• 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

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  • February 23rd, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently developing a travel management plan for Utah’s spectacular San Rafael Swell and your input is urgently needed, especially if you’ve visited the area and don’t want to see it become a motorized vehicle sacrifice zone.

    Home to irreplaceable cultural and historical resources, important wildlife habitat, and unmatched recreational opportunities, the San Rafael Swell encompasses popular destinations such as the San Rafael Reef, Mexican Mountain, Buckhorn Draw, Tomsich Butte, and Muddy Creek as well as newly-designated wilderness areas and the San Rafael Swell Recreation Area.

    The Swell’s sinuous slot canyons, soaring redrock cliffs, and prominent buttes provide endless opportunities for hikers, canyoneers, river runners, climbers, bikers, photographers, campers, and other visitors. The BLM’s travel plan will have a long-lasting impact on the future of this area by determining where motorized vehicles will be able to travel.

    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.

    San Rafael Swell. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Federal law requires the BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. Despite this, the agency is considering designating over a thousand miles of new routes in the heart of the San Rafael Swell. These new routes include wash bottoms, cow paths, and simple lines on a map. Inundating the Swell with new motorized vehicle routes would forever change this iconic area from one with diverse recreational opportunities to essentially a motorized playground.

    The BLM is currently in the “scoping” phase of its travel planning process, which identifies issues the agency must consider in that process. It is vital that the agency hears from members of the public that blanketing this area with new motorized vehicle routes is unacceptable.

    The BLM should ensure access to trailheads, scenic overlooks, and recreational opportunities, but it must also protect the very reason people want to drive to such remote places: to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the San Rafael Swell.

    Click here to submit your comments to the BLM today.

    The most helpful comments talk about specific areas or trails (by name or number); how you enjoy hiking, camping, and other non-motorized pursuits in the area; and how motorized use in these places has negatively impacted your experience or could do so in the future if more vehicle trails are designated.

    The BLM is accepting comments through March 3, 2021. Be sure to make your voice heard!

  • 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!

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  • 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.

     

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