Press Releases Archives


  • November 4th, 2013

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    November 4, 2013

     

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

    Court Strikes Down Controversial BLM Land Use Plan
    BLM plan designated thousands of miles of ORV routes, placing iconic western landscapes at risk

    SALT LAKE CITY Today the United States District Court for the District of Utah struck down significant parts of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Resource Management Plan for the Richfield Field Office, putting the brakes on a Bush-era management scheme that prioritized motorized recreation over all else.

    A coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and Earthjustice had challenged the plan (the “Richfield RMP”) in an attempt to bring balanced management to Utah’s spectacular public lands.  The plan developed by BLM threatened world-renown southern Utah wilderness landscapes like the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy’s infamous hideout, Robber’s Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states) and Factory Butte.  See photos here.

    Specifically, Judge Kimball:

    • Reversed BLM’s off-road vehicle (ORV) trail designations because BLM failed to minimize the destructive impacts of ORV use on streams, native plants, wildlife, soils and irreplaceable cultural sites and artifacts, as required by law.
    • Directed BLM to complete intensive, on-the-ground surveys for historic and cultural resources before authorizing ORV use.
    • Held that BLM’s failure to designate the Henry Mountains as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern—which would have given heightened protection to its bison herds and large expanses of remote, spectacularly scenic lands — violated federal law.
    • Ordered BLM to reevaluate information supporting the designation of Happy Canyon and the spring areas of Buck and Pasture Canyons for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

    Under the Richfield RMP, BLM had designated over 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails, enough miles to drive from Atlanta to Anchorage, for ORV vehicle use despite evidence of environmental damage and conflicts with other public lands visitors.

    “This landmark decision is a resounding rejection of the BLM’s mismanagement of Utah’s stunning public lands,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “The Richfield RMP wrongly prioritized ORV use over all other uses of the public lands and neglected streams and special places worthy of protection.  The court didn’t mince words in its ruling that this violated federal environmental and historic laws.”

    “Utah’s remarkable public lands deserve better than what they are getting from the BLM,” remarked David Garbett, a SUWA staff attorney.  “This decision is a first step in improving that situation.”

    The impact of this decision raises serious questions about the legality of five other BLM management plans in the eastern half of the state of Utah that suffer from similar legal flaws.  The Richfield RMP is just one of six land use plans—covering more than 11 million acres of eastern and southern Utah—that the Interior Department finalized in October 2008.  Together, these RMPs were a last-ditch attempt by the Bush administration to leave their stamp on Utah’s landscape by prioritizing ORVs and energy development over protecting Utah’s uniquely magnificent red rock canyon country. Conservationists have challenged all six plans in court.  The Richfield RMP is the first of the six to be litigated.

    “It’s a new day for Utah’s Red Rock country,” said Heidi McIntosh of Earthjustice.  “This far-reaching decision means BLM can no longer dismiss the value of wilderness, scenery, wildlife, and areas of cultural importance to Native Americans in favor of destructive ORV use.”

    “This decision sends an irrefutable message to the BLM about the need for responsible management of the 11 million acres of public lands covered by all 6 challenged plans,” said Nada Culver, Senior Counsel for The Wilderness Society. “The BLM should heed this as a call to action and move forward now to address these flaws in all of the plans – minimizing damage from off-road vehicles and protecting natural and cultural values.”

    “We’re thrilled by the district court’s decision,” said Bill Hedden, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Trust.  “BLM’s refusal to conduct on-the-ground inventories for cultural resources that are being damaged and destroyed from off-road vehicle use was shocking.  Federal law requires BLM to do more to protect these irreplaceable cultural treasures and we’re pleased that the judge ordered BLM to do so.”

     

    Background information on the Richfield RMP can be found on SUWA’s website.  Photographs of the proposed wilderness areas at risk in the Richfield field office are also available.  In 2008, the Salt Lake Tribune and New York Times panned the Richfield RMP, raising many of the same flaws identified in the court’s decision.

    The conservation groups challenging the BLM’s 2008 land use plans in Utah 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 Stephen Bloch and David Garbett of SUWA; Heidi McIntosh, Robin Cooley and Alison Flint of Earthjustice; and by Robert Wiygul of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside.

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  • June 13th, 2013

    Panelists discuss Greater Canyonlands at Star Hall in Moab on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.

    More than 80 Moab locals turned out to Moab’s historic Star Hall on Tuesday night to take part in a panel discussion about the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument and other issues affecting public lands in the region.

    The evening started off with a presentation by TrekWest adventurer and Wildlands Network co-founder John Davis, who is in the midst of a 10-month, human-powered journey along a visioned Western Wildway running from Mexico to Alaska.

    Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune followed Davis with a presentation that placed the effort to protect Greater Canyonlands into context with the Club’s efforts to mitigate climate change and change the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels. As the Salt Lake Tribune reports:

    Brune is on a two-week road trip around the Southwest with his wife and three young children, visiting key spots like the newly designated Rio Grande del Norte and Chimney Rock national monuments and areas around Grand Canyon National Park that conservationists hope to see protected.
    Besides urging federal authorities to flex the muscle of the Antiquities Act and establish more protected national monuments, Sierra Club leaders say they will work harder to “keep dirty fuels in the ground.”
    “Our federal agencies have a dual responsibly to protect habitat and not add to the climate crisis,” campaign director Dan Chu said. “We are connecting dots between impacts of energy development in special places and climate activism.”
    This aspect of the campaign is a direct challenge to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s energy plan, which seeks to develop all the state’s resources from solar and wind to tar sands and coal. The governor and his advisers have long argued the state can strike a balance that allows drilling and mining without impairing the natural treasures that support Utah’s robust tourism and outdoor recreation industries — a $12 billion enterprise that employs 122,000.
    Following Brune’s presentation, a panel of activists and experts — including Dan Chu, National Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign; Rose Chilcoat, Asisstant Director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness; Jay Banta of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers; Nathan Waggoner, Outfitter and Business owner from Escalante, UT; and Laura Kamala of the Grand Canyon Trust — answered questions from the audience about the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument, tar sands mining, and hunting and vehicle access to public lands, among other topics. The panel was hosted by SUWA’s Media Director, Mathew Gross.
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  • April 19th, 2013

    In an effort to preserve 9.1 million acres of Utah’s spectacular red rock country as wilderness, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (IL) today introduced legislation in the Senate and House that would ensure the public land remains in its natural, undeveloped state.

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  • February 6th, 2013
    Statement of Richard Peterson-Cremer, Legislative Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, on President Obama’s nomination of Sally Jewell for Secretary of the Interior:
    We are gladdened to see this impressive nominee to be the next Secretary of the Interior. Sally Jewell has a tremendous record supporting important conservation measures while also understanding the numerous uses of our public lands.  Importantly for Utah, she is well-versed in the importance of the outdoor recreation economy and the crucial role that protected public lands play in its success. We look forward to working with Ms. Jewell in the coming years to further protect Utah’s redrock.
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