Bears Ears Archives


  • October 1st, 2019

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, (801)-859-1552 or steve@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (October 1, 2019) – In response to Judge Chutkan’s decision allowing lawsuits to proceed against President Trump’s reductions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, SUWA legal director Stephen Bloch issued the following statement:

    “The day of reckoning for President Trump’s unlawful attack on the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments drew closer when Judge Chutkan issued her decision denying the United States’ motions to dismiss these cases.  We intend to pursue these cases until these remarkable cultural, scientific and wild redrock landscapes are restored to their full glory.”

  • July 26th, 2019

    Bears Ears (c) Jeff Foott.

    MOAB, UT — Utah’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to rush forward a plan for the illegally reduced Bears Ears National Monument that completely ignores the more than 1 million acres removed by an unlawful executive order and leaves most of the culturally and scientifically significant lands unprotected.

    In a final plan released today, the BLM proposes to manage even the remaining 15 percent of Bears Ears National Monument in a way that doesn’t sufficiently protect cultural resources and sacred sites, leaving them more vulnerable to destruction than ever before.

    Just as numerous reports have shown that the reductions were in fact focused on drilling and mining, this proposed plan shows that the BLM misled the public when claiming that a reduced boundary would allow them to better manage and protect what they considered to be the most important historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest in the Bears Ears region.

    The planning process was started under former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke despite protests from Congress, and newly appointed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has continued to ignore calls by Congress to halt planning while also disregarding active litigation challenging the Trump administration’s initial executive action.

    Secretary Zinke claimed in a monuments review interim report that a reduced boundary would allow the agency to “concentrate preservation resources,” and in his final report to President Trump, he claimed to be concerned that “that increased visitation can threaten the objects… monuments that span up to a million acres or more are difficult to protect.” This final management plan proves that this was never about resources or practical ability to protect sites, but about a concerted effort to remove protections at every opportunity.

    The nearly final plan released by the BLM fails in a number of ways:

    • Protection of cultural resources was the primary reason for Bears Ears monument designation. However, the plan chooses several management actions that would have significant impacts on cultural resources. The agencies highlight that they seek to protect identified cultural sites, but the vast majority of the monument has not yet been surveyed for cultural resources.
    • Bears Ears is home to world-class recreation opportunities. These opportunities should be preserved, but also managed so they don’t impact monument resources like cultural and paleontological sites. A recreation area management plan is scheduled to be implemented three years after the cultural resource management plan is put in place, meaning it will likely be at least five years from the final decision — a timeframe that would result in damage and degradation.
    • Bears Ears is home to some of the most unique paleontological resources in the world. Under the agencies’ preferred plan, surface-disturbing activities — including rights-of-way and potential new off-road vehicle routes — would be allowed in areas with high potential for yielding fossils, and fossil-bearing areas that are currently protected would be opened to development. The agencies’ plan provides few restrictions on camping, target shooting, hiking, and biking around paleontological resources. Moreover, under the agencies’ preferred plan, monitoring would only take place annually and only loss of, or damage to, significant fossil resources would trigger mitigation measures. This would violate federal law as Section 6302 of the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act requires agencies to conduct surveys regardless of the potential impact to fossils from other uses.

    Quotes from local, national, and scientific organizations:

    Neal Clark, Wildlands Program Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance:

    “As though reducing Bears Ears National Monument by nearly 85 percent wasn’t damaging enough, now the BLM’s plan ignores the concerns of tribes, archaeologists, conservationists, and the vast majority of the public by rolling back protections of the remaining 15 percent, creating a monument in name only. This plan means that one of America’s richest cultural landscapes continues to lack the protections it deserves.”

    Tim Peterson, Cultural Landscapes Program Director, Grand Canyon Trust:

    “National monuments are meant to protect our shared history and heritage while leaving a legacy for future generations. The Trump administration not only defiled our shared history by unlawfully reducing Bears Ears, they’re showing contempt for our legacy by choosing at every turn in their proposed plan to give protection short shrift. The way in which they’ve added the insult of this detestable plan to the injury of slashing Bears Ears is deeply disturbing, and it cannot stand.”

    Phil Hanceford, Director of Agency Policy & Planning, The Wilderness Society:

    “The BLM is moving rapidly with limited public input towards their goal of stripping protections from some of the nation’s most treasured and sensitive lands. The Bears Ears region continues to be threatened by the hasty, illegal, and un-scientific effort by a few to open as much of our public lands to drilling and mining as possible. People should be outraged.”

    Brian Sybert, Executive Director, Conservation Lands Foundation:

    “This rushed and reckless plan ignores tribes tied to this sacred and irreplaceable cultural landscape. It also ignores the majority of westerners who opposed slashing its size and who understand the value our public lands hold for recreation, science, and rural economies that depend on them for the long-term. It puts to rest any argument about the administration’s real motives in rolling back protections for Bears Ears and millions of other acres in the West: they are opening the door to development for their friends in industry — no matter the price for everyone else.”

    P. David Polly, Immediate Past President, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology:

    “To further his own political ends, Trump cut out most of the fossil sites for which Bears Ears was created, a loss to science and a loss every American. He did not have the authority to make the cuts and the management plans must be rewritten to protect the entire monument. They should be suspended until the courts have ruled on the boundaries like Congress itself has requested.”

    Rose Marcario, CEO and President, Patagonia:

    “The executive order abolishing Bears Ears was illegal and no management plan for these lands should proceed until resolution of the lawsuits. The president’s effort to reduce Bears Ears’ boundaries was done at the behest of mining and oil and gas industries. And this plan is another demonstration of this administration’s preference for extractive industry profit at the expense of the American people. Bears Ears contains iconic landscapes, sacred places, and priceless artifacts and this plan puts all of them under threat. Not to mention this is a colossal waste of time because the BLM will have to create a plan for the full Bears Ears as originally designated after we win the lawsuit.”

    Heidi McIntosh, Managing Attorney of Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountains Office:

    “If we win the legal fight to restore Bears Ears National Monument, this plan will just be 800 pages of wasted effort. Even in the parts of Bears Ears that President Trump left intact, he’s planning on putting destructive activities before the American public’s interests. Bears Ears is not the kind of place for chaining thousands of acres of forest or stringing up utility lines. These are wild, sweeping monument lands.”

    Erik Murdock, Policy Director, Access Fund:

    “The Bears Ears region deserves landscape-scale protections. The reduction of Bears Ears National Monument is a direct threat to the Bears Ears landscape, traditional values, and recreation opportunities. The region contains some of the best sandstone rock climbing in the world because of its rock quality and inspirational setting. Access Fund believes that an appropriate management plan should be developed after the litigation is resolved and the boundaries of the monument are reinstated.”

    Colin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation:

    “The illegal decimation of Bears Ears National Monument opens up ancestral lands of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni to development that will likely degrade critical wildlife habitat, fragment migration corridors, and potentially expose southern Utah communities to unacceptable pollution and health risks. Now the management plan for the meager remnants of the original monument simply pours salt in the open wounds of the tens of thousands of tribal leaders and citizens who fought for decades to conserve these sacred lands.”

    Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association:

    “This management plan is an insult to the public, who overwhelmingly spoke out in favor of protecting Bears Ears — and all our national monuments. Today’s plan opens the monument to damaging uses that carelessly put troves of scientific resources, sacred spaces, and adjacent national park landscapes in jeopardy. Our parks don’t exist in isolation, and the administration’s plan ignores the long-recognized threats to parks from harmful activities outside their borders, putting at risk their air and water quality, dark night skies and expansive viewsheds, as well as the multi-million dollar economy they support. The only management plan acceptable is one that encompasses Bears Ears’ entire landscape and protects the values and resources for which the monument was originally and legally created.”

    Katherine Malone-France, Chief Preservation Officer, National Trust for Historic Preservation:

    “This monument management plan is fundamentally flawed and premature. The National Trust and other plaintiffs are actively challenging President Trump’s unprecedented rollback of the monument’s land area by 85 percent. The plan should not be finalized before the litigation is complete. Given that the plan only considers the management needs of the much smaller — and currently contested — footprint, it is not a credible document. The plan also falls far short of providing a framework for proper stewardship of a landscape that holds deep significance for multiple tribes. It completely lacks appropriate measures to ensure protection of the significant cultural and historic resources that prompted the national monument designation in the first place and appears to leave the resources with even less protection than they had before the monument was designated. We will continue to push for the restoration of the Bears Ears National Monument to its original boundaries, and for a comprehensive management plan that truly protects the resources on the land that tell the stories of more than 12,000 years of human history.”

  • 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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  • March 28th, 2019

    Following public outcry and a formal protest from SUWA, this week the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) deferred all of its proposed oil and gas leases in San Juan County from its March 2019 lease sale “due to additional environmental analysis required.”

    The proposed leases were on the doorstep of Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments.*

    Simply put, these leases would not have been deferred if not for SUWA’s tireless defense of every acre of BLM public land deserving of wilderness protection in Utah.

    Our defense of Utah’s redrock wilderness relies upon the support of our members. Please become a member of SUWA today.


    It’s the nature of environmental defense that this victory is short-lived—although deferred, the parcels will likely be back up for sale at the September 2019 lease sale.

    But SUWA will be there to fight those leases, too, and this decision by the BLM puts us in a strong position in our challenges to other BLM lease sales (from March and December 2018), because those lease sales relied on the same environmental analysis (surprise!). If it is insufficient now, then it was insufficient then.

    Not all of our work results in victories, of course, and most of our work never makes the news. But you can be assured that SUWA will never give up and never give an inch in our defense of the Redrock.

    Please become a member of SUWA today.

  • January 31st, 2019

    SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE – THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY –
    SIERRA CLUB

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

    Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4635

    Over the course of 12 months, the Trump Administration has systematically leased
    the Four Corners region, making the area Ground Zero for its “Energy Dominance” agenda

    Salt Lake City, UT (January 31, 2019) – Less than three business days after the end of the partial government shutdown, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans to sell more than 217,000 acres of oil and gas leases on federal public lands throughout Utah during its upcoming March 2019 lease sale. The BLM plans to auction off 156 oil and gas lease parcels, including parcels in Utah’s culturally significant Four Corners region near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments, as well as the wild and remote Book Cliffs.

    Utah BLM staff worked during the federal government shutdown to prepare for this lease sale. Taken together, the parcels cut a wide swath through Utah’s cultural, hunting, and wilderness legacy. Photographs of places proposed for upcoming sale are available here.

    Throughout the course of three lease sales conducted over the past 12 months, the Trump administration’s BLM has systematically leased more than 112,000 acres in southeast Utah’s Four Corners Region, blanketing one of the densest accumulations of cultural resources in the country with oil and gas leases and setting the stage for the area to be drilled and developed.  A map illustrating the BLM’s all-out assault on this fragile region is here.

    “The BLM is placing the final pieces to complete its puzzle of oil and gas leases near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “The BLM has done so without considering the big-picture impacts to these national monuments and surrounding landscapes, including impacts to dark night skies, air quality, and the region’s rich cultural heritage.”

    The National Park Service, the BLM’s sister agency in the Interior Department, has written the BLM on two occasions – before the March 2018 and now the March 2019 lease sale – urging the BLM to not lease parcels on the doorstep of Hovenweep National Monument. The BLM has not deferred any parcels in response to these concerns.

    In response to the BLM’s notice of the March 2019 sale, the All Pueblo Council of Governors and Pueblo of Acoma have demanded that the BLM defer selling leases in the area until the agency conducts a thorough cultural resources review of the region.  The Hopi Tribe has previously written the BLM demanding the same review. The BLM has not deferred any parcels in response to these concerns, either.

    “The Trump administration is following a well-worn path of ‘leasing first, and thinking later,’ the same approach taken by the George W. Bush administration’s ‘drill here, drill now’ policies,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “This approach has riddled Utah’s wild and culturally significant public lands with leases, which should come as no surprise given that it’s the same Bush political appointee – David Bernhardt – now steering the Trump Interior Department.”

    In addition to the sell-off of wilderness-caliber and culturally rich lands, the BLM plans to lease nearly 100 parcels in eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin and Book Cliffs region, which the Environmental Protection Agency recently designated in “nonattainment” of national air quality standards for ozone. The Uinta Basin suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation, largely due to the 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, the BLM is rushing forward faster than ever to sell off public lands in the Basin for exploration and development. The Book Cliffs are a wild and remote region prized by hunters and guides for trophy big game.

    “With BLM staff already stretched thin, it’s hard to believe that the six days the government was open since comments were submitted on this lease sale could be sufficient to address the many risks to wildlife, wilderness and archaeological resources on 217,000 acres of public lands,” said Nada Culver, Director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “And the fact that all of these parcels are still in the sale raises some red flags.”

    “How many times can we say this? This is another egregious example of short term profit margins being put ahead of invaluable cultural and archeological resources – with areas near Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancient national monuments being put back on the chopping block for the third time in a year,” said Utah Sierra Club Director Ashley Soltysiak. “Once lost, these incredible places are gone forever.”

    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 (see here and follow hyperlink for Table 2, Acreage in Effect) at the close of BLM’s 2017 fiscal year – the last year in which BLM has provided oil and gas statistics. 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 March 2019 lease sale is available here.

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