Press Releases


  • October 5th, 2020

    For Immediate Release

    Contact: Oliver Wood, Wildlands Attorney, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance,  435-355-0716, oliver@suwa.org

    Moab, Utah (October 5, 2020) – Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) withdrew its May 4, 2020 decision authorizing the removal of pinyon pine and juniper in a nearly 20,000-acre area within the remote Book Cliffs of southeastern Utah.

    The BLM’s withdrawal came after SUWA appealed the decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (Board), taking issue with the agency’s attempt to avoid conducting environmental analyses specific to the project area.

    Known as the Seep Ridge vegetation removal project, the now-withdrawn project would have allowed the removal of native pinyon pine and juniper trees over approximately 20,000 acres through a practice known as lop-and-scatter—a vegetation removal technique that involves felling live trees, cutting them into roughly three-foot pieces, and scattering them throughout the area. 

    In authorizing the project, the BLM sought to avoid conducting a site-specific environmental analysis by relying on documents from prior vegetation removal projects that, in total, overlapped with only twelve percent of the project’s geographic area. 

    After SUWA submitted its opening brief to the Board, the agency voluntarily withdrew the project for further analysis. 

    In response to the BLM withdrawing the project, SUWA Wildlands Attorney Oliver Wood issued the following statement:

    “Despite the Bureau of Land Management’s initial unwillingness to admit its unlawful approval of the nearly 20,000-acre Seep Ridge vegetation removal project, we are glad that the agency has decided to pull the project and initiate the level of environmental analysis required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The public has the right to know all of the environmental impacts of such a massive project before the chainsaws start whining and trees come crashing down.

    “This project would denude large swaths of the Book Cliffs area, including lands recognized by the Bureau of Land Management for their important wilderness and wildlife values. Because of these considerations, vegetation removal in such wild places demands a heightened level of environmental scrutiny. 

    “The Bureau of Land Management’s withdrawal of this project is just the latest in a series of setbacks for the Trump administration and its push to clearcut large portions of native pinyon pine and juniper forests throughout the West. Whether promoted under the guise of habitat restoration, fire mitigation, or watershed health, the end result of these projects is the same—deforested landscapes seeded with non-native grass species for cows. If these projects are as great as the agency would like the public to believe, then there’s no reason to avoid analyzing and disclosing those environmental impacts as required by law.”

  • September 24th, 2020

    Trump administration forced to reverse course; rescind approval for oil/gas wells on public lands located less than a quarter-mile from the national monument; in greater sage-grouse Priority Habitat Management Area

    For Immediate Release 

    Contact: Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-428-3991, landon@suwa.org 

    Salt Lake City, Utah (September 24, 2020) – The Trump administration recently announced that it has withdrawn its approval of an oil and gas drilling proposal on public lands at the edge of Dinosaur National Monument.

    In September 2019, the Bureau of Land Management approved the so-called Federal Pipeline Unit Wells project and the drilling of two oil and gas wells in a remote area just west of Dinosaur National Monument. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) appealed the local  manager’s approval of this project to the Bureau’s State Director.

    SUWA argued that the project, if implemented, would adversely impact the adjacent national monument, greater sage-grouse habitat, destroy agency-identified wilderness characteristics, and exacerbate the ongoing climate crisis—impacts the Bureau had failed to fully analyze and disclose. In his decision, the Deputy State Director for Lands and Minerals, the individual charged with overseeing the Bureau’s oil and gas program in Utah, agreed, reversed the local manager’s approval of the project, and ordered the agency to “complete additional [environmental] analysis.” The Deputy State Director’s decision grants a reprieve to one of Utah’s wildest and most remote landscapes. 

    “For years, the Bureau of Land Management has stubbornly refused to analyze and disclose the true costs of oil and gas development in Utah and across the West, even as the agency makes decisions that drive our country and the world into climate chaos,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The Deputy State Director did the right thing in setting it aside, which should lead to real scrutiny of the proposal.”

    “Piece by piece, well by well, we are working to dismantle decisions made by the Trump administration that threaten everything special about Utah’s wildest public lands and hasten the climate crisis,” said Steve Bloch, legal director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  

    The large industrial equipment required for this drilling project, including tanker trucks, drill rigs, and fracking equipment, would have passed within one-fourth of a mile of Dinosaur National Monument. The monument is world-renowned for its remarkable density and diversity of prehistoric sites and artifacts—including petroglyphs and pictographs—and paleontological resources. The National Park Service has recognized the Monument “is one of the darkest places remaining in the United States. Because there is little light pollution here, you can see the stars of our Milky Way galaxy with startling clarity.” The proposed development also would have destroyed greater sage-grouse “priority” habitat—that is, habitat identified by BLM “as having the highest value to maintaining sustainable [greater sage-grouse] populations.” 

    The Deputy State Director’s recent withdrawal of this project is just the latest setback for the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda in Utah and nationally. Earlier this year, based on similar legal shortcomings, the Bureau had to withdraw approval of 175 oil and gas drilling permits, and over the past two years the Bureau on four separate occasions has been forced to pull back oil and gas leasing decisions covering more than 328,000 acres of public lands in Utah. 

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  • September 22nd, 2020

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is excited to announce our Fall 2020 Stewardship Scholarship Essay Contest. Please review the guidelines below:


    Students are invited to write a 750-1250 word essay on the topics of Land Stewardship or Trust in the More-Than-Human world for a chance to win a cash scholarship toward your education. There will be one grand prize scholarship of $1000 and two semi-finalist scholarships of $500 awarded. Complete essays or excerpts may be printed in SUWA’s Redrock Newsletter.

    SUWA’s mission is to protect the outstanding wilderness at the heart of the Colorado Plateau in its natural state for all Americans. Recognizing that people of color have historically been left out of the U.S. public land conservation movement, we are committed to our goal of raising diverse voices across the West – those who take the lead protecting public lands in Utah.

    Eligible students are those who 1) are self-identified as Black, Indigenous, and/or a Person of Color, 2) live in Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, or a Tribal Nation in the region, and 3) are enrolled at least half-time as an undergraduate at a college, university, technical school, or vocational institution in the Spring 2021 academic year.

    The scholarship application period opens Tuesday, September 22, 2020 and closes on Sunday, November 29, 2020 at midnight MST.


    Essay Topics

    Essays should draw from your personal experience to connect the dots between fundamental social issues and the need for broadscale land protection. Write as if to an external audience whom you feel may not understand your experience at the outset. In this way, write as a teacher from your own place of learning. Please choose one of the following topics to respond to in your essay submission.


    Topic 1: Trust in the More-Than-Human World

    Public lands are held in trust for all Americans. No matter where you are from, or how long you’ve been an American, they are for you, and for the generations to come. While all of the natural world held in public trust has a  legal definition, we want to know how you’ve come to gain a sense of trust – in your self, in your community, or in your surrounding natural environment – through your relationship with the more-than-human world. 

    Briefly define what trust means, or looks like, to you. Tell the reader where a feeling of trust in yourself or in relationship with others comes naturally. Then, answer the question: What does trust look like beyond your human relationships? Tell a story about a specific relationship with a natural element (place, plant, animal, fungi, or other element of nature) that you learned to trust. What impact has this trust between you and the more-than-human world had on your life? How does this inform your activism?


    Topic 2: Land Stewardship Today

    Stewardship takes on numerous forms according to our values and traditions. Each of these personal aspects are shaped by your culture.

    Write from your personal experience. This may incorporate wilderness encounters, or include your personal experience of wild things within a context not conventionally defined by the “wilderness” term. Describe how your connection to the natural systems (landscapes; creatures; broader ecosystems) at the heart of the wilderness concept, have propelled your activism.


    Submission Process

    All submissions should be sent as a Word Doc to scholar@suwa.org. Please include “Scholarship Submission” as the title of your email. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis through November 29th.

    At the top of the Word document containing your essay, please include the following:

    • Your Full Name
    • Your School/Student ID#
    • Your Contact Phone #
    • Statement of Need [3-5 sentences outlining your personal need and interest in the scholarship. This will NOT be shared publicly.]

    Questions? Write to us at: scholar@suwa.org

  • September 16th, 2020

    Proposal will open 4,231 acres of public lands to coal mining and contribute millions of new greenhouse gas emissions—emissions that are driving the climate crisis, including the wildfires and droughts currently engulfing the western United States 

    For Immediate Release

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-428-3981, steve@suwa.org 

    Taylor McKinnon, Senior Public Lands Campaigner, Center for Biological Diversity, 801-300-2414, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org

    Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director, WildEarth Guardians, 303-437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org

    Salt Lake City, Utah (Sept. 16, 2020) – Today, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management released its plan to lease public lands along eastern Utah’s Book Cliffs escarpment for coal mining. This plan, referred to as the “Williams Draw Lease by Application,” would authorize the mining of more than 32 million tons of coal.

    The Bureau’s proposal grants UtahAmerican Energy, Inc (UAE)—a wholly owned subsidiary of the bankrupt Murray Energy Corp.—the right to mine for coal on 4,231 acres at the edge of the Desolation Canyon Wilderness. This area is emblematic of the larger Book Cliffs region—an area that, according to the Bureau, is “an extremely steep and rugged area cut by canyons that are 1,000 to 3,000 feet deep.” According to the Bureau, the area contains “outstanding” opportunities for solitude and primitive and unconfined recreation such as hiking due to, among other factors, “the quality of the scenic, geologic, wildlife, and cultural features.”

    “The Williams Draw coal lease was a bad idea in 2002 when it was first floated and it has only gotten worse over time” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The vivid images unfolding in front of our eyes this year of wildfires, hurricanes, and rapidly melting ice sheets makes clear that the climate crisis and its devastating impacts are real and demand urgent action. Making more dirty fossil fuels available to be mined and burned flies in the face of everything we know to be happening and what’s necessary to stop it. Simply put, the world doesn’t need another coal mine.”

    This proposal comes on the heels of a separate proposal put forth by the Bureau of Land Management over the summer that would allow UAE to expand its existing Lila Canyon coal mine by an additional 1,272 acres of public lands. Taken together, these proposals will release millions of tons of new greenhouse gas emissions and consume millions of gallons of surface and groundwater, exacerbating the climate crisis and the decades-long draught in the southwestern United States. For example:

    • The Bureau estimates that coal mining activities in this area will contribute millions of tons per year of climate driving greenhouse gas emissions.

    • The Bureau estimates that 1 million tons of mined coal in this area consumes approximately 6,943,000 gallons of water. Thus, the Bureau’s proposal will consume more than 222,176,000 gallons of water over the life of the project.

    “Pushing more coal pollution as fossil-fueled fires scorch America’s West Coast epitomizes the climate insanity of this public lands policy,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This dangerous plan should be shelved just as the federal fossil fuel leasing programs must end.”

    The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal is a handout to Bob Murray and Murray Energy Corp., one of Trump’s most loyal supporters, and comes at a time when coal mines across the country have begun to shut down due to unfavorable economic factors. This all but ensures that the public will not receive just compensation for the loss of its land, air, and water. In 2016, then-Secretary of the Department of the Interior Sally Jewell launched a comprehensive review of the federal coal program “to ensure that it is properly structured to provide a fair return to taxpayers and reflect its impacts on the environment.” The review included “a pause on issuing new coal leases while the review is underway”—a pause that encompassed the Williams Draw lease. However, that review process was never finalized and the necessary data and analysis never prepared. Instead, the Trump administration, upon assuming office, quickly reversed course and threw out the review in pursuit of its “energy dominance” agenda—an agenda that has opened up millions of acres of federal public lands to fossil fuel exploration and development.

    This has nothing to do with energy, it’s a corrupt attempt to bail out a bankrupt coal company at the expense of public lands, the climate, and clean air and water,” said Jeremy Nichols with WildEarth Guardians.  “The Trump administration wants to force Americans to pay for more costly coal. We’re saying enough, it’s time to keep it in the ground.”

    The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal also comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s attack on our nation’s bedrock environmental law—the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—having taken effect. The new Trump-era NEPA regulations went into effect on Monday, September 14. Now, only two days later, the Bureau has formally proposed the Williams Draw lease—a proposal that will be scrutinized by the agency in light of these significantly watered-down (and likely unlawful) regulations.

    Additional Resources:

    Link to this press release on the web.

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  • August 24th, 2020

    San Rafael River Proposed Wilderness Area. Photo (c) Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance; use with attribution permitted.

    For Immediate Release

    Contact: Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance 801-236-3762, laura@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (August 24, 2020) – On Friday, August 21, the Bureau of Land Management released the final motorized vehicle travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert in eastern Emery County, Utah. Left unchecked, this plan will forever change the area’s stunning and remote wild lands, turning it into a playground for off-road vehicles.

    The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the newly-designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness and wilderness-quality lands such as Sweetwater Reef and the San Rafael River. It features stunning redrock canyons, important cultural sites, and an outstanding diversity of native species, many found nowhere else but this corner of Utah. The Bureau’s plan inundates this remote area with off-road vehicle routes, more than doubling the miles open to motorized vehicles from 300 miles to more than 765 miles.

    “At this point in the Trump Administration, the Bureau of Land Management has abandoned even the pretense of seeking balance in public land management,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Instead of accommodating the diverse array of public land resources and user groups and developing a reasonable travel plan that ensures access to public lands while preserving the backcountry, the Bureau’s travel plan does the opposite. It designates virtually any cow path, wash bottom and line on a map as open to off-road vehicles.”

    Federal law requires the Bureau of Land Management to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. The agency must demonstrate that it has done so for both every route designated, and the travel plan as a whole. This includes minimizing damage to soils, watershed, vegetation, wildlife habitat, and cultural sites; minimizing the harassment of wildlife as well as conflicts between different public land user groups; and minimizing impacts of motorized vehicle routes on wilderness values like naturalness and solitude. The Bureau’s San Rafael Desert travel plan falls woefully short of meeting its legal obligation.

    “By doubling the miles of off-road vehicle trails, this short-sighted plan designates an unmanageable spiderweb of routes that will forever change the San Rafael Desert, one of Utah’s quietest places. This is public land management at its worst,” said Steve Bloch, Legal Director at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    The San Rafael Desert travel plan is the first of thirteen travel plans that the Bureau of Land Management will complete over the next six years as a part of a court-supervised settlement agreement. These thirteen travel plans will determine where motorized vehicles will be allowed across millions of acres of federal public lands in some of Utah’s wildest public lands, including the Dirty Devil, San Rafael Swell and Vermillion Cliffs.

    Additional Resources:

    Photos of areas affected by the plan.

    The BLM’s press release.

    The BLM’s e-planning page on the project.

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