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  • August 30th, 2018

    More than 300 passionate wilderness advocates poured into the Salt Lake City Main Library for the People’s Hearing on the San Rafael Swell last night. The auditorium filled to overflowing as Utahns showed up to call for greater protection for the San Rafael Swell and surrounding wild lands.

    Speaker after speaker described how the Emery County Public Land Management Act (H.R. 5727/S. 2089) fails to do justice to the globally significant wild lands in the San Rafael Swell and nearby Labyrinth and Desolation Canyons. The Act could determine the future of 1.5 million acres of scenically spectacular wildlands that are also laden with cultural artifacts, including extraordinary rock art.

    Frustrated by the failure of Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative John Curtis to provide a meaningful opportunity for people outside Emery County to help shape a public lands bill for the region, the Utah Wilderness Coalition and fifteen other organizations hosted the “People’s Hearing” so those outside the county could express their views. Senator Hatch and Representative Curtis were invited but declined to attend.

    Scott Groene, Executive Director of SUWA, started off the evening by describing how the proposed Emery County bill is actually a step backwards for conservation. “The bill is worse than the status quo,” said Groene. “[It] would designate less wilderness than already has protection as Wilderness Study Areas or Natural Areas. Over 900,000 acres of deserving wild lands are left unprotected as wilderness. At the same time, the bill makes off-road vehicle abuse worse by enshrining 800 miles of off-road vehicle routes, effectively perpetuating an old, illegal and overturned travel plan.”

    Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski decried the Emery County bill as a “long-term plan to rip up this landscape” and criticized the Utah delegation for failing to provide opportunities for public input. “Without this People’s Hearing happening here tonight,” she said, “there is no public forum on this issue.”

    Shaun Chapoose, member and former chairman of the Ute Tribal Business Committee, described the bill as “another attack on our tribal lands and resources.  Another modern day Indian land grab just like Congressman Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative from a couple of years ago.”  He added, “The Ute Indian Tribe is yet another voice that did not get a seat at the table when they were drafting this bill. We found out about the bill in the days before it was introduced.”

    Chapoose, who also encouraged the crowd to become good stewards of the land they occupy, received a standing ovation from the crowd.

    “In the morning when you get up, when the sun is just rising over the mountains, when the animals are already up: how many people take that for granted?  If we do not take care of the land, people will look back in the future and say people should have done something to take care of this land.”  —Shaun Chapoose

    Lauren Wood, a third generation river runner who helps her family operate Holiday River Expeditions, an outdoor adventure company, said the company was not asked for their input, despite the fact that they have been based primarily in Emery County since 1973 and operate rafting and biking trips in the San Rafael Swell, Desolation Canyon, and Labyrinth Canyonall wild areas affected by the bill. “They speak of public process but those cherry-picked to represent the ‘public’ do not represent the whole, and the whole is exactly what we need if we hope to have a chance in this beautiful and very climate changing state.”

    “You can’t protect the lower drainage of a river and not protect the canyons and creeks that drain into it; the impact to the resource is cumulative.  Land parcels, like stakeholders, can’t be cherry-picked if we want a chance for a legitimate future for wilderness or communities in our backyard.” —Lauren Wood

    Dennis Willis, who worked for over 30 years as a rangeland, recreation and wilderness planner with the Bureau of Land Management in the region, called the bill “a minimalist approach to wilderness.” Willis described how the baseline for the bill was not an authentic assessment of how many acres of wilderness-quality lands actually exist in Emery County, but a “totally discredited, bogus and flawed inventory” from the 1980s. Willis decried the Utah delegation’s complete deference to the local county commission.

    “The local voice is important, but it shouldn’t be the only voice. Yellowstone should not be managed by residents of Cody, Wyoming.”  —Dennis Willis

    Jerry Spangler, a professional archaeologist and executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, described how the bill will irrevocably damage archaeological sites in the area. “They want to permanently designate vehicle routes as open without doing the surveys necessary to find out if those routes will harm archaeological sites. Yet we know from past experience that hundreds and hundreds of sites could be harmed, and the courts have ordered them to complete inventories.” Spangler highlighted the Molen Reef area, a landscape rich in Native American rock art, that the bill would throw open to oil and gas leasing. “Only 1% of the area has been inventoried,” he said.

    “The BLM has never gone out and looked. If they did, they would find a wealth of very important rock art sites. You can’t manage if you don’t have that information.”  —Jerry Spangler

    Samuel Graham, an immigrant from Venezuela who made Utah home “to be closer to the clarity of spirit which the desert provides,” said “for constituents like me, public lands are the only place we can escape the demands of the city.”

    “Originally, my family and I fled Venezuela, a country which lost the moral battle for its people. The first class I attended was civics, where I learned about the values of America and the symbols that represent those values: Statue of Liberty for diversity, our constitution to empower people, the vast untouched West to represent the spirit. Now the battle for America’s morality is here and it starts with protecting our public lands.”  —Samuel Graham

    Robert Davies, physicist and climate change educator, detailed how the bill failed to consider the need to protect large landscapes to help avoid, and mitigate, the impacts of climate change.  “Much of the damage we have done cannot be undone. But so much damage yet to come can be prevented. We know how: species need habitat,” said Davies.  “Astute public policy would keep this habitat, and the whole of the Swell, intact and unbroken.”

    Many more individual citizens spoke on behalf of protecting the San Rafael Swell.  A few highlights:

    “These lands are why people live here, why people come here. We don’t have a coal plant on our license plate. We have an arch and a skier.”
    —Peter Jensen

    Like other redrock pilgrims, I’ve run Desolation Canyon, I’ve hiked down Muddy Creek with my family. I’ve clambered through slot canyons sliced through the Reef. I’ve come upon wild horses at Cedar Mountain on my way to camp on the Moroni Slopes. I’ve photographed the Black Dragon pictograph and that universe of Native spirituality pecked into the cliffs at the Rochester rock art site. This bill does not adequately protect these astonishing landscapes.” —Stephen Trimble

    “I want to speak for the people who inhabited the Swell a long time ago and who left behind galleries and galleries of irreplaceable rock art. The Emery County bill gives no protection for this precious part of all our heritage.”
    —Diane Orr, Utah Rock Art and Research Association

    “I would like to ask Senator Hatch and Representative Curtis, have you seen the San Rafael Swell?  When you are out in the quiet and solitude of Mother Earth, do you feel the divine spirit?  I ask you to search your soul and see if this bill should be set aside.”
    —Ty Markham, Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance

  • July 26th, 2018

    203,000 Acres of Remote and Wild Lands Including in the San Rafael Desert and Dirty Devil Regions to be Auctioned Off for Oil and Gas Leasing and Development

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

    For Immediate Release
    July 26, 2018

    Contact:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991
    Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.807.6918
    Carly Ferro, Sierra Club, 801.467.9294 x100
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202.513.6263

    Salt Lake City: Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced its plans to offer 109 leases, consisting of 203,321 acres of federal public land, for oil and gas development, including 158,944 acres of public lands in the heart of Utah’s San Rafael Desert and northern Dirty Devil region. BLM’s latest assault on Utah’s wild lands is entirely in lockstep with the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda and will sacrifice some of Utah’s wildest and most remote landscapes in pursuit of this quixotic goal. Photographs of the San Rafael Desert are available here. A map of the parcels up for auction is available here.

    “This is a textbook example of what Trump’s ‘energy dominance’ agenda looks like in Utah, a full-on assault against one of our state’s wildest places” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The oil and gas industry has been trying to get its hands on this remote, wild corner of Utah’s redrock country for years and we’ve fought them off. They’re not going to get it this time either without a fight.”

    At its September 2018 lease sale, BLM will auction off parcels overlapping (and adjacent to) Highway 24 the main access route to Goblin Valley State Parkas well as parcels less than two miles from the Horseshoe Canyon extension of Canyonlands National Park (and only a few miles farther from the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Canyonlands National Park). The National Park Service has stated that Horseshoe Canyon “contains some of the most significant rock art in North America.” This includes the “Great Gallerya world-renowned panel of well-preserved life-sized figures with intricate designs.

    “BLM’s ‘lease-everything, lease-everywhere’ oil and gas agenda will have significant long-term impacts to Utah’s wild public lands,” said Landon Newell, Staff Attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The clean air, expansive vistas, quite stillness, and sense of wildness enjoyed in these areas will be lost to the sights and sounds of industrial development including pumpjacks, drill rigs, and natural gas flaring.”

    “BLM is focusing on leasing to the exclusion of all other multiple uses,” said Nada Culver, Senior Counsel and Director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “This process has shown a disturbing lack of concern for the invaluable resources and experiences that will be lost, and hasn’t taken into account input from the American public.”

    “Our public lands are being sold out with little to no concern for the public will or well-being, allowing oil and gas drilling to eat up wild places and encroach further on parks like Canyonlands. This foolhardy rush to mine and drill every possible acre could have irreparable consequences for our health, environment and climate,” said Ashley Soltysiak, Director of Utah Sierra Club.

    In its rush to auction off these remarkable public lands, BLM drastically reduced opportunities for public involvement. The agency allowed for only a fifteen-day public “scoping” period but provided little more than a few maps for public review. BLM provided no opportunity for the public to review or comment on the draft environmental assessments and reduced the public protest period (which started today) from 30 days to 10 days.

    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 currently 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 September 2018 lease sale is available here.

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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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