News Archives


  • June 13th, 2019

    Approximately 204,000 acres of remote, wild, and culturally significant public lands temporarily spared from oil and gas development
     

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981, steve@suwa.org
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (June 13, 2019): For the second time in less than two months, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has reluctantly recognized that its rushed “lease first, think later” mentality to oil and gas leasing and development violated the law. Earlier this week, the BLM informed the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) that the agency plans to revisit its decision to open up approximately 204,000 acres of public lands in Utah’s scenic San Rafael Desert and northern Dirty Devil region for oil and gas development. BLM’s decision is coming after it denied a protest by SUWA and other conservation groups over this lease sale and an appeal of BLM’s leasing decision being filed at the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA).

    San Rafael Desert. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    The San Rafael Desert and Dirty Devil region lies between Goblin Valley State Park and the newly designated San Rafael Reef Wilderness on the west and the Horseshoe Canyon component of Canyonlands National Park on the east. This is one of the sublime and least traveled areas of federal public lands in Utah. The majority of the leases pulled back by the BLM encompass lands identified by the BLM as possessing wilderness characteristics; that is, the BLM has determined that the lands appear natural and undisturbed and provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and unconfined primitive types of recreation such as hiking, wildlife viewing, and camping. Photographs of the San Rafael Desert are available here.

    “It’s not surprising that BLM’s fire sale approach to oil and gas leasing is unlawful.” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Over the past two years Utah BLM has eagerly embraced this agenda by removing every obstacle to selling off as much federal public land as possible, as quickly as possible, and with as little analysis or public involvement as possible.”

    This is the second time in less than two months that the BLM has been forced to pull back a leasing decision in Utah for violating federal environmental laws. Just last month the agency took similar steps to pull back a separate leasing decision made in March 2018 that involved public lands on the doorstep to Bears Ears National Monument and Canyonlands National Park. More information on that decision is available here. Notably, these two decisions by the BLM to pullback oil and gas leases are not isolated events. All of the agency’s leasing decisions in Utah over the past two years suffer from the same legal flaws that forced BLM to set-aside its leasing decisions in these instances. In other words, the agency will likely be forced to pullback hundreds of thousands of acres of oil and gas leases across Utah that it unlawfully offered and sold for development.

    “The chickens have come home to roost,” said Landon Newell, Staff Attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM has had its head stuck in the sand for two years, eagerly walking in lockstep with the Trump administration’s large-scale assault on our public lands. This ‘lease first, think later’ mentality has come back to haunt BLM.”

    Over the past two years, the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda has suffered several significant legal setbacks. Of particular importance here, in March 2019 a federal judge in Washington, D.C., held that the BLM had failed to properly analyze the impacts of its oil and gas leasing program on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This landmark decision requires the BLM–for the first time–to provide a detailed accounting of these impacts in each leasing decision. This decision spells trouble for all the Utah BLM’s leasing decisions over the past two years: the agency made the same unlawful mistake in each. SUWA has already filed the first of several court challenges to begin to overturn all these decisions. More information on SUWA’s filed lawsuit is available here.

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  • May 31st, 2019

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-428-3981 steve@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (May 31, 2019) – This weekend is the second since the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued its controversial decision to authorize destructive cross-country off-road vehicle (ORV) use across 5,400 acres of public lands ringing Factory Butte in southern Utah. The BLM’s decision reverses a 13-year long closure order that prohibited such activity.

    Although the BLM lifted the closure ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, on Wednesday, May 22, 2019, it didn’t set forth its rationale for doing so until Richfield field office manager Joelle McCarthy wrote a brief “memo to file” two days later, on May 24.

    The BLM didn’t make the memo available to the public until the following Tuesday, May 28.

    “We closely reviewed Manager McCarthy’s memo and found several misleading statements and significant omissions,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “Our annotated version of the memo – ‘The Truth about BLM’s Decision to Open Factory Butte to ORV Destruction’ – puts BLM’s wrong-headed decision to lift the closure around Factory Butte into context and makes clear that this was an outrageous reversal.”

    Click here to read the annotated BLM memo.

  • May 23rd, 2019

    Decision Prioritizes Off-Road Vehicle Use over Threatened and Endangered Species

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org

    Laura Peterson, Travel Management Attorney, 801-236-3762, laura@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (May 23, 2019) –  Without prior notice or opportunity for public input, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Richfield Field Office announced Wednesday that it is opening 5,400 acres of public lands surrounding Utah’s iconic Factory Butte to unfettered cross-country off-road vehicle (ORV) use.

    The BLM’s decision reverses a 2006 closure of the area to ORV use and will allow unrestricted motorized travel throughout the designated “play area.”

    Left: a spring wildflower bloom enhances Factory Butte’s unique photographic appeal. Right: Extensive ruts left by ORVs near Factory Butte remain visible even after torrential rainfall. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/SUWA. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    The 2006 closure followed a petition filed with the BLM by SUWA outlining the devastating effects of unmanaged cross-country travel by ORVs. The closure was necessary to protect the federally-listed endangered Wright fishhook (Scierocactus wrightiae) and Winkler (Pediocactus winkleri) cacti from direct 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.

    “The BLM’s decision to allow destructive, unregulated cross-country motorized use on the remarkable public lands surrounding Factory Butte – one of Utah’s most well-known landmarks – is outrageous,” said Kya Marienfeld, SUWA Wildlands Attorney. “When the BLM rightly closed these lands to motorized use in 2006, it recognized that off-road vehicles are a significant threat to federally protected cactus species in the area. We don’t believe the BLM has done what it takes to make sure that the same damage doesn’t immediately resume.”

    “It’s remarkable that at a time when BLM has informed us that they’ll likely miss a court-ordered deadline to complete a new ORV travel plan for all of the Henry Mountains Field Station, including Factory Butte, they’ve somehow found the staff time and resources to open Factory Butte to off-road vehicle abuse immediately before Memorial Day weekend,” added SUWA Travel Management Attorney Laura Peterson. “With decreasing cactus populations and increasing ORV violations of the closure over recent years, its difficult to see how the agency expects any outcome other than once-again imperiling these listed species.”

    “SUWA has worked for more than 20 years to protect this place, and we don’t have any intention of walking away from it now,” said Marienfeld.

    Additional Resources:

    BLM press release on opening of off-road playground around Factory Butte.

  • May 14th, 2019

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 435-259-5440 kya@suwa.org 

    Salt Lake City, UT (May 14, 2019) – Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) withdrew a 2018 decision authorizing the destruction of more than 2,500 acres of pinyon pine and juniper trees within the Desolation Canyon and Jack Canyon Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) in the Tavaputs Plateau region of eastern Carbon County, Utah.  The BLM’s decision came on the heels of the filing of a lawsuit in federal district court by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) which challenged the removal project as unlawful and in violation of federal laws. 

    The BLM had proposed the destruction of the trees by mastication, a destructive and heavily surface-disturbing method of vegetation removal that involves uprooting trees where they stand and shredding them by means of a wood chipper/mulcher mounted to a large front-end loader, which is driven cross-country throughout a project area. 

    Cedar Ridge, within the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area on the Tavaputs Plateau, where the Bureau of Land Management had planned to remove pinyon pine and juniper trees via heavy machinery. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    In its lawsuit, SUWA alleged that the BLM’s decision—to use heavy machinery including bullhog masticators to remove pinyon pine and juniper forests on the Tavaputs Plateau just one mile from the western rim of Desolation Canyon—violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the agency’s legal obligation not to “impair” wilderness suitability in designated WSAs.  

    Shortly after SUWA filed its lawsuit, the BLM withdrew its approval of all portions of the vegetation removal project that would have occurred within the Jack Canyon and Desolation Canyon WSAs. 

    In response to the BLM’s withdrawal of the project, SUWA Wildlands Attorney Kya Marienfeld issued the following statement: 

    “Although we certainly wish the BLM had made this decision sooner, it’s encouraging to see that the agency realizes the unlawful nature of its plans to masticate pinyon-juniper forest in two pristine and remote Wilderness Study Areas. We are pleased that the agency made the right decision to follow its mandate to protect these remarkable locations from harm and from all actions that impair their world class ecological and wilderness values.

    “Using large vehicles and heavy machinery—whether bullhog masticators or anchor chains—to systematically wipe out thousands of acres of forest is completely incompatible with the protection of wilderness values and the preservation of wildlands and ecosystems.”

    Far from the only project that threatens to destroy wilderness values and other remarkable resources in an alleged attempt to save those same values, the BLM recently approved a similar vegetation destruction project in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  SUWA and other conservation groups have appealed that decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. In addition, the BLM is actively considering several other similar projects in the monument and Utah’s west desert.

    Additional Resources:

    SUWA’s federal complaint.

    BLM documents from eplanning.blm.gov including withdrawal of the project within WSAs.

  • May 7th, 2019

    Good news! Following SUWA’s appeal of the BLM’s decision to sell eight oil and gas leases for development at its March 2018 sale, the BLM has reluctantly agreed with SUWA that their leasing decision violated the law!

    Hatch Point. Photo copyright Neal Clark/SUWA

    SUWA argued that the BLM failed to take the necessary “hard look” at greenhouse gas emissions and climate change before offering the leases for sale. In a motion filed with the Interior Board of Land Appeals last Friday, the BLM requested that the Board remand the issue back to the agency for further consideration, including additional environmental analysis. As a result, the leases cannot currently be developed for oil and gas!

    The leases included lands with wilderness characteristics in the Labyrinth Canyon, Hatch Wash/Hatch Canyon, and Goldbar Canyon areas near the Green River and Canyonlands National Park.

    This victory protects the wilderness values in each of those remarkable areas — and also strengthens SUWA’s ongoing efforts to challenge other leasing decisions in Utah in which BLM has made the same mistakes.