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Join our email list to stay informed about Utah wilderness.
Supporters and wilderness advocates like you play a critical role in the protection of Utah’s spectacular wild places.
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*Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. All contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
Over the weekend, SUWA’s Service Program organized a Wilderness Stewardship Training in Salt Lake City. Forty trainees attended the Saturday session, twenty-four of whom then took part in a training hike on Sunday to practice their monitoring skills on a portion of Stansbury Island (Great Salt Lake) that’s proposed for wilderness protection under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. Volunteers committed a total of 429 hours of their time over two days.
Born of a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Washington County, SUWA’s recently-expanded Stewardship Training recruits individuals to monitor for impacts to wilderness-quality public lands during their time hiking and exploring Utah’s great outdoors. Stewards report back to SUWA with photo-tagged geospatial data and written reports assessing on-the-ground conditions. The training equips Stewards with the tools, technology, and training to perform these monitoring tasks while fostering a growing, hands-on stewardship community in Utah. Cumulatively, the Stewards’ work informs SUWA’s approach to proposing and executing service work on public lands across the state.
Our SLC-based initiative was co-sponsored by the BLM state office, who provided staff to present on the need for volunteers and public partnerships on Utah’s public lands. Future trainings will engage agency field offices across the state in the effort to collect and provide data to better manage Utah’s many and diverse wilderness lands.
BLM’s “wild west” mentality will deface Utah landscape
For Immediate Release
Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-236-3762
Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646-823-4518
Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society, 303-225-4636
Salt Lake City, UT (August 1, 2019) – Three conservation organizations filed suit today in federal district court in Utah challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to open 5,400 acres of federal public lands around Utah’s Factory Butte to unrestricted cross-country motorized use. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society filed the lawsuit asking the court to reverse the BLM’s unlawful decision and direct that the closure be reinstated.
The BLM’s May 22, 2019 decision reversed a closure order that had been in place for more than twelve years. The agency gave no prior notice or opportunity for public input. Its reversal just before Memorial Day weekend allowed vehicles to immediately mar this remarkable landscape.
“It was irresponsible and anti-democratic for BLM to secretly open up this area and subject its ecosystem to destruction,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director for Lands at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The agency’s earlier move to close this area was a sound decision, based on science and extensive public input. BLM has to balance different uses of our public lands, but the ring around Factory Butte is no place for off road vehicles, which damage the soil and threaten endangered species.”
“The BLM’s decision to allow destructive, unregulated cross-country motorized use to overrun the remarkable public lands surrounding Factory Butte – one of Utah’s most well-known landmarks – is outrageous,” said Laura Peterson, attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Though it refused to provide the public with any advance notice of its decision, the BLM consulted ahead of time with local counties and even shared its press release and promotional materials. That’s clearly not the way our federal public lands are supposed to be managed.”
The BLM did not explain its reasoning or provide an environmental analysis for its decision. Instead, BLM concocted a rationale days after its decision to lift the closure when BLM Richfield field officer manager Joelle McCarthy wrote a brief “Memo to File” on May 24, 2019. This memo was not made available to the public until May 28, 2019.
“Sneaking this plan out without public input shows that the BLM knew the public would be outraged by the decision to open treasured lands to unfettered motorized use that will permanently scar the land,” said Phil Hanceford, attorney for The Wilderness Society. “Anyone who has traveled through this area just outside of Capitol Reef National Park has marveled at the Factory Butte and the surrounding wilderness quality lands. The BLM’s actions are unacceptable and we believe the courts will agree.”
BLM’s decision to reverse a 2006 closure of the area to ORV use will allow unrestricted motorized travel throughout two “play areas” totaling a combined 5,400 acres.
The 2006 closure followed a petition Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed with the BLM outlining the devastating effects of unmanaged cross-country travel by ORVs in this area. The BLM concluded that closure was necessary to protect federally-listed cactus species, including the endangered Wright fishhook from 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.
Photographs of the remarkable Factory Butte area are available on SUWA’s website, along with a timeline of OHV use at Factory Butte and a point-by-point refutation of BLM’s misleading arguments about why it lifted the closure on cross-country motorized use.
A copy of the complaint can be viewed here.
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:
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.”
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Approximately 57,000 acres of remote, wild, and culturally significant public lands
temporarily spared from oil and gas development
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.
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.