Press Releases Archives


  • March 19th, 2020

    Salt Lake City, UT (March 19, 2020): The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is preparing to offer a massive swath of treasured Utah public lands for oil and gas development.  The Washington Post reported on this new development on March 18th.

    BLM has received more than 230 oil and gas lease nominations covering more than 150,000 acres of public lands, near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Bears Ears National Monument, and Dead Horse Point State Park. Consistent with the agency’s actions to date, they will offer these lands for leasing and development at its September lease sale, in accordance with Trump administration directives and policies.

    A map of the nominated land is available here.

    The agency’s move will blanket this unmistakably Utah landscape of red rock canyons, natural arches, and colorful spires with drilling leases. Ultimately, this will replace the clean air, expansive vistas, quiet stillness, intense night skies, and sense of wildness, with the sights and sounds of industrial development, and expand fossil fuel emissions that are harmful to our climate. 

    Photographs of the public lands affected are available here.

    This proposal comes on the heels of the BLM’s decision last month to defer offering two proposed oil and gas leases atop the renowned Slickrock mountain bike trail near Arches National Park in June. BLM deferred the  land after hearing complaints from the public including the Moab City Council, Grand County Commission, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert.

    “Climate change requires immediate action. The BLM must put a halt to all new leasing of public lands if there is any chance of avoiding the most severe impacts of a changing climate,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Development of these leases will exacerbate the climate crisis, while also marring one of the nation’s most iconic redrock landscapes.”

    The nominated land is within the “Moab master leasing plan” area. The Moab MLP was a study completed in 2016 that was widely hailed as one that would provide certainty to all stakeholders about where leasing might be appropriate and under what terms and conditions. Unfortunately, the current administration has weaponized that plan and is now promoting leasing in a magnitude and scope that was never intended.

    The lands nominated for leasing and drilling encompass some of the wildest, most scenic, and culturally significant public lands in Utah:

    • The total acreage of nominated leases is greater than the size of three of Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks: Bryce, Arches and Zion.
    • Nominated leases are as close as one and a half miles to Arches National Park, with 25 lease parcels located within 5 miles of the park boundary.
    • Nominated leases are as close as half a mile to Canyonlands National Park, with 25 lease parcels located within 5 miles of the park boundary.
    • Nominated leases are as close as three-fourths of a mile to Dead Horse Point State Park, with 15 lease parcels located within 5 miles of the park boundary.
    • Nominated leases are as close as one mile to the original boundary for Bears Ears National Monument, with 30 leases within 5 miles of the monument boundary.
    • Nominated leases are as close as one-fourth of a mile to the Green River, with 45 leases within 3 miles of the river.
    • Nominated leases cross the Colorado River west of Moab.
    • The nominated leases encompass lands with wilderness characteristics including the Duma Point, Goldbar Canyon, Hatch Canyon, Horse Thief Point, Hunters Canyon, and Labyrinth Canyon areas. These are areas that appear natural (i.e., are free from signs of human development), and provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive types of recreation (e.g., hiking, camping, and hunting).

    “In the face of our climate crisis, the BLM is barreling in the opposite direction,” said Sharon Buccino, director of lands at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This foolish plan would dig us into a deeper hole and sacrifice magnificent Utah lands.  It’s truly shameful, and we aim to stop it.”

    “The BLM must deny these egregious requests to open oil and gas development outside of Arches—on lands double the size of the national park itself,” said Erika Pollard, Associate Director for the Southwest Region of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The BLM has the opportunity to reject this industry wish list that will only advance the climate crisis and threatens our national parks and treasured public lands, the Colorado River and the incredible outdoor experiences that millions of people come to enjoy each year.”

    With climate change on the rise, locking up more of Utah’s public land for oil and gas development is short-sighted and irresponsible. In addition, Utah, like most western states, already has a surplus of BLM-managed lands that are under lease but not in development—with only forty-two percent of its total leased land currently in development. There were approximately 2.6 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development (here—follow hyperlink for Table 2 Acreage in Effect) at the close of BLM’s 2018 fiscal year. At the same time, oil and gas companies had 1.1 million acres of those leased lands in production (here—follow hyperlink for Table 6 Acreage of Producing Leases).

    The mission of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is the preservation of the outstanding wilderness at the heart of the Colorado Plateau, and the management of these lands in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans.  SUWA has more than 14,000 members nationwide and maintains offices in Salt Lake City, Moab, and Washington, D.C.  For more information visit us at www.suwa.org or follow us on Twitter @SouthernUTWild.

    The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.NRDC.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​

    Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.  

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  • March 11th, 2020

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, 573-228-1061, kya@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (March 11, 2020) – Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) Wildlands Attorney Kya Marienfeld released the following statement in response to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) proposal to fast track approvals and eliminate public input and review on so-called “vegetation projects” that would clear-cut forests of native juniper and piñon pine in order to promote forage for cattle.  BLM is seeking to establish a new categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act as the vehicle for its proposal. 

    “This is a scorched-earth policy for Utah’s national monuments and public lands. This proposal would prevent the public from being able to weigh in on the process, methods, and science that BLM contends support these heavy-handed projects. This is especially concerning because the public has demonstrated increasing concern in recent years about large-scale mechanical removal of native vegetation on public lands. Several proposed projects — totaling more than 100,000 acres in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument alone — that were temporarily withdrawn by BLM as a result of public pressure could reappear at any time under this new policy and move forward without public review, scientific study, or accountability.

    Following administrative rulings showing that BLM has not followed the law or gathered the scientific evidence to justify the mechanical removal of native juniper and pinyon pine forests through mastication, chaining, and other large surface-disturbing methods, the BLM has now proposed excluding public oversight and environmental analysis of this program altogether.

    The Interior Department’s own internal review board, the Interior Board of Land Appeals, ruled in September 2019 that BLM’s proposal to remove 30,000 acres of forest in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument failed to meet National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. In response, BLM wants to create a new exception from NEPA review for destroying piñon pine and juniper forests, which will also eliminate the public’s right to comment on and challenge these proposals.

    Additional Resources

    Photos of vegetation removal projects (for use with attribution).

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order on Skutumpah Terrace, Sept. 16, 2019.

    SUWA lawsuit stops Tavaputs Plateau Devegetation Project.

    SUWA press release on withdrawal of vegetation projects in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. January 30, 2020.

    National Geographic, September, 2019: Forests on Utah’s public lands may soon be torn out. Here’s why.

    Gambling with Our Public Lands: The Scientific Uncertainty and Fiscal Waste of BLM’s Vegetation Removal Program in the West

    Do mechanical vegetation treatments of pinyon-juniper and sagebrush communities work? A review of the literature. 2019. Jones.

    George Wuerthner (former BLM botanist), The Salt Lake Tribune, September 12, 2019: BLM is attacking juniper to help cows, not sage grouse

     

  • February 6th, 2020

    Salt Lake City, UT (February 6, 2020) – In response to the release today of the management plans for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA)  released the following statement:

    “We’re disappointed but not surprised that the BLM has finalized terrible management plan for what remains of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. These plans represent the lowest common denominator for BLM stewardship of the irreplaceable cultural, paleontological, and biological resources on these awe-inspiring public lands. The plans also set the stage for destructive chaining of native vegetation, unmanageable recreation, and increased off-road vehicle use,” said Neal Clark, Wildlands Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  

    “Our members and the public should rest assured that these management plans will not be the final chapter for the management of these remarkable public lands.  We are confident that the lawsuits challenging President Trump’s unlawful attack of the monuments will succeed and these plans, which are the fruit of Trump’s poisonous actions, will be undone,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    “At Grand Staircase, Trump’s plan openly admits that it will result in the destruction of countless paleontological, cultural, and ecological resources that form the backbone of why this monument was established in the first place,” said Bloch. “One of the wildest landscapes in the lower forty-eight states will be lost if these plans are carried into action over the next few years.”

    “At Bears Ears, we expect that the litigation brought by Native American tribes, conservation and scientific organizations, and businesses challenging Trump’s unlawful attack on this monument will succeed and the management plan will be thrown out,” said Clark.

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  • January 30th, 2020

    Withdrawal Means Planned Vegetation Treatments in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Have Been Reduced From More Than 135,000 Acres to Zero 

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

    Moab, UT (January 30, 2020) – The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is praising the withdrawal by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of multiple major vegetation removal projects the agency had been planning in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.

    Last weekend, the BLM officially listed the 90,000+ acre “Paria River Watershed Habitat Improvement Project” as “withdrawn” on its online bulletin board. The Paria River Project underwent public scoping in late 2018, and had been one of the Utah BLM’s priority projects for 2020.

    The Paria River decision follows BLM’s late December withdrawal of three additional proposals at the heart of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument totalling more than 13,000 acres (at Alvey Wash, Last Chance Gulch, and Coal Bench), as well as a decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) on September 16, 2019 to set aside BLM’s plan to remove more than 30,000 acres of pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush from the Monument’s Skutumpah Terrace area.

    All told, the BLM had planned to use heavy machinery including chaining and bullhog masticators to strip more than 135,000 acres of native vegetation from Grand Staircase, including pinyon and juniper trees and sagebrush. 

    SUWA praised the withdrawals of the final remaining vegetation removal projects in the National Monument.

    “The BLM’s withdrawal of these proposals means that, for now, there are currently no new deforestation projects planned within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” said SUWA wildlands attorney Kya Marienfeld. “We started 2019 with more than 135,000 acres within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument threatened by intensive mechanical removal. We are now starting 2020 with zero acres of these projects completed and zero planned.”

    “This is good news and proof that our vigilance on this issue and our successful legal challenges have had an impact,” said SUWA wildlands director Neal Clark. “It is our hope that BLM has taken a step back in order to seriously consider whether these risky projects are legal and scientifically-defensible.” 

    “Large-scale mechanical vegetation removal projects are an extreme management approach that simply do not belong on our public lands, and should never have been proposed in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” added Marienfeld. “These projects are completely incompatible with protecting the fragile ecological, paleontological, and archaeological resources in Grand Staircase.”

    SUWA launched a statewide television campaign in January, 2018 opposing the BLM’s vegetation removal plans in the Monument. In the wake of a scientific report that found little evidence to support the BLM’s assertion that vegetation removal projects improve wildlife habitat, reduce stream erosion, or prevent wildfire, SUWA again called for the agency to scrap all vegetation removal plans within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in April 2019

    Additional Resources

    Paria River Project Summary (ePlanning)

    Alvey Wash, Coal Bench, and Last Chance Project Summary (ePlanning)

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order on Skutumpah Terrace, Sept. 16, 2019.

    National Geographic, September, 2019: Forests on Utah’s public lands may soon be torn out. Here’s why.

    Gambling with Our Public Lands: The Scientific Uncertainty and Fiscal Waste of BLM’s Vegetation Removal Program in the West

    Do mechanical vegetation treatments of pinyon-juniper and sagebrush communities work? A review of the literature. 2019. Jones.

    George Wuerthner (former BLM botanist), The Salt Lake Tribune, September 12, 2019: BLM is attacking juniper to help cows, not sage grouse

     

  • January 17th, 2020

    The Trump administration’s rush for “energy dominance” encounters another setback in Utah; BLM forced to reanalyze environmental impacts of oil and gas development

    For Immediate Release

    Contact:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org
    Ann Alexander, Natural Resources Defense Council, 415.875.8243, aalexander@nrdc.org
    Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4636, phil_hanceford@tws.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (January 17, 2020): Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that it had withdrawn its approval of 175 controversial oil and gas drilling permits on public lands in the Desolation Canyon region of eastern Utah.

    In September of 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved the Horse Bench Natural Gas Development Project and the drilling of up to 175 natural gas wells on “Horse Bench,” a prominent prow of land overlooking Nine Mile Canyon and the Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Natural Resources Defense Council, Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, and The Wilderness Society appealed the local BLM manager’s approval of this project to the Utah BLM state director. 

    The conservation groups argued that the project, if implemented, would decimate greater sage-grouse habitat, destroy BLM-identified wilderness characteristics, and exacerbate the ongoing climate crisis—impacts that the BLM had failed to fully analyze. In his decision, the state director agreed, reversed the BLM’s drilling approvals, and ordered the agency to “complete additional [environmental] analysis.”  

    “The Desolation Canyon region, one of Utah’s most remote areas, provides critical habitat for wildlife—including greater sage-grouse—as well as outstanding opportunities for hiking and camping, and evidence of a rich cultural history,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Without this victory, these values would have been lost to the sights and sounds of industrial development.” 

     The state director’s decision grants a reprieve to one of Utah’s wildest and most culturally significant landscapes. The BLM itself has recognized that the Desolation Canyon region at issue here is “one of the largest blocks of roadless BLM public lands within the continental United States.” 

    “The original finding that plunking down 175 natural gas wells next to the Desolation Canyon wilderness would have no significant environmental impact was clearly out of whack with reality’” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. “The State Director did the right thing in setting it aside, which should lead to real scrutiny of the proposal.” 

    “For far too long our public lands have been handed off to the oil and gas industry without any consideration for the enormous impacts of these decisions on our climate, wildlife and health,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director at The Wilderness Society. “We welcome the BLM’s decision and hope the agency will move towards managing our public lands to be a key solution to climate change, not a growing contributor.”

    In addition, the large industrial equipment required for this drilling project, including tanker trucks, drill rigs, and fracking equipment, would have passed through Nine Mile Canyon to access Horse Bench. Nine Mile Canyon is world-renowned for its remarkable density and diversity of prehistoric sites and artifacts—including petroglyphs and pictographs, kivas, and granaries—and is significant to several Native American tribes. The canyon also contains important historic sites, including evidence of the post-Civil War era Buffalo Soldiers and early settlers. The BLM has described the canyon as “the world’s longest art gallery” and an “outdoor museum.” Dust and pollution from passing trucks could harm these irreplaceable treasures, and proposed roads would make the area more accessible to vandals.

    “Nine Mile Canyon is a cultural and archaeological treasure,” said Pam Miller, Director of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition. “This victory goes a long way to protecting these world-class resources for future generations.” 

    The BLM’s withdrawal this week of 175 oil and gas drilling permits is just the latest setback for the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda in Utah and nationally. Following several significant legal precedents, including a pivotal March 2019 federal court ruling, the BLM on four recent occasions has been forced to pull back oil and gas leasing decisions covering more than 328,000 acres of public lands in Utah due to inadequate environmental analyses (more about these decisions here). 

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