Press Releases Archives


  • November 12th, 2019

    Fourth Time This Year BLM Has Suspended Leases in Utah; Feds Ignored Climate Change, Opened Scenic, Cultural Lands to Fossil Fuel Extraction

    For Immediate Release 

    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3981, steve@suwa.org
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3991, landon@suwa.org
    Diana Dascalu-Joffe, Center for Biological Diversity, (720) 925-2521, ddascalujoffe@biologicaldiversity.org
    Sarah Stock, Living Rivers, (435) 260-8557, sarah.livingrivers@gmail.com

    Salt Lake City, UT (November 12, 2019)― The Trump administration has pulled 130 oil and gas leases in Utah because the Bureau of Land Management failed to fully analyze greenhouse gas emissions and the potential harm to climate from fossil fuel extraction. It’s the fourth time this year that the agency has suspended leases for drilling and fracking in Utah after the leases were sold because they violated federal law.

    The BLM’s latest decision to put a temporary hold on leasing activity comes in response to a September lawsuit filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, and Living Rivers. The agency pulled the leases from auction in late September.

    “The Trump administration’s BLM is writing the textbook on how to make an uninformed and unlawful leasing decision,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Utah BLM’s formula has been to lease as much public land as possible, as quickly as possible, and with as little analysis or public involvement as possible. Unsurprisingly, this approach to oil and gas leasing is unlawful.” 

    The 130 oil and gas leases encompass some of the most scenic, wild and culturally and archaeologically rich public lands in the United States. 

    Most of the leases are in areas designated by the BLM as having “wilderness characteristics,” which means they’re natural, undisturbed and provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and quiet recreation. This includes the Bitter Creek, Desolation Canyon, Dragon Canyon and White River areas in the Book Cliffs region of the Uinta Basin, and the Eagle Canyon area in the San Rafael Swell.  

    Eagle Canyon in southern Utah, an area with wilderness characteristics at issue in the litigation.

    “The BLM’s uninformed rush to align itself with the Trump administration’s oil and gas ‘energy dominance’ agenda has repeatedly — and unsurprisingly— backfired,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The agency has tripped over itself in its haste. This is a legal mess of the BLM’s own making.”

    Because of challenges brought by conservation groups, the BLM this year has been forced to pull back leases covering more than 300,000 acres of public land in Utah. More information on BLM’s other retracted leasing decisions can be found here, here and here.

    “This is another setback for the Trump administration’s irresponsible, illegal decision to lease these beautiful public lands for fracking and drilling,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “BLM officials are starting to recognize the error of their rush to ignore climate science and public health to unleash a fracking frenzy. Now the administration must acknowledge the irreparable harm these irrational decisions have on our fragile climate.”

    “Both human and wildlife communities in the rural regions of the arid west are getting hammered by reckless oil and gas development. We have no choice but to intervene,” said Sarah Stock, program director with Living Rivers. “Oil and gas development on our federal public lands is contributing massively to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This will almost surely deplete the amount of water available in this region, adding great challenges for water managers and ecosystems in the coming years. The BLM needs to think through the full impact of development before leasing these precious lands.”

    In March 2019 a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the BLM had failed to properly analyze the impacts of its oil and gas leasing program on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This landmark decision requires the agency, for the first time, to provide a detailed accounting of these impacts in each leasing decision. This court ruling has had broad ramifications in Utah and across the United States.

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    Living Rivers is a nonprofit environmental membership organization, based in Moab, Utah. Living Rivers promotes river restoration and seeks to revive natural habitat and the spirit of rivers by undoing the extensive damage done by dams, diversions and pollution on the Colorado Plateau. Learn more at www.livingrivers.org

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a nonprofit environmental membership organization dedicated to the preservation of outstanding wilderness found throughout Utah and the management of wilderness-quality lands in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans. Learn more at www.suwa.org

    The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. Learn more at www.biologicaldiversity.org

     

  • November 8th, 2019

    Agency may hand over an alleged right-of-way to the state of Utah as it considers unprecedented public land giveaway

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    November 8, 2019

    Contacts:
    Alison Heis, National Parks Conservation Association, 202.384.8762
    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.859.1552
    Jen Ujifusa, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 202.266.0473
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646.823.4518
    Jennifer Dickson, The Wilderness Society, 303.650.9379

    (Salt Lake City): The Interior Department announced today that it is considering giving away the United States’ interest to a 10-mile gravel road in the southwest corner of Utah. This is a trial balloon that, if successful, would open the door for the Trump administration to cede control to tens of thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails to the state of Utah, a state notorious for its anti-public lands agenda. The move could affect claimed rights-of-ways in national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas.

    Interior is relying on a controversial and unlawful tool known as “recordable disclaimers of interest” (RDIs) to cede title and control over federal public lands to the state of Utah and its counties. The state of Utah and its counties have filed more than twenty federal lawsuits over its 14,000 alleged rights-of-way. Those claims are brought under an obscure provision of the 1866 Mining Act, known as “R.S. 2477.” The Trump administration is trying to use RDIs to throw in the towel in that federal court litigation.

    “If there was ever a case of the camel’s nose under the tent, this is it” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “If the state of Utah succeeds with this first disclaimer it has thousands of similar claims blanketing Utah’s redrock country waiting in the wings. And make no mistake about it, if Utah secures title to these federal lands the state has been outspoken about its intent to pave these dirt roads and trails in an effort to take control of public lands and stop wilderness protection.”

    The George W. Bush administration was the first to attempt to use RDIs to give away public lands.  In 2003, the Interior Department issued regulations to guide the use of RDIs to cede control over claimed state and county R.S. 2477 rights-of-way. These regulations are contrary to a longstanding congressional prohibition, in place since 1997, on any such rules. Initial attempts by the Interior Department in the 2000s to issued RDIs in Utah were withdrawn.

    “National parks could be next on the chopping block,” said Kristen Brengel, senior vice president at the National Parks Conservation Association. “Today’s move by the Interior Department poses a real and immediate threat to national parks in Utah and across the West. Every cowpath and two-track can be claimed as a road and given away to virtually anyone under this regulation. Our national parks could be criss-crossed with roads in places where visitors enjoy the natural beauty and cultural sites.”

    The Department’s Bureau of Land Management is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review its proposal and submit written comments. BLM may approve the state of Utah’s RDI application as soon as February 2020.

    “You can’t undo this kind of damage to our public lands legacy,” said Bobby McEnaney, director of the Dirty Energy Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Interior has a duty to act as a steward of the lands and resources we all own—managing them and holding them in trust for future generations. Instead, the Trump administration is brazenly liquidating cherished places in a mercenary fire sale to a state that admits it will exploit them. It’s a reckless move that leaves all of us ecologically poorer.”

    The 10-mile claimed R.S. 2477 right-of-way that Interior is proposing to give away is located in Washington County, in southwestern Utah. Maps depicting of the state of Utah’s claimed R.S. 2477 rights-of-way in Washington County are available here and here. Almost every county in the state of Utah has hundreds if not thousands of miles of claimed R.S. 2477 rights-of-way that could be given away through the RDI process.

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  • October 1st, 2019

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, (801)-859-1552 or steve@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (October 1, 2019) – In response to Judge Chutkan’s decision allowing lawsuits to proceed against President Trump’s reductions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, SUWA legal director Stephen Bloch issued the following statement:

    “The day of reckoning for President Trump’s unlawful attack on the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments drew closer when Judge Chutkan issued her decision denying the United States’ motions to dismiss these cases.  We intend to pursue these cases until these remarkable cultural, scientific and wild redrock landscapes are restored to their full glory.”

  • September 17th, 2019

    Decision finds BLM ignored cumulative impacts and failed to comply with the Monument’s prohibitions on using non-native seed

    Moab, UT (September 17, 2019) – The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) yesterday set aside a decision by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Kanab Field Office to remove more than 30,000 acres of pinyon juniper forest and sagebrush from the Skutumpah Terrace area within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Western Watersheds Project, The Wilderness Society, and the Grand Canyon Trust appealed the BLM’s February 2019 decision approving the project.

    Foreground to background: White Cliffs, Skutumpah Terrace, Pink Cliffs, in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Photo Ray Bloxham/SUWA. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    In overturning the BLM’s decision, the IBLA found that the BLM erred because it “failed to take a hard look at the Project’s cumulative impacts on migratory birds under NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act]… [and] erred in determining that using non-native seed… was consistent with the applicable land use plan under FLPMA [Federal Land Policy and Management Act].” Non-native grasses, while preferred by the livestock industry, become invasive weeds in their own right and degrade habitat quality for native wildlife.

    The BLM’s decision would have rid the area of pinyon pine and juniper trees by mastication, an intensively surface-disturbing method of vegetation removal that involves shredding trees where they stand by means of a wood chipper/mulcher mounted to a large front-end loader, which is driven cross-country throughout a project area. The plan would also have authorized the destruction of sagebrush by chaining, the practice of ripping shrubs and trees from the ground by dragging large chains between two bulldozers. The Skutumpah Terrace project is featured in a National Geographic story this month.

    The four conservation groups that prevailed in the appeal praised the IBLA decision.

    “This decision illustrates what should be obvious, which is that destroying native pinyon and juniper forests to plant non-native forage for livestock is bad public policy,” said Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Unfortunately, the BLM is still proceeding with plans to rip up native vegetation from more than 100,000 acres elsewhere in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and hundreds of thousands of additional acres throughout Utah and the West. Congress needs to step in and ask why the BLM continues to waste taxpayer money on vegetation removal projects that ignore science and its own land management plans.”

    “Thanks to an enormous amount of  effort and tenacity, the old growth pinyon-juniper woodland plants and wildlife on the Skutumpah Terrace are safe for now from BLM chains and bulldozers,” said Laura Welp of Western Watersheds Project, a former BLM Botanist at GSENM. “Massive vegetation-removal projects like this one interfere with efforts to restore the native plants and animals we cherish.”  

    “The IBLA acknowledged what the BLM did not: destroying native pinyon and juniper trees on over 130,000 acres of land that is, Skutumpah combined with  two additional pinyon and juniper removal projects being planned in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument just might have significant impacts on birds like pinyon jays, which have declined more than 85 percent,” said Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust.

    “The special values of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument continue to be under attack by this administration,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director for The Wilderness Society. “We will continue to fight illegal efforts to gut this area and efforts like this that mismanage the trees, wildlife, fossils and cultural resources that make this place special.” 

    Yesterday’s IBLA decision comes on the heels of the BLM’s withdrawal in May of a decision to approve another vegetation removal project on the Tavaputs Plateau in Utah. Conservationists contend that the BLM’s vegetation removal projects on public lands throughout the West lack a scientific basis, and that its vegetation removal program is in dire need of congressional oversight.

    Additional Resources

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order, Sept. 16, 2019.

    Original BLM proposal.

    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