Daily News


  • February 18th, 2021

    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 

    Decision finds BLM failed to consider project alternatives that would have limited post-wildfire treatments to native seeds and manual restoration methods

    Moab, UT (February 18, 2021) – The U.S. Department of Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) yesterday set aside two late-summer 2020 decisions by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Kanab Field Office to chain and seed with non-native livestock forage in two post-fire landscapes within the original boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    In overturning BLM’s decisions, the IBLA held that the BLM erred in its rushed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process because it “fail[ed] to consider alternatives that would have limited its post-wildfire treatments to native seeds and to manual methods.” The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Western Watersheds Project had encouraged the BLM to consider a more environmentally-sound alternative treatment plan that would only use native species for seeding and would not use chaining—the most invasive and soil-disturbing method—as part of the agency’s restoration plans. 

    Unfortunately, although the IBLA held that the BLM’s rushed approval of these projects violated federal law, the agency had already started on-the-ground operations, including chaining and seeding with non-native plant species. All further activities for both projects are prohibited as of yesterday’s IBLA order, and the BLM confirmed earlier today that its heavy equipment is being moved offsite.

    “Using natural restoration methods is critical for fragile desert ecosystems, because science shows that introducing vigorous, non-native seed mixes significantly decreases the long-term potential for native species to recolonize,” said Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “This is precisely why the 2000 Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Management Plan required managers to consider pre-burn conditions before approving post-fire management activities, and required that only native seeds be used in restoration. When Monument protections were removed from these areas by President Trump in 2017 and new management plans approved last year, these science-based prohibitions disappeared. The BLM’s hurried approval of these two ‘fire restoration’ projects is direct evidence of how little it takes to permanently transform a native ecosystem and harm habitat for plants and wildlife without these protections.” 

    “Trump stripped National Monument status from Wire Pass and Pine Hollow, along the iconic House Rock Valley road,” said Laura Welp, Ecosystem Specialist with Western Watersheds Project and a former Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument botanist. “When a wildfire occurred there, the BLM took advantage of the reduced protections to destroy pinyon-juniper woodlands and native shrublands with bulldozers hauling massive chains, and to seed non-native plants to benefit livestock.”

    The Wire Pass and Pine Hollow wildfires, which occurred in July and August of 2020, collectively burned more than 5,000 acres on the west side of House Rock Valley Road in Kane County, Utah, directly across the road from the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area and near access points for the world-renowned geologic feature known as “the Wave.” Following these two lightning-caused fires, the BLM pushed through hurried environmental analyses and approved “restoration plans” in both burn areas to chain burned and remaining live vegetation and aerial seed an almost 4,000 acre area with crested wheatgrass and other persistent and invasive non-native perennial forage species favored by livestock.

     The BLM’s plan to introduce non-native species in the name of restoration was particularly alarming given that both burn areas were dominated by a diversity of native species including pinyon pine, sagebrush, and cliffrose prior to the wildfires, and were largely untouched by human-disturbance—an increasingly rare baseline for public lands devastated by grazing, motorized vehicle intrusions, and other human impacts throughout the West. 

    “This was a tremendously important appeal, and we are pleased with the IBLA’s decision” continued Marienfeld. “We expect to see the original boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and its full management protections restored soon, preventing these kinds of ill-conceived activities from being proposed or carried out anywhere on the full, 1.9 million-acres of this exceptional and fragile National Monument.”

    Additional Resources

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order, February 17, 2021

    Lawsuit Launched Over Trump Plan to Accelerate Clearcutting, Herbicide Spraying, Fuel Breaks Across Six Western States (January 13, 2021).

    Interior Board Overturns BLM Decision to Replace Native Forests with Livestock Forage in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (September 17, 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.

     

  • December 11th, 2018

    Relentless. That’s the word that best describes the assault on Utah’s public lands from the Trump administration and Utah politicians over the past 12 months.

    From President Trump’s illegal reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments last December to the nearly seven-fold increase in oil and gas leasing we’ve seen in Utah under the Trump administration, the people who would tear up Utah’s magnificent wilderness for fossil fuel development haven’t once let up.

    But SUWA has been relentless in defending the Redrock throughout 2018. And that defense is only possible because of the support from people like you.

    Click here to make a year-end contribution to SUWA today!

    The results of the midterm elections brought a ray of hope. The Democratic victory in the House of Representatives means Trump’s Department of Interior will finally face much-needed oversight in 2019.

    But the fact is, we still have at least two more years of the Trump administration, and they aren’t going to let up in their efforts to roll back protections and continue implementing their drill-everywhere “Energy Dominance” agenda.

    And the state of Utah, emboldened by the president’s relentless assault on Utah’s public lands, isn’t letting up either.

    Help defend Utah’s redrock wilderness in 2019 and beyond by making a special contribution today.

    With two more years of the Trump administration ahead, 2019 will be a time of defense. We need your support to:

    • Defeat President Trump’s illegal monument proclamations in federal court and restore Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments.
    • Fight back against the State of Utah’s more than 20 lawsuits that seek to gain rights to approximately 14,000 “hoax highways.” The state brought these cases with the express goal of blocking protection of Utah’s wild lands and turning them over to extractive industries and off-road vehicles.  After years of depositions and behind-the-scenes lawyering, SUWA will be defending the land against the state of Utah and Kane County in the first “bellwether” case this winter.
    • Hold onto the land until it can be permanently protected as wilderness or national monuments. That means our day-to-day work of defending the land against proposals big and small, from challenging energy leasing and development to blocking “chaining” projects to halting off-road vehicle abuse.
    • Build the movement to protect the Redrock. SUWA’s life blood for political strength and financial support comes from members like you. Our membership ultimately gives us our core political strength for both legislative and executive branch work.

    To meet these big challenges, we’ve set a big goal — raising $250,000 online by the end of this month.

    Can you help us reach that goal by making a special tax-deductible year-end contribution today?

    Click here to help protect the Redrock in 2019 and beyond.

    SUWA will never rest in our defense of America’s redrock. But our work is only possible with the support of people like you.

    Thank you for standing with us to defend Utah wilderness.

    Karin Duncker
    Development Director

  • November 28th, 2018

    Shortly after the Trump administration took office in 2017, SUWA filed several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Interior and Justice Departments seeking records related to several then-pending lawsuits, including a lawsuit brought by an oil and gas trade group (Western Energy Alliance) which challenged Obama-era oil and gas leasing reforms as well as the State of Wyoming’s lawsuit against Obama-era regulation of oil and gas fracking.  In particular, we sought communications between the plaintiffs in those lawsuits and federal officials, concerned that one or more sweetheart settlements might be in the making.

    After both Departments largely ignored our requests, SUWA filed suit in federal district court in Washington, DC seeking the release of all responsive records. After much back and forth with lawyers for the United States we began receiving a rolling production of records. We wanted to share a few notable items:

    •  The American Petroleum Institute’s wish list encouraging the rescission or weakening of Obama-era oil and gas leasing reforms. The Trump administration has followed through with many of these proposals.

    •  Emails between the Western Energy Alliance and the Departments of Interior and Justice as early as February 2017 regarding the settlement of an Alliance lawsuit. These discussions ultimately led to the Interior Department rescinding key Obama-era oil and gas leasing reforms.

    •  The National Mining Association’s wish list encouraging the rollback of Obama-era policies, including a coal leasing moratorium.

    SUWA has several other outstanding FOIA requests and lawsuits regarding records related to President Trump’s attack on Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments as well as the State of Utah’s sweeping RS 2477 litigation. We’ll keep you posted as those bear fruit.

  • October 12th, 2018

    Sweetwater Reef in Emery County.

    SUWA Executive Director Scott Groene has an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune today:

    At the end of his 40-plus year tenure as the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is clinging to the past. And he’s trying to drag Utah with him.

    Hatch’s “Not-so-Swell” bill, the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018, passed a Senate markup in early October. The bill remains a one-sided proposal from a county that openly admits it is attempting to designate the minimum amount of wilderness it can get away with.

    Hatch’s Emery County bill follows his goading President Trump into eviscerating Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments last December — slapping down Native American Tribes, undercutting local businesses and opening some of America’s most spectacular lands for development. It’s an ultimately futile effort, since the boom and bust industries that drove the state’s economy when Hatch first won office in 1977 continue to fade in the rear view mirror.

    Knowing that his terrible bill can’t pass the Senate on its own, Sen. Hatch hopes to attach the bill to an omnibus or unrelated legislation:

    His bill is all about the outdated fantasy that protecting Utah’s public lands harms us as a state. The bill leaves more than two-thirds of the deserving wilderness in Emery County unprotected. It lacks sufficient protections for Muddy Creek, which, as the largest unprotected wilderness in the county, would be a no-brainer in a legitimate bill. It also omits important parts of Labyrinth Canyon, Utah’s premier flatwater multi-day river experience for families, beginners and experts alike. And the bill envisions no protection whatsoever for the San Rafael Badlands, a rugged and incredibly wild landscape that is chock full of unique and precious archaeological sites, where hundreds of new and significant cultural sites have been discovered in the past five years.

    Hatch’s #NotSoSwell bill is a taunt to SUWA supporters like you:

    Hatch intends to force this bill through Congress in the very limited time left in this session, daring us to try to stop him. We think we can. If he wins, it resolves nothing, as wilderness advocates will be back the next day fighting to protect the omitted lands. If we win, it’s back to “Go.”

    Either is a poor outcome.

    It’s not too late to reach an agreement that protects one of Utah’s most treasured landscapes, and leaves the retiring senator with a legacy that would long be appreciated by Utahns.

  • October 4th, 2018

    Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) “Not-so-Swell” bill, the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018, passed a Senate markup Tuesday on voice vote. The bill remains a one-sided proposal from a county that openly admits it is attempting to designate the minimum amount of wilderness it can get away with.

    So now, we must fight. There are still things we can do to fix this.

    Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) office spent much of last week working to negotiate a better deal, a process cut absurdly short when Sen. Hatch’s office declared that an arbitrary deadline had not been met. Now Sen. Hatch intends to try to ram this legislation through by either sticking it on a behemoth public lands package, or by attempting to inappropriately sneak it on to completely unrelated legislation. 

    This means we need you to contact your Senators and tell them the Emery County Public Lands Management Act MUST NOT PASS as is. 

    The bill leaves more than two thirds of the deserving wilderness in Emery County unprotected. It does not have sufficient protections for Muddy Creek, which, as the largest wilderness unit in the county, would be a no-brainer in a legitimate bill. It also leaves important parts of Labyrinth Canyon unprotected, designating wilderness on only the western side of the canyon corridor, and artificially curtailing boundaries to protect illegal mountain biking routes.  And the bill envisions no protection whatsoever for the San Rafael Badlands, a rugged and incredibly wild landscape that is chock full of unique and precious archaeological sites.

    Sen. Hatch’s counterpart in the House, Rep. John Curtis, is fond of saying that nobody will get everything they want in this bill. But even if those three places were added, only half of the deserving wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would gain protection. 

    The other goodies in the bill for the county prove that, in actuality, a tiny band of Emery County officials are getting just about everything they want on lands that belong to all Americans. Not only does the bill fail to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness, it also takes a bite out of an existing Wilderness Study Area to facilitate a coal mine. The bill will make recreation impacts worse in many sensitive areas, and a designation that was to be a National Conservation Area in early versions of the bill has been downgraded to a “Recreation Area,” completely changing the way the BLM will manage the lands. 

    Finally, Hatch’s office removed a federal-state land exchange that would have consolidated scattered state parcels out of designated wilderness and moved them to another area. Done well, land exchanges like these can be a conservation gain. But it became clear that Utah wanted to trade into a disputed parcel of land that the Ute Tribe claims as its own, and rather than telling the State Trust Lands Administration to come up with a better proposal, Sen. Hatch’s office instead chose to sweep the issue under the rug. Now if the bill passes, the SITLA lands would be stranded, and the school kids the Utah delegation likes to use as an excuse to bludgeon public lands will get diddly. 

    There is limited time remaining in this Congress, and Sen. Hatch has limited floor time in which to pass this legislation. Help us make his path more difficult by calling your Senators and asking them to oppose S. 2809, the Emery County Public Lands Management Act. 

    Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121