• July 16th, 2018

    Proposed Sale of More than 300K Acres Threatens Wild Utah Federal Public Lands

    SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE * THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY * NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL

    For Immediate Release
    July 16, 2018

    Contact:
    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991
    Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4635
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202.513.6263

    Salt Lake City: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today initiated the largest sale of oil and gas leases on federal public lands throughout Utah in a decade. At its upcoming December 2018 lease sale, BLM plans to auction off 231 oil and gas lease parcels totaling nearly 300,000 acres of federal public lands and minerals, including parcels in Utah’s wild Book Cliffs, the White River, Labyrinth Canyon and Four Corners region. Taken together, these parcels cut a wide swath through Utah’s cultural, hunting, and wilderness legacy. Photographs of these places and many other wild places being proposed for sale at this upcoming sale are available here.  A map of the proposed lease parcels in the Book Cliffs and Uinta Basin is here.

    The public will not have adequate opportunity to weigh in on this enormous sale. With direction from Interior Secretary Zinke, BLM is shortening the time the public has to review and protest BLM’s proposal from 30 days to 10 days, after first eliminating the public comment period on its environmental analysis altogether. These steps are part of Secretary Zinke’s “leasing reforms,” which aim to remove perceived roadblocks between fossil fuel energy developers.

    “This is what Trump’s ‘energy dominance’ agenda looks like in Utah,” said Steve Bloch, Legal Director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Oil and gas operators win. Everyone else loses. The American public loses the opportunity to enjoy solitude, clear air and hunt and fish – which will be lost to the smog of industrial development.”  “We also lose opportunities to camp, hike, or float on public lands and waters without the intrusive sounds of pumpjacks and haul trucks.”

    In addition to the sell-off of wilderness-caliber and culturally rich lands, BLM plans to lease roughly 100 parcels in or near the Uinta Basin region, which the Environmental Protection Agency recently designated as in “nonattainment” of national air quality standards for ozone. The Uinta Basin suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation, a result largely due to BLM’s ineffective and lax management of oil and gas leasing and development. Rather than take steps to bring the Uinta Basin into compliance with air quality standards, BLM is rushing forward faster than ever to sell-off public lands in the Basin for exploration and development.

    “We will not stand idly by as BLM sells-off Utah’s public lands heritage to the highest bidder,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM’s closed-door fire sale of Utah’s remarkable red rock wilderness will not go unchecked and it will not survive judicial review.”

    “BLM’s historic practice of leaving the vast majority of our public lands and minerals available for leasing makes so many precious lands vulnerable to irresponsible leasing decisions, like those proposed for the December lease sale,” said Nada Culver, Director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “This administration is directing the agency to ignore its responsibilities to the American people, turning public lands over to the oil and gas industry that are more valuable for other uses.”

    “This sweeping sale is a serious wake up call to the American people, who own these cherished public lands,” said Bobby McEnaney, Senior Deputy Director of the Dirty Energy Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.  “Selling off our special places to fossil fuel interests is a one way street–we won’t get these beautiful places back. These sensitive lands should be withdrawn from the lease sale, and the public is entitled to have a meaningful opportunity to weigh in on this bad idea.”

    There is no need to sacrifice Utah’s remarkable wild places for oil and gas leasing and development. Utah, like most western states, has a surplus of BLM-managed lands that are under lease but not in development–with only forty-five percent of its total leased land in development.  There were approximately 2.5 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development (here—follow hyperlink for Table 2 Acreage in Effect) at the close of BLM’s 2017 fiscal year. At the same time, oil and gas companies had less than 1.2 million acres of those leased lands in production (here – follow hyperlink for Table 6 Acreage of Producing Leases). More information regarding BLM’s December 2018 lease sale is available here.

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  • July 13th, 2018

    Proposed approval is yet another signal of the Administration’s lack of support for our public lands

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    July 13, 2018

    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3981

    SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Today, the Trump Administration once again turned its back on protecting our nation’s public lands by supporting the proposed Alton mine expansion, which is dangerously close to Bryce Canyon National Park. If the proposal is approved, it will increase the mine by 3,600 acres– the equivalent of over 2,700 football fields– to access an additional 45-million tons of coal, which is two-million tons of coal each year. The coal strip mine expansion would occur only 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. Among other impacts, it would potentially destroy breeding grounds relied on by the southernmost population of Greater Sage Grouse in North America.

    Suggested approval of this coal mine comes at a time when Utah is moving toward a clean energy economy. Salt Lake City, Moab, Park City and Summit County all committed to 100% clean energy goals and the state’s rooftop solar industry continues to boom. The Trump Administration didn’t consider these factors or the unprecedented amount — over 280,000 public comments–  filed in opposition of the proposal.

    The final environmental impact study from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is forthcoming. There will be a 30 day public comment period following the release of the study.

    The below statement is a reaction from Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Sierra Club:

    “The Trump Administration has repeatedly put corporate interests ahead of the American people in issues of public land management, so this is a disappointment but certainly not a surprise. Our organizations remain strongly committed to protecting the climate and the landscape, environment and cultural resources in southern Utah. Some places are simply too special to mine—this is one of them.  The doorstep to Bryce Canyon National Park should be preserved for the benefit of all visitors, rather than turned over to the highest corporate bidder.”

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  • June 29th, 2018

    Thanks to the commitment of our Field Volunteers, 2018 is proving to be our most active and productive service season to date. Our crews continue to expand our work across Utah where impacts to our wild and public lands are most severe. We have traveled from the mountains of the West Desert, across the fractured landscapes of southern Utah’s imperiled national monuments, and as far as our northern wilderness.

    As we move through a summer of service work in Bears Ears National Monument (view our complete event calender here), we look ahead to a busy fall season. We’re preparing for project work across the state: Bears Ears, Book Cliffs, Canaan Mountain Wilderness, Cedar Mesa, and the Deep Creek Mountains. Our crews will be active nearly every weekend now through early November – and we need your help!

    Beginning this fall we will recruit, train and outfit select individuals to lead service projects in Utah. SUWA’s crew leaders will work with our Program Director and collaborating land managers to increase our program’s capacity while ensuring our productive presence across Utah.

    Do you have experience guiding outdoor groups? Would you like to learn more about what it takes to manage fieldwork while navigating some of our state’s most magnificent landscapes? Several diverse opportunities are available – backcountry to front country – and we are looking for a few committed leaders to work with us beginning this fall.

    Take the next step in service and be a part of our first class of crew leaders as we expand our efforts and ensure SUWA’s watchful on-the-ground presence across our treasured landscapes.

    Prospective crew leaders should submit a brief statement of interest (up to a page), along with a resume of relevant experience, to volunteer@suwa.org. This is a volunteer position. You may email preliminary inquiries to the same address or call (435) 259-9151.

    As always, thank you for your ongoing support and commitment to protect wild Utah.

    Jeremy Lynch
    Service Program Director

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  • June 21st, 2018

    This morning, HR 5727, the Emery County Public Lands Management Act—or the Not So Swell bill—was heard before the Federal Lands Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives. The hearing, like the bill, was not good.

    Though the Utah Wilderness Coalition (which is comprised of SUWA, NRDC, and The Sierra Club), The Wilderness Society, and the National Parks Conservation Association all submitted testimony highlighting serious concerns with the bill, there was no opportunity provided for a witness to testify against this terrible proposed legislation.

    At the hearing, Rep. John Curtis of Utah continued to falsely laud the bill as win for all stakeholders. If by “all stakeholders” Curtis meant Emery County Commissioners, then he would be right. There is a long way to go before this bill could be considered a win for anyone who cherishes the deserving wilderness landscapes of the Swell and the priceless cultural resources it contains, and some very serious issues still must be fixed.

    For example, more than 900,000 acres of proposed wilderness is being left unprotected within Emery County, and other lands worthy of protection are being left out simply because they are not within arbitrary county lines. The current legislation would riddle proposed conservation areas with destructive motor vehicle routes, and contains insufficient protections for unique Utah landscapes like Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek and the San Rafael Badlands. 

    Representative Alan Lowenthal, lead sponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in the House, highlighted these deficiencies at today’s hearing. Rep. Lowenthal hit hard on the unprecedented proposal to “cherry stem” routes in a proposed National Conservation Area—saying that this significant loophole renders it a National Conservation Area “in name only” and undermines a legal settlement that found the current travel plan was crafted illegally and requires that it be redone.

    San Rafael Swell in Emery County, Utah. Photo (c) Bill Church

    Rep. Curtis repeatedly said no group is going to get everything they want. But that’s a standard not applied to Emery County, which seems to harbor the expectation that its woefully inadequate proposal for lands that belong to all Americans will be rubber stamped by Congress. The legislation hasn’t changed at all since introduction, and Emery County hasn’t given anything up in an attempt to make this bill a true winner. Rep. Curtis himself said that Utahns are tired of “winner take all” proposals, but that’s precisely what this bill is.

    In exchange for protecting less BLM wilderness than is already a designated Wilderness Study Area or Natural Area, and actually releasing nearly 15,000 acres of wilderness study areas to facilitate a coal mine, the county gets a whole grab bag of goodies. Among the things it would get from this bill:

    • Enshrinement of a travel plan that has already been deemed illegal. In fact, the county is trying to open more roads than are currently open across public lands.
    • 12.5% of any revenue generated from a land exchange that would be triggered by the bill.
    • Over 2,700 acres of federal public land for infrastructure such as a sheriff’s substation, airport, and information center.
    • Increased tourism that will result from the creation of new designations, including an expansion of Goblin Valley State Park and the establishment of Jurassic National Monument.

    All that for a bill that actually rolls back protections! 

    Rep. Curtis is right on one thing: Utahns—and Americans—are tired of winner-take-all proposals. He stated that he is looking forward to continuing to look with all stakeholders, including groups like SUWA, in order to move the bill, and we hope he’s serious.

    Our job is to fight for meaningful protections for Utah’s wildlands, and we will continue to press Rep. Curtis and Sen. Hatch to fix the glaring flaws that make this bill a conservation loss. But if we can’t persuade them, we’ll fight back. 

    Either way, we’ll continue to need your help. 

    If you haven’t already done so, please contact your members of Congress and ask them to oppose the Emery County bill! 

    Thank you for taking action to protect the San Rafael Swell and Labyrinth Canyon.

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