Press Releases Archives


  • June 22nd, 2017

    * SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE *

    For Immediate Release: June 22, 2017

    Contact:
    Landon Newell, Staff Attorney
    Tel: 801-428-3991

     Acting in lockstep with the Trump administration’s relentless onslaught against federal public lands, the BLM is proposing to offer at the agency’s December 2017 oil and gas lease sale 79 parcels for leasing and development on approximately 100,000 acres of federal public lands in eastern and central Utah.  Included in this list are parcels along the western edge of the San Rafael Swell and immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument.

    “This is an outrageous proposal to lease and develop some of Utah’s most culturally rich and wildly scenic federal public lands.  BLM has quickly come full circle and brought us back to the ‘drill now-drill everywhere’ days of the early 2000s, and once again Utah is front and center on the national stage for these disastrous policies,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    BLM Vernal field office leasing documents here; BLM Price field office leasing documents here.

    Leasing in the San Rafael Swell
    For the third time in five years, BLM is proposing to offer leases in the Molen Reef region of the western San Rafael Swell – an area with high cultural and archaeological density and outstanding recreational opportunities.  The BLM’s initial decision to offer these leases in 2013 drew immediate and widespread criticism, including a large public protest in front of the agency’s state headquarters in Salt Lake City. Ultimately, the agency determined that it did not have enough information regarding cultural and archaeological resources to justify leasing the area for oil and gas development.  In 2015, the BLM once again deferred leasing in the Molen Reef region, citing the continuing need to gather more cultural and archaeological resource information.

    To date, the agency has still not completed those cultural resource inventories.  In fact, the BLM admits it has surveyed only 0.6 percent of the proposed parcels and thus is in no stronger a position to justify leasing now than it was in 2013.  The agency’s leasing flip-flop is a disservice to this remarkable wilderness-caliber landscape and its thousands of known – and yet to be discovered – cultural resources.

    View of lease area in the western San Rafael Swell (Eagle Canyon/Molen Reef region). Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    Leasing on the Doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument
    In a return to the Bush administration’s scorched earth approach to oil and gas leasing in the Uinta Basin, the BLM is also proposing to offer leases immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument.  This ill-advised proposal would green-light oil and gas development right next to the monument, including along the primary access route travelled by thousands of visitors annually.  In fact, one of the parcels proposed for sale was previously offered at BLM’s infamous December 2008 oil and gas lease sale and later withdrawn from sale by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after a successful lawsuit by SUWA and others blocked its issuance.

    In a letter to the BLM, the National Park Service has objected to the leasing proposal, citing the adverse impacts to air quality, viewsheds, dark night skies, water quality, and natural soundscapes.

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  • June 15th, 2017

    San Juan, Kane and Garfield County Commissions held a series of unlawful meetings over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 15, 2017

    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
    David Reymann, Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, 801.257.7939

    In response to a series of recent, unlawful closed door meetings between three southern Utah county commissions and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and others regarding the fate of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has notified each commission that it has violated Utah’s Open and Public Meeting Act and demanded that these meetings cease.  In separate letters to the San Juan, Kane, and Garfield County Commission, SUWA stated that “[b]y failing to properly notice and allow public attendance at their meetings with Secretary Zinke … the Commission violated the Act.”

    “These commission meetings are textbook violations of the Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act.  Because the commissions met with Secretary Zinke and other officials and discussed the future of these national monuments they need to provide public notice and allow the public an opportunity to attend the meeting.  That’s the whole point of the Act: for state and local government to conduct public business out in the open,” said David Reymman, an attorney with the Salt Lake City law firm Parr Brown Gee & Loveless.

    “The San Juan, Kane and Garfield county commissions repeated secret meetings with Secretary Zinke and other government officials about Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments are completely at odds with Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act.  SUWA members in these three counties have an intense interest in protecting our state’s national monuments and would have attended these meetings and vocally advocated for their protection had they known about them.  The commissions’ decision to operate under cover of darkness is unlawful and cannot continue,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    San Juan County Commissioners met with Secretary Zinke in Washington, D.C. on May 2 and June 5, and in Utah on May 8 and 9.  Garfield and Kane County Commissioners met with Secretary Zinke in Utah on May 10.

    Mr. Reymann represents SUWA with regard to Garfield and Kane Counties’ alleged violation of the Act.  SUWA attorneys Mr. Bloch and Ms. Laura Peterson represent the organization with regard to San Juan County’s alleged violation of the Act.

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  • June 12th, 2017

    For Immediate Release: June 12, 2017
    Contact: Mathew Gross, (435) 259-4316

    Today Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued an interim report that signaled his desire to greatly reduce the Bears Ears National Monument. A final report is expected in August.

    The following statement is from Mathew Gross, Media Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance:

    “Though Secretary Zinke’s interim report does not change anything about Bears Ears on the ground today, it makes it clear the Secretary is trying to line up the political cover to eviscerate the monument. That doesn’t change the fact that any attempt by the Trump administration to weaken or shrink the monument is illegal. The landscapes and cultural resources protected in Bears Ears belong to the American people and must be protected for the sake of future generations, not pawned off as a trophy for the Utah delegation.”

    In his report, Zinke reopened the public comment period on Bears Ears, which to date has shown an overwhelming support for the monument—more than a million comments have been submitted in favor of protecting existing national monuments like Bears Ears. Zinke also suggested that Bears Ears National Monument is too large, despite its boundaries having already been considerably diminished from the original proposal put forward by a coalition of five Tribes.

    In addition, Zinke’s report punts many issues to Congress, suggesting that after Bears Ears is shrunk, Congress should reinstate some of the areas in other designations, and work with tribes on co-management. This is a red herring, as the Utah delegation already showed an unwillingness to protect Bears Ears adequately in its abysmal Public Lands Initiative last year—and the administration is doing the same by showing its intent to shrink the boundaries. Since the failure of the PLI, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep. Rob Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz have done nothing but lobby the Trump administration to undo the monument. They have no serious intention of protecting the Bears Ears and have already failed to do so.

    Today’s report may be a reprieve from immediate damage to Bears Ears, but the end game is an unprecedented attack on America’s public lands.

    The Bears Ears Buttes. Photo (c) Tim Peterson.

  • May 31st, 2017

    Longstanding litigation over six BLM-Utah land use plans and travel management plans brought to a close

    An order issued today by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit clears the way for BLM-Utah to begin implementing a comprehensive settlement agreement that will result in the completion of 13 new off-highway vehicle travel management plans over the next 8 years across eastern and southern Utah.  The settlement agreement marks the end to longstanding litigation filed in 2008 by a coalition of conservation groups which challenged six land use plans and travel plans that were completed at the end of the George W. Bush administration and designated a spider web of approximately 20,000 miles of routes where off-highway vehicles could drive on federal public lands.  The settlement requires BLM to revisit these decisions across more than 6 million acres of federal public lands, minimize the impacts of off-highway vehicles on cultural resources and wilderness landscapes that provide opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation and monitor for illegal use.

    BLM-Utah will also consider the designation of three areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs) and update and prepare air quality-related reports and studies that will inform future BLM decisions regarding oil and gas development.  The settlement agreement can be viewed here.

    The settlement agreement was reviewed and approved by a federal district court judge in Salt Lake City.  In his order approving the settlement agreement, senior district court Judge Dale A. Kimball stated that the settlement “is a fair and lawful resolution of years of litigation” and is consistent with applicable federal law.

    The BLM-Utah plans at issue guide land management decisions across more than 10 million acres of federal public lands in eastern and southern Utah, including some of the nation’s most remarkable red rock wilderness landscapes.

    • “With the settlement agreement in place we will work to make sure that BLM-Utah’s new travel management plans fully account for and protect Utah’s unique cultural resources and red rock wilderness lands,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The negotiations leading up to the settlement agreement were hard fought and contentious.  In the end, we came to a place that provided sufficient certainty to the conservation groups that BLM would take seriously its responsibilities to minimize the impacts of off-road vehicle use on all public resources, including wilderness.”
    • “This proposed settlement is good news for Utah’s iconic public lands, including the lands surrounding Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and Dinosaur National Monument,” said Robin Cooley, Earthjustice Attorney representing the conservation groups. “BLM must take a fresh look at where it will allow off-highway vehicles to drive, this time with an eye towards protecting the very things that make Utah’s redrock country so special–its wildness, opportunities for solitude, and irreplaceable archaeological sites.”
    • “These amazing lands deserve thoughtful management for uses other than motorized recreation and oil and gas development, which are prioritized in the current plans,” said Nada Culver, Director the BLM Action Center at The Wilderness Society. “We hope to get to work on updated plans and management decisions once the settlement is approved.”

    Photos of proposed wilderness areas in new “travel management areas” contemplated by the settlement agreement can be found here.

    The following conservation groups are plaintiffs to the litigation and parties to the settlement agreement: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Rocky Mountain Wild, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Utah Rivers Council.

    The parties to the settlement agreement include the conservation groups, the off-highway vehicle group-intervenors, and the Bureau of Land Management.  Several intervenors, including the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration and four oil and gas companies, do not oppose the agreement.

    The conservation groups were represented by attorneys from Earthjustice, SUWA, NRDC, and the law firm of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside.

  • April 26th, 2017

    Action comes just as Trump orders a review of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

    For immediate release
    April 26, 2017

    Contact: Jen Ujifusa, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 202.266.0473

    Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL)

    Today Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced S. 948, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, a bill that would protect as wilderness 9.2 million acres of Utah’s spectacular federal public lands. He was joined by 17 cosponsors from 13 states, underscoring the importance of these remaining wild landscapes to the American people.

    America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would permanently protect special places managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Utah like Labyrinth Canyon, the Dirty Devil, the San Rafael Swell, and the West Desert, ensuring some of the last, best remaining wildlands in the lower 48 states remain wild for future generations of Americans who own these lands.

    The other cosponsors are: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO),  Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)‎.

    The bill is the companion to H.R. 2044, sponsored by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), which currently has 30 cosponsors in the House.

    The bill introduction could not be better timed, and the lands involved could not be under greater threat. Today, President Trump also issued an Executive Order that would undermine a generation of National Monuments going back to 1996, including Utah’s own Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, as well as dozens of other monuments designated in the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama administrations.

    The executive order calls for an agency review of every monument since 1996 that exceeds 100,000 acres, or any monument the agency deems as having “inadequate public outreach,” thereby putting in jeopardy some of America’s most beloved lands and waters. It is the first time any president has launched such an extreme attack on national monuments.

    “Senator Durbin understands what this administration does not: that these lands are one of our country’s most precious and vulnerable treasures, and the most reasonable course of action is to ensure their permanent protection,” said Scott Groene, Executive Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Utah’s wilderness promotes resiliency against climate change for humans and wildlife alike, provides a place for families to find rest and solitude, and represents the highest values of the American people. We are grateful to Senator Durbin and the senators who joined him for recognizing the true value of these lands and for standing up for them.”

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