Chaining Archives


  • April 6th, 2020

    Comments due by April 13th, 2020!

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) spends tens of millions of taxpayer dollars destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of native pinyon pine and juniper forests throughout the West each year. In recent years, public input has stopped many of these controversial projects or helped the BLM make better, more scientifically-sound vegetation management decisions that leave pristine, sensitive wilderness-quality lands and habitat intact.

    Now, despite the critical role of public input and oversight on these controversial vegetation removal projects, the BLM is proposing a new categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that would allow up to 10,000 acre projects to mechanically remove pinyon pine and juniper trees on public lands with no environmental analysis, public accountability, or public input. 

    We must use this opportunity to remind the BLM why public input is crucial to a rational and science-based decision-making process, provide evidence that the environmental effects of vegetation removal projects vary significantly from project to project, oftentimes causing significant long-term harm to native ecosystems, and make the public voice heard.

    Comments on the proposed categorical exclusion are due April 13th, 2020. Click here to submit comments through our online action center.

    When writing your comments, please consider the following points:

    • 10,000 acre projects are an extremely unreasonable size to categorically exclude from NEPA and public review. This area is larger than many cities. Congress in the past has called for agencies to establish categorical exclusions for some projects up to 4,500 acres in size. BLM’s proposed categorical exclusion is more than double that, with very few limitations on where, when, and how treatments can be conducted.
    • The best available science shows that these projects do have significant environmental effects, making any blanket determination that future projects need not go through the NEPA process because there are no significant environmental effects wildly inappropriate.
    • BLM has misrepresented available scientific research on the effects of these projects in its categorical exclusion proposal, erroneously concluding they have a net positive effect on the ecosystem. This completely excludes science showing that mechanical pinyon pine and juniper removal is overall very harmful for woodland-dependent species, including migratory birds whose populations are already in drastic decline.
    • BLM should not be able to categorically exclude any projects in National Monuments, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Wilderness Study Areas, or other special-status public lands. There are many proposed vegetation removal projects in recent years that were removed from these sensitive areas because of public input and engagement. It is improper for BLM to be able to plan, approve, and execute projects using heavy machinery to clearcut native forests in these special management lands with no public oversight and without robust, site-specific environmental analysis.
    • These projects help accelerate climate change by causing large-scale surface disturbance that increases desertification, contributes to atmospheric dust levels, and removes valuable forest carbon sinks. BLM must continue to do project-specific, public, NEPA analysis for pinyon pine and juniper removal projects because of their potential contributions to climate change.
    • BLM has not demonstrated that it has adequately monitored past vegetation removal projects to ensure that the treatments do not cause significant, long-term damage to overall ecosystem health by disturbing and destroying biological soil crust or spreading invasive species like cheatgrass. BLM must provide long-term monitoring data from past projects to demonstrate their success before categorically excluding future projects from NEPA. BLM must make this data publicly available.
    • BLM has not provided any criteria or guidelines in the proposed CX to determine what qualifies as sage-grouse or mule deer habitat, and because there will be no public process, the BLM will not need to justify these determinations. Therefore, the BLM could ostensibly use the proposed CX to remove 10,000 acres of forest wherever it wants with no public accountability. Distressingly, the public may not even know these large-scale projects were happening until after they were completed and the deforestation was irreversible.

    Please consider all of these points as you make your comments, and make sure to add your own! Tell the Bureau of Land Management why large-scale mechanical removal of pinyon pine and juniper forests across the west continues to be a very significant action deserving of careful environmental review and public input.

    >> Click here to submit comments through our online action center (personalize if possible)
    >> Click here to submit comments via the BLM’s web portal (use points above to craft a message in your own words)

    Aftermath of a BLM “mastication” project on Utah public lands. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

  • March 11th, 2020

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, 573-228-1061, kya@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (March 11, 2020) – Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) Wildlands Attorney Kya Marienfeld released the following statement in response to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) proposal to fast track approvals and eliminate public input and review on so-called “vegetation projects” that would clear-cut forests of native juniper and piñon pine in order to promote forage for cattle.  BLM is seeking to establish a new categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act as the vehicle for its proposal. 

    “This is a scorched-earth policy for Utah’s national monuments and public lands. This proposal would prevent the public from being able to weigh in on the process, methods, and science that BLM contends support these heavy-handed projects. This is especially concerning because the public has demonstrated increasing concern in recent years about large-scale mechanical removal of native vegetation on public lands. Several proposed projects — totaling more than 100,000 acres in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument alone — that were temporarily withdrawn by BLM as a result of public pressure could reappear at any time under this new policy and move forward without public review, scientific study, or accountability.

    Following administrative rulings showing that BLM has not followed the law or gathered the scientific evidence to justify the mechanical removal of native juniper and pinyon pine forests through mastication, chaining, and other large surface-disturbing methods, the BLM has now proposed excluding public oversight and environmental analysis of this program altogether.

    The Interior Department’s own internal review board, the Interior Board of Land Appeals, ruled in September 2019 that BLM’s proposal to remove 30,000 acres of forest in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument failed to meet National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. In response, BLM wants to create a new exception from NEPA review for destroying piñon pine and juniper forests, which will also eliminate the public’s right to comment on and challenge these proposals.

    Additional Resources

    Photos of vegetation removal projects (for use with attribution).

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order on Skutumpah Terrace, Sept. 16, 2019.

    SUWA lawsuit stops Tavaputs Plateau Devegetation Project.

    SUWA press release on withdrawal of vegetation projects in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. January 30, 2020.

    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

     

  • January 30th, 2020

    Withdrawal Means Planned Vegetation Treatments in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Have Been Reduced From More Than 135,000 Acres to Zero 

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

    Moab, UT (January 30, 2020) – The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is praising the withdrawal by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of multiple major vegetation removal projects the agency had been planning in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.

    Last weekend, the BLM officially listed the 90,000+ acre “Paria River Watershed Habitat Improvement Project” as “withdrawn” on its online bulletin board. The Paria River Project underwent public scoping in late 2018, and had been one of the Utah BLM’s priority projects for 2020.

    The Paria River decision follows BLM’s late December withdrawal of three additional proposals at the heart of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument totalling more than 13,000 acres (at Alvey Wash, Last Chance Gulch, and Coal Bench), as well as a decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) on September 16, 2019 to set aside BLM’s plan to remove more than 30,000 acres of pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush from the Monument’s Skutumpah Terrace area.

    All told, the BLM had planned to use heavy machinery including chaining and bullhog masticators to strip more than 135,000 acres of native vegetation from Grand Staircase, including pinyon and juniper trees and sagebrush. 

    SUWA praised the withdrawals of the final remaining vegetation removal projects in the National Monument.

    “The BLM’s withdrawal of these proposals means that, for now, there are currently no new deforestation projects planned within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” said SUWA wildlands attorney Kya Marienfeld. “We started 2019 with more than 135,000 acres within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument threatened by intensive mechanical removal. We are now starting 2020 with zero acres of these projects completed and zero planned.”

    “This is good news and proof that our vigilance on this issue and our successful legal challenges have had an impact,” said SUWA wildlands director Neal Clark. “It is our hope that BLM has taken a step back in order to seriously consider whether these risky projects are legal and scientifically-defensible.” 

    “Large-scale mechanical vegetation removal projects are an extreme management approach that simply do not belong on our public lands, and should never have been proposed in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” added Marienfeld. “These projects are completely incompatible with protecting the fragile ecological, paleontological, and archaeological resources in Grand Staircase.”

    SUWA launched a statewide television campaign in January, 2018 opposing the BLM’s vegetation removal plans in the Monument. In the wake of a scientific report that found little evidence to support the BLM’s assertion that vegetation removal projects improve wildlife habitat, reduce stream erosion, or prevent wildfire, SUWA again called for the agency to scrap all vegetation removal plans within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in April 2019

    Additional Resources

    Paria River Project Summary (ePlanning)

    Alvey Wash, Coal Bench, and Last Chance Project Summary (ePlanning)

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order on Skutumpah Terrace, Sept. 16, 2019.

    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

     

  • January 9th, 2020

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact:

    Kya Marienfeld, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org
    Laura Welp, Western Watersheds Project, 435-899-0204, laura@westernwatersheds.org
    Mary O’Brien, Grand Canyon Trust, 435-259-6205, mobrien@grandcanyontrust.org

    Moab, UT (January 9, 2020) – On New Year’s Eve, the Utah office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a five-year, $75 million-dollar financial agreement to support the continued destruction of pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush ecosystems throughout Utah.

    The BLM committed up to $75 million dollars to the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative (UWRI), a partnership of federal and state agencies and public land grazing and hunting interests. UWRI has clearcut and mechanically “treated” hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands in Utah in the name of restoration since its inception 12 years ago.

    Recent scientific literature clearly outlines the risks associated with large-scale surface disturbing activities, such as chaining or mulching live pinyon pine and juniper forests, yet the BLM and UWRI have almost always ignored this information and instead forged ahead with an antiquated, unscientific approach to land management that more often than not converts the “treated” areas into exotic forage and invasive species.

    “The BLM’s commitment to fund the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative over the next five years represents the worst of the Trump administration’s war on science and refusal to acknowledge the global climate crisis we’re witnessing on a daily basis,” said Kya Marienfeld, wildlands attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Rather than destroying large native ecosystems, the BLM should be working to preserve the ecological integrity of intact landscapes in order to mitigate the ongoing climate crisis. ”

    “Utah’s public lands are forever scarred by 60 years of counterproductive vegetation removal projects, which have historically done little more than increase non-native forage for cattle,” said Laura Welp, Ecosystems Specialist with Western Watersheds Project. “These destructive projects are based on fundamentally flawed concepts and failure should be expected. Continuing down the current path of promoting large-scale pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush clearcuts that are driven by funding rather than science spells disaster for Utah’s remarkable public lands.”

    “While a rare BLM project funded by UWRI is actually committed to diverse public input and species other than livestock and big game, most are hell-bent on clearing out pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush to make room for livestock forage, and then UWRI and land managers never look back when the land has been reduced to cheatgrass, tumbleweed, bare soil, and/or a feedlot of non-native forage grasses,” said Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director with Grand Canyon Trust.

    “Not only does the agreement represent a gross misuse of taxpayer funding, it also supports a partnership that has continually ignored best available scientific information regarding the risk of large-scale surface disturbing activities and the need to bolster climate resiliency by maintaining native ecosystems in a hotter, drier desert Southwest,” added Marienfeld.

    Additional Resources

    More information, including recent scientific literature and reports on the risks of BLM’s vegetation removal program, is available here.

    BLM press announcement.

    Link to this press release here.

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