BLM Land Use Plans Archives - Page 5 of 8


  • January 17th, 2014

    Today is a good day. Five years ago to this very date a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C. issued an order enjoining the Bush administration from issuing 77 oil and gas leases it sold in late December 2008 across several spectacular Utah red rock landscapes. Judge Ricardo Urbina’s decision, which was issued on Saturday, January 17, 2009 granted SUWA and its partners’ motion for a temporary restraining order and came literally at the 11th hour and only two days before the Bush administration left office.

    The “it’s Christmas 2008, we’re going out of business and all our public lands must go” lease sale, as it’s variously been remembered, turned out to be a watershed moment in the Obama administration’s approach to oil and gas leasing on federal lands. Following Judge Urbina’s ruling and a decision by then Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to formally withdraw the 77 leases from sale, the Interior Department began a top to bottom review of BLM’s oil and gas leasing program. That review culminated in new policies and programs that are intended to make sure BLM “thinks first, and leases later.”

    One of these policies is BLM’s so-called “master lease plans” or MLPs which are intended to identify lands that will remain available for oil and gas leasing (and with the right stipulations) and which lands have other values that would be compromised by energy development (things like cultural resources, wildlife habitat, recreation, and wilderness). Think smarter zoning decisions that strive to reduce the level of conflict between the many competing uses of the public lands.

    In Utah the first of these plans is being put together in the Moab area, which was ground zero for the December 2008 oil and gas lease sale. In typical BLM fashion nothing good comes easy and it’s taking a while to get this plan off the ground. We’re hopeful that the plans will better identify the places where oil and gas (and potash) leasing and development should and should not take place.

    And how did it come to pass that there even was a December 2008 oil and gas “fire sale”? Just as it was leaving office, the Bush administration saddled Utah with six new land use plans (called resource management plans or RMPs) which made these kinds of bad leasing decisions possible. SUWA and its partners challenged those plans in court (as part of the same lawsuit that blocked the 77 leases). As many of you know this past fall we won a major victory when a federal judge held that several aspects of BLM’s Richfield RMP violated federal environmental and cultural preservation laws. We’re figuring out what that decision will mean on the ground – called the remedy stage of the litigation – and then will move onto challenging another one of the Bush RMPs.

    But coming full circle – take a moment and revel in the key ruling we received five years ago. We couldn’t have done it without your help and support.

  • November 4th, 2013

    It’s a great day for Utah’s redrock wilderness! Today the federal district court in Utah struck down significant parts of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) land use plan for the Richfield Field Office – a plan that prioritized off-road vehicle use above all else. This victory for wilderness represents years and years of hard work by staff, members and supporters of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA).

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  • November 4th, 2013

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    November 4, 2013

     

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

    Court Strikes Down Controversial BLM Land Use Plan
    BLM plan designated thousands of miles of ORV routes, placing iconic western landscapes at risk

    SALT LAKE CITY Today the United States District Court for the District of Utah struck down significant parts of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Resource Management Plan for the Richfield Field Office, putting the brakes on a Bush-era management scheme that prioritized motorized recreation over all else.

    A coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and Earthjustice had challenged the plan (the “Richfield RMP”) in an attempt to bring balanced management to Utah’s spectacular public lands.  The plan developed by BLM threatened world-renown southern Utah wilderness landscapes like the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy’s infamous hideout, Robber’s Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states) and Factory Butte.  See photos here.

    Specifically, Judge Kimball:

    • Reversed BLM’s off-road vehicle (ORV) trail designations because BLM failed to minimize the destructive impacts of ORV use on streams, native plants, wildlife, soils and irreplaceable cultural sites and artifacts, as required by law.
    • Directed BLM to complete intensive, on-the-ground surveys for historic and cultural resources before authorizing ORV use.
    • Held that BLM’s failure to designate the Henry Mountains as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern—which would have given heightened protection to its bison herds and large expanses of remote, spectacularly scenic lands — violated federal law.
    • Ordered BLM to reevaluate information supporting the designation of Happy Canyon and the spring areas of Buck and Pasture Canyons for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

    Under the Richfield RMP, BLM had designated over 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails, enough miles to drive from Atlanta to Anchorage, for ORV vehicle use despite evidence of environmental damage and conflicts with other public lands visitors.

    “This landmark decision is a resounding rejection of the BLM’s mismanagement of Utah’s stunning public lands,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “The Richfield RMP wrongly prioritized ORV use over all other uses of the public lands and neglected streams and special places worthy of protection.  The court didn’t mince words in its ruling that this violated federal environmental and historic laws.”

    “Utah’s remarkable public lands deserve better than what they are getting from the BLM,” remarked David Garbett, a SUWA staff attorney.  “This decision is a first step in improving that situation.”

    The impact of this decision raises serious questions about the legality of five other BLM management plans in the eastern half of the state of Utah that suffer from similar legal flaws.  The Richfield RMP is just one of six land use plans—covering more than 11 million acres of eastern and southern Utah—that the Interior Department finalized in October 2008.  Together, these RMPs were a last-ditch attempt by the Bush administration to leave their stamp on Utah’s landscape by prioritizing ORVs and energy development over protecting Utah’s uniquely magnificent red rock canyon country. Conservationists have challenged all six plans in court.  The Richfield RMP is the first of the six to be litigated.

    “It’s a new day for Utah’s Red Rock country,” said Heidi McIntosh of Earthjustice.  “This far-reaching decision means BLM can no longer dismiss the value of wilderness, scenery, wildlife, and areas of cultural importance to Native Americans in favor of destructive ORV use.”

    “This decision sends an irrefutable message to the BLM about the need for responsible management of the 11 million acres of public lands covered by all 6 challenged plans,” said Nada Culver, Senior Counsel for The Wilderness Society. “The BLM should heed this as a call to action and move forward now to address these flaws in all of the plans – minimizing damage from off-road vehicles and protecting natural and cultural values.”

    “We’re thrilled by the district court’s decision,” said Bill Hedden, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Trust.  “BLM’s refusal to conduct on-the-ground inventories for cultural resources that are being damaged and destroyed from off-road vehicle use was shocking.  Federal law requires BLM to do more to protect these irreplaceable cultural treasures and we’re pleased that the judge ordered BLM to do so.”

     

    Background information on the Richfield RMP can be found on SUWA’s website.  Photographs of the proposed wilderness areas at risk in the Richfield field office are also available.  In 2008, the Salt Lake Tribune and New York Times panned the Richfield RMP, raising many of the same flaws identified in the court’s decision.

    The conservation groups challenging the BLM’s 2008 land use plans in Utah include the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utah Rivers Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, National Trust for Historic Preservation and Rocky Mountain Wild.

    The groups are represented by attorneys Stephen Bloch and David Garbett of SUWA; Heidi McIntosh, Robin Cooley and Alison Flint of Earthjustice; and by Robert Wiygul of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside.

  • October 24th, 2013
    Arch

    The washed out route.
    Photo by Liz Thomas/SUWA

    With its clear, spring-fed perennial stream, its ancient cultural rock art and cliff dwellings, and its magnificent scenery, Arch Canyon is an exceptional place. Unfortunately, the BLM sees nothing there but a route for motorized recreation; all the other resources are forfeit to that single, destructive use.

    We’ve repeatedly asked the BLM to close the route. So have the Hopi Tribe and the Utah Navajo Commission. We have engaged scientists to survey and inventory the route. They’ve concluded that off-road vehicle use increases the risk of damage and vandalism to the archaeological sites and is the primary cause of negative impacts to the riparian system.

    Despite all evidence to the contrary, the BLM claims that the 8-mile ORV route, which crosses the stream 120 times during the round trip, doesn’t hurt a thing. The BLM’s position is perfectly aligned with San Juan County’s (where motor vehicle routes are considered a birthright).

    Recently, the BLM proposed to reroute a half-mile of the ORV route near the mouth of the canyon, claiming that it “is necessary because the existing road segment becomes impassable after heavy flooding.”  No surprise there — after all, it’s in a floodplain!

    The choice between allowing San Juan County to gouge a new route in the canyon, versus allowing the county to reconstruct the washed out section of the route is a bogus one. Neither will protect the canyon’s resources.  Despite the agency’s history of taking orders from San Juan County, we are asking the BLM to select the only sane option: Close the 8-mile route.  We’re waiting for a response.

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