• November 13th, 2019

    Following a public outcry, an outlandish Interior Department order that was proposed to allow off-road vehicles in national parks in Utah was dropped by the Trump administration. But the controversy over the Park Service proposal raises a larger, under-the-radar ORV issue with the potential for long-term damage to America’s redrock wilderness. In this episode, we discuss how the BLM’s travel management planning has been at the heart of SUWA’s work for more than two decades, and how it’s coming to a head over the next few years. Our guests are SUWA Wildlands Program Director Neal Clark and Staff Attorney Laura Peterson.

    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. 

     

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  • November 12th, 2019

    Fourth Time This Year BLM Has Suspended Leases in Utah; Feds Ignored Climate Change, Opened Scenic, Cultural Lands to Fossil Fuel Extraction

    For Immediate Release 

    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3981, steve@suwa.org
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3991, landon@suwa.org
    Diana Dascalu-Joffe, Center for Biological Diversity, (720) 925-2521, ddascalujoffe@biologicaldiversity.org
    Sarah Stock, Living Rivers, (435) 260-8557, sarah.livingrivers@gmail.com

    Salt Lake City, UT (November 12, 2019)― The Trump administration has pulled 130 oil and gas leases in Utah because the Bureau of Land Management failed to fully analyze greenhouse gas emissions and the potential harm to climate from fossil fuel extraction. It’s the fourth time this year that the agency has suspended leases for drilling and fracking in Utah after the leases were sold because they violated federal law.

    The BLM’s latest decision to put a temporary hold on leasing activity comes in response to a September lawsuit filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, and Living Rivers. The agency pulled the leases from auction in late September.

    “The Trump administration’s BLM is writing the textbook on how to make an uninformed and unlawful leasing decision,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Utah BLM’s formula has been to lease as much public land as possible, as quickly as possible, and with as little analysis or public involvement as possible. Unsurprisingly, this approach to oil and gas leasing is unlawful.” 

    The 130 oil and gas leases encompass some of the most scenic, wild and culturally and archaeologically rich public lands in the United States. 

    Most of the leases are in areas designated by the BLM as having “wilderness characteristics,” which means they’re natural, undisturbed and provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and quiet recreation. This includes the Bitter Creek, Desolation Canyon, Dragon Canyon and White River areas in the Book Cliffs region of the Uinta Basin, and the Eagle Canyon area in the San Rafael Swell.  

    Eagle Canyon in southern Utah, an area with wilderness characteristics at issue in the litigation.

    “The BLM’s uninformed rush to align itself with the Trump administration’s oil and gas ‘energy dominance’ agenda has repeatedly — and unsurprisingly— backfired,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The agency has tripped over itself in its haste. This is a legal mess of the BLM’s own making.”

    Because of challenges brought by conservation groups, the BLM this year has been forced to pull back leases covering more than 300,000 acres of public land in Utah. More information on BLM’s other retracted leasing decisions can be found here, here and here.

    “This is another setback for the Trump administration’s irresponsible, illegal decision to lease these beautiful public lands for fracking and drilling,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “BLM officials are starting to recognize the error of their rush to ignore climate science and public health to unleash a fracking frenzy. Now the administration must acknowledge the irreparable harm these irrational decisions have on our fragile climate.”

    “Both human and wildlife communities in the rural regions of the arid west are getting hammered by reckless oil and gas development. We have no choice but to intervene,” said Sarah Stock, program director with Living Rivers. “Oil and gas development on our federal public lands is contributing massively to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This will almost surely deplete the amount of water available in this region, adding great challenges for water managers and ecosystems in the coming years. The BLM needs to think through the full impact of development before leasing these precious lands.”

    In March 2019 a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the BLM had failed to properly analyze the impacts of its oil and gas leasing program on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This landmark decision requires the agency, for the first time, to provide a detailed accounting of these impacts in each leasing decision. This court ruling has had broad ramifications in Utah and across the United States.

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    Living Rivers is a nonprofit environmental membership organization, based in Moab, Utah. Living Rivers promotes river restoration and seeks to revive natural habitat and the spirit of rivers by undoing the extensive damage done by dams, diversions and pollution on the Colorado Plateau. Learn more at www.livingrivers.org

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a nonprofit environmental membership organization dedicated to the preservation of outstanding wilderness found throughout Utah and the management of wilderness-quality lands in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans. Learn more at www.suwa.org

    The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. Learn more at www.biologicaldiversity.org

     

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  • November 8th, 2019

    Agency may hand over an alleged right-of-way to the state of Utah as it considers unprecedented public land giveaway

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    November 8, 2019

    Contacts:
    Alison Heis, National Parks Conservation Association, 202.384.8762
    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.859.1552
    Jen Ujifusa, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 202.266.0473
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646.823.4518
    Jennifer Dickson, The Wilderness Society, 303.650.9379

    (Salt Lake City): The Interior Department announced today that it is considering giving away the United States’ interest to a 10-mile gravel road in the southwest corner of Utah. This is a trial balloon that, if successful, would open the door for the Trump administration to cede control to tens of thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails to the state of Utah, a state notorious for its anti-public lands agenda. The move could affect claimed rights-of-ways in national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas.

    Interior is relying on a controversial and unlawful tool known as “recordable disclaimers of interest” (RDIs) to cede title and control over federal public lands to the state of Utah and its counties. The state of Utah and its counties have filed more than twenty federal lawsuits over its 14,000 alleged rights-of-way. Those claims are brought under an obscure provision of the 1866 Mining Act, known as “R.S. 2477.” The Trump administration is trying to use RDIs to throw in the towel in that federal court litigation.

    “If there was ever a case of the camel’s nose under the tent, this is it” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “If the state of Utah succeeds with this first disclaimer it has thousands of similar claims blanketing Utah’s redrock country waiting in the wings. And make no mistake about it, if Utah secures title to these federal lands the state has been outspoken about its intent to pave these dirt roads and trails in an effort to take control of public lands and stop wilderness protection.”

    The George W. Bush administration was the first to attempt to use RDIs to give away public lands.  In 2003, the Interior Department issued regulations to guide the use of RDIs to cede control over claimed state and county R.S. 2477 rights-of-way. These regulations are contrary to a longstanding congressional prohibition, in place since 1997, on any such rules. Initial attempts by the Interior Department in the 2000s to issued RDIs in Utah were withdrawn.

    “National parks could be next on the chopping block,” said Kristen Brengel, senior vice president at the National Parks Conservation Association. “Today’s move by the Interior Department poses a real and immediate threat to national parks in Utah and across the West. Every cowpath and two-track can be claimed as a road and given away to virtually anyone under this regulation. Our national parks could be criss-crossed with roads in places where visitors enjoy the natural beauty and cultural sites.”

    The Department’s Bureau of Land Management is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review its proposal and submit written comments. BLM may approve the state of Utah’s RDI application as soon as February 2020.

    “You can’t undo this kind of damage to our public lands legacy,” said Bobby McEnaney, director of the Dirty Energy Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Interior has a duty to act as a steward of the lands and resources we all own—managing them and holding them in trust for future generations. Instead, the Trump administration is brazenly liquidating cherished places in a mercenary fire sale to a state that admits it will exploit them. It’s a reckless move that leaves all of us ecologically poorer.”

    The 10-mile claimed R.S. 2477 right-of-way that Interior is proposing to give away is located in Washington County, in southwestern Utah. Maps depicting of the state of Utah’s claimed R.S. 2477 rights-of-way in Washington County are available here and here. Almost every county in the state of Utah has hundreds if not thousands of miles of claimed R.S. 2477 rights-of-way that could be given away through the RDI process.

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  • November 5th, 2019

    As you no doubt have heard, the National Park Service (NPS) recently abandoned a proposal to allow certain off-road vehicles in Utah’s national parks and monuments.

    That proposal provoked enough public outrage to force the Trump administration to reverse course and keep the longtime closure of park roads to off-road vehicles. And that reversal came in part because SUWA members like you spoke out against sacrificing our national parks to ATVs and UTVs.

    But the controversy also raises a broader question: where do off-road vehicles belong on our public lands?

    The time for answering that question is now before us. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently in the midst of a planning process that will result in 13 new travel management plans covering more than six million acres of BLM-managed lands in eastern and southern Utah.

    These plans—to be completed over the next eight years—will determine where motorized vehicles are allowed in some of Utah’s most stunning and remote wild lands, such as the Dirty Devil, San Rafael Swell, and Labyrinth Canyon.

    And in the coming months and years, we’re going to again need SUWA members like you to speak out against turning our public lands into off-road vehicle playgrounds.

    The new travel plans are the result of SUWA and its conservation partners’ litigation of six travel plans released at the end of the George W. Bush administration.

    Those plans smothered Utah’s public lands with a dense spider web of thousands of miles of motorized routes, prioritizing off-road vehicles at the expense of Utah’s cultural and natural resources. Routes designated in the these plans cross directly through cultural sites considered sacred by Native Americans and bisect wildlife habitat valued by Utah’s hunters and non-hunters alike. The Bush-era plans also exacerbated conflict with non-motorized public lands users.

    But in 2013, the federal courts found that those Bush-era travel plans violated the law by failing to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources. Under the ensuing settlement agreement between the BLM, conservation organizations and off-road vehicle groups, the BLM is required to rewrite travel plans with more than motorized users in mind.

    Which brings us to this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

    At SUWA, we view the forthcoming travel plans as an opportunity to develop reasonable, manageable and forward-thinking blueprints that ensure public access while preserving the backcountry and minimizing damage.

    This new planning process gives the BLM a second chance to get things right, ensuring access to trailheads, scenic overlooks and recreation opportunities while protecting the very reason people want to drive to such remote places in the first place: to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of Utah’s unparalleled public lands.

    Much has changed in the decade since the BLM released its flawed, Bush-era travel plans. Visitation to Utah has skyrocketed—fueled by the State of Utah’s advertising and the rise of social media—and shows no sign of diminishing. More people are seeking out new types of recreation as technology changes: today’s off-road vehicles are designed to go more places faster than ever before. We are also grappling with a climate crisis, bringing new challenges to Utah’s public land managers.

    But one thing hasn’t changed in the last decade: SUWA is still here, fighting every day to protect Utah wilderness and to preserve the redrock for generations to come.

    We’ll be telling you more about the BLM’s travel planning process in the coming months, and once again it is your voice that will make the difference. Rather than viewing this process as a burden, the BLM should take advantage of this opportunity to protect our shared heritage and craft visionary plans that will endure for years to come.

    Utah’s wild places deserve no less.