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  • July 16th, 2018

    Proposed Sale of More than 300K Acres Threatens Wild Utah Federal Public Lands

    SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE * THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY * NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL

    For Immediate Release
    July 16, 2018

    Contact:
    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991
    Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4635
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202.513.6263

    Salt Lake City: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today initiated the largest sale of oil and gas leases on federal public lands throughout Utah in a decade. At its upcoming December 2018 lease sale, BLM plans to auction off 231 oil and gas lease parcels totaling nearly 300,000 acres of federal public lands and minerals, including parcels in Utah’s wild Book Cliffs, the White River, Labyrinth Canyon and Four Corners region. Taken together, these parcels cut a wide swath through Utah’s cultural, hunting, and wilderness legacy. Photographs of these places and many other wild places being proposed for sale at this upcoming sale are available here.  A map of the proposed lease parcels in the Book Cliffs and Uinta Basin is here.

    The public will not have adequate opportunity to weigh in on this enormous sale. With direction from Interior Secretary Zinke, BLM is shortening the time the public has to review and protest BLM’s proposal from 30 days to 10 days, after first eliminating the public comment period on its environmental analysis altogether. These steps are part of Secretary Zinke’s “leasing reforms,” which aim to remove perceived roadblocks between fossil fuel energy developers.

    “This is what Trump’s ‘energy dominance’ agenda looks like in Utah,” said Steve Bloch, Legal Director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Oil and gas operators win. Everyone else loses. The American public loses the opportunity to enjoy solitude, clear air and hunt and fish – which will be lost to the smog of industrial development.”  “We also lose opportunities to camp, hike, or float on public lands and waters without the intrusive sounds of pumpjacks and haul trucks.”

    In addition to the sell-off of wilderness-caliber and culturally rich lands, BLM plans to lease roughly 100 parcels in or near the Uinta Basin region, which the Environmental Protection Agency recently designated as in “nonattainment” of national air quality standards for ozone. The Uinta Basin suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation, a result largely due to BLM’s ineffective and lax management of oil and gas leasing and development. Rather than take steps to bring the Uinta Basin into compliance with air quality standards, BLM is rushing forward faster than ever to sell-off public lands in the Basin for exploration and development.

    “We will not stand idly by as BLM sells-off Utah’s public lands heritage to the highest bidder,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM’s closed-door fire sale of Utah’s remarkable red rock wilderness will not go unchecked and it will not survive judicial review.”

    “BLM’s historic practice of leaving the vast majority of our public lands and minerals available for leasing makes so many precious lands vulnerable to irresponsible leasing decisions, like those proposed for the December lease sale,” said Nada Culver, Director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “This administration is directing the agency to ignore its responsibilities to the American people, turning public lands over to the oil and gas industry that are more valuable for other uses.”

    “This sweeping sale is a serious wake up call to the American people, who own these cherished public lands,” said Bobby McEnaney, Senior Deputy Director of the Dirty Energy Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.  “Selling off our special places to fossil fuel interests is a one way street–we won’t get these beautiful places back. These sensitive lands should be withdrawn from the lease sale, and the public is entitled to have a meaningful opportunity to weigh in on this bad idea.”

    There is no need to sacrifice Utah’s remarkable wild places for oil and gas leasing and development. Utah, like most western states, has a surplus of BLM-managed lands that are under lease but not in development–with only forty-five percent of its total leased land in development.  There were approximately 2.5 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development (here—follow hyperlink for Table 2 Acreage in Effect) at the close of BLM’s 2017 fiscal year. At the same time, oil and gas companies had less than 1.2 million acres of those leased lands in production (here – follow hyperlink for Table 6 Acreage of Producing Leases). More information regarding BLM’s December 2018 lease sale is available here.

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  • July 13th, 2018

    Proposed approval is yet another signal of the Administration’s lack of support for our public lands

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    July 13, 2018

    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3981

    SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Today, the Trump Administration once again turned its back on protecting our nation’s public lands by supporting the proposed Alton mine expansion, which is dangerously close to Bryce Canyon National Park. If the proposal is approved, it will increase the mine by 3,600 acres– the equivalent of over 2,700 football fields– to access an additional 45-million tons of coal, which is two-million tons of coal each year. The coal strip mine expansion would occur only 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. Among other impacts, it would potentially destroy breeding grounds relied on by the southernmost population of Greater Sage Grouse in North America.

    Suggested approval of this coal mine comes at a time when Utah is moving toward a clean energy economy. Salt Lake City, Moab, Park City and Summit County all committed to 100% clean energy goals and the state’s rooftop solar industry continues to boom. The Trump Administration didn’t consider these factors or the unprecedented amount — over 280,000 public comments–  filed in opposition of the proposal.

    The final environmental impact study from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is forthcoming. There will be a 30 day public comment period following the release of the study.

    The below statement is a reaction from Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Sierra Club:

    “The Trump Administration has repeatedly put corporate interests ahead of the American people in issues of public land management, so this is a disappointment but certainly not a surprise. Our organizations remain strongly committed to protecting the climate and the landscape, environment and cultural resources in southern Utah. Some places are simply too special to mine—this is one of them.  The doorstep to Bryce Canyon National Park should be preserved for the benefit of all visitors, rather than turned over to the highest corporate bidder.”

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  • April 24th, 2018

    Reports From the Field is a blog of SUWA’s Field Volunteers, accounting experiences, reflections and activism from time spent in direct service of Utah’s wild and public lands. 

    When hiking and exploring Bears Ears National Monument, it is easy to lose oneself in the beauty and isolation of its many canyons. The serene beauty found in the region now widely associated with the Bears’ Ears buttes is one of the main appeals of this landscape. However, a scan of the canyon walls and alcoves reveals glimpses into the distinctive and vibrant cultural history of the region. While many call Bears Ears a wilderness, it was called home by generations of indigenous peoples, whose artwork, architecture, and objects of daily life may still be found throughout the Bears Ears cultural landscape. As an archaeologist, I can attest to the scientific significance of these sites, but more importantly these are places of cultural identity and spiritual importance to descendant Native American communities.

    Ruins visible from a great distance across the canyon expanse.

    I had the chance earlier this month to explore one such cultural space with a backcountry cleanup project organized by SUWA at Fish and Owl Canyon. Our crew of volunteer scientists and professionals performed trail maintenance, cleaned out and dispersed illegal fire pit rings, and carried out trash left by hikers. All the while, we were witness to archaeological sites throughout the canyons. A granary tucked beneath a rock overhang. A scatter of ceramic sherds on a talus slope. A stark white pictograph above a habitation site.

    Increasingly rare potsherds indicate the cultural landscape of the canyons.

    These were all created by the Ancestral Pueblo culture over 700 years ago, amid a time of social unrest and environmental uncertainty. The placement of dwellings in nearly inaccessible canyon alcoves has been interpreted by many archaeologists as an indicator that defense and security were a priority for the people who called these canyons home. Our small contingent approached one such site, but were appropriately foiled by the steepness of the surrounding slickrock. Even amid a time of uncertainty, the people who dwelt in Fish and Owl Canyons still filled their lives with beauty, craftsmanship, and sustenance, as seen in pictographs adorning the canyon walls, black-on-white ceramic sherds found beneath a site, and corn cobs lying on a dry alcove floor.

    I first hiked Owl Canyon in 2009 and remembered well the ruins, rock art, and artifacts found throughout the canyon. On this return trip I was happy to see that the ruins and rock art appeared undamaged and still in good condition. However, I was disturbed to find the wealth of ceramic sherds that once adorned sites were largely gone. In less than a decade, a deluge of visitors had carried away these pieces of the Bears Ears cultural landscape. As we all continue to fight for the legal protection of Bears Ears, it is just as important to continue to educate a public unfamiliar with the proper etiquette required to visit cultural sites. Our cleanup work helped reverse recent human impact on the canyon environment, but a respect for the cultural legacies of Bears Ears is essential for the continued preservation of this landscape.

    Our responsibility resides in the honoring and protection of a cultural legacy.

     

    Maxwell Forton, Archaeologist
    Binghamton University

  • March 9th, 2018

    What happens when the government is controlled by friends of the oil/gas/mining industry and decides that public lands should be destroyed for short-term rewards? People get angry, and that anger turns to ACTION. Earlier this week, Congress heard from 30 impassioned activists in Washington, D.C. during the Utah Wilderness Coalition’s annual Wilderness Week, co-hosted by SUWA, Sierra Club, and NRDC.

    Wilderness Week activists in front of the U.S. Capitol this past week.

    After an extensive training session covering the ins and outs of lobbying, Utah wilderness issues, and the legislative process, activists took to Capitol Hill to put their newfound skills to good use. Teams scheduled over 200 meetings with members of Congress. In office after office, their stories of the redrock reinvigorated old legislative champs, educated new ones, and challenged the assertions of opponents.

    Now we’re asking you to amplify their voices and help keep up the momentum.

    Click here to ask your members of Congress to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and oppose the Curtis and Stewart national monument giveaway bills!

    A love for the redrock drove these activists to share their personal stories and connections to the landscape during their meetings on the Hill. Whether they grew up near Utah’s magnificent public lands, hiked through slot canyons on family vacations, or have a deep cultural connection to the landscape, their stories struck a chord in many offices.

    For those of you reading this who were not able to attend Wilderness Week, there is still a part for you to play. No matter where you live, contact your members of Congress and tell them to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act!

    If they are already cosponsors, click here to thank them!

    Or if you prefer to contact your members via your smartphone, text “ARRWA” to 52886 to take action now!

    To find out if your members of Congress have already endorsed America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, click here for the current list of cosponsors

    Thank you!

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