Press Releases - Page 2 of 28


  • February 25th, 2021

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance lawsuits challenging secret 2017 meetings held between Kane, Garfield and San Juan County Commissions and Trump officials can proceed

    Contact: Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.236.3766
    David Reymann, Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, 801.257.7939
    Troy Booher, Zimmerman Booher, 801.924.0200

    Salt Lake City, UT (February 25, 2021) – This morning, the Utah Supreme Court issued two related opinions in long-running lawsuits brought by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) alleging that (1) the Kane and Garfield County Commissions and (2) the San Juan County Commission violated Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act when they each met privately and in secret with Interior Secretary Zinke (and in the case of San Juan County, other DOI officials in Washington, D.C.) in 2017 regarding Zinke’s report on the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. These meetings preceded then-President Trump’s unlawful dismantling of those monuments. President Biden has pledged to swiftly undo Trump’s actions.

    “We’re grateful the Supreme Court has cleared the way for these important lawsuits to proceed,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “SUWA members and the broader public had every right to know what these commissioners were saying behind closed doors about the fate of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments.”

    The Supreme Court reversed the district courts’ decisions to dismiss these cases at their earliest stage and concluded that (1) SUWA has legal “standing” to bring these cases (is the right party to do so) and (2) the allegations in SUWA’s lawsuits about the private meetings touching on how the hoped-for monument reductions would impact matters within the “jurisdiction or advisory power” of the commissions are sufficient for the cases to proceed. The cases will be remanded back to district court.

    The Supreme Court also (1) reversed Seventh District Judge Lyle Anderson’s decision in the case involving the San Juan County Commission to sua sponte (on his own accord and without a motion by the County) sanction SUWA for filing the case and order that SUWA pay the County’s attorney’s fees and (2) reversed Sixth District Judge Marvin Bagley’s decision in the Kane and Garfield County case that SUWA had brought its case in bad faith and order that SUWA pay the Counties attorneys’ fees. With regard to Judge Anderson’s decision, the Supreme Court specifically called out Anderson’s inappropriate “independent factual research” as contrary to the Judicial Code of Conduct.

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance was represented in the San Juan County case by Troy Booher, Dick Baldwin, and Frederick Voros with the Salt Lake City law firm Zimmerman Booher, and Laura Peterson and Stephen Bloch at SUWA. SUWA was represented in the Kane and Garfield County case by David Reymann and Austin Riter with the Salt Lake City law firm Parr Brown Gee & Loveless.  Friend of the Court briefs were filed in each case on SUWA’s behalf by the Deseret News, Fox 13 KSTU-TV and the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, represented by Edward Carter with the Orem firm Keen Law Offices.

    Update March 19, 2021: Today, SUWA dismissed its lawsuits against Kane, Garfield and San Juan Counties over their 2017 violations of Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act. With the Utah Supreme Court’s recent decision, we affirmed that SUWA and its members have a right to ensure that the public’s business be conducted out in the open and that SUWA should not be punished for trying to hold public officials accountable.

    Four years after filing the lawsuits, with Secretary Zinke and President Trump no longer in office, it is time to move on. We will continue to work to ensure that Utah elected officials conduct public business in an open and transparent manner, consistent with Utah law.

    Additional Resources 

    Southern Utah Wilderness v San Juan County opinion.

    Southern Utah Wilderness v Kane County opinion.

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  • February 18th, 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org 

    Laura Welp, Western Watersheds Project, 435-899-0204, laura@westernwatersheds.org 

    Decision finds BLM failed to consider project alternatives that would have limited post-wildfire treatments to native seeds and manual restoration methods

    Moab, UT (February 18, 2021) – The U.S. Department of Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) yesterday set aside two late-summer 2020 decisions by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Kanab Field Office to chain and seed with non-native livestock forage in two post-fire landscapes within the original boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    In overturning BLM’s decisions, the IBLA held that the BLM erred in its rushed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process because it “fail[ed] to consider alternatives that would have limited its post-wildfire treatments to native seeds and to manual methods.” The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Western Watersheds Project had encouraged the BLM to consider a more environmentally-sound alternative treatment plan that would only use native species for seeding and would not use chaining—the most invasive and soil-disturbing method—as part of the agency’s restoration plans. 

    Unfortunately, although the IBLA held that the BLM’s rushed approval of these projects violated federal law, the agency had already started on-the-ground operations, including chaining and seeding with non-native plant species. All further activities for both projects are prohibited as of yesterday’s IBLA order, and the BLM confirmed earlier today that its heavy equipment is being moved offsite.

    “Using natural restoration methods is critical for fragile desert ecosystems, because science shows that introducing vigorous, non-native seed mixes significantly decreases the long-term potential for native species to recolonize,” said Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “This is precisely why the 2000 Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Management Plan required managers to consider pre-burn conditions before approving post-fire management activities, and required that only native seeds be used in restoration. When Monument protections were removed from these areas by President Trump in 2017 and new management plans approved last year, these science-based prohibitions disappeared. The BLM’s hurried approval of these two ‘fire restoration’ projects is direct evidence of how little it takes to permanently transform a native ecosystem and harm habitat for plants and wildlife without these protections.” 

    “Trump stripped National Monument status from Wire Pass and Pine Hollow, along the iconic House Rock Valley road,” said Laura Welp, Ecosystem Specialist with Western Watersheds Project and a former Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument botanist. “When a wildfire occurred there, the BLM took advantage of the reduced protections to destroy pinyon-juniper woodlands and native shrublands with bulldozers hauling massive chains, and to seed non-native plants to benefit livestock.”

    The Wire Pass and Pine Hollow wildfires, which occurred in July and August of 2020, collectively burned more than 5,000 acres on the west side of House Rock Valley Road in Kane County, Utah, directly across the road from the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area and near access points for the world-renowned geologic feature known as “the Wave.” Following these two lightning-caused fires, the BLM pushed through hurried environmental analyses and approved “restoration plans” in both burn areas to chain burned and remaining live vegetation and aerial seed an almost 4,000 acre area with crested wheatgrass and other persistent and invasive non-native perennial forage species favored by livestock.

     The BLM’s plan to introduce non-native species in the name of restoration was particularly alarming given that both burn areas were dominated by a diversity of native species including pinyon pine, sagebrush, and cliffrose prior to the wildfires, and were largely untouched by human-disturbance—an increasingly rare baseline for public lands devastated by grazing, motorized vehicle intrusions, and other human impacts throughout the West. 

    “This was a tremendously important appeal, and we are pleased with the IBLA’s decision” continued Marienfeld. “We expect to see the original boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and its full management protections restored soon, preventing these kinds of ill-conceived activities from being proposed or carried out anywhere on the full, 1.9 million-acres of this exceptional and fragile National Monument.”

    Additional Resources

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order, February 17, 2021

    Lawsuit Launched Over Trump Plan to Accelerate Clearcutting, Herbicide Spraying, Fuel Breaks Across Six Western States (January 13, 2021).

    Interior Board Overturns BLM Decision to Replace Native Forests with Livestock Forage in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (September 17, 2019).

    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.

     

  • 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.