Chaining Archives


  • 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.

  • August 21st, 2018

    Last fall, SUWA filed a lawsuit to stop the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from destroying pinyon-juniper woodlands through “chaining” and “bull-hog” projects in an area of Utah’s West Desert called Hamlin Valley. Click here for more information on these types of projects.

    These projects arose out of an analysis that the BLM’s Cedar City field office completed in 2014, which broadly considered how vegetation removal projects would impact public land across an almost 200,000-acre area. The BLM’s analysis did not describe how many of the 200,000 acres would be manipulated, nor where projects would actually occur on the ground. As the analysis stated, the emphasis was “on analyzing the cumulative effects of multiple future activities rather than the direct and indirect effects of a single activity.”

    In seeming direct contradiction of that statement, the BLM started approving and implementing projects without analyzing the direct and indirect effects.

    Hamlin Valley Chaining Project, photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    The first of these projects was done without public notification. After we realized the BLM was proceeding this way, we immediately contacted them and demanded that they live up to their commitment to perform additional site-specific analysis. When the BLM wouldn’t agree, we filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that it had a duty under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to analyze and disclose the direct and indirect effects of these projects, which it had failed to do.

    Even though two projects were completed while the case was progressing, we continued litigating, hoping to prevent this type of devastation from occurring through potential future projects.

    And now, after months of back and forth between us and the agency, the BLM has finally backed down and agreed to prepare new site-specific analyses for any additional projects in the greater Hamlin Valley area. With the BLM’s commitment in hand, and made expressly to the court, we agreed to dismiss our lawsuit.

    We hope that this helps the BLM begin to rein in its devastating chaining and other vegetation removal projects. We’ll continue to hold the agency accountable while pushing them to make better informed, more transparent decisions.

    Hamlin Valley Chaining Project, photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

     

    Hamlin Valley Chaining Project, photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

  • March 27th, 2018

    Over the past few weeks, the State of Utah and other organizations have taken to the airwaves and Internet to bolster support for vegetation removal projects on Bureau of Land Management-managed public lands in Utah. While these efforts are big on assertions and anecdotal evidence, the actual projects lack scientific support in the vast majority of cases.

    We think it’s important for the public to understand the lack of scientific consensus, risk, and uncertainty involved with these large-scale surface-disturbing projects. To this end, this 2013 report of existing scientific literature, compiled by the Wild Utah Project—an organization committed to “providing science-based strategies for wildlife and land conservation”—is an important read for anyone interested in the history and state of the science surrounding this controversial topic.

    Don’t let the title Mechanical treatment of pinyon-juniper and sagebrush systems in the intermountain West: A review of the literature scare you. This report is easily digestible and addresses common assumptions underlying projects to remove pinyon-juniper forests and sagebrush stands, and highlights areas where proponents of vegetation removal are sorely lacking a scientific basis. Enjoy!

    Also be sure to check out our cover story on chaining in the Spring 2018 issue of Redrock Wilderness.