• July 18th, 2019

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Approximately 57,000 acres of remote, wild, and culturally significant public lands

    temporarily spared from oil and gas development

    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

    Salt Lake City (July 18, 2019): For the third time in less than three months, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has reluctantly recognized that its rushed “lease first, think later” mentality to oil and gas leasing and development under the Trump administration violated the law.

    In a recent court filing, the BLM told a federal district court judge that the agency plans to revisit its decision to sell thirty-six oil and gas leases and open up approximately 57,000 acres of public lands near Bears Ears, Canyons of the Ancients, and Hovenweep National Monuments in Utah for development.

    The BLM’s decision is in response to litigation filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) challenging the BLM’s March 2018 and December 2018 oil and gas lease sales in southeast Utah’s Monticello field office (more information here). The BLM is pulling back its leasing decisions because the agency has recognized that it failed to fully analyze the greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts of those decisions in determining whether leasing is appropriate in the first instance.

    Copyright Johathan Bailey

    The thirty-six oil and gas leases at issue encompass some of the most culturally and archaeologically rich public lands in the United States. These lands include cliff dwellings, pueblos, kivas, petroglyph and pictograph panels, and Chaco-era (circa 900-1150 A.D.) great houses. Numerous Native American tribes consider these sites sacred. Many of the leases suspended by the BLM also encompass lands identified by the BLM as possessing wilderness characteristics; that is, the agency has determined that the lands appear natural and undisturbed and provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and unconfined primitive types of recreation such as hiking, wildlife viewing, and camping. Photographs of cultural sites on the leases at issue are available here.

    “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 lands 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.”

    This is the third time in less than three months that the BLM’s Utah state office has been forced to pull back a leasing decision for violating federal environmental laws. Over this period of time, the BLM has been forced to pull back 138 leases, consisting of approximately 267,000 acres of public lands in Utah. In May 2019, the agency took similar steps to pull back eight other oil and gas leases located near Bears Ears National Monument and Canyonlands National Park. More information on that decision is available here. One month later BLM pulled back more than 204,000 acres of oil and gas leases located in the San Rafael Desert region for the same reason. More information on that decision is available here.

    Notably, the three recent decisions by the BLM to pullback oil and gas leases are not isolated events. All of the agency’s leasing decisions in Utah over the past two years suffer from the same legal flaws that forced BLM to set-aside its leasing decisions in these instances. In other words, the agency will likely be forced to pullback hundreds of thousands of acres of additional oil and gas leases across Utah that it unlawfully offered and sold for development.

    “The BLM will be forced to pull back all of these leasing decisions,” said Landon Newell, Staff Attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Each decision suffers from the same legal flaws. The BLM made this bed; now it has to lie in it.”

    Over the past two years, the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda has suffered several significant legal setbacks. Of particular importance here, in March 2019 a federal judge in Washington, D.C., held 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 BLM–for the first time–to provide a detailed accounting of these impacts in each leasing decision. This court decision spells trouble for all the Utah BLM’s leasing decisions over the past two years: the agency made the same unlawful mistake in each.

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  • June 13th, 2019

    Approximately 204,000 acres of remote, wild, and culturally significant public lands temporarily spared from oil and gas development
     

    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

    Salt Lake City, UT (June 13, 2019): For the second time in less than two months, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has reluctantly recognized that its rushed “lease first, think later” mentality to oil and gas leasing and development violated the law. Earlier this week, the BLM informed the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) that the agency plans to revisit its decision to open up approximately 204,000 acres of public lands in Utah’s scenic San Rafael Desert and northern Dirty Devil region for oil and gas development. BLM’s decision is coming after it denied a protest by SUWA and other conservation groups over this lease sale and an appeal of BLM’s leasing decision being filed at the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA).

    San Rafael Desert. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    The San Rafael Desert and Dirty Devil region lies between Goblin Valley State Park and the newly designated San Rafael Reef Wilderness on the west and the Horseshoe Canyon component of Canyonlands National Park on the east. This is one of the sublime and least traveled areas of federal public lands in Utah. The majority of the leases pulled back by the BLM encompass lands identified by the BLM as possessing wilderness characteristics; that is, the BLM has determined that the lands appear natural and undisturbed and provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and unconfined primitive types of recreation such as hiking, wildlife viewing, and camping. Photographs of the San Rafael Desert are available here.

    “It’s not surprising that BLM’s fire sale approach to oil and gas leasing is unlawful.” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Over the past two years Utah BLM has eagerly embraced this agenda by removing every obstacle to selling off as much federal public land as possible, as quickly as possible, and with as little analysis or public involvement as possible.”

    This is the second time in less than two months that the BLM has been forced to pull back a leasing decision in Utah for violating federal environmental laws. Just last month the agency took similar steps to pull back a separate leasing decision made in March 2018 that involved public lands on the doorstep to Bears Ears National Monument and Canyonlands National Park. More information on that decision is available here. Notably, these two decisions by the BLM to pullback oil and gas leases are not isolated events. All of the agency’s leasing decisions in Utah over the past two years suffer from the same legal flaws that forced BLM to set-aside its leasing decisions in these instances. In other words, the agency will likely be forced to pullback hundreds of thousands of acres of oil and gas leases across Utah that it unlawfully offered and sold for development.

    “The chickens have come home to roost,” said Landon Newell, Staff Attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM has had its head stuck in the sand for two years, eagerly walking in lockstep with the Trump administration’s large-scale assault on our public lands. This ‘lease first, think later’ mentality has come back to haunt BLM.”

    Over the past two years, the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda has suffered several significant legal setbacks. Of particular importance here, in March 2019 a federal judge in Washington, D.C., held 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 BLM–for the first time–to provide a detailed accounting of these impacts in each leasing decision. This decision spells trouble for all the Utah BLM’s leasing decisions over the past two years: the agency made the same unlawful mistake in each. SUWA has already filed the first of several court challenges to begin to overturn all these decisions. More information on SUWA’s filed lawsuit is available here.

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  • May 31st, 2019

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-428-3981 steve@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (May 31, 2019) – This weekend is the second since the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued its controversial decision to authorize destructive cross-country off-road vehicle (ORV) use across 5,400 acres of public lands ringing Factory Butte in southern Utah. The BLM’s decision reverses a 13-year long closure order that prohibited such activity.

    Although the BLM lifted the closure ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, on Wednesday, May 22, 2019, it didn’t set forth its rationale for doing so until Richfield field office manager Joelle McCarthy wrote a brief “memo to file” two days later, on May 24.

    The BLM didn’t make the memo available to the public until the following Tuesday, May 28.

    “We closely reviewed Manager McCarthy’s memo and found several misleading statements and significant omissions,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “Our annotated version of the memo – ‘The Truth about BLM’s Decision to Open Factory Butte to ORV Destruction’ – puts BLM’s wrong-headed decision to lift the closure around Factory Butte into context and makes clear that this was an outrageous reversal.”

    Click here to read the annotated BLM memo.

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  • May 30th, 2019

    Without prior notice or opportunity for public input, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Richfield field office announced last Wednesday—just before Memorial Day weekend—that it has opened 5,400 acres of public lands surrounding Utah’s iconic Factory Butte to unfettered cross-country off-road vehicle (ORV) use.

    The BLM’s decision reverses the agency’s 2006 closure of the area to ORV use and will allow unrestricted motorized travel throughout the designated “play area.”  When the BLM implemented the 2006 closure it explained that “Factory Butte itself is an iconic formation, highly visible from Highway 24 and is often photographed.”

    Please take action! Tell the BLM what you think of its decision to open Factory Butte to off-road vehicle destruction.

    Call or email Joelle McCarthy, the BLM’s Richfield Field Office Manager, today!
    jmccarth@blm.gov
    435-896-1501

    Tell the BLM:

    • It’s ridiculous that the agency re-opened Factory Butte to motorized use after being closed for nearly 13 years without seeking public input beforehand and without giving any advance notice. The BLM manages places like Factory Butte on behalf of the public and is accountable for its decisions.
    • Post signs! ORV riders—even those who are well intentioned—won’t stay in the newly designated “open area” if that area is not easy to distinguish on the ground. The BLM has placed no signs on the inside of the “play area,” meaning there is nothing to keep riders off the butte itself.  And contrary to the agency’s claims in its press release announcing that the area is open to cross-country use, the trend of violations by ORV riders around Factory Butte is on the rise.
    • The BLM is destroying an iconic landscape! The agency’s decision ensures that one of Utah’s most recognizable landscapes will be defaced and damaged for years to come. Contrary to popular myth, these tracks don’t simply disappear after the next rain!

    Click here for more information on the BLM’s opening of Factory Butte.

    Longtime SUWA members will recall that protecting Factory Butte was a major fight in the late 90s and early 2000s. The closure of the area to ORV abuse in 2006 gave the land a much-needed chance to recover.

    The BLM’s decision last week is further proof that the Trump administration has found its legs, and that no previous environmental victory is safe from those who would destroy Utah’s wildlands.

    Please take action today. The BLM needs to hear from you.

  • May 23rd, 2019

    Decision Prioritizes Off-Road Vehicle Use over Threatened and Endangered Species

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org

    Laura Peterson, Travel Management Attorney, 801-236-3762, laura@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (May 23, 2019) –  Without prior notice or opportunity for public input, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Richfield Field Office announced Wednesday that it is opening 5,400 acres of public lands surrounding Utah’s iconic Factory Butte to unfettered cross-country off-road vehicle (ORV) use.

    The BLM’s decision reverses a 2006 closure of the area to ORV use and will allow unrestricted motorized travel throughout the designated “play area.”

    Left: a spring wildflower bloom enhances Factory Butte’s unique photographic appeal. Right: Extensive ruts left by ORVs near Factory Butte remain visible even after torrential rainfall. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/SUWA. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    The 2006 closure followed a petition filed with the BLM by SUWA outlining the devastating effects of unmanaged cross-country travel by ORVs. The closure was necessary to protect the federally-listed endangered Wright fishhook (Scierocactus wrightiae) and Winkler (Pediocactus winkleri) cacti from direct mortality due to cross-country ORV travel.

    SUWA has monitored the Factory Butte ORV closure area since 2006 and has documented ongoing and intentional ORV violations and associated damage to natural resources.

    “The BLM’s decision to allow destructive, unregulated cross-country motorized use on the remarkable public lands surrounding Factory Butte – one of Utah’s most well-known landmarks – is outrageous,” said Kya Marienfeld, SUWA Wildlands Attorney. “When the BLM rightly closed these lands to motorized use in 2006, it recognized that off-road vehicles are a significant threat to federally protected cactus species in the area. We don’t believe the BLM has done what it takes to make sure that the same damage doesn’t immediately resume.”

    “It’s remarkable that at a time when BLM has informed us that they’ll likely miss a court-ordered deadline to complete a new ORV travel plan for all of the Henry Mountains Field Station, including Factory Butte, they’ve somehow found the staff time and resources to open Factory Butte to off-road vehicle abuse immediately before Memorial Day weekend,” added SUWA Travel Management Attorney Laura Peterson. “With decreasing cactus populations and increasing ORV violations of the closure over recent years, its difficult to see how the agency expects any outcome other than once-again imperiling these listed species.”

    “SUWA has worked for more than 20 years to protect this place, and we don’t have any intention of walking away from it now,” said Marienfeld.

    Additional Resources:

    BLM press release on opening of off-road playground around Factory Butte.

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