Press Releases Archives


  • May 9th, 2018

    Bill is a “Big Step Backwards” for Conservation and Wilderness on Public Lands in Emery County, Utah

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Jen Ujifusa, 202-266-0473, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance jen@suwa.org 

    Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club, 804-519-8449, Virginia.cramer@sierraclub.org 

    Anne Hawke, 202-513-6263, Natural Resources Defense Council ahawke@nrdc.org 

    Washington, DC (May 9, 2018) — Today, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. John Curtis of Utah introduced the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018, a bill that would significantly impact the management of federal public lands in Emery County, Utah. 

    Emery County is home to world-class wilderness landscapes such as the San Rafael Swell and Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons, and contains more than 1.5 million acres of land worthy of wilderness protection. 

    Conservation groups immediately blasted the bill for offering insufficient protections to the area.

    “The same politicians who instigated and celebrated the illegal repeal of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments are now trying to claim that their San Rafael bill is a ‘conservation bill’,” said Scott Groene, Executive Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “In fact, Hatch’s bill represents a big step backwards for wilderness, emphasizing motorized recreation over conservation and leaving more than 900,000 acres of wilderness-quality lands without protection.”

    “This bill represents a rollback of conservation gains for some of the most spectacular places in Southern Utah, and attempts to do an end-run around the courts by undermining a settlement reached by conservationists, the Trump administration, and off-road vehicle advocates that resolved nearly ten years of federal court litigation,” said Bobby McEnaney, Senior Lands Analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The settlement requires BLM to produce new travel plans for the San Rafael area that comply with federal regulations, minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources, and minimize conflicts between resource users. This legislation enshrines the old, illegal travel plan.”

    “Sen. Hatch’s bill is a giveaway to Emery County and a loss to the people who love these public lands,” said Athan Manuel, director of Public Lands Protection for Sierra Club. “Truly world-class landscapes like Labyrinth Canyon and Muddy Creek, which deserve full wilderness protection, are instead given paltry protection under the guise of a National Conservation Area that is riddled with anti-conservation language. This NCA would actually limit land managers’ ability to protect these lands for future generations.”

    “This bill fails to provide even the bare minimum of protection necessary for this world-class wilderness area. Rather, it promotes development opportunities that will degrade and devalue these spectacular landscapes, under the guise of a conservation bill. As the rollbacks and concerted attacks on our public lands continue, this bill is simply another attempt to shortchange Utah’s public lands and sacrifice our wild spaces,” said Sierra Club Utah Director Ashley Soltysiak. 

    In addition Sen. Hatch and Rep. Curtis’s: 

    • Fails to protect nearly two-thirds of the wilderness proposed by America’s Redrock Wilderness Act: approximately 900,000 acres of proposed wilderness is omitted from designation.
    • Undercuts a settlement reached by conservationists, the Trump administration, and off-road vehicle advocates that resolved nearly ten years of federal court litigation by requiring new travel plans for the San Rafael area, based on conservation values. Instead, the bill takes the unprecedented approach of excluding all motorized routes from the NCA and Wilderness areas, effectively ensuring that they will remain open in perpetuity. This includes the illegal travel plan routes and additional motorized routes and trails sought by Emery County.
    • Allows the state of Utah to continue its federal court litigation seeking highway rights-of-way through newly designated Wilderness and the NCA, instead of resolving the RS 2477 issues.
    • Removes existing Wilderness Study Area protection to facilitate coal mining.
    • Creates an NCA with management language that is terrible for conservation, including giving undue influence to local and state interests, and allowing new motorized and mechanized recreational development in remote areas.
    • Furthers the state of Utah’s land grab and robs the American taxpayer by conveying federal public land to local ownership and control for no monetary consideration.

    Additional Resources: 

    Comparison of Hatch and Curtis bill to America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act:

    https://suwa.org/wp-content/uploads/ARRWA_vs_EmeryCoBill_2018.pdf

    Corrected Fact Sheet on the Emery Public Land Management Act of 2018:

    https://suwa.org/wp-content/uploads/Emery-Rebuttal-Factsheet-The-Truth-2-Pager.pdf 

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  • March 19th, 2018

    March 20 Lease Sale Sold Leases on Public Lands near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, along with Culturally Significant Areas in Southeast Utah

    Updated March 20, 2018

     

    Contact: Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991

    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202.513.6263

    Michael Saul, Center for Biological Diversity, 303.915.8308

    Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4635

    Salt Lake City (March 20): Today, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctioned off parcels of federal public lands in southeastern Utah’s spectacular redrock country for oil and gas leasing and development. Included in BLM’s lease sale are approximately 54,000 acres of public lands near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, as well as in the culturally rich Alkali Ridge area of critical environmental concern and along the Green and San Juan rivers. Conservationists have protested the sale of 32 parcels as being contrary to federal laws and regulations. A map of the proposed lease parcels is available here.

    In addition to conservation groups’ protests, the National Park Service (NPS) raised significant concerns about the impacts of this oil and gas lease sale and later-in-time development, including impacts to air quality, dark night skies, scenic values, soundscapes and groundwater quality to parks in southeast Utah including Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments (NPS’s letter available here).

    • NPS requested that BLM remove lease parcels near its parks, stating “we are concerned that continuing to offer parcels for oil and gas exploration and development in proximity to our parks will be detrimental to the experience of the visiting public.”
    • NPS explained that BLM had “not fully evaluated” its concerns regarding dark night skies and soundscapes, stating “[w]e are disappointed that there is no recognition in [BLM’s environmental reviews] of the significant potential for degradation of dark night skies and soundscapes that would result from oil and gas exploration and development on the lease parcels.”
    • NPS critiqued BLM’s failure to respond to NPS’s detailed air quality recommendations.

    BLM ignored all of these concerns and offered the 13 parcels based on its shoddy analysis and ill-founded decision that leasing would not jeopardize these resources and values.

    “We won’t sit idly by while President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke auction off America’s cultural and public lands heritage to the oil and gas industry,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “This lease sale flies in the face of historic preservation and environmental laws that Congress put in place to make sure that BLM thinks before it acts; not ‘lease first, and think later.’”

    “BLM’s short-sighted decision threatens Utah’s red rock wilderness as well as significant cultural and archaeological resources,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM’s ‘lease everything, lease everywhere’ approach to oil and gas development needlessly threatens iconic red rock landscapes and irreplaceable cultural history in the ill-conceived push for ‘energy dominance.’”

    In addition to offering leases adjacent to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and close to Bears Ears and Hovenweep National Monuments, BLM also plans to offer leases in culturally and ecologically significant public lands throughout southeastern Utah including:

    • Several tracts in a culturally rich part of southeastern Utah known as Alkali Ridge. BLM briefly considered leasing in this area in 2015, but acknowledged that it lacked sufficient information about the cultural resources in the area and backed away from the proposal. The agency is putting these cultural sites at risk without collecting and reviewing that information;
    • Several tracts along segments of the Green River and San Juan River popular with families, recreational business, and tourists for river running, as well as home to several endangered fish species; and
    • Several tracts in proposed wilderness areas including in Goldbar Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon near Moab, Utah, and in Cross Canyon, immediately adjacent to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

    “These lands and cultural artifacts belong to the American people. Instead of managing them in the public interest as the law requires, the Trump administration is using its Polluter Dominance strategy to plunder them for the benefit of big businesses and a wealthy few,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director of Lands for the Nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Even beyond that misguided policy, this leasing can’t be justified when nearly two million acres of public land in Utah sit leased but unused.”

    “Secretary Zinke and the BLM have acknowledged that some places should not be put at risk from oil and gas drilling, as we saw in his recent reprieves for lands around Chaco Canyon and the town of Livingston, Montana. The extraordinary cultural resources and wilderness values of these Utah lands deserve the same protection,” said Nada Culver, senior director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center.

    “The Trump administration is heedlessly rushing to sacrifice irreplaceable wild rivers and wildlife to satisfy the fossil fuel industry’s greed,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The ancient native fish of Utah’s San Juan and Green rivers deserve a chance at survival, but Trump’s oil and gas auction puts them at deadly risk from habitat loss and fracking pollution.”

    “Utah’s oil and gas industry has stockpiles of unused leased lands. We must not hand over our parks, monuments and archaeologically-rich canyons to them too. It’s time to re-balance the scales of development and conservation so future generations can breathe clean air, drink clean water and have access to nature,” said Ashley Soltysiak, Utah Sierra Club Chapter director.

    On January 2, 2018, a coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) formally protested BLM’s decision to auction off these federal public lands for leasing and development (see here and here). BLM has yet to respond to those protests but nonetheless is moving forward with this sale. BLM’s environmental assessment is available here and its Determination of NEPA Adequacy is available here.

    Like in most western states, there is a surplus of BLM-managed lands in Utah that are under lease but not in development. At the end of BLM’s 2016 fiscal year, there were approximately 2.9 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 same time, oil and gas companies had less than 1.2 million acres of those leased lands in production (here – follow hyperlink for Table 6 Acreage of Producing Leases). With less than forty percent of the total land under lease there is no need to sacrifice any of these remarkable areas for oil and gas leasing and development.

    Click here for photos of areas to be auctioned off by BLM in southeastern Utah for fossil fuel development.

  • February 1st, 2018

    BLM also does away with popular master leasing plan program

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    February 1, 2018

    Contact: Steve Bloch, Legal Director, 801.428.3981 or 801.859.1552(c)

    Landon Newell, Staff Attorney, 801.428.3991

    Salt Lake City, UT –Today, the Bureau of Land Management released new policy guidance for how the agency will approach oil and gas leasing on public lands.  

    In response to the new policy announcement, Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), released the following statement.

    “Today’s sweeping change to BLM’s oil and gas leasing program threatens irreplaceable federal public lands and resources in Utah and across the west. “This ‘lease first, think later’ approach is fundamentally inconsistent with federal laws that demand agencies think before they act and consider the full range of impacts from selling oil and gas leases.  Utah’s redrock wilderness is one the places directly in the crosshairs from this misguided policy, and SUWA expects to be fighting it in the trenches and the courts over the coming months and years.”

    The new policy represents a sea change in how the BLM will handle oil and gas leasing on federal public lands in Utah and across the west.  This new direction includes shortening timeframes for protests, expediting NEPA reviews, making public participation in the leasing process optional, and mandating a top-down, Washington, D.C. review before any state office can defer the sale of new leases.

    The new policy also announces that the popular master leasing plan program has been terminated.  In 2016, BLM finalized the Moab master leasing plan with support from local governments, the outdoor recreation industry, and conservationists.  While the Moab plan remains in place, the BLM’s previous plans to complete several other MLPs in Utah are now derailed.

    BLM entered into this policy as part of a sweetheart deal in a settlement with the Western Energy Alliance in a pending case in federal court in New Mexico.  Conservation groups, including SUWA, are parties to that case but were not  included in any settlement discussions.

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  • January 12th, 2018

    In response to the announcement today by the Bureau of Land Management that it will begin to prepare Monument Management plans for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, which were illegally modified by President Trump on December 4, 2017, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance executive director Scott Groene issued the following statement:

    “It is absurd for Secretary Zinke to double down on President Trump’s illegal proclamations by instructing the Bureau of Land Management to rush forward writing management plans for monuments that will inevitably be overturned by the courts.  Trump’s proclamations aren’t worth the paper they are printed on, and this effort is a waste of time and tax-payer money.  BLM should remain focused on the task at hand: protecting the remarkable cultural and natural resources in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.”

  • January 3rd, 2018

    Federal Public Lands Targeted for Oil and Gas Development near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, and Culturally Significant Areas in Southeast Utah

    For Immediate Release
    January 3, 2018

    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991

    Salt Lake City (Jan. 3): Yesterday, a coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) formally protested the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to auction off more than 51,400 acres of remarkable Federal public lands in southeast Utah for oil and gas leasing and development.  Included in BLM’s lease sale, scheduled for March 20, 2018, are public lands near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, as well as in the culturally rich Alkali Ridge Area of Critical Environmental Concern and along the Green and San Juan rivers.

    “BLM’s short-sighted decision threatens Utah’s red rock wilderness as well as significant cultural and archaeological resources,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “BLM’s ‘lease everything, lease everywhere’ approach to oil and gas development needlessly threatens iconic red rock landscapes and irreplaceable cultural history in the ill-conceived push for ‘energy dominance.”

    “We won’t sit idly by while President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke auction off America’s cultural and public lands heritage to the oil and gas industry,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “This lease sale flies in the face of historic preservation and environmental laws that Congress put in place to make sure that BLM thinks before it acts; not ‘lease first, and think later.’”

    In addition to offering leases near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, BLM plans to auction off culturally and ecologically significant public lands throughout southeastern Utah including:

    • Several tracts in a culturally rich part of southeastern Utah known as Alkali Ridge. In 2015 BLM briefly considered leasing in this area before acknowledging that it did not have enough basic information about the cultural resources in the area and backed away from that proposal.  BLM still lacks this information but nevertheless is now willing to put these cultural sites at risk;
    • Several tracts along segments of the Green River and San Juan River popular with families, recreational business, and tourists for river running, as well as home to several endangered fish species; and
    • Several tracts near Moab, Utah, including in the Goldbar Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon proposed wilderness areas.

    “It is shameful that the Trump administration is attempting to sell off our cherished wild places for the benefit of the oil and gas industry,” said Lena Moffitt, Senior Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign. “We will continue to pursue all legal options to protect America’s public lands from the greed and recklessness of this administration.”

    “Through lease sales like this one, Interior Secretary Zinke is handing the reins of our public lands to his pals in the oil and gas industry, despite their proximity to iconic national parks, monuments, and archeologically-rich canyons,” said Marc Thomas, with the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club.  “This unfortunate giveaway is taking place even though the industry has already stockpiled more than 1.7 million acres of leased, but unused, BLM-managed lands in Utah.  This is not the sort of stewardship Americans, including those of us living in southeast Utah, want for our special places.”

    The following groups protested the Canyon Country District’s environmental assessment for the March 2018 lease sale: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Colorado (protested two lease parcels near Colorado border), Green River Action Network, Living Rivers, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society (protest available here).  BLM’s environmental assessment is available here.

    The following groups protested the Canyon Country District’s Determination of NEPA Adequacy for the March 2018 lease sale: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Green River Action Network, Living Rivers, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club (protest available here).  BLM’s Determination of NEPA Adequacy is available here.

    At the end of BLM’s 2016 fiscal year, there were approximately 2.9 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 same time, oil and gas companies had less than 1.2 million acres of those leased lands in production—less than forty percent of the total land under lease (here – follow hyperlink for Table 6 Acreage of Producing Leases).  This disparity makes clear that there is no need to sacrifice any of these remarkable areas for oil and gas leasing and development.

    Click here for photos of areas to be auctioned off by BLM in southeastern Utah for fossil fuel development.

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