suwa, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance - Page 3 of 131


  • February 25th, 2021

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance lawsuits challenging secret 2017 meetings held between Kane, Garfield and San Juan County Commissions and Trump officials can proceed

    Contact: Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.236.3766
    David Reymann, Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, 801.257.7939
    Troy Booher, Zimmerman Booher, 801.924.0200

    Salt Lake City, UT (February 25, 2021) – This morning, the Utah Supreme Court issued two related opinions in long-running lawsuits brought by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) alleging that (1) the Kane and Garfield County Commissions and (2) the San Juan County Commission violated Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act when they each met privately and in secret with Interior Secretary Zinke (and in the case of San Juan County, other DOI officials in Washington, D.C.) in 2017 regarding Zinke’s report on the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. These meetings preceded then-President Trump’s unlawful dismantling of those monuments. President Biden has pledged to swiftly undo Trump’s actions.

    “We’re grateful the Supreme Court has cleared the way for these important lawsuits to proceed,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “SUWA members and the broader public had every right to know what these commissioners were saying behind closed doors about the fate of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments.”

    The Supreme Court reversed the district courts’ decisions to dismiss these cases at their earliest stage and concluded that (1) SUWA has legal “standing” to bring these cases (is the right party to do so) and (2) the allegations in SUWA’s lawsuits about the private meetings touching on how the hoped-for monument reductions would impact matters within the “jurisdiction or advisory power” of the commissions are sufficient for the cases to proceed. The cases will be remanded back to district court.

    The Supreme Court also (1) reversed Seventh District Judge Lyle Anderson’s decision in the case involving the San Juan County Commission to sua sponte (on his own accord and without a motion by the County) sanction SUWA for filing the case and order that SUWA pay the County’s attorney’s fees and (2) reversed Sixth District Judge Marvin Bagley’s decision in the Kane and Garfield County case that SUWA had brought its case in bad faith and order that SUWA pay the Counties attorneys’ fees. With regard to Judge Anderson’s decision, the Supreme Court specifically called out Anderson’s inappropriate “independent factual research” as contrary to the Judicial Code of Conduct.

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance was represented in the San Juan County case by Troy Booher, Dick Baldwin, and Frederick Voros with the Salt Lake City law firm Zimmerman Booher, and Laura Peterson and Stephen Bloch at SUWA. SUWA was represented in the Kane and Garfield County case by David Reymann and Austin Riter with the Salt Lake City law firm Parr Brown Gee & Loveless.  Friend of the Court briefs were filed in each case on SUWA’s behalf by the Deseret News, Fox 13 KSTU-TV and the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, represented by Edward Carter with the Orem firm Keen Law Offices.

    Update March 19, 2021: Today, SUWA dismissed its lawsuits against Kane, Garfield and San Juan Counties over their 2017 violations of Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act. With the Utah Supreme Court’s recent decision, we affirmed that SUWA and its members have a right to ensure that the public’s business be conducted out in the open and that SUWA should not be punished for trying to hold public officials accountable.

    Four years after filing the lawsuits, with Secretary Zinke and President Trump no longer in office, it is time to move on. We will continue to work to ensure that Utah elected officials conduct public business in an open and transparent manner, consistent with Utah law.

    Additional Resources 

    Southern Utah Wilderness v San Juan County opinion.

    Southern Utah Wilderness v Kane County opinion.

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  • February 24th, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management is accepting public comments for a new travel management plan for the spectacular San Rafael Swell. With the designation of new wilderness areas in the Swell in 2019, and with the BLM’s poor track record of over-designating new routes through this kind of planning, your comments are important. SUWA staff attorney Laura Peterson rejoins us to talk about the San Rafael Swell Travel Management planning process and what you can do.

    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 Swell.

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Wild Utah’s theme music, “What’s Worth?” is composed by Moab singer-songwriter Haley Noel Austin. Post studio production and editing is by Jerry Schmidt.

    Listen on your favorite app!

    wildutah.info/Stitcher
    wildutah.info/Apple
    wildutah.info/Spotify

  • February 24th, 2021

    Copyright Liz Thomas/SUWA

    Utah Governor Cox joined by other GOP Governors and pro-pollution groups such as the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) are engaged in an aggressive misinformation campaign against President Biden’s recent Executive Order pausing new oil and gas leasing on public lands to address the “profound climate crisis.” Among other untruths, the governors have argued—wrongly—that Biden’s Executive Order “bans new oil and gas development on federal lands,” and WEA argues that the Order is “bad policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” and will result in billions of dollars of lost revenue.

    Here are the facts about oil and gas leasing and development on the western public lands:

    • The Executive Order does not ban new oil and gas development on existing leases. Instead, it states that “[t]o the extent consistent with applicable law, the Secretary of the Interior shall pause new oil and natural gas leases on public lands. . . .” (emphases added). The Order pauses new leasing, not development on existing leases. It does not limit oil and gas operators’ ability to develop their thousands of stockpiled leases—across the western public lands—the majority of which are sitting idle.
    • Oil and gas operators have thousands of leases, consisting of millions of acres of public lands that have not been developed. In other words, operators are not even developing the majority of leases they have already acquired. In Utah, for example, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reports that there are 2,975,000 acres of existing leases across the state but that only 1,102,000 acres are currently in production—that is, sixty-three percent of the existing leases are sitting idle.[1]
    • Oil and gas operators across the West are sitting on almost 10,000 unused drilling permits. In Utah, the pace of new drilling has come to a near standstill and operators only develop approximately half of the permits that are approved. The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining reports, for example, that in 2019 operators applied for 263 permits (down from more than 2,000 only a few years prior) but during that same period drilled only 154 wells (down from more than 1,100 only a few years prior). Moreover, Baker Hughes reports that as of February 19, 2021, there are only three active drill rigs in the entire state of Utah (a more than ninety percent decline from a few years ago).[2] These changes are market-driven and occurred during the Trump administration.
    • The pause on new leasing will not have a significant impact on rural Utah counties energy production bottom line—many of which see little, if any, drilling and exploration. In fact, during the four years of the Trump administration’s so-called “energy dominance” agenda, operators applied for only 43 drilling permits and drilled only 21 wells in southeastern Utah—an area encompassing more than 16 million acres of land.[3]
    • The oil and gas industry has little interest in leasing and development in Utah. In fact, the demand for new oil and gas leasing is so low that the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) has cancelled several past and upcoming auctions. SITLA leasing is not affected by Biden’s Executive Order.
    • In 2020, the BLM issued only seventeen leases in 2020, covering 11,045 acres. In total, the high bidders paid just $51,617 to acquire these leases.
    • Due to outdated laws, speculators can acquire oil and gas leases for ten-year periods for as little as $1.50 per acre—a broken process that generates little revenue for the state (none of which goes directly to fund public education). In Utah, fourteen of the seventeen leases issued by the BLM in 2020 sold for the minimum amount per acre (82 percent). 
    • Based on the above discussed leasing data, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Trump’s four-year “energy dominance” agenda had very little economic benefit in Utah.

    And here are the facts about how fossil fuel development is driving the Climate Crisis:

    • The Climate Crisis is being driven in large part by the Bureau’s oil and gas leasing program. According to the most recent data available from the United States Geological Survey, “[n]ationwide emissions from fossil fuels produced on Federal lands in 2014 were 1,279.0 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMT CO2 Eq.) for carbon dioxide, 47.6 MMT CO2 Eq. for methane . . . and 5.5 MMT CO2 Eq. for nitrous oxide.” These emissions totals represent “23.7 percent of national emissions for [carbon dioxide], 7.3 percent for [methane], and 1.5 percent for [nitrous oxide] over” a ten year period.
    • Public lands—if left intact and protected from the threats of oil and gas leasing and development—can mitigate the worst effects of climate change. In a recent report, it is estimated that passage of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would permanently keep in the ground greenhouse gas emissions equal to 5.7 percent of the carbon budget necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. These same lands are estimated to currently sequester and store 247 million metric tons of organic carbon.

    [1] Data available on BLM’s Oil and Gas Statistics website (follow hyperlinks for Tables 2 and 6), https://www.blm.gov/programs/energy-and-minerals/oil-and-gas/oil-and-gas-statistics.

    [2] Follow hyperlink for “Rigs by State – Current and Historical.”

    [3] There are only two oil and gas producing counties of any particular importance in Utah: Duchesne and Uintah. In these northeastern Utah counties, operators applied for 1,257 drilling permits from 2017-2020 (the “energy dominance” years). However, consistent with their established pattern and practice, less than half of the approved permits were ever drilled (567).

  • February 19th, 2021

    In just a few weeks, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) will reintroduce America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in the 117th Congress! This legislation is the grand vision for protecting Utah’s deserving wilderness and could play a key role in the Biden administration’s goal of protecting 30 percent of American lands and waters by 2030.

    Click here to ask your members of Congress to become original cosponsors today!

    Dirty Devil proposed wilderness, copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    The bill would protect as wilderness 8.4 million acres of the magnificent redrock landscapes we all love—places with evocative names like Labyrinth Canyon, the Dirty Devil, and the Book Cliffs. It would also advance efforts to combat climate change by keeping fossil fuels in the ground, achieving 5.7 percent of the carbon mitigation needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees by 2030.

    Contact your representatives today and tell them you support America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act!

    The federal public lands the Red Rock bill would protect belong to all Americans and are a treasured common ground for discovery, restoration, and solitude. At a time when all of humanity is being tested by a global pandemic and more frequent natural disasters linked to climate disruption, it’s clear that protecting the wild places we have left is imperative, for nature’s sake and for our own.

    In Utah, we are lucky to have some of the wildest unprotected landscapes in the lower 48 states, and a true opportunity to restore balance.

    Please ask your representatives to become original cosponsors of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act today!

  • February 18th, 2021

    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 

    Decision finds BLM failed to consider project alternatives that would have limited post-wildfire treatments to native seeds and manual restoration methods

    Moab, UT (February 18, 2021) – The U.S. Department of Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) yesterday set aside two late-summer 2020 decisions by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Kanab Field Office to chain and seed with non-native livestock forage in two post-fire landscapes within the original boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    In overturning BLM’s decisions, the IBLA held that the BLM erred in its rushed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process because it “fail[ed] to consider alternatives that would have limited its post-wildfire treatments to native seeds and to manual methods.” The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Western Watersheds Project had encouraged the BLM to consider a more environmentally-sound alternative treatment plan that would only use native species for seeding and would not use chaining—the most invasive and soil-disturbing method—as part of the agency’s restoration plans. 

    Unfortunately, although the IBLA held that the BLM’s rushed approval of these projects violated federal law, the agency had already started on-the-ground operations, including chaining and seeding with non-native plant species. All further activities for both projects are prohibited as of yesterday’s IBLA order, and the BLM confirmed earlier today that its heavy equipment is being moved offsite.

    “Using natural restoration methods is critical for fragile desert ecosystems, because science shows that introducing vigorous, non-native seed mixes significantly decreases the long-term potential for native species to recolonize,” said Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “This is precisely why the 2000 Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Management Plan required managers to consider pre-burn conditions before approving post-fire management activities, and required that only native seeds be used in restoration. When Monument protections were removed from these areas by President Trump in 2017 and new management plans approved last year, these science-based prohibitions disappeared. The BLM’s hurried approval of these two ‘fire restoration’ projects is direct evidence of how little it takes to permanently transform a native ecosystem and harm habitat for plants and wildlife without these protections.” 

    “Trump stripped National Monument status from Wire Pass and Pine Hollow, along the iconic House Rock Valley road,” said Laura Welp, Ecosystem Specialist with Western Watersheds Project and a former Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument botanist. “When a wildfire occurred there, the BLM took advantage of the reduced protections to destroy pinyon-juniper woodlands and native shrublands with bulldozers hauling massive chains, and to seed non-native plants to benefit livestock.”

    The Wire Pass and Pine Hollow wildfires, which occurred in July and August of 2020, collectively burned more than 5,000 acres on the west side of House Rock Valley Road in Kane County, Utah, directly across the road from the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area and near access points for the world-renowned geologic feature known as “the Wave.” Following these two lightning-caused fires, the BLM pushed through hurried environmental analyses and approved “restoration plans” in both burn areas to chain burned and remaining live vegetation and aerial seed an almost 4,000 acre area with crested wheatgrass and other persistent and invasive non-native perennial forage species favored by livestock.

     The BLM’s plan to introduce non-native species in the name of restoration was particularly alarming given that both burn areas were dominated by a diversity of native species including pinyon pine, sagebrush, and cliffrose prior to the wildfires, and were largely untouched by human-disturbance—an increasingly rare baseline for public lands devastated by grazing, motorized vehicle intrusions, and other human impacts throughout the West. 

    “This was a tremendously important appeal, and we are pleased with the IBLA’s decision” continued Marienfeld. “We expect to see the original boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and its full management protections restored soon, preventing these kinds of ill-conceived activities from being proposed or carried out anywhere on the full, 1.9 million-acres of this exceptional and fragile National Monument.”

    Additional Resources

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order, February 17, 2021

    Lawsuit Launched Over Trump Plan to Accelerate Clearcutting, Herbicide Spraying, Fuel Breaks Across Six Western States (January 13, 2021).

    Interior Board Overturns BLM Decision to Replace Native Forests with Livestock Forage in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (September 17, 2019).

    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.