Neal Clark, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance - Page 2 of 3


  • July 15th, 2016

    After years of missed deadlines, Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) finally introduced his long-delayed Public Lands Initiative (PLI) yesterday.  As anticipated, the PLI fails to protect Utah’s remarkable public lands and divests the American people of their public lands heritage. There is no chance this terrible bill could be passed in the few days left in this Congress, and it serves only as an effort to forestall President Obama from designating a Bears Ears National Monument.

    Utah’s congressional delegation will no doubt repeat ad nauseam their talking point about 4.6 million acres of federal land “designated for conservation” in the PLI.  Don’t believe it. The big acreages proffered by Rep. Bishop are disingenuous, as a hard look at the bill reveals that the PLI is a cobbled together mess that maximizes resource extraction and includes land “protections” riddled with loopholes.

    A pro-development bill disguised as conservation

    Among the laundry list of unacceptable provisions of the bill, the PLI:

    •  Fails to protect 62% of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act as designated wilderness and opens up currently protected lands, such as Wilderness Study Areas, to energy development and off-road vehicle use.

    Winter Ridge WSA

    Under the PLI, Winter Ridge would be released from Wilderness Study Area designation and opened up for fossil fuel development. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    •  Substitutes bastardized National Conservation Areas (NCAs) that enshrine the Bush-era management plans that designated thousands of miles of off-road vehicle routes; allows designation and development of new motorized trails; green-lights vegetation manipulation projects (such as pinyon-juniper clearcuts); mandates livestock grazing; declares that no more wilderness can be protected in these areas; and limits federal land managers’ ability to protect natural and cultural resources.

    •  Fails to protect over half a million acres of the Bears Ears region as proposed by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition; diminishes the Coalition’s voice in management of the reduced Bears Ears NCA by creating a 10-member advisory committee with only one tribal representative; promotes motorized recreation in this archaeologically rich region; allows grazing in currently closed areas like Grand Gulch, Fish, Owl, and Arch Canyons; and prohibits the agency from protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness.

    White Canyon. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    White Canyon and most of its side tributaries in the Bears Ears region would remain unprotected in the PLI, leaving the area vulnerable to mineral extraction. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    •  Seizes authority from public land managers and instead gives the State of Utah control over the permitting and regulation of all forms of energy development on millions of acres of federal lands and, in doing so, likely eviscerates meaningful energy leasing reform such as the nearly completed Moab Master Leasing Plan.

    •  Codifies the abysmal Bush-era motorized travel plans in protected areas and prohibits future closures of any motorized route for natural or cultural resources concerns.

    •  Grants thousands of miles of claimed R.S. 2477 routes to the State of Utah while allowing for continued litigation over R.S. 2477 routes within areas designated as wilderness, NCAs, and Recreation Areas.

    •  Unleashes a carbon bomb by transferring large blocks of federal land to the State of Utah for tar sand, oil shale, potash, coal, oil, and gas development. These blocks are located in the remote Book Cliffs, in high-value scenic and recreation lands near the Green River west of Moab, on Hatch Point bordering Canyonlands National Park, near the world-renowned San Rafael Swell, and in the Uintah Basin.

    Bitter Creek (Ray Bloxham)

    Significant portions of the Bitter Creek proposed wilderness would be given to the State of Utah for fossil fuel development. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    •  Permanently establishes livestock grazing as a priority across southern and eastern Utah and would result in both increased and new grazing in areas currently closed by federal land agencies due to natural and cultural resource damage.

    •  Furthers the State of Utah’s land grab efforts by transferring federal land to the state, without compensation, for facility development and increased motorized and non-motorized recreation.

    •  Rewards dangerous anti-government activity by granting a right-of-way for motorized access in Recapture Canyon, the site of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman’s illegal 2014 ATV protest ride.

    •  Undermines the Antiquities Act by including a companion bill that would remove the president’s authority under the Antiquities Act to protect deserving landscapes in southern and eastern Utah.

    Taken as a whole, the PLI is an assault on the wilderness of southern and eastern Utah.

    Where do we go from here?

    It’s time to move forward for the sake of Utah’s land, wildlife, and cultural resources.  It’s time to call the PLI what it really is: one more failed attempt by Utah’s congressional delegation to develop a meaningful conservation bill for the national treasures of southern and eastern Utah.  And, most importantly, it’s time for President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate the Bears Ears National Monument!

  • 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.

  • August 27th, 2015

    The St. George BLM is holding open houses next week for its recently released draft National Conservation Area (NCA) management plan. As you may recall, the 2009 Washington County public lands bill (the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009) created two NCAs near St. George, Utah: the 63,478-acre Beaver Dam Wash NCA and the 44,859-acre Red Cliffs NCA. Both were created to “conserve, protect, and enhance . . . the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources” of the protected lands.

    Beaver Dam Wash (Ray Bloxham)

    Beaver Dam Wash NCA, copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    Subsequent to NCA designation, the St. George BLM was tasked with developing a comprehensive Resource Management Plan (RMP) that dictates how the lands will be managed in a way that meets the above-stated purpose.

    The public comment period for the RMP began on July 17, 2015 and ends on October 15, 2015. In order to provide information to the public, the BLM will hold three open houses the first week of September in southern Utah and the Wasatch Front. The open house schedule is as follows:

    September 1, 6pm-8pm
    Dixie Center
    1835 Convention Center
    St. George, UT

    September 2, 6pm-8pm
    Hurricane City Office
    147 North 870 West
    Hurricane, UT

    September 3, 6pm-8pm
    Red Lion Hotel
    161 West 600 South
    Salt Lake City, UT

    If you’re concerned about the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs and want to see them properly managed to protect wildlife and wilderness values, please attend one of the above open houses.

    We will send a more detailed alert prior to the October 15, 2015 comment deadline. In the meantime, the draft NCA plan is available for review on the BLM’s website. SUWA supports Alternative C, which is the most protective for wildlands and wildlife.

  • August 24th, 2015

    It’s a sad day for ATV “enthusiasts” in San Juan County and it’s back to the drawing board for the Monticello BLM.

    On August 10, 2015, pursuant to a motion filed by the BLM, the Interior Board of Land Appeals (“Board”) issued an order vacating the BLM’s approval of the Indian Creek ATV trail. The order invalidates the Indian Creek ATV trail and remands the issue back to the agency.

    Instead of defending the validity of the project, as it has done for nearly four years, the BLM finally admitted that its environmental analysis (EA) was illegal and asked the Board to vacate its decision accordingly. Moving forward, the BLM needs to either conduct significant additional analysis of potential adverse impacts from the project, or wisely put this irresponsible idea it to rest once and for all.

    Even in the face of extensive public opposition to the project – in the form of thousands of comments from individual quiet recreationists to the National Park Service – the Monticello BLM has proven itself incapable of standing up to the bully tactics of San Juan County and simply saying “no.” Instead, in a contortion performance that would impress the most seasoned acrobat, the Monticello BLM has revised its project proposal not once, not twice, not even three times, but four times in as many years. It’s simply a level of effort rarely witnessed by those of us who follow the BLM’s actions.

    Bridger Jack Mesa, Crusher Bartlett

    If you recall, we have been fighting this project since the BLM released its first draft analysis in 2011. After the BLM issued its final decision in 2014, SUWA (along with the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness) filed an appeal with the Board and obtained a stay that prohibited the BLM from implementing the project pending the Board’s ultimate decision on the appeal.

    It likely goes without saying, but the Monticello BLM has wasted significant public resources in a futile effort to approve an unwise and irresponsible ATV trail. Instead of going back to the drawing board for additional analysis in what is nothing more than an absurd effort to capitulate to the childish wants of ATV-crazed San Juan County, the BLM should once and for all declare this project finished. Dead on (re)arrival. It’s time to stand up to the San Juan County bullies, and stop wasting precious agency time and resources trying to push through a project that is, and has always been, a terrible idea.

  • June 3rd, 2015

    The Interior Board of Land Appeals (“Board”) recently issued an order prohibiting construction of the Indian Creek ATV trail pending appeal. The order – triggered by a “Petition for Stay” filed by SUWA, the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, and the Great Old Broads for Wilderness – prohibits construction of 6.4 miles of new ATV trail and three associated parking areas in Indian Creek until the Board rules on the legal merits of our administrative appeal.

    In its ruling, the Board validated our argument that agency actions resulting in a permanent loss of BLM-identified wilderness character lands constitutes “irreparable harm” and determined that there is a “sufficient likelihood of success” on at least a portion of our legal claims.

    Bridger Jack Mesa, Crusher Bartlett

    Bridger Jack Mesa, Indian Creek. Copyright Crusher Bartlett.

    The BLM’s Monticello field office irresponsibly approved construction of the Indian Creek ATV trail in February of 2015 (see our Spring 2015 newsletter, p. 15). Originally proposed by the pro-motorized recreation, anti-conservation leaders of San Juan County, the purpose of the ATV trail is to facilitate increased motorized use in the Indian Creek corridor by linking the proposed trail to an existing ATV trail network. If implemented, the new trail would result in increased ATV use in and near Lavender Canyon, Davis Canyon, and Bridger Jack Mesa – areas bordering Canyonlands National Park that currently see very little motorized recreational use. What’s more, the trail would bisect an area that the BLM itself identified as possessing wilderness characteristics and that is proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

    The Indian Creek corridor is the gateway to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and is world-renowned for its abundance of cultural resources and quiet recreation opportunities. We are hopeful that the Board will ultimately rule in a manner consistent with protecting this irreplaceable landscape for future generations. We’ll keep you posted.