Press Releases - Page 3 of 27


  • December 18th, 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.orgJohn Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435)-260-2590, john@livingrivers.org

    Washington, D.C. (December 18, 2020) — Conservation groups have sued the Bureau of Land Management to challenge its illegal leasing of 1,400 acres for helium extraction within the newly designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness in southeastern Utah. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers filed suit Monday in federal district court.

    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.)

    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.

    “This proposal is the paragon of the Trump administration’s ‘going out of business’ assault on the nation’s public lands, plain and simple,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “This project would needlessly and permanently tarnish one of the Bureau of Land Management’s crown jewels: the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness.”

    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. Now the Bureau is racing ahead to approve the company’s proposal to drill on its federal lease and a nearby state lease, and is poised to do so just before the Christmas holiday.

    This afternoon the conservation groups filed a motion with the court seeking an emergency injunction to block the Bureau’s approval of the project until the merits of the lawsuit can be decided. “We’re hopeful that the court sees this last-minute maneuver by the Trump administration for what it is: a transparent attempt to destroy a piece of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness as they head out door,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    “It’s truly stunning how brazen the Trump administration has been these past four years in serving up our pristine, iconic landscapes to industry,” said Josh Axelrod, Senior Advocate for the Land Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Its race to secure this project’s approval for the helium industry’s benefit is flatly illegal, and we’ll defend this special area at every turn.”

    The Bureau offered the lease without allowing the public to review or comment on that decision and did not prepare site-specific analysis prior to offering the lease for development, as required by NEPA. Courts have found such restrictions on public participation and lack of analysis to be unlawful.

    “This dangerous plan is an obscene, purposeful attack on Utah’s iconic public land and wilderness protection,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ll do everything in our power to ensure that these lands never see the insult of this proposed extraction.”

    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.

    “This proposal is not appropriate because very reasonable alternatives do indeed exist,” said John Weisheit, Conservation Director of Living Rivers & Colorado Riverkeeper. “Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe and it just doesn’t make sense to propose a trade-off that jeopardizes the sensitive lands and rivers of the Canyonlands region.”

    ***

    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 9th, 2020

    Contact:
    Kya Marienfeld, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 573-228-1061, kya@suwa.org
    Scott Lake, Center for Biological Diversity, 802-299-7495, slake@biologicaldiversity.org
    Gwen Dobbs, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-772-0269, gdobbs@defenders.org
    Chris Krupp, WildEarth Guardians, 206-417-6363, ckrupp@wildearthguardians.org
    Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center, 503-914-1323, brown@westernlaw.org
    Laura Welp, Western Watersheds Project, 435-899-0204, laura@westernwatersheds.org
    Logan Glasenapp, New Mexico Wild, 414-719-0352, logan@nmwild.org
    Katie Fite, Wildlands Defense, 208-871-5738, katie@wildlandsdefense.org
    Mary O’Brien, Grand Canyon Trust, 541-556-8801, maryobrien10@gmail.com

    Moab, Utah (Dec 10, 2020) Today, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) completed its final actions to fast-track approvals and eliminate public input and review on clearcutting of native forests and shrubs across western public lands. 

    With the announcement of its final “pinyon-juniper categorical exclusion” and “salvage logging categorical exclusion,” the BLM has now pushed through five regulatory changes and large-scale initiatives to expedite the removal of native forests and sagebrush shrublands across the intermountain West. 

    The BLM’s actions today with regard to vegetation removal and clearcutting represent a broader push by the Trump administration to gut protections in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), take the public out of public land management, serve extractive industries, and downplay science in decision-making. 

    “These are scorched-earth policies with no place in what is supposed to be open, transparent, and science-based management of 245 million acres of public land,” said Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The removal of public review through these final NEPA exclusions today is especially alarming because many large projects that were withdrawn because of public pressure — including some within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — could now reappear at any time under this new policy and move forward without public review, scientific study, or accountability.”

    Scott Lake, Nevada Legal Advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, stated: “BLM’s notion that there will be no significant environmental impacts from clearcutting thousands of acres across the West is absurd on its face. This is nothing more than an eleventh-hour attempt by the outgoing administration to shut the public out of public land management and curry favor with Secretary Bernhardt’s industry allies. It has absolutely no basis in science or sound management practices.”

    Echoing this sentiment, Chris Krupp, Public Lands Guardian for WildEarth Guardians, added: “These categorical exclusions are part of a comprehensive effort from Bernhardt and other political appointees at Interior on their way out the door. Their focus from now until inauguration day is on greasing the path for even more logging, grazing and other resource extraction on Western public lands.” 

    “The BLM’s final salvage logging categorical exclusion is a parting gift to the voracious timber industry in southwest Oregon,” said Susan Jane Brown, staff attorney and Wildlands Program Director with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Millions of acres burned this summer in Oregon wildfires, and rather than follow the best available science that recommends leaving these snag forests alone, we can expect clearcutting of old forests that will foul waterways and eliminate habitat for species such as the iconic northern spotted owl. We will meet any attempts to sidestep the law, the science, and the public with swift legal action.”

    “The BLM’s assertion that clearing 10,000 acres of pinyon and juniper forests will not have a significant environmental effect is wrong and incredibly dangerous to ongoing efforts to protect public lands, wildlife, and the general safety and livability of the human environment,” said Logan Glasenapp of New Mexico Wild. “Using such a sweeping categorical exclusion to excuse the agency from due diligence will only lead to detrimental effects. The safety and long-term health of our public lands depends on public voices.”

    “The BLM has a long history of failed land management policies, yet it continues to charge ahead with unearned confidence and little science,” said Laura Welp of Western Watersheds Project. “Removal of native trees like pinyon and juniper may do nothing to reduce fire risk and may in fact facilitate more fires by increasing flammable fuels like cheatgrass. Science, not politics, should guide public land management, and the public needs to have an opportunity for input on these lands they care so deeply about.”

    “The BLM’s massive deforestation schemes will transform much of the West into bleak, cheatgrass-infested and treeless expanses, dealing a huge blow to biodiversity and the survival of many species of migratory birds and other native wildlife,” said Katie Fite of Wildlands Defense

    Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust, pointed out that “the BLM’s claim that massive clearcutting and mastication of pinyon pine and juniper is ‘solely’ intended to enhance habitat for sage-grouse and mule deer might be believable if science indicated that these ‘treatments’ work, or if the BLM didn’t use them as an opportunity to graze the heck out of the newly ripped-up landscape, seeding it with exotic grasses meant for cattle. Neither is the case.”

    “The bottom line is that science has to guide the management of our western lands,” said Vera Smith, senior federal lands policy analyst with Defenders of Wildlife. “We hope that the Biden administration will right this wrong by directing the Bureau of Land Management to restore science-based decision-making to our public lands and refrain from clearcutting under these new rules.”

    Background:

    These proposals will allow the BLM to conduct large and controversial vegetation removal projects without notifying or inviting input from the public including the scientific community. Specifically, these proposals would allow the BLM to plan and execute vegetation removal actions without detailed NEPA review and public comment, undermine an already fragile public trust, and effectively shelve the critical role of science in some of the most unproven and controversial projects taking place on public lands today. 

    Since the 1940s, the BLM has spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars manipulating native pinyon pine and juniper forests and sagebrush stands throughout the West. Initially undertaken to enhance forage for wildlife and livestock, these projects have more recently been justified in the name of habitat, watershed restoration, and fire prevention. But vegetation treatments are often controversial because the scientific evidence to support their efficacy is mixed at best. Increased public and scientific scrutiny in recent years has forced the BLM to stop or rethink a number of large-scale mechanical vegetation removal proposals.

    Rather than responding to the increased scrutiny with greater attention to the implications of large-scale vegetation manipulation for native wildlife and ecological integrity, the agency instead forged ahead with several initiatives of historic proportions which by design curtail public oversight and scientific review of its vegetation removal activities across the West. 

    Today, the BLM approved:

    • A rulemaking that allows the BLM to thin or cut down pinyon pine and juniper forests in multiple projects, each up to 10,000 acres in size, without environmental analysis, scientific oversight, or public review and input.
    • A rulemaking that automatically greenlights logging on up to 3,000 acres of BLM-managed forest as long as the agency determines the trees are “dead and dying” due to a variety of possible “disturbances” such as wildfire or forest pathogens. Again, this would be without any public oversight or scientific review, as would typically be required under NEPA.

    In 2020 alone — all during the tumult of the coronavirus pandemic — the agency has also approved:

    • A rulemaking that exempts vegetation removal projects (including chaining of sagebrush and other native vegetation) up to 4,500 acres in size from the public oversight and scientific review ordinarily required by NEPA prior to a project being planned and executed.
    • A plan that authorizes in one broad brushstroke the clearing of up to 11,000 miles (667,000 acres) of 500-foot wide “fuel breaks” in forest, sagebrush, and grassland habitats across Utah, Nevada, Idaho, California, Washington, and Oregon without scientific oversight, public review of projects, or accountability.  
    • A corresponding, even broader plan that allows the agency to plan and execute vegetation removal projects across a 223-million-acre area in the same six states without scientific oversight, public review of projects, or accountability.   

    The cumulative effects of the BLM’s actions are staggering, and the agency is now unleashed to remove vegetation from millions of acres across the western states without further involving the public or the scientific community and without any accountability. 

    Additional Resources:

    Google Drive folder containing photos (for use with attribution), maps, fact sheets, scientific studies, and resources relevant to all five of the Trump administration’s 2020 actions removing public and scientific oversight from vegetation removal actions on the BLM’s National System of Public Lands. 

    Recording of July 2020 Virtual Press Conference discussing all five of the Trump administration’s vegetation/deforestation actions. 

    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.

    Consequences of pinyon and juniper woodland reduction for wildlife in North America. 2016. Sara Bombaci and Liba Pejchar in Forest Ecology and Management.

     

  • 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. 

    ###

  • 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