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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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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
SALT LAKE CITY, UT (September 12, 2019)— Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today for failing to consider the climate pollution from 130 oil and gas leases spanning 175,500 acres of public lands in Utah.
Today’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, says the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving five lease sales from 2014 to 2018 without accounting for the climate pollution that would result from oil and gas development. It asks the court to invalidate all five approvals and their 130 leases.
The lawsuit comes as climate scientists urge drastic cuts to greenhouse gas pollution over the coming decade. New oil and gas leases, whose production can last decades, commit public lands to more pollution. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas pollution results from fossil fuel development on public lands.
“The climate crisis is being exacerbated by the BLM’s reckless and uninformed oil and gas leasing and development on public lands,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The development of these leases will push us closer to the point of no return on climate, while sacrificing some of the most wild, scenic and culturally significant public lands in America.”
Most of the challenged leases resulted from the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda. In addition to slashing environmental reviews to hasten oil and gas leasing, the administration has attacked federal development and reliance on climate science in agency decisions and reports.
“Each new oil and gas lease commits us to more greenhouse gas pollution that our planet can’t afford,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are already more fossil fuels under development in the world than can be safely burned. New leases dangerously disregard urgent climate warnings from scientists. These leases were irresponsible and illegal, and we’re hopeful that a court will agree.”
The leases also threaten public lands and endangered species, including the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. Fracking sucks up enormous amounts of water and threatens to pollute the Colorado River and tributaries where the fish live.
“Several accidents involving water pollution have already happened on the Green River and its tributaries,” said John Weisheit, a professional river guide in eastern Utah and a representative of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “Combined with diminished flow volumes for these rivers, the multimillion-dollar investment already made to ensure a successful endangered fish program must not be further compromised.”
Federal fossil fuel production causes about a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce CO2 emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals in recent years.
Federal fossil fuels that have not yet been leased to the industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution. Those already leased contain up to 43 billion tons.
Existing laws provide executive authority to stop federal leasing on public lands and oceans. Hundreds of organizations have petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore federal fossil fuel leasing.
SUWA Latinx organizer Olivia Juarez speaks with activists Brooke Larsen (UPLIFT) and Eliza Van Dyk (Wasatch Rising Tide) about the protest, and about the intersection between the fight for climate justice and efforts to protect Utah’s remaining wild lands.
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.”
Over the weekend, SUWA’s Service Program organized a Wilderness Stewardship Training in Salt Lake City. Forty trainees attended the Saturday session, twenty-four of whom then took part in a training hike on Sunday to practice their monitoring skills on a portion of Stansbury Island (Great Salt Lake) that’s proposed for wilderness protection under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. Volunteers committed a total of 429 hours of their time over two days.
Born of a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Washington County, SUWA’s recently-expanded Stewardship Training recruits individuals to monitor for impacts to wilderness-quality public lands during their time hiking and exploring Utah’s great outdoors. Stewards report back to SUWA with photo-tagged geospatial data and written reports assessing on-the-ground conditions. The training equips Stewards with the tools, technology, and training to perform these monitoring tasks while fostering a growing, hands-on stewardship community in Utah. Cumulatively, the Stewards’ work informs SUWA’s approach to proposing and executing service work on public lands across the state.
Our SLC-based initiative was co-sponsored by the BLM state office, who provided staff to present on the need for volunteers and public partnerships on Utah’s public lands. Future trainings will engage agency field offices across the state in the effort to collect and provide data to better manage Utah’s many and diverse wilderness lands.