Press Releases Archives


  • April 22nd, 2019

    For Immediate Release
    April 22, 2019

    Contact:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.859.1552, steve@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (April 22, 2019) The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) has filed a federal lawsuit challenging two decisions by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to offer, sell, and issue thirty-five oil and gas leases totaling 54,508 acres of public lands for development on the doorstep of Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments.

    The lawsuit, filed on Friday, April 19, 2019, aims to protect some of the most culturally and archaeologically rich public lands in the United States. These lands include cliff dwellings, pueblos, kivas, petroglyph and pictograph panels, and Chaco-era (circa 900-1150 A.D.) great houses. Numerous Native American tribes consider these sites sacred. The lawsuit challenges Utah-BLM’s March 2018 and December 2018 Monticello field office leasing decisions (March 2018 sale information here; December 2018 sale information here).

    “The Trump administration is following a well-worn path of ‘leasing first, and thinking later,’ the same approach taken by the George W. Bush administration’s ‘drill here, drill now’ policies,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “This approach, which has riddled Utah’s wild and culturally significant public lands with leases and should come as no surprise given that it’s the same political appointee – David Bernhardt – steering the Interior Department.”

    The BLM, in its rush for “energy dominance,” ignored concerns raised by the National Park Service (NPS), Native American tribes, and the public, including SUWA. For the March 2018 sale, the NPS (BLM’s sister-agency in the Department of the Interior tasked with the management of nearby national monuments) submitted written comments condemning the BLM’s leasing proposal as being uninformed and ill-advised (see here). NPS explained that the BLM had “not fully evaluated” and had “not acted” to address its concerns regarding impacts of oil and gas development to national monuments including impacts to national monuments, dark night skies, air quality, water quality, and cultural resources, among others.

    The All Pueblo Council of Governors and Pueblo of Acoma both submitted formal protests of BLM’s December 2018 leasing proposal (see, here, here). They explained that the BLM had failed to consider and analyze impacts to historic and traditional cultural properties and national monuments, among other resources. The Hopi Tribe similarly requested that BLM not offer these leases for oil and gas development (See, e.g., here).

    “The BLM has placed the final pieces, completing its puzzle of oil and gas leases located at the doorstep of Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “And the BLM has done so without considering the ‘big picture’ impacts to national monuments and climate change and the surrounding landscapes, including impacts to dark night skies and the region’s rich cultural heritage.”

    The Obama administration had declined to issue new oil and gas leases in this same area, citing the need to collect and analyze additional information and data regarding cultural resources, potential impacts to national monuments, and greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The BLM never collected or analyzed that information and data. However, without having collected or analyzed the information and data the agency previously determined to be necessary, the Trump administration has resumed leasing in this contested area and proceeded to build a mosaic of leases on the doorstep of these national monuments (see here).

    At the same time it has rushed to open up more lands for development, the Utah-BLM has also dutifully implemented the Trump administration’s energy dominance agenda. Among other things, the BLM has taken steps to (1) eliminate opportunities for public engagement in the agency’s leasing decisions, (2) eliminate the agency’s obligation to fully analyze site-specific impacts of leasing and development, and (3) eliminate any additional BLM-identified “burden” on oil and gas leasing and development.

    SUWA’s lawsuit challenges the BLM’s failure to fully analyze the potential impacts of its leasing decisions, including to cultural resources, national monuments, climate change, and lands with wilderness characteristics. SUWA requests that the court set-aside and vacate the BLM’s leasing decisions and prohibit the BLM from approving future oil and gas development on the leases. Photographs of cultural and archaeological sites located on oil and gas leases at issue in this lawsuit are available here.

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  • April 10th, 2019

    February 2019 scientific review counters claims made by agencies on environmental benefits of vegetation removal on public lands

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (April 10, 2019) – Citing a new report on the lack of scientific evidence supporting “vegetation treatment” projects on public lands, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and its members are calling on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to halt work on three massive “vegetation treatment” proposals within the original boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    The peer-reviewed report*, released in February, 2019 by the Wild Utah Project – a Utah-based non-profit organization focused on conservation science  – analyzes the existing scientific literature on mechanical vegetation removal projects on western public lands. The report finds little evidence to support the BLM’s assertion that vegetation treatment projects improve forage or habitat for wildlife, or reduce stream erosion and runoff.

    In response to the report and ongoing plans by the BLM to conduct mechanical vegetation treatment projects on nearly 135,000 acres of the original 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, SUWA Wildlands attorney Kya Marienfeld released the following statement:

    Large-scale vegetation removal projects are an extreme and unproven management approach that simply do not belong on our public lands, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument should never be the subject of the most aggressive and invasive treatments like chaining, mastication, and mulching. These projects are completely incompatible with protecting the fragile ecological, paleontological, and archaeological resources in Grand Staircase.”

    The BLM’s current mechanical vegetation treatment plans in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument include:

    • Proposing to use chainsaws and mechanical masticators on up to 93,000 acres of public lands within a 610,000 acre area of the Paria River watershed.
    • Authorizing the removal of pinyon pine and juniper trees from more than 30,000 acres of within Skutumpah Terrace area northeast of Kanab. SUWA and conservation partners have appealed this project to the Department of Interior Board of Land Appeals.Additional resources on the web:Link to this press release.
    • In three additional proposals at the heart of Grand Staircase (including Alvey Wash, Last Chance Gulch, and Coal Bench), the BLM plans to use heavy machinery including bullhog masticators to strip more than 13,000 acres of native vegetation, including pinyon and juniper trees and big sagebrush.

    Additional resources on the web:

    Summary of the Wild Utah Project report.

    The Wild Utah Project website.

    *Jones, A.J. (Ed).  2019. Do mechanical vegetation treatments of pinyon-juniper and sagebrush communities work?  A review of the literature. Special publication, Wild Utah Project. Salt Lake City, UT. (Full report.)

  • March 11th, 2019

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    BLM Withdraws Permit for Helicopter Shuttles Near Bighorn Habitat Outside of Moab Following SUWA Appeal

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (March 11, 2019) – The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Moab field office has withdrawn a multi-year special recreation permit authorizing a private helicopter company to shuttle customers in and out of Mineral Bottom, south of Labyrinth Canyon and north of Canyonlands National Park in the Green River corridor.

    The permit withdrawal comes as the result of an appeal to the Interior Board of Land Appeals filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), challenging BLM’s previous decision to authorize these landings.

    In response to the permit withdrawal, SUWA Wildlands Attorney Kya Marienfeld issued the following statement:

    “The BLM’s withdrawal of this helicopter landing permit is a big victory for wildlife and solitude in the Green River corridor. The best available science shows that bighorn sheep are particularly sensitive to helicopter traffic compared to other aircraft, and even the occasional close overflight could have driven the native population of bighorn from its habitat in the side canyons of the Green River.

    “The BLM’s original decision to grant this commercial permit would have increased helicopter traffic that could have severely disrupted the sheep’s breeding and lambing cycle, perhaps causing them to abandon the area altogether.

    “While the BLM should never have granted the permit in the first place, we are glad to see the BLM correct their error and withdraw the permit.”

    The permit, originally issued in August, 2018, would have allowed Pinnacle Helicopters, LLC to shuttle passengers during the boating season to a backcountry airstrip in Mineral Bottom that currently has no commercial helicopter traffic. The repeated helicopter shuttles would have brought increased noise and disruption to the adjacent Hell Roaring, Spring, and Tenmile Canyons —  all of which are critical lambing and rutting habitat for a rare native population of desert bighorn sheep.

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  • February 26th, 2019

    Utah’s Iconic San Rafael Swell Nears Wilderness Protection as Part of Public Lands Package Passed by U.S. House of Representatives 

    Contact: Scott Groene, Executive Director, 801-712-5034, scott@suwa.org

    Jen Ujifusa, Legislative Director, 801-791-2598, jen@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (February 26, 2019) – In response to today’s passage of the Emery County Public Land Management Act by the U.S. House of Representatives as part of S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) executive director Scott Groene issued the following statement:

    “Now that both the Senate and House have passed this legislation, only the President’s signature is needed to protect 663,000 acres of Utah’s iconic San Rafael Swell and Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons as designated wilderness. After a year-long fight, what began as terrible legislation will now extend much-needed protection to some of Utah’s most beloved redrock landscapes.

    “With our Utah Wilderness Coalition allies- the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council- and thousands of Americans across the nation, we’ve made this legislation deserving of the places protected.

    “There are still lands in Emery County and elsewhere deserving of protection, and we look forward to working with the Utah congressional delegation and other members of congress to that end.

    “We’re grateful to Senator Dick Durbin and Rep. Alan Lowenthal, who each challenged an earlier, flawed version of the bill—flaws which have now been largely addressed. These lands belong to all Americans, and wilderness bills like this one can only succeed if Utah politicians recognize the national significance of their protection.

    “We appreciate the efforts of Sen. Hatch, Rep. John Curtis, and their staffs for seeing the bill through.

    “At a time when our nation’s public lands are under assault by the Trump administration, this legislation is good for Redrock wilderness. Passing this legislation involved compromises, and worthy landscapes were left out. Nonetheless, this bill is good for Utah and good for the United States.”

    Additional Resources

    More information, including maps and photographs of the protected region, is available here.

  • February 12th, 2019

    Utah’s Iconic San Rafael Swell Nears Wilderness Protection as Part of Public Lands Package Passed by U.S. Senate

    Contact: Scott Groene, Executive Director, 801-712-5034, scott@suwa.org

    Jen Ujifusa, Legislative Director, 801-791-2598, jen@suwa.org

    Neal Clark, Wildlands Program Director, 435-260-1199, neal@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (February 12, 2019) – In response to the U.S. Senate’s passage today of the Emery County Public Land Management Act as part of S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) executive director Scott Groene issued the following statement:

    “We are excited by the passage of this legislation, which protects 663,000 acres of Utah’s iconic San Rafael Swell and Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons in Emery County as designated wilderness.  It’s a tremendous step forward for the redrock and a validation of SUWA’s more than 35 years of advocacy.

    “While this agreement came with some difficult choices, it brings long-term protection to this spectacular landscape.

    “This bill was possible only because of Senator Dick Durbin, who has championed America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act for 20 years and was instrumental in brokering the agreement with Senator Hatch. In the House of Representatives, Rep. Alan Lowenthal challenged an earlier, flawed version—flaws which have now been largely addressed. These lands belong to all Americans and wilderness bills like this one can only succeed if Utah politicians recognize the national significance of their protection.

    “We thank our steadfast allies in the Utah Wilderness Coalition- the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council- who each held strong with us for legislation that truly protects these lands.

    “We appreciate the efforts of Sen. Hatch, Rep. John Curtis, and their staffs for seeing the bill through and keeping the lines of communication open. Likewise, we offer thanks and respect to the Emery County officials who brought sufficient flexibility to the table to create a bill that is a win for all Americans.

    “At a time when our nation is deeply divided, this legislation brought together differing views for a result that is good for Redrock wilderness. Passing this legislation involved compromises, and landscapes deserving protection were left out. Nonetheless, this bill is good for Utah, and good for the United States.”

    The Senate lands package now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.

    Additional Resources

    More information, including maps and photographs of the protected region, is available here. A story map of the bill and region is available here.

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