RS 2477 Archives - Page 4 of 11


  • December 16th, 2013

    Last year at this time we were reeling under the weight of the State of Utah’s 25+ newly filed R.S. 2477 lawsuits which claimed title to more than 14,000 roads covering more than 36,000 miles. Few wild places were spared from this onslaught. Not national parks. Not the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. And certainly not Utah’s red rock wilderness.

    A San Juan County RS 2477 Claim in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

    A San Juan County RS 2477 Claim in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

    What a difference a year makes.

    While all of these places are still threatened by the State’s tsunami of litigation, SUWA and its partners– working closely with more than two dozen attorneys from six national and local law firms and our own in-house legal team– have clawed our way to have a seat at the table. Much work remains to be done but it’s worth pausing to consider what we’ve accomplished:

    • SUWA has successfully intervened in the 18 cases that threaten Utah’s red rock wilderness. This is no small feat when you consider the sheer number of legal briefs, exhibits, etc. that had to be filed for each of these cases. It’s also notable given a string of close losses that we suffered from 2008-2011 which made it harder for us to intervene and participate as parties in these critical cases. Remarkably, the Obama Justice Department has opposed our status as an “intervenor of right” at every turn, arguing that only the United States should be able to fully defend against the State’s lawsuits.
    • Just last week a federal judge granted us the right to participate in the State’s so-called “preservation depositions” where the State is trying to memorialize the testimony of aged and/or inform witnesses.  These depositions are one of the State’s primary tools to proving its cases.  Prior to this ruling, we had to rely on the US Justice Department to ask our questions for us, which they didn’t always want to do.  This decision is a significant step towards defending Utah’s red rock wilderness.
    • The Tenth Circuit court of appeals recently (and provisionally, pending review by a three-judge panel) granted our motion to intervene in the United States’ appeal of a March 2013 decision by a federal judge which granted 12 rights-of-way to Kane County and the State.  These included the so-called “North Swag” route, a claimed highway (impassable in some places) within the Grand Staircase national monument and a wilderness study area.  The United States, State of Utah, and Kane County all strongly oppose our motion to intervene.

    What hasn’t changed over the past year is the State’s zeal to do what it takes to be able to punch roads into the heart of Utah’s red rock wilderness. That’s why it continues to pour millions of dollars into attorneys, analysts, GIS staff, etc. to push these cases. In short, these lawsuits remain one the biggest threats we face today.
    Thanks to your support, we’re starting to turn the corner and will be bringing the fight to the State in 2014.

  • November 4th, 2013

    It’s a great day for Utah’s redrock wilderness! Today the federal district court in Utah struck down significant parts of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) land use plan for the Richfield Field Office – a plan that prioritized off-road vehicle use above all else. This victory for wilderness represents years and years of hard work by staff, members and supporters of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA).

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  • November 4th, 2013

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    November 4, 2013

     

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

    Court Strikes Down Controversial BLM Land Use Plan
    BLM plan designated thousands of miles of ORV routes, placing iconic western landscapes at risk

    SALT LAKE CITY Today the United States District Court for the District of Utah struck down significant parts of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Resource Management Plan for the Richfield Field Office, putting the brakes on a Bush-era management scheme that prioritized motorized recreation over all else.

    A coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and Earthjustice had challenged the plan (the “Richfield RMP”) in an attempt to bring balanced management to Utah’s spectacular public lands.  The plan developed by BLM threatened world-renown southern Utah wilderness landscapes like the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy’s infamous hideout, Robber’s Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states) and Factory Butte.  See photos here.

    Specifically, Judge Kimball:

    • Reversed BLM’s off-road vehicle (ORV) trail designations because BLM failed to minimize the destructive impacts of ORV use on streams, native plants, wildlife, soils and irreplaceable cultural sites and artifacts, as required by law.
    • Directed BLM to complete intensive, on-the-ground surveys for historic and cultural resources before authorizing ORV use.
    • Held that BLM’s failure to designate the Henry Mountains as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern—which would have given heightened protection to its bison herds and large expanses of remote, spectacularly scenic lands — violated federal law.
    • Ordered BLM to reevaluate information supporting the designation of Happy Canyon and the spring areas of Buck and Pasture Canyons for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

    Under the Richfield RMP, BLM had designated over 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails, enough miles to drive from Atlanta to Anchorage, for ORV vehicle use despite evidence of environmental damage and conflicts with other public lands visitors.

    “This landmark decision is a resounding rejection of the BLM’s mismanagement of Utah’s stunning public lands,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “The Richfield RMP wrongly prioritized ORV use over all other uses of the public lands and neglected streams and special places worthy of protection.  The court didn’t mince words in its ruling that this violated federal environmental and historic laws.”

    “Utah’s remarkable public lands deserve better than what they are getting from the BLM,” remarked David Garbett, a SUWA staff attorney.  “This decision is a first step in improving that situation.”

    The impact of this decision raises serious questions about the legality of five other BLM management plans in the eastern half of the state of Utah that suffer from similar legal flaws.  The Richfield RMP is just one of six land use plans—covering more than 11 million acres of eastern and southern Utah—that the Interior Department finalized in October 2008.  Together, these RMPs were a last-ditch attempt by the Bush administration to leave their stamp on Utah’s landscape by prioritizing ORVs and energy development over protecting Utah’s uniquely magnificent red rock canyon country. Conservationists have challenged all six plans in court.  The Richfield RMP is the first of the six to be litigated.

    “It’s a new day for Utah’s Red Rock country,” said Heidi McIntosh of Earthjustice.  “This far-reaching decision means BLM can no longer dismiss the value of wilderness, scenery, wildlife, and areas of cultural importance to Native Americans in favor of destructive ORV use.”

    “This decision sends an irrefutable message to the BLM about the need for responsible management of the 11 million acres of public lands covered by all 6 challenged plans,” said Nada Culver, Senior Counsel for The Wilderness Society. “The BLM should heed this as a call to action and move forward now to address these flaws in all of the plans – minimizing damage from off-road vehicles and protecting natural and cultural values.”

    “We’re thrilled by the district court’s decision,” said Bill Hedden, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Trust.  “BLM’s refusal to conduct on-the-ground inventories for cultural resources that are being damaged and destroyed from off-road vehicle use was shocking.  Federal law requires BLM to do more to protect these irreplaceable cultural treasures and we’re pleased that the judge ordered BLM to do so.”

     

    Background information on the Richfield RMP can be found on SUWA’s website.  Photographs of the proposed wilderness areas at risk in the Richfield field office are also available.  In 2008, the Salt Lake Tribune and New York Times panned the Richfield RMP, raising many of the same flaws identified in the court’s decision.

    The conservation groups challenging the BLM’s 2008 land use plans in Utah include the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utah Rivers Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, National Trust for Historic Preservation and Rocky Mountain Wild.

    The groups are represented by attorneys Stephen Bloch and David Garbett of SUWA; Heidi McIntosh, Robin Cooley and Alison Flint of Earthjustice; and by Robert Wiygul of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside.

  • July 30th, 2013

    Here’s what is happening this month with the redrock:
    1. The Utah state legislature’s anti-federal government campaign hits a brick wall called the U.S. Constitution.
    2. Take action for wild Utah this summer!
    3. SUWA’s annual Backyard Bash celebrates our community of citizen activists.
    4. The BLM has a lot of bad ideas for Utah public lands.
    5. Our challenge to a Bush-era land use plan is finally heard in court.

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