A “Scorched Earth” Policy that Threatens Utah National Monuments

Mar 11th, 2020 Written by suwa


Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, 573-228-1061,

Moab, UT (March 11, 2020) – Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) Wildlands Attorney Kya Marienfeld released the following statement in response to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) proposal to fast track approvals and eliminate public input and review on so-called “vegetation projects” that would clear-cut forests of native juniper and piñon pine in order to promote forage for cattle.  BLM is seeking to establish a new categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act as the vehicle for its proposal. 

“This is a scorched-earth policy for Utah’s national monuments and public lands. This proposal would prevent the public from being able to weigh in on the process, methods, and science that BLM contends support these heavy-handed projects. This is especially concerning because the public has demonstrated increasing concern in recent years about large-scale mechanical removal of native vegetation on public lands. Several proposed projects — totaling more than 100,000 acres in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument alone — that were temporarily withdrawn by BLM as a result of public pressure could reappear at any time under this new policy and move forward without public review, scientific study, or accountability.

Following administrative rulings showing that BLM has not followed the law or gathered the scientific evidence to justify the mechanical removal of native juniper and pinyon pine forests through mastication, chaining, and other large surface-disturbing methods, the BLM has now proposed excluding public oversight and environmental analysis of this program altogether.

The Interior Department’s own internal review board, the Interior Board of Land Appeals, ruled in September 2019 that BLM’s proposal to remove 30,000 acres of forest in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument failed to meet National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. In response, BLM wants to create a new exception from NEPA review for destroying piñon pine and juniper forests, which will also eliminate the public’s right to comment on and challenge these proposals.

Additional Resources

Photos of vegetation removal projects (for use with attribution).

Interior Board of Land Appeals Order on Skutumpah Terrace, Sept. 16, 2019.

SUWA lawsuit stops Tavaputs Plateau Devegetation Project.

SUWA press release on withdrawal of vegetation projects in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. January 30, 2020.

National Geographic, September, 2019: Forests on Utah’s public lands may soon be torn out. Here’s why.

Gambling with Our Public Lands: The Scientific Uncertainty and Fiscal Waste of BLM’s Vegetation Removal Program in the West

Do mechanical vegetation treatments of pinyon-juniper and sagebrush communities work? A review of the literature. 2019. Jones.

George Wuerthner (former BLM botanist), The Salt Lake Tribune, September 12, 2019: BLM is attacking juniper to help cows, not sage grouse