Chaining Archives


  • September 17th, 2019

    Decision finds BLM ignored cumulative impacts and failed to comply with the Monument’s prohibitions on using non-native seed

    Moab, UT (September 17, 2019) – The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) yesterday set aside a decision by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Kanab Field Office to remove more than 30,000 acres of pinyon juniper forest and sagebrush from the Skutumpah Terrace area within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Western Watersheds Project, The Wilderness Society, and the Grand Canyon Trust appealed the BLM’s February 2019 decision approving the project.

    Foreground to background: White Cliffs, Skutumpah Terrace, Pink Cliffs, in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Photo Ray Bloxham/SUWA. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    In overturning the BLM’s decision, the IBLA found that the BLM erred because it “failed to take a hard look at the Project’s cumulative impacts on migratory birds under NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act]… [and] erred in determining that using non-native seed… was consistent with the applicable land use plan under FLPMA [Federal Land Policy and Management Act].” Non-native grasses, while preferred by the livestock industry, become invasive weeds in their own right and degrade habitat quality for native wildlife.

    The BLM’s decision would have rid the area of pinyon pine and juniper trees by mastication, an intensively surface-disturbing method of vegetation removal that involves shredding trees where they stand by means of a wood chipper/mulcher mounted to a large front-end loader, which is driven cross-country throughout a project area. The plan would also have authorized the destruction of sagebrush by chaining, the practice of ripping shrubs and trees from the ground by dragging large chains between two bulldozers. The Skutumpah Terrace project is featured in a National Geographic story this month.

    The four conservation groups that prevailed in the appeal praised the IBLA decision.

    “This decision illustrates what should be obvious, which is that destroying native pinyon and juniper forests to plant non-native forage for livestock is bad public policy,” said Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Unfortunately, the BLM is still proceeding with plans to rip up native vegetation from more than 100,000 acres elsewhere in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and hundreds of thousands of additional acres throughout Utah and the West. Congress needs to step in and ask why the BLM continues to waste taxpayer money on vegetation removal projects that ignore science and its own land management plans.”

    “Thanks to an enormous amount of  effort and tenacity, the old growth pinyon-juniper woodland plants and wildlife on the Skutumpah Terrace are safe for now from BLM chains and bulldozers,” said Laura Welp of Western Watersheds Project, a former BLM Botanist at GSENM. “Massive vegetation-removal projects like this one interfere with efforts to restore the native plants and animals we cherish.”  

    “The IBLA acknowledged what the BLM did not: destroying native pinyon and juniper trees on over 130,000 acres of land that is, Skutumpah combined with  two additional pinyon and juniper removal projects being planned in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument just might have significant impacts on birds like pinyon jays, which have declined more than 85 percent,” said Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust.

    “The special values of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument continue to be under attack by this administration,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director for The Wilderness Society. “We will continue to fight illegal efforts to gut this area and efforts like this that mismanage the trees, wildlife, fossils and cultural resources that make this place special.” 

    Yesterday’s IBLA decision comes on the heels of the BLM’s withdrawal in May of a decision to approve another vegetation removal project on the Tavaputs Plateau in Utah. Conservationists contend that the BLM’s vegetation removal projects on public lands throughout the West lack a scientific basis, and that its vegetation removal program is in dire need of congressional oversight.

    Additional Resources

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order, Sept. 16, 2019.

    Original BLM proposal.

    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.

    George Wuerthner (former BLM botanist), The Salt Lake Tribune, September 12, 2019: BLM is attacking juniper to help cows, not sage grouse

     

     

     

     

  • May 14th, 2019

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

    Salt Lake City, UT (May 14, 2019) – Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) withdrew a 2018 decision authorizing the destruction of more than 2,500 acres of pinyon pine and juniper trees within the Desolation Canyon and Jack Canyon Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) in the Tavaputs Plateau region of eastern Carbon County, Utah.  The BLM’s decision came on the heels of the filing of a lawsuit in federal district court by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) which challenged the removal project as unlawful and in violation of federal laws. 

    The BLM had proposed the destruction of the trees by mastication, a destructive and heavily surface-disturbing method of vegetation removal that involves uprooting trees where they stand and shredding them by means of a wood chipper/mulcher mounted to a large front-end loader, which is driven cross-country throughout a project area. 

    Cedar Ridge, within the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area on the Tavaputs Plateau, where the Bureau of Land Management had planned to remove pinyon pine and juniper trees via heavy machinery. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    In its lawsuit, SUWA alleged that the BLM’s decision—to use heavy machinery including bullhog masticators to remove pinyon pine and juniper forests on the Tavaputs Plateau just one mile from the western rim of Desolation Canyon—violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the agency’s legal obligation not to “impair” wilderness suitability in designated WSAs.  

    Shortly after SUWA filed its lawsuit, the BLM withdrew its approval of all portions of the vegetation removal project that would have occurred within the Jack Canyon and Desolation Canyon WSAs. 

    In response to the BLM’s withdrawal of the project, SUWA Wildlands Attorney Kya Marienfeld issued the following statement: 

    “Although we certainly wish the BLM had made this decision sooner, it’s encouraging to see that the agency realizes the unlawful nature of its plans to masticate pinyon-juniper forest in two pristine and remote Wilderness Study Areas. We are pleased that the agency made the right decision to follow its mandate to protect these remarkable locations from harm and from all actions that impair their world class ecological and wilderness values.

    “Using large vehicles and heavy machinery—whether bullhog masticators or anchor chains—to systematically wipe out thousands of acres of forest is completely incompatible with the protection of wilderness values and the preservation of wildlands and ecosystems.”

    Far from the only project that threatens to destroy wilderness values and other remarkable resources in an alleged attempt to save those same values, the BLM recently approved a similar vegetation destruction project in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  SUWA and other conservation groups have appealed that decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. In addition, the BLM is actively considering several other similar projects in the monument and Utah’s west desert.

    Additional Resources:

    SUWA’s federal complaint.

    BLM documents from eplanning.blm.gov including withdrawal of the project within WSAs.

  • April 10th, 2019

    February 2019 scientific review counters claims made by agencies on environmental benefits of vegetation removal on public lands

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

    Moab, UT (April 10, 2019) – Citing a new report on the lack of scientific evidence supporting “vegetation treatment” projects on public lands, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and its members are calling on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to halt work on three massive “vegetation treatment” proposals within the original boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    The peer-reviewed report*, released in February, 2019 by the Wild Utah Project – a Utah-based non-profit organization focused on conservation science  – analyzes the existing scientific literature on mechanical vegetation removal projects on western public lands. The report finds little evidence to support the BLM’s assertion that vegetation treatment projects improve forage or habitat for wildlife, or reduce stream erosion and runoff.

    In response to the report and ongoing plans by the BLM to conduct mechanical vegetation treatment projects on nearly 135,000 acres of the original 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, SUWA Wildlands attorney Kya Marienfeld released the following statement:

    Large-scale vegetation removal projects are an extreme and unproven management approach that simply do not belong on our public lands, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument should never be the subject of the most aggressive and invasive treatments like chaining, mastication, and mulching. These projects are completely incompatible with protecting the fragile ecological, paleontological, and archaeological resources in Grand Staircase.”

    The BLM’s current mechanical vegetation treatment plans in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument include:

    • Proposing to use chainsaws and mechanical masticators on up to 93,000 acres of public lands within a 610,000 acre area of the Paria River watershed.
    • Authorizing the removal of pinyon pine and juniper trees from more than 30,000 acres of within Skutumpah Terrace area northeast of Kanab. SUWA and conservation partners have appealed this project to the Department of Interior Board of Land Appeals.Additional resources on the web:Link to this press release.
    • In three additional proposals at the heart of Grand Staircase (including Alvey Wash, Last Chance Gulch, and Coal Bench), the BLM plans to use heavy machinery including bullhog masticators to strip more than 13,000 acres of native vegetation, including pinyon and juniper trees and big sagebrush.

    Additional resources on the web:

    Summary of the Wild Utah Project report.

    The Wild Utah Project website.

    *Jones, A.J. (Ed).  2019. Do mechanical vegetation treatments of pinyon-juniper and sagebrush communities work?  A review of the literature. Special publication, Wild Utah Project. Salt Lake City, UT. (Full report.)

  • November 19th, 2018

    Even as it solicits public comments on how to (mis)manage the illegally-reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is moving forward with two terrible “vegetation management” proposals within the original boundaries of Grand Staircase.

    These two proposals would strip sagebrush and pinyon-juniper forests from more than 110,000 acres of Grand Staircase-Escalante. All told, the BLM is looking at “landscape-level project[s]” on more than 560,000 acres of your public lands.

    Can you take a moment to defend Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by telling the BLM to shelve its vegetation mis-management plans? Click here to tell the BLM what you think.

    Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    In the Paria River watershed, the BLM is considering letting loose the chainsaws and mechanical masticators on up to 93,000 acres of public lands within a 565,000 acre area. Still in the initial scoping phase of planning, comments on the Paria River Project are due on Monday, November 26th.

    In the Skutumpah Terrace area northeast of Kanab, the BLM has completed an Environmental Assessment of a “treatment” proposal to remove pinyon and juniper from more than 22,000 acres of public land. The BLM is requesting public input on this plan by Monday, December 3rd.

    Click here to submit your comments on both plans. Tell the BLM to stop vegetation removal in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    Large-scale vegetation removal projects are an extreme and unproven management approach that simply do not belong on our public lands, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument should certainly never be the subject of the most aggressive and invasive treatments like chaining, mastication, and mulching.

    Please take a moment to join us in defending Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument from bad management decisions by submitting your comments today.

    Thank you for taking action.