Luke Henry, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance


  • August 21st, 2018

    Last fall, SUWA filed a lawsuit to stop the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from destroying pinyon-juniper woodlands through “chaining” and “bull-hog” projects in an area of Utah’s West Desert called Hamlin Valley. Click here for more information on these types of projects.

    These projects arose out of an analysis that the BLM’s Cedar City field office completed in 2014, which broadly considered how vegetation removal projects would impact public land across an almost 200,000-acre area. The BLM’s analysis did not describe how many of the 200,000 acres would be manipulated, nor where projects would actually occur on the ground. As the analysis stated, the emphasis was “on analyzing the cumulative effects of multiple future activities rather than the direct and indirect effects of a single activity.”

    In seeming direct contradiction of that statement, the BLM started approving and implementing projects without analyzing the direct and indirect effects.

    Hamlin Valley Chaining Project, photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    The first of these projects was done without public notification. After we realized the BLM was proceeding this way, we immediately contacted them and demanded that they live up to their commitment to perform additional site-specific analysis. When the BLM wouldn’t agree, we filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that it had a duty under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to analyze and disclose the direct and indirect effects of these projects, which it had failed to do.

    Even though two projects were completed while the case was progressing, we continued litigating, hoping to prevent this type of devastation from occurring through potential future projects.

    And now, after months of back and forth between us and the agency, the BLM has finally backed down and agreed to prepare new site-specific analyses for any additional projects in the greater Hamlin Valley area. With the BLM’s commitment in hand, and made expressly to the court, we agreed to dismiss our lawsuit.

    We hope that this helps the BLM begin to rein in its devastating chaining and other vegetation removal projects. We’ll continue to hold the agency accountable while pushing them to make better informed, more transparent decisions.

    Hamlin Valley Chaining Project, photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

     

    Hamlin Valley Chaining Project, photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

  • May 4th, 2017

    On April 28th, the Interior Board of Land Appeals issued an order  dismissing an appeal filed by Washington County, the City of St. George, and the Washington County Water Conservancy District that challenged the recently finalized Resource Management Plans for the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Areas.

    The appellants primarily challenged the BLM’s decision to designate portions of the conservation areas as “exclusion areas”—a designation that would prohibit new rights-of-way such as roads, power lines, or pipelines. The challenge was specifically focused on the Northern Corridor, a proposed east-west travel corridor that would bisect critical desert tortoise habitat in the Red Cliffs conservation area (background information about the transportation corridor can be found here). The appellants also challenged the ability of the BLM to regulate where new water infrastructure could be located throughout both conservation areas.

    While the Board’s action terminates an appeal that, if successful, would undermine the purpose of the national conservation area designations, it nevertheless leaves St. George and Washington County taxpayers on the hook for an estimated $9,500 to $14,000 in legal fees.

    Although SUWA successfully intervened in the case on behalf of the BLM, the Board dismissed the appeal on the grounds that it concerned issues outside the Board’s “authority to adjudicate.” The Board took this action on its own accord, prior to any briefing on the case by SUWA, the BLM, or other interveners in the case.

    Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. Photo: Laura Peterson/SUWA

    The two conservation areas—both located in Utah’s southwestern corner—were created to “conserve, protect, and enhance . . . the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources” of the designated lands. Additionally, the Red Cliffs conservation area was established to protect threatened and endangered species like the desert tortoise. The BLM was required to develop management plans to accomplish these purposes, which were released on December 21, 2016.

    The Board’s decision will prevent the sought-after projects from moving forward for now, but SUWA will continue to follow any developments and will keep you updated if and when they occur.