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Join our email list to stay informed about Utah wilderness.
Supporters and wilderness advocates like you play a critical role in the protection of Utah’s spectacular wild places.
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*Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. All contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
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:
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.
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.”
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, email@example.com
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:
Additional resources on the web:
*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.)
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.