Grand Staircase-Escalante Archives


  • October 1st, 2019

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

    Salt Lake City, UT (October 1, 2019) – In response to Judge Chutkan’s decision allowing lawsuits to proceed against President Trump’s reductions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, SUWA legal director Stephen Bloch issued the following statement:

    “The day of reckoning for President Trump’s unlawful attack on the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments drew closer when Judge Chutkan issued her decision denying the United States’ motions to dismiss these cases.  We intend to pursue these cases until these remarkable cultural, scientific and wild redrock landscapes are restored to their full glory.”

  • 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

     

     

     

     

  • August 23rd, 2019

    Plan Undermines Standards for National Monument Protections, Ignores Public Opposition and Ongoing Litigation Over Reduced Boundaries

    ESCALANTE, Utah (August 23, 2019) – Today, local and national groups, businesses and globally-respected scientist organizations, denounced the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) release of management plans for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as another step toward undermining protections for Americans’ national monuments and other protected public lands.

    Top failures of the management plan released today: 

    1. The plan opens up hundreds of thousands of acres of the original Monument (designated in 1996) to drilling and mining, while the administration’s illegal reduction of the Monument (decreasing it by nearly half) is still being actively litigated and while the Government Accountability Office is investigating whether the planning process itself is in violation of long-standing spending law.
    2. It is the result of a rushed and closed-door process, opening up land for inappropriate development with little input from the public.
    3. The plan changes standards for the management of all national monuments—affecting treasured places across the country—and doesn’t even protect what remains of Grand Staircase-Escalante.

    This reckless plan doesn’t protect Grand Staircase-Escalante or the businesses that depend on it, and sets an unacceptable precedent for national monuments across the country. Our irreplaceable public lands are the envy of the world, and the law requires that they be managed on behalf of all Americans.

    Organizational quotes

    Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
    “This illegal plan puts a fine point on the Trump administration’s rapacious vision for America’s public lands. This is a plan of plunder: authorizing rampant chaining of pinyon-juniper forests, unbridled energy development, and a free-for-all of off-road vehicle abuse. Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of the nation’s public land crown jewels; it is the quintessentially wild red rock landscape that people from across the country and  around the world think of when they dream of visiting southern Utah. President Trump broke the law and defied Congress with his illegal order reducing the monument, and SUWA and its partners will persist with our fight in court to undo this damage and restore full protections to the entire monument ecosystem.”

    Nicole Croft, Executive Director, Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners
    “The BLM’s management plan attempts to cement the largest roll-back in public lands protections in American history. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has demonstrated its worth time and time again, through contributions to science, personal discovery and significant economic benefits to our local communities. These lands belong to every American, not just a few special interests.”

    Joe & Suzanne Catlett, Nemo’s Restaurant Group, LLC
    “No new Management Plans should be considered or released prior to the outcomes currently pending before the Courts. In our opinion this action is disingenuous, completed recklessly and does not represent the true best interest of this county or the American people. As owner/operators of an Escalante, Utah Main street business, and like other businesses in Garfield County, we have seen an immediate and direct decrease in our sales and revenue compared to years prior.  This is a direct result of the BLM attempting to rush management plans on an Executive action that remains heavily litigated, may be reversed, and continues to impact the local economy.”

    Nathan Waggoner, Escalante Outfitters
    “Escalante Outfitters and many other businesses in our gateway communities rely on the protection and preservation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to continue to grow our businesses and support our communities.  We are deeply disappointed in the BLM’s new management plan because it turns a blind eye to the concerns of businesses who support a wilderness ethic and it caters to a small band of special interest groups who want to exploit our public lands for short term profits. Given that the litigation to restore the monument to its rightful size is still on-going, the new management plan is a waste of taxpayers money and detrimental to one of America’s last great expanses of wilderness.”

    Blake Spalding, co-owner, Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm in Boulder, Utah
    “In our restaurant we’re talking to guests every day who have travelled from far and wide to enjoy the unspoiled protected public lands of Southern Utah. They desperately want these landscapes preserved, as they were intended to be when they were thoughtfully designated as protected Monuments. The new management plan is a travesty that will devastate the tranquil gateway communities and businesses that were thriving before this incursion.” 

    David Polly, Immediate Past President, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
    “If something’s not broke, you shouldn’t try to fix it.  Grand Staircase-Escalante has been one of the most productive areas for paleontology in the last quarter century. The Monument has been a spectacular success in providing scientific value to the entire world. These new management plans are unnecessary and have already cost taxpayers more than $1 million, a fortune that could have produced thousands of more finds.”

    William H. Doelle, President and CEO, Archaeology Southwest
    “There is no question that Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was legitimately established through the authority granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906. There is no question that this magnificent landscape is also a cultural one, bearing unparalleled evidence of people’s lives over millennia. What this deeply flawed plan reveals, like the recently released Bears Ears plan, is a troubling question—do national monuments even mean anything anymore? We believe they do, and we stand with our partners in pushing for proper and lawful protections for Grand Staircase-Escalante and all our national monuments.”

    Brian Sybert, Executive Director, Conservation Lands Foundation
    “Grand Staircase was designated more than twenty years ago, and its boundaries were later ratified by Congressional action. This plan is an attempt to further this administration’s reckless push to open treasured, irreplaceable lands to destructive mining and drilling—despite public outcry and before the courts have a chance to weigh in.”

    Heidi McIntosh, Managing Attorney of Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountains Office
    “Grand Staircase was an exceptionally successful national monument until President Trump rode into town and unlawfully shredded it. These protected lands have been a boon for the local economy and a treasure trove of dinosaur discoveries and new scientific insights precisely because they are protected. We’re disgusted, but not surprised, upon seeing Trump’s latest plans. While the Trump Administration is rushing a new scheme through to let mining companies and ranchers harm vast swaths of Grand Staircase for a quick buck, we’re in court working to stop them. These new plans won’t be worth the paper they’re printed on if the court rules that Trump violated the Antiquities Act and the Constitution.”

    Phil Hanceford, Attorney, The Wilderness Society
    “The Trump administration continues to steamroll forward with illegal actions to open nearly half the monument to drilling, and mining and other destructive activities. This planning process is another blatant example of the train headed down a barricaded track,” said Phil Hanceford, an attorney with The Wilderness Society. “While the BLM continues to disregard the law, the public, and the harm these plans will cause, we will fight in court to return the monument to its original boundary and ensure the entirety is managed in a way that protects this outstanding resource.”

    Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director, Grand Canyon Trust
    “The proposals to add more roads, more cattle grazing, more fuel extraction, more non-native grass seeding, more OHV use in wilderness study areas – it’s as if the BLM tried to promote every damaging activity they could imagine.”

    Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association
    “From ancient dinosaur fossils to ascending plateaus and winding canyons developed over millions of years, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is unparalleled. But now, it’s being taken from the public and handed to the highest bidder. Grand Staircase-Escalante serves as a critical connection to three of our country’s national park sites – Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It shields rock formations and wildlife from harm and provides visitors with opportunities to experience intense quiet and solitude. Despite the monument’s value to the region and the millions of people who have fought to protect it, the Trump administration is green lighting destructive development, including mining and drilling, that will forever change this landscape and all we stand to learn from and experience here.”

    Rose Marcario, President and CEO, Patagonia
    The executive order eliminating protections for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was illegal and no management plan for these lands should proceed until the resolution of the lawsuits. If this administration’s reckless agenda is not stopped, it will lead to the destruction of a national treasure protected for over two decades that enjoys support from hunters and hikers as well as local businesses and communities. And even more troubling, it sets a dangerous precedent for the future of all public lands and waters. These wild and wonderful landscapes should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder, and we have every confidence the courts will rule in favor of the plaintiffs and the original boundaries of the National Monument will be restored.”

    Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign
    “The bottom line is that the Trump administration acted illegally when it stripped the lands of Grand Staircase-Escalante of national monument status. With this plan, Bernhardt’s Interior is clearly trying to let in mining and drilling before a court can overturn the rollbacks.”

    Nicole Ghio, Senior Fossil Fuels Program Manager at Friends of the Earth
    “The new management plan for Grand Staircase Escalante ignores the overwhelming opposition to mining and drilling on this land. Bernhardt’s push to hand the Monument over to fossil fuel interests is possibly illegal and  ignores the ongoing court battles. BLM’s plan is a rushed attempt to undercut established environmental protections.”

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  • 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.)