News Archives - Page 3 of 51


  • 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.

  • May 1st, 2019

    For Immediate Release

    Decision Made Under Cover of Darkness to Push Through Garfield County’s Long-Held Desire to Pave Remote Desert Dirt Road

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

    Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director, The Wilderness Society, 303-225-4636, phil_hanceford@tws.org

    Matt Abele, Communications Manager, National Parks Conservation Association, 510-851-3532, mabele@npca.org 

    Salt Lake City, UT (May 1, 2019) – The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the Wilderness Society, and National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to approve Garfield County, Utah’s request to chip-seal a seven and a half mile stretch of the remote Burr Trail near Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah.

    The BLM’s decision was made on Friday afternoon, April 26, 2019. The BLM notified Garfield County that afternoon, and work began almost immediately; by 9 am Tuesday morning, April 30, more than 2/3rds of the project was completed; Garfield County had staged equipment and gravel near the area in advance of the BLM’s decision to expedite completion of the project. The BLM did not publicly announce their Friday decision until 2 pm, Monday, April 29, 2019. BLM’s deliberate effort to hide its decision from public scrutiny while giving the County the green light to begin paving was unethical.

    Reports indicate that the decision to approve the rushed Environmental Assessment (EA), which had a mere 15-day comment period, was made at the highest levels in Washington, DC. The final decision consists of a 10 page document that is nearly identical to the initial EA, suggesting that public comments were not considered. The BLM found that Garfield County’s request to chip-seal the road was “necessary,” even though the County has no adjudicated legal right of way on the Burr Trail road, and would have “no adverse impact” on surrounding wild lands, contrary to repeated concerns  raised by the National Park Service on earlier proposals to chip seal the same section of road.

    A portion of the Burr Trail is chip-sealed by road crews in Garfield County, Utah, east of Capitol Reef National Park, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    Garfield County has sought to pave the Burr Trail for nearly 35 years. Under the Trump administration, their request was approved in less than 30 days, despite repeated denials of the request from previous Democratic and Republican administrations.

    “The chip-sealing of the Burr Trail near Capitol Reef National Park by Garfield County is proof that the state of Utah’s 20+ RS 2477 lawsuits, seeking title to rights of way over tens of thousands of miles of routes across federal public land in Utah, is driven by the desire to open up Utah wild lands to development,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director of the Southern Utah Alliance. “They literally want to pave it all.  Garfield County has now paved a stretch of dirt road in the middle of the desert. There is no better illustration of the state’s and counties’ true intentions behind their lawsuits seeking title to rights-of-way for remote routes traversing public lands in Utah. The fact that this decision was made from the very top by Trump officials in Washington, DC, is further proof that President Trump’s assault on Utah’s magnificent red rock wilderness persists.”

    A portion of the Burr Trail is chip-sealed by road crews in Garfield County, Utah, east of Capitol Reef National Park, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    “The decision was rushed through to allow work to commence before the ink was dry and with no apparent consideration of public comments,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director at The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “This is a disturbing way to conduct business on public lands that are owned by all Americans, especially when the BLM knew of the longstanding and contentious nature of this proposed action.”

    “Mile by mile, Garfield County has chip-sealed the Burr Trail up to the boundaries of Capitol Reef National Park with clear intent to continue right through the park boundary, up the iconic Burr Trail Switchbacks, to the other side,” said Cory MacNulty, Associate Director, Southwest Region of National Parks Conservation Association. “Maintaining unpaved access to the Waterpocket District is critical for the National Park Service to uphold its commitment to manage this area for its wilderness solitude and natural quiet, sense of backcountry adventure and discovery. With more than 15 million visitors drawn to Utah national parks each year, paving these areas will surely lead to significant increases in traffic, taking away from what makes these wild lands so special.”

    “Bisecting the wild and remote lands abutting Capitol Reef National Park and the Mt. Pennell Wilderness Study Area, the Burr Trail Road is dwarfed by towering 800-foot sandstone walls and the dramatic Waterpocket Fold. Its remote location makes it a critical refuge for unique flora and fauna, a home to rare geological features, and an oasis for the adventurous of heart. We know that paving these pristine wild lands is patently illegal and directly threatens the future of this unique and treasured place,” said Ashley Soltysiak, Director of the Utah Sierra Club, in a statement condemning the agency’s decision.

    Additional Resources:

    BLM documents from eplanning.blm.gov.