SUWA Action Alerts Archives


  • February 22nd, 2017

    The Bureau of Land Management’s Saint George field office is preparing to lease for oil and gas development approximately 4,730 acres of federal public land at its upcoming lease sale. Two of the parcels are located less than two miles from Zion National Park along the Kolob Terrace Road, a popular tourist route. Oil and gas development in this area will be visible from the gateway community of Virgin as well as from inside the park, threatening pristine night skies, air quality, and tourism.

    Looking east-southeast across lease parcels 42 and 43 at the outskirts of Zion National Park. Copyright Luke Henry/SUWA

    The BLM’s proposal to lease for oil and gas development on the doorstep of Utah’s most popular national park has been met, unsurprisingly, by strong opposition. Local residents packed the Virgin Community Center to express their concerns during a public meeting with BLM officials, and the Washington County Commission passed a resolution in opposition to the lease sale, noting that Zion National Park is “an internationally recognized showpiece” and “the scenic nature of the area surrounding [the park] contributes to the beauty, economy, and recreational values in Washington County.”

    The BLM is accepting public comments through March 9, 2017. Click here to submit comments now.

  • February 2nd, 2017

    After widespread public outcry from hunters, anglers, recreationists, and public lands enthusiasts across the country, Congressman Jason Chaffetz has promised to withdraw HR 621 — legislation that would have sold off millions of acres of public lands across the West. (There is no mechanism for withdrawing a bill once it’s been introduced, so we assume this means that, while it will remain on the books, he does not intend to advance it.)

    HR 621 identified 3.3 million acres of federal land across 10 states for disposal and subsequent sale (based off a dusty, 20-year-out-of-date Interior Department report), including 132, 931 acres in Utah. What Chaffetz’s bill neglected to mention is that the report also specified that many of those parcels contain a number of “impediments to disposal,” including the presence of cultural, historical, and paleontological resources as well as endangered plant and animal species. Thankfully, citizens across the country who treasure these public lands flooded the congressman’s office with calls and hosted two rallies in Montana and New Mexico to voice their outrage at what would have been nothing short of a land grab, leading the congressman to withdraw the legislation late Wednesday night.

    This is a major victory for public lands and a testament to the power of grassroots activism, but the broader fight surrounding the fate of our nation’s natural treasures is far from over.

    In disavowing HR 621, Congressman Chaffetz said nothing about another piece of legislation he introduced last week. HR 622, the “Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act,” would eliminate roughly 300 law enforcement officials at the BLM and another 700 at the Forest Service and replace them with deputized local officials. Such actions would effectively curtail the agencies’ ability to ensure public safety as well as protect the critical wildlife, ecosystems, cultural sites, and other important resources of our nation’s most beloved landscapes.

    In the backdrop of all of this, the Utah delegation continues to wage war on our national monuments and the very law that made them possible, the Antiquities Act of 1906. Representatives Bishop and Chaffetz have repeatedly lobbied the Trump administration to overturn the 1.35-million acre Bears Ears National Monument and eliminate sizeable portions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as well. These incredibly special landscapes—places of recreation, inspiration, reflection, joy, and discovery—remain in grave danger.

    In short, the battle to protect our public lands in the 115th Congress has only just begun. SUWA will fight our opponents every step of the way and we’ll keep you posted as new threats emerge. In the meantime, let’s continue to remind Congressman Chaffetz that public lands should be preserved for the benefit of the many instead of sold off for the sake of a few.

    If you live in Chaffetz’s district, call his office (DC: 202-225-7751, UT: 801-851-2500) and thank him for doing the right thing on HR 621, but insist that he must also withdraw HR 622 and support the Bears Ears National Monument!

  • December 16th, 2016

    Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM), one of Utah’s most untamed landscapes and the “crown jewel” of the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System, today faces a new threat from the very agency tasked with protecting it from human-caused harm.

    In the BLM’s latest push to drastically manipulate the West’s high desert ecosystems using large-scale vegetation “improvement” projects, the agency is proposing to permanently alter Grand Staircase’s wild landscape through aggressive removal of existing plant communities.

    Tell the BLM to drop its destructive proposal and honor its obligation to protect the monument.

    The Skutumpah Terrace habitat manipulation proposal covers 19,000 acres of public land within the monument, including over 14,000 acres of land proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.  In a scientifically questionable wildlife management scheme, the BLM’s GSENM field office is proposing to convert existing vegetation into a more open sagebrush habitat through a variety of ground-disturbing methods. This may include removing pinyon pine and juniper with chainsaws and using large machinery to masticate and shred existing trees, mechanically ripping up dense stands of sagebrush, and using herbicide to maintain these more invasive treatments.

    The areas affected by this proposed project contain some of the most unique and stunning scenery in the state. Dense sagebrush and pinyon-juniper vegetation frame expansive views of the adjacent White Cliffs, a dazzling escarpment that forms a rugged backdrop for this exceptionally wild landscape.

    Click here to tell the BLM to preserve our nation’s natural wonders, not destroy them.

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    White Cliffs, copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    This proposed project is egregious not only because it occurs within some of the most breathtaking country in Utah, but because it falls entirely within the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated for the express purpose of ensuring that its remote, undeveloped, and rugged nature remains for generations.

    Although the BLM has not yet conducted its full environmental analysis for the proposed project, we are concerned that the agency will not take into account the fact that these massive landscape gardening projects have very little scientific support. The agency must demonstrate, conclusively, that projects of this nature can actually be successful before continuing down the path of extensive soil disturbance and destruction of native vegetation and wilderness-quality lands.

    Please tell the BLM to stop this proposed project and adhere to its duty to protect public lands in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    Thank you.

  • September 22nd, 2016

    Today, the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee “marked up” Rep. Rob Bishop’s terrible Public Lands Initiative (PLI)—the bill that seeks to roll back federal land protections, unleash a fossil fuel bonanza, and give away lands belonging to all Americans to the State of Utah.  As if that isn’t reckless enough, the bill fails to protect even half of the region’s deserving wilderness and it utterly fails to respect the efforts of five united Native American tribes to secure meaningful protection for the Bears Ears region—a landscape rich in cultural and natural wonders.

    A “mark up” is a congressional procedure in which members are supposed to take the information they learn from witnesses at a hearing and apply that information by attempting to improve the bill through amendments. Several wilderness champions in the House did just that, offering amendments that would spruce up the PLI and at least bring it into accordance with the Wilderness Act, the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and several other federal laws that are undermined by Bishop’s bill. Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Raul Ruiz (D-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) all offered up commonsense amendments to repair just some of the bill’s significant environmental flaws, and argued admirably against the bill’s harmful provisions. It was apparent that they listened to the testimonies and worked to fix the bill accordingly.

    If any of them are your Representatives, please call their offices and thank them for fighting the PLI today! The Capitol Switchboard is 202-224-3121. You can also watch the debate here.

    USEME_PLIvsBEmemeWhiteCanyonStructure
    Rep. Bishop, for his part, ignored last week’s testimony by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management opposing the bill, ignored the testimony of Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, a member of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition (also opposing the bill), and continued to ignore the voices of other tribes, conservationists, and the more that 300 million Americans that own the public lands in question.

    In fact, the only amendment Rep. Bishop offered to his bill was one for technical changes—fixing typos, grammatical errors and the like. It was the only amendment of the day that passed, and in Rep. Bishop’s hopelessly stacked committee, the bill eventually passed too, on a party line vote.

    But don’t worry. From here on out, the Public Lands Initiative has no chance.

    As pointed out by Reps. Grijalva, Tsongas, and Lowenthal, the bill simply will not advance in the Senate. It contains too many poison pills, too many egregious violations of bedrock environmental law, too little wilderness, and too little compromise for that body to approve. But let’s say, just for argument, that it did pass the Senate. What president is going to sign into law a bill that was opposed by multiple agencies within his or her own administration? Do you think President Obama, who has protected more public lands in his time in the Oval Office than any of his predecessors, would sign into law the PLI, which imperils millions of acres of deserving wilderness?

    The simple answer is no. He wouldn’t do that. So the PLI is doomed, dead, failed. And it’s too bad, because we spent precious years working on it in earnest before it became obvious the bill would go nowhere good.

    Now the focus must turn to what still is achievable: protecting the 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument that has been requested by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. Throughout the PLI discussions, it has often been said by the Utah delegation that everyone agrees the Bears Ears region deserves protection. And we certainly do. Now that it’s clear the PLI cannot do the job, President Obama should step in. Click here to send a message asking him to Protect Bears Ears now!

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