Press Releases


  • May 11th, 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Jen Ujifusa, Legislative Director,  jen@suwa.org 

    Washington, DC (May 11, 2021) –  Yesterday, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced S. 1535, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, the seminal legislation that would protect 8.4 million acres of public lands in Utah as wilderness.

    The wild and expansive lands proposed for protection under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act comprise a prime piece of what scientists say is needed today—protecting 30% of America’s lands and waters by the year 2030 in order to prevent catastrophic collapse of our natural systems. Centrally located in the Intermountain West, these lands are also a vital link in the interconnected chain of largely undisturbed ecosystems running from the Grand Canyon to Glacier National Park, providing important migration corridors for wildlife.

    In response to the Senate reintroduction, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) legislative director Jen Ujifusa issued the following statement: 

    “America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act is more important than ever as we face the Climate Crisis and the Nature Crisis, as its passage would keep fossil fuels in the ground, preserve habitat connectivity and resiliency, and allow the desert lands to continue to sequester carbon, all while protecting the visual and cultural resources contained on the land for generations to come. 

    “We are grateful for the leadership shown by Senator Durbin and Senate co-sponsors, and we look forward to beginning an earnest discussion with the Biden administration and Congressional leaders on how America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act can play a crucial role in achieving the administration’s goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030.”

    Signing onto the legislation as cosponsors were Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

    Recent peer-reviewed research shows that passage of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would make a significant contribution to mitigating climate change. Protecting these wild landscapes would keep a significant amount of fossil fuels in the ground.

    All lands proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act are owned by the American public and administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 

    Additional resources:

    Statement from Sen. Dick Durbin.

    Report: The Role of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in Protecting Biodiversity and Mitigating the Climate Crisis (PDF).

     

  • May 6th, 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Scott Groene, Executive Director, 801-712-5034, scott@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (May 6, 2021) – Today, the White House released the “America the Beautiful” initiative to reach the U.S. goal of conserving 30 percent of the country’s lands and waters by 2030. In response, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) executive director Scott Groene released the following statement:

    “SUWA applauds the Biden administration’s America the Beautiful plan for taking the first step towards addressing the twin crises of wildlife extinction and the climate emergency.

    “Much work remains to be done, and America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, which will soon be reintroduced in Congress, can play a crucial role in achieving the administration’s goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030. The Act would conserve five key wildlife corridors that are essential to biodiversity, not only in Utah but in ecosystems throughout western North America, and a 2020 scientific report shows that protecting the lands in the Act would permanently keep in the ground greenhouse gasses equivalent to 5.7% of the carbon budget necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as called for by the Paris Agreement.

    “We look forward to working with the Biden administration and our champions in Congress to fully and permanently protect the 9 million acres of Utah public lands that are worthy of wilderness designation.”

  • March 15th, 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

     

    Contact: Scott Groene, Executive Director, 801-712-5034, scott@suwa.org 

    Moab, UT (March 15, 2021) – In response to the Senate’s confirmation of Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) executive director Scott Groene issued the following statement:

    “Utah’s public lands suffered significant damage under the mismanagement of the Trump administration. As the first Native American to head the Department of Interior and a Westerner, Secretary Haaland is uniquely positioned to understand the importance of restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments; protecting cultural resources from the impacts of off-road vehicle use; and establishing a forward-looking, science-oriented approach to the stewardship of wild public lands. We congratulate her on this historic day and are grateful she was a strong supporter of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and the 30×30 initiative during her time in Congress. We look forward to her visiting Utah and working with her on the ground to find solutions.”

     

  • March 4th, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management Failed to Decide the Application During the Trump Administration

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contacts: Michelle White, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.236.3775

    Liam Kelly, National Parks Conservation Association, 213.814.8666

    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646.823.4518

    Jennifer Dickson, The Wilderness Society, 303.650.9379

    Salt Lake City, UT (March 4, 2021)  – The State of Utah and Washington County, Utah, have quietly withdrawn an application claiming joint ownership interest in the Manganese Road, a 10-mile dirt road in the southwestern corner of Utah that crosses federal public lands and forms part of the southern boundary of the Square Top proposed wilderness.  

    At the end of 2019, the state and county collaborated with the Trump administration’s BLM to attempt to use a controversial and unlawful tool known as a “recordable disclaimer of interest” (RDI) to request the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) give away the United States’ interest in the Manganese road. 

    RDIs were developed by the George W. Bush administration in an attempt to give away public lands. In 2003, the Bush Interior Department issued regulations to guide the use of RDIs to cede control over rights-of-way claimed by states and counties pursuant to an obscure provision of the 1866 Mining Act, known as “Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477.” The 2003 RDI regulations are contrary to a longstanding congressional prohibition, in place since 1997. Initial attempts by the Interior Department in the 2000s to issue RDIs to alleged R.S. 2477 claims in Utah were also withdrawn.

    “The Manganese Road application was a trial balloon that, if successful, would have opened the door for the BLM to cede public control of tens of thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails that Utah claims as highways across federal public lands,” said Michelle White, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The RDI process is simply an effort by the State of Utah to secure title to claimed rights-of way-without having to prove their claims in court.” 

    “Once again, another unsubstantiated road claim under this illegal regulation is withdrawn,” said Kristen Brengel, senior vice president for government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association. “National parks, wildlife refuges, national monuments and many other protected lands will continue to be threatened by this regulation that can turn cow paths and two-tracks into highways. Now is the time to do away with this regulation once and for all.”

    “Amen to the failure of yet another eleventh hour Trump administration sleight-of-hand. If this questionable ploy had worked, it would have relinquished federal land held in trust for all of us,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director of lands for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It also would have set a dangerous precedent, opening the door to more unsavory backhanded deals to develop lands that should be protected.”

    The RDI application is the latest in a decades-long attempt by the State of Utah to secure title to alleged R.S. 2477 claims in an effort to take control of public lands and prevent wilderness protection.

    Coinciding with the RDI application withdrawal is the one-year anniversary of the end of the “bellwether trial” that will determine if fifteen R.S. 2477 claims, located in Kane County, are valid. Despite the lengthy time elapsed since the trial concluded, a decision from the trial court is not anticipated until 2022, or later, due in part to the complicated nature of the factual and legal issues.  

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  • February 25th, 2021

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance lawsuits challenging secret 2017 meetings held between Kane, Garfield and San Juan County Commissions and Trump officials can proceed

    Contact: Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.236.3766
    David Reymann, Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, 801.257.7939
    Troy Booher, Zimmerman Booher, 801.924.0200

    Salt Lake City, UT (February 25, 2021) – This morning, the Utah Supreme Court issued two related opinions in long-running lawsuits brought by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) alleging that (1) the Kane and Garfield County Commissions and (2) the San Juan County Commission violated Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act when they each met privately and in secret with Interior Secretary Zinke (and in the case of San Juan County, other DOI officials in Washington, D.C.) in 2017 regarding Zinke’s report on the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. These meetings preceded then-President Trump’s unlawful dismantling of those monuments. President Biden has pledged to swiftly undo Trump’s actions.

    “We’re grateful the Supreme Court has cleared the way for these important lawsuits to proceed,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “SUWA members and the broader public had every right to know what these commissioners were saying behind closed doors about the fate of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments.”

    The Supreme Court reversed the district courts’ decisions to dismiss these cases at their earliest stage and concluded that (1) SUWA has legal “standing” to bring these cases (is the right party to do so) and (2) the allegations in SUWA’s lawsuits about the private meetings touching on how the hoped-for monument reductions would impact matters within the “jurisdiction or advisory power” of the commissions are sufficient for the cases to proceed. The cases will be remanded back to district court.

    The Supreme Court also (1) reversed Seventh District Judge Lyle Anderson’s decision in the case involving the San Juan County Commission to sua sponte (on his own accord and without a motion by the County) sanction SUWA for filing the case and order that SUWA pay the County’s attorney’s fees and (2) reversed Sixth District Judge Marvin Bagley’s decision in the Kane and Garfield County case that SUWA had brought its case in bad faith and order that SUWA pay the Counties attorneys’ fees. With regard to Judge Anderson’s decision, the Supreme Court specifically called out Anderson’s inappropriate “independent factual research” as contrary to the Judicial Code of Conduct.

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance was represented in the San Juan County case by Troy Booher, Dick Baldwin, and Frederick Voros with the Salt Lake City law firm Zimmerman Booher, and Laura Peterson and Stephen Bloch at SUWA. SUWA was represented in the Kane and Garfield County case by David Reymann and Austin Riter with the Salt Lake City law firm Parr Brown Gee & Loveless.  Friend of the Court briefs were filed in each case on SUWA’s behalf by the Deseret News, Fox 13 KSTU-TV and the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, represented by Edward Carter with the Orem firm Keen Law Offices.

    Update March 19, 2021: Today, SUWA dismissed its lawsuits against Kane, Garfield and San Juan Counties over their 2017 violations of Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act. With the Utah Supreme Court’s recent decision, we affirmed that SUWA and its members have a right to ensure that the public’s business be conducted out in the open and that SUWA should not be punished for trying to hold public officials accountable.

    Four years after filing the lawsuits, with Secretary Zinke and President Trump no longer in office, it is time to move on. We will continue to work to ensure that Utah elected officials conduct public business in an open and transparent manner, consistent with Utah law.

    Additional Resources 

    Southern Utah Wilderness v San Juan County opinion.

    Southern Utah Wilderness v Kane County opinion.

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