suwa, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance


  • January 17th, 2020

    The Trump administration’s rush for “energy dominance” encounters another setback in Utah; BLM forced to reanalyze environmental impacts of oil and gas development

    For Immediate Release

    Contact:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org
    Ann Alexander, Natural Resources Defense Council, 415.875.8243, aalexander@nrdc.org
    Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4636, phil_hanceford@tws.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (January 17, 2020): Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that it had withdrawn its approval of 175 controversial oil and gas drilling permits on public lands in the Desolation Canyon region of eastern Utah.

    In September of 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved the Horse Bench Natural Gas Development Project and the drilling of up to 175 natural gas wells on “Horse Bench,” a prominent prow of land overlooking Nine Mile Canyon and the Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Natural Resources Defense Council, Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, and The Wilderness Society appealed the local BLM manager’s approval of this project to the Utah BLM state director. 

    The conservation groups argued that the project, if implemented, would decimate greater sage-grouse habitat, destroy BLM-identified wilderness characteristics, and exacerbate the ongoing climate crisis—impacts that the BLM had failed to fully analyze. In his decision, the state director agreed, reversed the BLM’s drilling approvals, and ordered the agency to “complete additional [environmental] analysis.”  

    “The Desolation Canyon region, one of Utah’s most remote areas, provides critical habitat for wildlife—including greater sage-grouse—as well as outstanding opportunities for hiking and camping, and evidence of a rich cultural history,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Without this victory, these values would have been lost to the sights and sounds of industrial development.” 

     The state director’s decision grants a reprieve to one of Utah’s wildest and most culturally significant landscapes. The BLM itself has recognized that the Desolation Canyon region at issue here is “one of the largest blocks of roadless BLM public lands within the continental United States.” 

    “The original finding that plunking down 175 natural gas wells next to the Desolation Canyon wilderness would have no significant environmental impact was clearly out of whack with reality’” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. “The State Director did the right thing in setting it aside, which should lead to real scrutiny of the proposal.” 

    “For far too long our public lands have been handed off to the oil and gas industry without any consideration for the enormous impacts of these decisions on our climate, wildlife and health,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director at The Wilderness Society. “We welcome the BLM’s decision and hope the agency will move towards managing our public lands to be a key solution to climate change, not a growing contributor.”

    In addition, the large industrial equipment required for this drilling project, including tanker trucks, drill rigs, and fracking equipment, would have passed through Nine Mile Canyon to access Horse Bench. Nine Mile Canyon is world-renowned for its remarkable density and diversity of prehistoric sites and artifacts—including petroglyphs and pictographs, kivas, and granaries—and is significant to several Native American tribes. The canyon also contains important historic sites, including evidence of the post-Civil War era Buffalo Soldiers and early settlers. The BLM has described the canyon as “the world’s longest art gallery” and an “outdoor museum.” Dust and pollution from passing trucks could harm these irreplaceable treasures, and proposed roads would make the area more accessible to vandals.

    “Nine Mile Canyon is a cultural and archaeological treasure,” said Pam Miller, Director of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition. “This victory goes a long way to protecting these world-class resources for future generations.” 

    The BLM’s withdrawal this week of 175 oil and gas drilling permits is just the latest setback for the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda in Utah and nationally. Following several significant legal precedents, including a pivotal March 2019 federal court ruling, the BLM on four recent occasions has been forced to pull back oil and gas leasing decisions covering more than 328,000 acres of public lands in Utah due to inadequate environmental analyses (more about these decisions here). 

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  • January 14th, 2020

    Check out a short clip from our latest episode of Wild Utah:

    Listen to the full episode:

    Mark Maryboy made history when he was elected in 1986 as the first Native American county commissioner in Utah’s history — in San Juan County, home to Bears Ears National Monument. A former Navajo Nation Council delegate and longtime advocate for Native people and the environment, he currently serves on the Board of Directors of both SUWA and Utah Diné Bikéyah.

    In this episode, Maryboy shares his personal stories about the political history of San Juan County and the struggle of Native people for representation at the county government level. More than half of San Juan County’s population is Native American, yet it wasn’t until 2018 that a majority Navajo county commission was elected, after gerrymandered commission districts were redrawn by the courts following a successful Voting Rights Act challenge by the Navajo Nation.

    Wild Utah is produced by Jerry Schmidt and is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Our theme music, “What’s Worth?” was written and performed in Moab by Haley Noel Austin. 

    Listen on your favorite app!

    http://bit.ly/WildUtahStitcher
    http://bit.ly/WildUtahiTunes
    http://bit.ly/WildUtahSpotify

  • January 9th, 2020

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact:

    Kya Marienfeld, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org
    Laura Welp, Western Watersheds Project, 435-899-0204, laura@westernwatersheds.org
    Mary O’Brien, Grand Canyon Trust, 435-259-6205, mobrien@grandcanyontrust.org

    Moab, UT (January 9, 2020) – On New Year’s Eve, the Utah office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a five-year, $75 million-dollar financial agreement to support the continued destruction of pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush ecosystems throughout Utah.

    The BLM committed up to $75 million dollars to the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative (UWRI), a partnership of federal and state agencies and public land grazing and hunting interests. UWRI has clearcut and mechanically “treated” hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands in Utah in the name of restoration since its inception 12 years ago.

    Recent scientific literature clearly outlines the risks associated with large-scale surface disturbing activities, such as chaining or mulching live pinyon pine and juniper forests, yet the BLM and UWRI have almost always ignored this information and instead forged ahead with an antiquated, unscientific approach to land management that more often than not converts the “treated” areas into exotic forage and invasive species.

    “The BLM’s commitment to fund the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative over the next five years represents the worst of the Trump administration’s war on science and refusal to acknowledge the global climate crisis we’re witnessing on a daily basis,” said Kya Marienfeld, wildlands attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Rather than destroying large native ecosystems, the BLM should be working to preserve the ecological integrity of intact landscapes in order to mitigate the ongoing climate crisis. ”

    “Utah’s public lands are forever scarred by 60 years of counterproductive vegetation removal projects, which have historically done little more than increase non-native forage for cattle,” said Laura Welp, Ecosystems Specialist with Western Watersheds Project. “These destructive projects are based on fundamentally flawed concepts and failure should be expected. Continuing down the current path of promoting large-scale pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush clearcuts that are driven by funding rather than science spells disaster for Utah’s remarkable public lands.”

    “While a rare BLM project funded by UWRI is actually committed to diverse public input and species other than livestock and big game, most are hell-bent on clearing out pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush to make room for livestock forage, and then UWRI and land managers never look back when the land has been reduced to cheatgrass, tumbleweed, bare soil, and/or a feedlot of non-native forage grasses,” said Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director with Grand Canyon Trust.

    “Not only does the agreement represent a gross misuse of taxpayer funding, it also supports a partnership that has continually ignored best available scientific information regarding the risk of large-scale surface disturbing activities and the need to bolster climate resiliency by maintaining native ecosystems in a hotter, drier desert Southwest,” added Marienfeld.

    Additional Resources

    More information, including recent scientific literature and reports on the risks of BLM’s vegetation removal program, is available here.

    BLM press announcement.

    Link to this press release here.

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  • December 19th, 2019

    Last Friday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert in Emery County, Utah that would more than double the number of miles open to motorized use—forever changing the area’s stunning and remote wild lands, and turning them into a playground for off-road vehicles.

    The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the newly-designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness and wilderness-quality lands such as Sweetwater Reef and the San Rafael River.

    Federal law requires the BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. Instead, the agency’s draft travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert would inundate this remote area with off-road vehicle routes, increasing the miles open to motorized vehicles from 300 miles to more than 775.

    Click here to tell the BLM its draft plan for the San Rafael Desert is unacceptable and fails to minimize damage to natural and cultural resources.

    Labyrinth Canyon. © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Among other things, the BLM’s preferred alternative would:

    • Designate as open to motorized vehicles more than 300 miles of routes that are reclaimed, reclaiming, or do not exist on the ground.  Designating these routes is unnecessary and will damage desert soils, vegetation, riparian areas, cultural resources and wildlife habitat.
    • Designate as open to motorized vehicles popular non-motorized areas such as Moonshine Wash (from the trailhead to the slot canyon), June’s Bottom, and along the San Rafael River.

    The San Rafael Desert travel management plan is the first of thirteen travel plans the BLM will complete over the next six years as a part of a court-supervised settlement agreement with conservation and off-road vehicle groups. The plans will determine where motorized vehicles are allowed on some of Utah’s wildest public lands.

    Tell the BLM to fulfill its legal obligation and keep motorized trails out of wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other sensitive or inappropriate areas in the San Rafael Desert.

    The BLM is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review its proposed travel management plan and submit written comments.

    Click here to submit your comments by January 13th.

    Also be sure to check out our story map for more information, including maps and photographs of currently-designated and proposed motorized vehicle routes.

  • December 16th, 2019

    Offers public only 30 days, including over the holidays, to submit comments on a plan that has been years in the making.

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: 

    Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-236-3762, laura@suwa.org
    Soren Jespersen, The Wilderness Society, 970-819-7377, soren_jespersen@tws.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (December 16, 2019) – On Friday, December 13, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) quietly released a draft travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert in Emery County, Utah that will forever change the area’s stunning and remote wild lands, turning it into a playground for off-road vehicles.

    The San Rafael Desert travel plan is the first of thirteen travel plans that BLM will complete over the next six years as a part of a court-supervised settlement agreement with conservation and off-road vehicle groups. These thirteen travel plans will determine where motorized vehicles will be allowed in some of Utah’s wildest public lands, including the Dirty Devil, San Rafael Swell and Vermillion Cliffs.

    The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the newly-designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness and wilderness-quality lands such as Sweetwater Reef and the San Rafael River. It features stunning redrock canyons, important cultural sites, and an outstanding diversity of native pollinators (bees and wasps). BLM’s draft plan would inundate this remote area with off-road vehicle routes, more than doubling the miles open to motorized vehicles from 300 miles to more than 775 miles.

    Labyrinth Canyon, (c) Ray Bloxham/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    “The BLM’s draft travel plan is short-sighted and wholly fails to account for the diverse array of public land resources and user groups,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Rather than capitalize on an opportunity to develop a reasonable, manageable and forward-thinking travel plan that ensures public access while preserving the backcountry and minimizing damage, the BLM’s plan does exactly the opposite. It proposes to designate any cow path, wash bottom and line on a map as open to off-road vehicles. The BLM’s plan would open popular hiking trails to motorized vehicle use. It would designate routes that will bisect wildlife habitat, fragment wild lands and damage important cultural sites.”

    Federal law requires BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. This includes minimizing damage to soils, watershed, vegetation, wildlife habitat, and cultural sites; minimizing the harassment of wildlife as well as conflicts between different public land user groups; and minimizing impacts of motorized vehicle routes on wilderness values like naturalness and solitude. BLM’s San Rafael Desert travel plan falls woefully short of meeting its legal obligation.

    “BLM’s draft plan is as one-sided as they come,” said Soren Jespersen, Senior Field Representative at The Wilderness Society. “The plan would nearly double the amount of motorized roads and trails in the San Rafael Desert including by adding miles roads that do not exist on the ground today. This isn’t travel management, it’s a travel free-for-all, and it’s not what visitors to the San Rafael Desert come to experience.”

    The BLM is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review its proposed travel management plan and submit written comments.

    More information, including maps and photographs of currently-designated and proposed motorized vehicle routes, is available here.