August 2023 Redrock Report

Aug 17th, 2023 Written by suwa

Good News: Court Dismisses Lawsuits Challenging Restored National Monuments!

Comb Ridge (Tim Peterson/LighHawkIn case you missed our email on Monday: Just last week, a Federal District Court judge dismissed the lawsuits brought by the State of Utah, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, and others challenging President Biden’s restoration of the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments! This is a moment well worth celebrating.

In August 2022, the State of Utah, along with Garfield and Kane Counties, filed a lawsuit challenging President Biden’s lawful use of the Antiquities Act. The Blue Ribbon Coalition and several individuals filed a separate lawsuit which also challenged restoration of the monuments. Soon afterward, SUWA and a coalition of conservation organizations intervened in these lawsuits on behalf of the U.S. to defend the monuments; five sovereign Tribal Nations also intervened on behalf of the U.S. to defend Bears Ears National Monument.

Our statement on the judge’s ruling was picked up by the Associated Press, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, and other news outlets. 

The fight to protect Utah’s national monuments is not over—the state announced on Monday that they had filed an appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals—but Friday’s decision is very good news, and our national monuments remain protected!

Photo © Tim Peterson/Lighthawk

Draft Plan Released for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

meta archOn August 10th, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced the release of its draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the restored Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. A 90-day public comment period will be open through November 9th. Our staff is reviewing the draft plan now and will have more details to share in the weeks ahead.

The agency plans to hold at least five public meetings, including both virtual and in-person options. We’ll be sure to let you know where and when those meetings are taking place and how to submit the most effective comments. Please stay tuned!

“The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is one of the most treasured and remarkable public landscapes in America. The monument’s significant fossil records, unique flora and fauna, and stunning cliffs, mesas, and untrammeled expanses demand the highest level of protection and care,” said SUWA Wildlands Attorney Kya Marienfeld. “We’re pleased to see the Bureau of Land Management release a draft monument management plan that—based on our initial reviews—takes this charge seriously and considers management options that will preserve the monument for current and future generations.”

>> Learn more about Grand Staircase-Escalante on our website

Photo © John P. George

BLM Resurrects Plan to Mine Lithium Near Entrance to Canyonlands — Comments Due August 26th

Dead Horse Point (Adobe Stock)Unfortunately for Utah’s public lands, bad ideas just don’t go away. In April, SUWA successfully challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval of a controversial lithium mining project located near the entrance to Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. Our victory provided a reprieve to one of Utah’s most popular and scenic landscapes.

The success was short-lived: the BLM has rushed to paper over the flaws we previously identified and is once again poised to approve the same mining project. The agency is proposing to allow A1 Lithium to construct two well pads (plus associated access roads) and drill two lithium wells directly off State Route 313, which is designated as the Dead Horse Mesa Scenic Byway.

In addition to scarring this remarkably scenic landscape, the proposed project would also impact visitors’ experience at the Horsethief Campground (the largest campground in the Moab BLM planning area), Cowboy Camp Campground, the Rodeo Mountain Bike Trail, and surrounding areas. One of the well pads would be located on top of the Rodeo Trail, and both campgrounds are within earshot and view of the proposed development.

The BLM is accepting public comment through Saturday, August 26th. Please tell the agency to reject this proposal and protect Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and the surrounding redrock landscape from industrial development.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Groups Applaud New Direction on Use of Electric Bikes on Public Lands

Labyrinth Canyon Area (WIA)Conservation and recreational user groups are applauding new guidance issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that clarifies how the agency will manage the use of electric bicycles (e-bikes) on non-motorized trails and implement the so-called “e-bike rule” published in November 2020.
The Trump-era e-bike rule authorized the BLM to, under certain conditions, exempt e-bikes from the definition of off-road vehicle and allow them to be treated the same as non-motorized bicycles. The new agency guidance makes it clear that BLM leadership must carefully consider, on a site-specific basis, all of the issues raised by authorizing e-bikes on non-motorized trails, including resource impacts, user conflicts, and “the agency’s ability to enforce critical aspects of the e-bike rule that are designed to ensure public safety.”

“We are pleased the BLM is taking this issue seriously and recognizes that a ‘cautious approach’ is needed in managing e-bikes, particularly e-mountain bikes (eMTBs), on public lands,” said SUWA Wildlands Attorney Judi Brawer. “There’s a long history of hard work by conservationists and human-powered recreation user groups to get areas and trails designated as non-motorized—it wasn’t always that way. Adding a new use—motorized mountain bikes—to already crowded trails necessitates the caution and further study provided for in this new guidance.”
>> Click here to read our full release

Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

Litigation Filed to Protect 125,000 Acres in Utah’s West Desert

View of Sevier LakeUtah’s 125,000-acre Sevier Lake is located in a remote and largely undisturbed area of the West Desert—an area that is currently entirely devoid of light or noise pollution. Like the Great Salt Lake, Sevier Lake is a highly saline terminal lake that is a remnant of the ancient Lake Bonneville. Although it is fed by the Sevier River, upstream water diversions cause Sevier Lake to be largely dry during certain times of the year. When it has surface waters, as it does during high precipitation years, it supports important stop-over habitat for the millions of migratory birds in the Pacific Flyway.

In early August, SUWA filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), seeking judicial review of the BLM’s 2019 decision to approve the Sevier Playa Potash (SPP) Project. The BLM’s decision violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because it failed to consider the full sweep of environmental impacts from the project and also failed to consider alternatives that would cause less damage to the environment, including migratory birds. Beyond Sevier Lake itself, the increased light pollution, dust, and noise generated by the project operations will impact places like the Notch Peak, King Top, and Howell Peak Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs).

“Sevier Lake and the surrounding lands with wilderness characteristics would be decimated by this project,” said SUWA Staff Attorney Hanna Larsen. “The area—currently wild and remote—would become an industrial zone filled with evaporation ponds, dikes, roads, powerlines, a processing plant, and a rail loadout facility. The impacts of this industrialization would be clear on both the lakebed and the surrounding public lands, significantly impairing important habitat for migratory birds and adversely affecting air and water quality for decades to come.”

>> Click here to read our full release

Photo © SUWA

40th Anniversary Cassette GraphicTime Is Running Out: Reserve Your Spot at an Event 40 Years in the Making!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been four decades since we began our extraordinary journey together. Since our humble beginnings in Springdale, Utah, each milestone and wilderness victory has been a testament to the passion, dedication, and resilience of the SUWA community. That’s why we’re coming together this September to celebrate every individual who has been a part of our story.

Please join us on Saturday, September 9th, from 6:30 – 10:00pm at the Natural History Museum of Utah (301 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City). Given the buzz, we’ve extended our RSVP deadline to September 1st. Click here to purchase tickets today!

Get your 1980s vibe on and join us for a retro-themed evening filled with delicious appetizers from Done To Your Taste, beats from Miner Music DJ, and a bit of friendly competition at our nostalgic gaming arcade! We’ll also have a fun photo booth where you can pose in costume or simply show your support for wild Utah, and we’ll be rolling out some exciting new 40th anniversary swag!

Special thanks to Mountain West Cider for their generous donation of locally brewed hard cider. Beer and non-alcoholic beverages will also be available (two drink tickets included with entry).

>> Learn more and purchase tickets