Press Releases - Page 2 of 27


  • January 27th, 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

    Contacts:

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

    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3981, steve@suwa.org 

    Salt Lake City, UT (January 27, 2021) – President Biden today issued an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, which, among other things, places a pause on oil and gas leasing on federal public lands and commits the United States to a ten-year goal of conserving 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

    In response, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance legal director Steve Bloch issued the following statement:

    “We are grateful that President Biden is following through on his commitment to reassert our nation as a climate leader, not a climate denier. 

     “The President’s decision to order a pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal public lands is a common sense and desperately needed step to right the ship and chart a more thoughtful, climate conscious path forward as our nation Builds Back Better. 

     “Over the past four years, the oil and gas industry stockpiled millions of acres of oil and gas leases and drilling permits across the West. In Utah alone, the industry is sitting on more than 1.7 million acres of unused federal oil and gas leases on some of our nation’s wildest and most culturally significant public lands. At the same time, drilling is at a historically low rate. In this landscape, the Biden administration’s pause on new leasing will not impact the oil and gas industry’s bottomline.”

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  • January 25th, 2021

    State of Utah’s sprawling litigation claiming more than 12,000 dirt paths and stream bottoms as “highways” threatens redrock wilderness across the state

    Contacts: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981, steve@suwa.org 

    Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society, 303.815.3158, phil_hanceford@tws.org

    Brian Fletcher, Stanford Law School Supreme Court Clinic, 917.453.9477, bfletcher@stanford.edu 

    Salt Lake City – Today, the US Supreme Court denied requests by the US Solicitor General and the State of Utah to overturn a 2019 decision that granted two conservation groups, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society, the right to intervene in a sweeping series of lawsuits that threatens to riddle the state’s wildest public lands with roads.

    In what are known as petitions for writ of certiorari, the United States and Utah attempted to overturn a decision by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals by contending that the conservation groups’ undeniable interests in southern Utah’s remarkable red rock wilderness were insufficient to permit intervention in the litigation. The Supreme Court denied the petitions in an unsigned order issued this morning.

    “We’re pleased the Supreme Court denied these petitions and look forward to vigorously defending our members’ and the United States’ interests in the wildest, most remote corners of southern Utah,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The State’s litigation, claiming highways in stream bottoms and cow paths, has always been about who controls federal public lands in Utah, with the goal to riddle these landscapes with roads and make them ineligible for congressional Wilderness designation. This absolutely cuts to the core of our mission.”

    A State of Utah R.S. 2477 claim in the Paria River streambed (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area). Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    “We are focused on using science and common sense to protect our land, our air, and our water for the health of our communities and for future generations,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director at The Wilderness Society. “Today’s decision not to review our participation in this important case recognized that our input is valuable when decisions are made about the impacts development could have on our shared public lands. There are appropriate places for roads, but cutting through Utah’s spectacular red rock wildlands and creek beds are not those places.”

    The conservation groups had sought to intervene in the litigation to defend the United States’ title in so-called R.S. 2477 rights of way, referring to an obscure provision in the 1866 Mining Act that authorized the construction of highways across the western frontier to support settlement and development. Utah has weaponized this long-repealed law to file more than 20 lawsuits alleging more than 12,000 rights of way totaling more than 32,000 miles across federal public lands in the state. Rather than constitute any kind of a reasonable rural transportation network, the vast majority of these claimed highways are in fact unmaintained dirt two-tracks, cow paths and stream bottoms. Thousands of miles of Utah’s claimed highways are located in national parks, national monuments, designated wilderness areas, and other wild Utah lands.

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society are represented by Jeffrey Fisher, Brian Fletcher and Pamela Karlan at Stanford Law School’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic; Chad Derum and Trevor Lee at the Salt Lake City law firm Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar; and Stephen Bloch and Michelle White at the Utah-based Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

  • January 13th, 2021

    Contacts:
    Scott Lake, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 299-7495, slake@biologicaldiversity.org
    Kya Marienfeld, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (435) 259-5440, kya@suwa.org
    Paul Ruprecht, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 421-4637, paul@westernwatersheds.org
    Connie Howard, Sierra Club, Toiyabe Chapter, (775) 224-3916, constancehoward58@gmail.com 

    Lawsuit Launched Over Trump Plan to Accelerate Clearcutting, Herbicide Spraying, Fuel Breaks Across Six Western States

    RENO, Nev.— Conservation groups filed formal notice today of their intent to sue the Trump administration for violations of the Endangered Species Act stemming from two last-minute decisions authorizing widespread clearcutting, herbicide spraying, grazing, plowing and prescribed fire across 223 million acres of Bureau of Land Management public lands in the Great Basin. 

    The plans will have potentially devastating consequences for the imperiled greater sage grouse and other wildlife that call these vast landscapes home. They also will exclude the public and the scientific community from key land-management decisions across Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho and Utah. 

    “The Trump administration’s reckless, 11th-hour decision authorizes the Bureau to use highly destructive methods to remove millions of acres of native trees and shrubs,” said Scott Lake, Nevada legal advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency hasn’t even considered the consequences of these highly destructive actions on dozens of threatened and endangered species. It’s a clear violation of the Endangered Species Act, and we won’t allow these plans to become reality.”

    The administration is using two environmental impact statements to circumvent local environmental analysis and public comment. They authorize the Bureau to remove massive amounts of vegetation anywhere within the 223 million-acre analysis area, which is home to more than 130 threatened and endangered species. Many of these species are endemic to local environments and found nowhere else on Earth. 

    “These two decisions have incredibly far-reaching implications for future management of fragile native ecosystems throughout the American West,” said Kya Marienfeld, wildlands attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Science, transparency and public input are meant to be the backbone of managing Western public lands, but instead, these decisions improperly substitute anecdote for evidence while cutting off all normal channels of public notice, review and future accountability.”

    The plans are part of a larger Trump administration program of forest and shrubland destruction underway across the West. Other components include categorical exclusions that sidestep environmental analysis and public accountability for pinyon pine and juniper clearcutting projects up to 10,000 acres and logging projects up to 3,000 acres. 

    Although the Interior Department admits many of the proposed methods, such as so-called “targeted grazing,” are experimental or unproven, there are no plans for long-term monitoring or maintenance to avoid significant, long-term damage to public lands and native ecosystems. The potential for these projects to spread invasive weeds, like fire-prone cheatgrass, make them particularly problematic.

    “Using cows to mow down vegetation to dirt level to reduce fuel won’t work,” said Paul Ruprecht, Oregon-Nevada director for Western Watersheds Project. “Intensive grazing destroys the soil crusts and removes the native bunchgrasses that are nature’s two best defenses against cheatgrass. Targeted grazing will only increase cheatgrass, and ultimately backfire.”

    “The Sierra Club believes these Trump administration deforestation programs would effectively destroy the healthy ecosystems of much of the western United States known as the National System of Public Lands,” said Connie Howard, chair of conservation and public lands for the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The sagebrush biome accounts for a large component of these lands, and the pinyon, juniper and sagebrush plants targeted for removal are home to over 350 wildlife species and play a critical role in sequestering carbon in the face of climate change. We are pleased to join our conservation partners in efforts to stop this assault on our public lands that is not based on science or any long-term thinking as to consequences to endangered and threatened species, ecosystem health or climate change and resiliency.”

    The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), based in Salt Lake City, Utah, has more than 15,000 members from all fifty states and several foreign countries. SUWA’s mission is the preservation of the outstanding wilderness and other sensitive public lands at the heart of the Colorado Plateau and to advocate for management of these lands, and the associated natural and cultural resources, in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans.

    Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation organization with over 9,500 members dedicated to protecting and conserving the public lands and natural resources of watersheds in the American West.

    The Sierra Club is the most enduring and influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. We amplify the power of our 3.8 million members and supporters to defend everyone’s right to a healthy world.

  • December 22nd, 2020

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contacts:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3991, landon@suwa.org
    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 859-1552, steve@suwa.org
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, (646) 823-4518, ahawke@nrdc.org
    Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2424, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org
    John Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435)-260-2590, john@livingrivers.org

    Washington, D.C. (December 22, 2020) — A federal judge today enjoined the Trump administration’s approval of a plan to punch a helium well into the heart of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness in Utah just two days before Christmas. Road construction had been set to begin Wednesday.

    “Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness is too special to drill,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “We’re grateful the court enjoined this ill-conceived project and gave this incomparable landscape a brief reprieve. We’ll be ready for round 2 with the Trump administration and company in early January.”

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Center for Biological Diversity, and Living Rivers sought a temporary restraining order to stop the Bureau of Land Management from granting approval to Twin Bridges to begin drilling the helium well pending the resolution of a lawsuit filed last week. The lawsuit says the Bureau violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to take a hard look at the potential climate harms from the fracking project and failing to provide a reasoned basis for offering this land for leasing in the first place.

    “The Bureau of Land Management tried to pull a fast one in racing this permit out,” said Josh Axelrod, senior advocate for the Nature Program at NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council). “But this unique wilderness area should never have been on the table for development, and we’ll fight to make sure it’s protected.”

    The Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness includes one of the country’s most iconic and world-renowned stretches of river canyon. This national treasure is bounded on the east by the Green River and on the south by Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019 secured its permanent protection as wilderness. (See photos here.)

    This dangerous drilling would destroy what Congress sought to protect by designating the spectacular Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness,” said Taylor McKinnon, senior campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re pleased the court stopped this project for now, but we won’t rest until this reckless plan is canceled entirely.” 

    Twin Bridges had planned to break ground on the project Wednesday, but today’s order from U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras enjoins any further action on the plan until at least Jan. 6, pending resolution of the lawsuit.  

    “Today’s order validates the importance of taking the courageous step of protecting the treasured landscapes of Utah’s canyon country,” said John Weisheit, conservation director with Living Rivers & Colorado Riverkeeper. “We appreciate the opportunity that Judge Contreras has afforded us to hear our critical case at the upcoming hearing.” 

    Background

    The Bureau of Land Management formally issued a lease to Twin Bridges Resources, LLC in February 2019, only a few weeks before the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which created the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, became law. The agency rushed to close the deal knowing the area was about to be permanently closed to future leasing and development. The Bureau had been racing ahead to approve the company’s proposal to drill on its federal lease and a nearby state lease just before the Christmas holiday.

    The proposed helium operation will industrialize one of the most remote areas of southeastern Utah’s red rock country. If the plan is approved, Twin Bridges will drill up to seven wells, permanently disturbing 43 acres in this remote and austere landscape and forever diminishing the unique wilderness values found in the area. The project will also involve road grading, construction of three separate pipelines, construction of a 10-acre processing facility and increased vehicle traffic.

    ***

    Plaintiffs SUWA, the Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers are represented by Landon Newell, Joseph Bushyhead, and Stephen Bloch with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and William Eubanks II and Nick Lawton with Eubanks & Associates, PLLC. Plaintiff NRDC is represented by Sharon Buccino with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    The case is captioned Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Bernhardt, 1:20cv3654 RC (D.D.C.).

  • December 21st, 2020

    SUWA Legislative Director Jen Ujifusa and Legal Director Steve Bloch discuss how the 2020 election results will affect our work to protect Utah’s wild redrock country, and what we expect President Biden to do with respect to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Wild Utah’s theme music, “What’s Worth?” is composed by Moab singer-songwriter Haley Noel Austin. Post studio production and editing is by Jerry Schmidt.

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