Grand Staircase-Escalante Archives


  • 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.)

  • January 10th, 2019

    Moab, UT (January 10, 2019) – In response to the introduction by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) of the Protect Utah’s Rural Economy (PURE) Act, which would limit the ability of the president to protect landscapes in Utah through the use of the Antiquities Act, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) executive director Scott Groene issued the following statement:

    “This bill is just the latest in a long line of extremist anti-conservation bills put forth by some members of the Utah delegation. The short-sightedness of the Act should be expected from Senator Lee, but it is extremely disappointing to see one of Senator Romney’s first acts in Congress be such unconsidered parroting of worn-out anti-environmental talking points.

    “Four out of five of Utah’s national parks started out as national monuments, and two of the crown jewels of our public lands — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments — were protected using the Antiquities Act. All of these protections were opposed by Utah politicians with no vision for the future.

    “SUWA will fight this bill and any attempt by the Utah delegation to undermine the right of Americans to protect their public lands.”

  • 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.

  • November 7th, 2018

    Harry Truman once wished for a one-armed economist because he’d grown tired of hearing, “On the one hand…on the other hand.” This post-election wrap-up is a bit like that: slivers of hope set against hard reminders.   

    For public lands, the election’s best news is probably this: the blue wave that washed over the House also swept away Rob Bishop’s chairmanship of the House Resources Committee. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) will likely replace Bishop. Think Imperator Furiosa replaces Iago. It will be much more difficult for the Utah congressional delegation to move bad wilderness legislation.

    We won’t really celebrate, though, until we get past the dangerous uncertainty of a lame duck Congress. Retiring Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is trying to ram through his Emery County legislation. This late in the game, his likeliest avenue is to slip his anti-wilderness bill inside some larger legislative package.  It’s our job to see that he fails. Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek and the San Rafael Badlands are in the balance.  

    But we hope the election will embolden Democratic leadership to block bad legislation in these few remaining weeks, even as their Republican counterparts redouble efforts to do all the damage they can before losing power. Lame duck congresses often prove to be duds; they can also be dangerous. Muddying this lame duck’s waters even further, Trump is relieved of whatever pressure he felt to act like an adult prior to the election. With a budget deadline of December 7, he may yet have the chance to shut down the government to indulge some momentary whim.

    We’ll have to contend with the Trump administration for two more years; the election doesn’t change that. But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Trump’s trained seal, faces a number of ethics-related investigations that may distract him some from his assaults on public land.  Offsetting that faint hope is the likelihood that the Bureau of Land Management will be ever more servile in its acquiescence to local Utah politicians and their anti-public lands demands. 

    The mid-terms did nothing to quash Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s massive litigation seeking control over national parks, monument, and wilderness through the antiquated and repealed RS 2477.

    There were some changes among Utah’s congressional delegation.  In potential good news for the environment, it appears Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams beat incumbent Republican Representative Mia Love.  The outlook is less clear regarding former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who returned to Utah to collect the retiring Hatch’s seat. During his senate campaign, Romney pandered to the right wing on public land issues. We’ll see if he chooses to stay on the fringe.   

    At the state level, in what is the very essence of rotating bald tires, former San Juan County commissioner and all-terrain-vehicle protest rider Phil Lyman replaced long time State Representative Mike Noel.  A leader in the state house, the bellicose Noel did his best to drag Utah backwards with false claims on public land issues and a penchant for wasting Utah tax dollars pushing his anti-federal views.  Perhaps Lyman will surprise us by being something else. We doubt it.    

    Notably, this election brought real change to San Juan County, home of the Bears Ears National Monument. Native Americans Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes won two of three county commission seats. Both support the Bears Ears; both beat candidates who didn’t. This is an extraordinary shift of power to the Native American majority in a county where gerrymandering Anglo politicians have long suppressed Native needs and Native voices.   

    Make no mistake, Kenneth and Willie will face hostility from the entrenched county forces seeking to make them fail. Those forces were at work from the very beginning. The San Juan County Clerk sought to falsify documents in order to keep Willie off the ballot, but was busted by a federal judge. We wish the new commissioners success, and thank them for the courage to take on these offices.

    We have survived half of the national nightmare of Donald Trump’s reign. Each year becomes more dangerous as blatantly unqualified political appointees remain in place and work their mischief, twisting and distorting the bureaucracies that manage our public lands. 

    We operate in an ever-changing political environment at every level. Politicians, bureaucrats and judges come and go. The constant is the red rock wilderness and our resolve to defend it.  Thank you for being part of this movement.

    –Scott Groene

  • September 24th, 2018

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Circle Cliffs along the Burr Trail, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah,

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, (801)-859-1552 or steve@suwa.org

    Washington, D.C. (September 24, 2018) — This morning, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan ruled from the bench and denied a motion to transfer the lawsuits challenging President Trump’s illegal evisceration of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments to Utah.

    The United States, supported by the state of Utah, had moved to transfer the lawsuits from federal court in Washington, D.C. to Utah. That motion was opposed by the plaintiffs, including Native American tribes, conservation groups and local businesses.

    “We are gratified by today’s decision by Judge Chutkan to keep these  significant cases in federal district court in Washington, D.C. With this venue issue behind us we look forward to tackling the merits of President Trump’s unlawful decisions to dismantle Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    SUWA is a plaintiff in two of the cases challenging Trump’s actions.