA.

    Click here to tell the BLM to prioritize conservation within the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs by implementing the highest level of protection for wildlife and wilderness-quality lands.

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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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  • June 2nd, 2015

    EPA Allowed by Court to Turn Back on Dangerous Smog Levels, Giving Fracking Industry Free Rein to Pollute

    For Immediate Release: June 2, 2015

    Washington, D.C. – A federal court ruling today denied clean air for Utah’s Uinta Basin, allowing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to sacrifice public health for the oil and gas industry.

    “Instead of requiring the EPA to adhere to its mission of protecting public health, the court has allowed the agency to evade their responsibility through essentially a trivial technicality,” said Dr. Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “The Uinta Basin already has documented abnormal spikes in infant deaths. While this ruling is a disappointment to us, it is a serious setback to protecting the thousands of Basin residents, including children and pregnant mothers, from some of the worst air pollution in the nation.”

    Utah’s Uinta Basin has for several years now been experiencing dangerously high levels of ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog. Ozone pollution in the Uinta Basin rivals that found in Los Angeles and Houston. Ozone levels well-above federal health standards have been recorded throughout the region.

    Studies have confirmed that oil and gas development is a key culprit for the region’s unhealthy air. More than 11,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in the region. A recent study published in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology, reported that total ozone forming pollution from oil and gas operations in the region equals the amount released by 100 million passenger vehicles.

    “Out of control fracking is taking a terrible toll on clean air in Utah,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Sadly, today’s court ruling lets the oil and gas industry continue to put its profits before public health.”

    In spite of monitoring data showing the Uinta Basin is violating federal health limits for ozone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 declined to order a clean up. Instead, the agency declared that air quality in the region was “unclassifiable,” meaning that the Clean Air Act’s mandatory requirements for improving air quality would not apply in the Uinta Basin.

    In 2013, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, WildEarth Guardians, and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed suit to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to declare the Uinta Basin’s air quality to be unhealthy and take steps to restore clean air. Represented by Earthjustice, the groups called on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s unclassifiable designation.

    In a ruling today, the court rejected the suit, upholding the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision.

    “Today’s ruling is unfortunate news for the people living and working in the Uinta Basin who must continue to breathe unhealthy air,” said Robin Cooley, attorney for Earthjustice who argued the case. “The Environmental Protection Agency knows the air is unhealthy, and we will continue to hold their feet to the fire until they take the steps necessary to protect public health. Given the rampant oil and gas development in the Uinta Basin, there is no time to waste.”

    The court’s ruling comes even as monitoring continues to confirm the Uinta Basin’s sickening smog levels. In early 2014, public health and environmental groups again called on the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the region’s smog.

    ###

    For More Information Contact:

    Dr. Brian Moench, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, (801) 243-9089, drmoench@yahoo.com

    Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org

    David Garbett, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3992, david@suwa.org

    Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (303) 263-2472, rcooley@earthjustice.org

     

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