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Supporters and wilderness advocates like you play a critical role in the protection of Utah’s spectacular wild places.
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As you no doubt have heard, the National Park Service (NPS) recently abandoned a proposal to allow certain off-road vehicles in Utah’s national parks and monuments.
That proposal provoked enough public outrage to force the Trump administration to reverse course and keep the longtime closure of park roads to off-road vehicles. And that reversal came in part because SUWA members like you spoke out against sacrificing our national parks to ATVs and UTVs.
But the controversy also raises a broader question: where do off-road vehicles belong on our public lands?
The time for answering that question is now before us. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently in the midst of a planning process that will result in 13 new travel management plans covering more than six million acres of BLM-managed lands in eastern and southern Utah.
These plans—to be completed over the next eight years—will determine where motorized vehicles are allowed in some of Utah’s most stunning and remote wild lands, such as the Dirty Devil, San Rafael Swell, and Labyrinth Canyon.
And in the coming months and years, we’re going to again need SUWA members like you to speak out against turning our public lands into off-road vehicle playgrounds.
The new travel plans are the result of SUWA and its conservation partners’ litigation of six travel plans released at the end of the George W. Bush administration.
Those plans smothered Utah’s public lands with a dense spider web of thousands of miles of motorized routes, prioritizing off-road vehicles at the expense of Utah’s cultural and natural resources. Routes designated in the these plans cross directly through cultural sites considered sacred by Native Americans and bisect wildlife habitat valued by Utah’s hunters and non-hunters alike. The Bush-era plans also exacerbated conflict with non-motorized public lands users.
But in 2013, the federal courts found that those Bush-era travel plans violated the law by failing to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources. Under the ensuing settlement agreement between the BLM, conservation organizations and off-road vehicle groups, the BLM is required to rewrite travel plans with more than motorized users in mind.
Which brings us to this once-in-a-generation opportunity.
At SUWA, we view the forthcoming travel plans as an opportunity to develop reasonable, manageable and forward-thinking blueprints that ensure public access while preserving the backcountry and minimizing damage.
This new planning process gives the BLM a second chance to get things right, ensuring access to trailheads, scenic overlooks and recreation opportunities while protecting the very reason people want to drive to such remote places in the first place: to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of Utah’s unparalleled public lands.
Much has changed in the decade since the BLM released its flawed, Bush-era travel plans. Visitation to Utah has skyrocketed—fueled by the State of Utah’s advertising and the rise of social media—and shows no sign of diminishing. More people are seeking out new types of recreation as technology changes: today’s off-road vehicles are designed to go more places faster than ever before. We are also grappling with a climate crisis, bringing new challenges to Utah’s public land managers.
But one thing hasn’t changed in the last decade: SUWA is still here, fighting every day to protect Utah wilderness and to preserve the redrock for generations to come.
We’ll be telling you more about the BLM’s travel planning process in the coming months, and once again it is your voice that will make the difference. Rather than viewing this process as a burden, the BLM should take advantage of this opportunity to protect our shared heritage and craft visionary plans that will endure for years to come.
Utah’s wild places deserve no less.
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.
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.
George Wuerthner (former BLM botanist), The Salt Lake Tribune, September 12, 2019: BLM is attacking juniper to help cows, not sage grouse
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.”
BLM’s “wild west” mentality will deface Utah landscape
For Immediate Release
Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-236-3762
Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646-823-4518
Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society, 303-225-4636
Salt Lake City, UT (August 1, 2019) – Three conservation organizations filed suit today in federal district court in Utah challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to open 5,400 acres of federal public lands around Utah’s Factory Butte to unrestricted cross-country motorized use. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society filed the lawsuit asking the court to reverse the BLM’s unlawful decision and direct that the closure be reinstated.
The BLM’s May 22, 2019 decision reversed a closure order that had been in place for more than twelve years. The agency gave no prior notice or opportunity for public input. Its reversal just before Memorial Day weekend allowed vehicles to immediately mar this remarkable landscape.
“It was irresponsible and anti-democratic for BLM to secretly open up this area and subject its ecosystem to destruction,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director for Lands at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The agency’s earlier move to close this area was a sound decision, based on science and extensive public input. BLM has to balance different uses of our public lands, but the ring around Factory Butte is no place for off road vehicles, which damage the soil and threaten endangered species.”
“The BLM’s decision to allow destructive, unregulated cross-country motorized use to overrun the remarkable public lands surrounding Factory Butte – one of Utah’s most well-known landmarks – is outrageous,” said Laura Peterson, attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Though it refused to provide the public with any advance notice of its decision, the BLM consulted ahead of time with local counties and even shared its press release and promotional materials. That’s clearly not the way our federal public lands are supposed to be managed.”
The BLM did not explain its reasoning or provide an environmental analysis for its decision. Instead, BLM concocted a rationale days after its decision to lift the closure when BLM Richfield field officer manager Joelle McCarthy wrote a brief “Memo to File” on May 24, 2019. This memo was not made available to the public until May 28, 2019.
“Sneaking this plan out without public input shows that the BLM knew the public would be outraged by the decision to open treasured lands to unfettered motorized use that will permanently scar the land,” said Phil Hanceford, attorney for The Wilderness Society. “Anyone who has traveled through this area just outside of Capitol Reef National Park has marveled at the Factory Butte and the surrounding wilderness quality lands. The BLM’s actions are unacceptable and we believe the courts will agree.”
BLM’s decision to reverse a 2006 closure of the area to ORV use will allow unrestricted motorized travel throughout two “play areas” totaling a combined 5,400 acres.
The 2006 closure followed a petition Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed with the BLM outlining the devastating effects of unmanaged cross-country travel by ORVs in this area. The BLM concluded that closure was necessary to protect federally-listed cactus species, including the endangered Wright fishhook from mortality due to cross-country ORV travel. SUWA has monitored the Factory Butte ORV closure area since 2006 and has documented ongoing and intentional ORV violations and associated damage to natural resources.
Photographs of the remarkable Factory Butte area are available on SUWA’s website, along with a timeline of OHV use at Factory Butte and a point-by-point refutation of BLM’s misleading arguments about why it lifted the closure on cross-country motorized use.
A copy of the complaint can be viewed here.
MOAB, UT — Utah’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to rush forward a plan for the illegally reduced Bears Ears National Monument that completely ignores the more than 1 million acres removed by an unlawful executive order and leaves most of the culturally and scientifically significant lands unprotected.
In a final plan released today, the BLM proposes to manage even the remaining 15 percent of Bears Ears National Monument in a way that doesn’t sufficiently protect cultural resources and sacred sites, leaving them more vulnerable to destruction than ever before.
Just as numerous reports have shown that the reductions were in fact focused on drilling and mining, this proposed plan shows that the BLM misled the public when claiming that a reduced boundary would allow them to better manage and protect what they considered to be the most important historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest in the Bears Ears region.
The planning process was started under former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke despite protests from Congress, and newly appointed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has continued to ignore calls by Congress to halt planning while also disregarding active litigation challenging the Trump administration’s initial executive action.
Secretary Zinke claimed in a monuments review interim report that a reduced boundary would allow the agency to “concentrate preservation resources,” and in his final report to President Trump, he claimed to be concerned that “that increased visitation can threaten the objects… monuments that span up to a million acres or more are difficult to protect.” This final management plan proves that this was never about resources or practical ability to protect sites, but about a concerted effort to remove protections at every opportunity.
The nearly final plan released by the BLM fails in a number of ways:
Neal Clark, Wildlands Program Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance:
“As though reducing Bears Ears National Monument by nearly 85 percent wasn’t damaging enough, now the BLM’s plan ignores the concerns of tribes, archaeologists, conservationists, and the vast majority of the public by rolling back protections of the remaining 15 percent, creating a monument in name only. This plan means that one of America’s richest cultural landscapes continues to lack the protections it deserves.”
Tim Peterson, Cultural Landscapes Program Director, Grand Canyon Trust:
“National monuments are meant to protect our shared history and heritage while leaving a legacy for future generations. The Trump administration not only defiled our shared history by unlawfully reducing Bears Ears, they’re showing contempt for our legacy by choosing at every turn in their proposed plan to give protection short shrift. The way in which they’ve added the insult of this detestable plan to the injury of slashing Bears Ears is deeply disturbing, and it cannot stand.”
Phil Hanceford, Director of Agency Policy & Planning, The Wilderness Society:
“The BLM is moving rapidly with limited public input towards their goal of stripping protections from some of the nation’s most treasured and sensitive lands. The Bears Ears region continues to be threatened by the hasty, illegal, and un-scientific effort by a few to open as much of our public lands to drilling and mining as possible. People should be outraged.”
Brian Sybert, Executive Director, Conservation Lands Foundation:
“This rushed and reckless plan ignores tribes tied to this sacred and irreplaceable cultural landscape. It also ignores the majority of westerners who opposed slashing its size and who understand the value our public lands hold for recreation, science, and rural economies that depend on them for the long-term. It puts to rest any argument about the administration’s real motives in rolling back protections for Bears Ears and millions of other acres in the West: they are opening the door to development for their friends in industry — no matter the price for everyone else.”
P. David Polly, Immediate Past President, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology:
“To further his own political ends, Trump cut out most of the fossil sites for which Bears Ears was created, a loss to science and a loss every American. He did not have the authority to make the cuts and the management plans must be rewritten to protect the entire monument. They should be suspended until the courts have ruled on the boundaries like Congress itself has requested.”
Rose Marcario, CEO and President, Patagonia:
“The executive order abolishing Bears Ears was illegal and no management plan for these lands should proceed until resolution of the lawsuits. The president’s effort to reduce Bears Ears’ boundaries was done at the behest of mining and oil and gas industries. And this plan is another demonstration of this administration’s preference for extractive industry profit at the expense of the American people. Bears Ears contains iconic landscapes, sacred places, and priceless artifacts and this plan puts all of them under threat. Not to mention this is a colossal waste of time because the BLM will have to create a plan for the full Bears Ears as originally designated after we win the lawsuit.”
Heidi McIntosh, Managing Attorney of Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountains Office:
“If we win the legal fight to restore Bears Ears National Monument, this plan will just be 800 pages of wasted effort. Even in the parts of Bears Ears that President Trump left intact, he’s planning on putting destructive activities before the American public’s interests. Bears Ears is not the kind of place for chaining thousands of acres of forest or stringing up utility lines. These are wild, sweeping monument lands.”
Erik Murdock, Policy Director, Access Fund:
“The Bears Ears region deserves landscape-scale protections. The reduction of Bears Ears National Monument is a direct threat to the Bears Ears landscape, traditional values, and recreation opportunities. The region contains some of the best sandstone rock climbing in the world because of its rock quality and inspirational setting. Access Fund believes that an appropriate management plan should be developed after the litigation is resolved and the boundaries of the monument are reinstated.”
Colin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation:
“The illegal decimation of Bears Ears National Monument opens up ancestral lands of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni to development that will likely degrade critical wildlife habitat, fragment migration corridors, and potentially expose southern Utah communities to unacceptable pollution and health risks. Now the management plan for the meager remnants of the original monument simply pours salt in the open wounds of the tens of thousands of tribal leaders and citizens who fought for decades to conserve these sacred lands.”
Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association:
“This management plan is an insult to the public, who overwhelmingly spoke out in favor of protecting Bears Ears — and all our national monuments. Today’s plan opens the monument to damaging uses that carelessly put troves of scientific resources, sacred spaces, and adjacent national park landscapes in jeopardy. Our parks don’t exist in isolation, and the administration’s plan ignores the long-recognized threats to parks from harmful activities outside their borders, putting at risk their air and water quality, dark night skies and expansive viewsheds, as well as the multi-million dollar economy they support. The only management plan acceptable is one that encompasses Bears Ears’ entire landscape and protects the values and resources for which the monument was originally and legally created.”
Katherine Malone-France, Chief Preservation Officer, National Trust for Historic Preservation:
“This monument management plan is fundamentally flawed and premature. The National Trust and other plaintiffs are actively challenging President Trump’s unprecedented rollback of the monument’s land area by 85 percent. The plan should not be finalized before the litigation is complete. Given that the plan only considers the management needs of the much smaller — and currently contested — footprint, it is not a credible document. The plan also falls far short of providing a framework for proper stewardship of a landscape that holds deep significance for multiple tribes. It completely lacks appropriate measures to ensure protection of the significant cultural and historic resources that prompted the national monument designation in the first place and appears to leave the resources with even less protection than they had before the monument was designated. We will continue to push for the restoration of the Bears Ears National Monument to its original boundaries, and for a comprehensive management plan that truly protects the resources on the land that tell the stories of more than 12,000 years of human history.”