Uncategorized Archives - Page 7 of 12


  • January 4th, 2016

    SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE * EARTHJUSTICE

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    January 4, 2015
    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
    Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, 303.996.9611

    SALT LAKE CITY: Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, CO rejected a request by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to indefinitely delay surveys for cultural artifacts on public lands managed by the Richfield Field Office in Utah.  In May of 2015, environmentalists and historic preservation advocates secured a victory when a Utah federal district court judge ordered BLM to conduct on-the-ground surveys to identify cultural artifacts in need of protection on more than 4,000 miles of dirt roads and trails where BLM has permitted off-road vehicles to be driven.  The Tenth Circuit confirmed that BLM must comply.

    “This region is home to an abundance of archaeological resources, including caves, rock shelters, and rock art, that provide a window in to the lives of the early inhabitants of the Colorado Plateau,” said Kevin Jones, former Utah State Archaeologist.  “Off-road vehicles pose a serious threat to these irreplaceable resources.”

    The Richfield Field Office covers 2.1 million acres of red rock country in south-central Utah, largely sandwiched between Canyonlands National Park and Capitol Reef National Park.  This land is held sacred by Native American tribes, including the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi Tribe.  Thousands of significant cultural properties have been identified in the field office including structures, ceramics, petroglyphs, and lithic scatters.  In a land use plan adopted in late 2008, BLM gave the green light to off-road vehicles to drive on more than 4,000 miles of trails and tracks without first surveying them to ensure that these irreplaceable cultural resources would not be harmed by such use.

    “This is an important decision from the Tenth Circuit,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “In practical terms the ruling means that BLM can no longer delay following federal historic preservation laws which require the agency to ‘look before it leaps,’ and determine what irreplaceable cultural resources in the Richfield field office are at risk from off-road vehicle use.  Rather than some new requirement, this is work that BLM was required by law to have undertaken 15 years ago when it first began the Richfield plan.”

    Less than five percent of the public lands managed by the Richfield Field Office have been surveyed for cultural resources.  BLM is required to survey the routes designated for off-highway vehicle use within three years.

    “For decades, BLM has allowed off-road vehicles to carve up the landscape without first ensuring that the remnants of region’s rich history are preserved,” said Robin Cooley, Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups.  “The court’s order means that BLM will finally have to take the steps required by law to identify and protect cultural artifacts.”

    BLM’s request to delay the cultural resource surveys was also opposed by the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Indian Peaks Band of Paiute, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Morning Star Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting native traditions, culture, and art.

    The Richfield land use plan is one of six plans—covering more than 11 million acres—adopted at the end of the George W. Bush administration.  These plans were widely criticized for prioritizing motorized use and energy development over protection of Utah’s spectacular red rock canyon country.  The conservation and historic preservation groups have challenged all six plans in court.  The Richfield plan is the first to be litigated, but the plans all suffer from similar legal flaws.

    The conservation groups challenging the plans 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 at SUWA, Earthjustice, and Robert Wiygul of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside.

  • November 20th, 2015

    We have two good pieces of news to share as this week comes to a close.

    First, BLM’s Utah state office decided to postpone the November 2015 oil and gas lease sale and the offering of 36 parcels (totaling more than 36,000 acres) in the Vernal, Price and Fillmore field offices, as well as the Fishlake National Forest. Local activists had planned to protest the sale – arguing that the federal government should stop all oil, gas and coal leasing on public lands – and that caught the BLM off guard. The agency has said that it plans to hold this sale sometime in the near future.

    Lost in the shuffle was the fact that the BLM deferred 14 parcels in the Mussentuchit Badlands just north of Capitol Reef National Park, as well as a handful of other parcels in the San Rafael Swell, Nine Mile Canyon, and on the banks of the Green River. These parcels will NOT be part of the “make-up” auction.

    Given the longstanding surplus of federal lands already under lease, there is no pressing need for this lease sale or really any sales for the foreseeable future. Check out SUWA’s oil and gas fact sheet for more information.

    Second, a federal judge denied the BLM’s request to delay long overdue cultural resource surveys in the Henry Mountains and other parts of the Richfield field office. The agency had complained that complying with the judge’s order would be expensive, time consuming, and ultimately not really that important because many of the cultural sites are, in BLM’s estimation, low value. The BLM has told us it plans to file a similar “stay” motion with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. We’ll keep you posted.

    The Richfield resource management and travel plan designated over 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails for ORV use, threatening the solitude and wild character of places like the Henry Mountains proposed wilderness, above. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    Henry Mountains proposed wilderness. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

  • November 9th, 2015

    Despite the dramatic drop in natural gas and oil prices, the BLM is considering approval of a large-scale oil and gas development project in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness area in the heart of Utah’s West Tavaputs Plateau. The area targeted for development is part of the larger Desolation Canyon region, which, according to the BLM itself, contains “one of the largest blocks of roadless BLM public lands within the continental United States.”

    The BLM is accepting comments on this project through November 13th. Please tell the agency to keep oil and gas development out of the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness!

    Desolation Canyon  (Horse Bench), Ray Bloxham

    Horse Bench in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    XTO Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Exxon, is seeking approval to industrialize the remote and wild West Tavaputs by constructing and drilling up to 19 well pads, 175 natural gas wells, and miles of associated roads and pipelines. If the project is approved, the West Tavaputs will be dotted with pumpjacks, drill rigs, and haul trucks rather than greater sage-grouse, elk, mule deer, and black bear.

    Please ask the BLM to protect the wild heart of the West Tavaputs Plateau.

    Adding insult to injury, all vehicular traffic will have to wind its way through Nine Mile Canyon and up the dusty switchbacks of Cottonwood Canyon before reaching the proposed development area atop the West Tavaputs. Called “the world’s longest art gallery” by the BLM, Nine Mile Canyon is world-renowned for its abundance of historic and cultural sites, with more than 10,000 images etched onto its walls by prehistoric peoples. Dust from passing haul trucks could harm these irreplaceable treasures, and proposed roads would make the area more accessible to vandals.

    To date, the BLM has failed to properly analyze the potential impacts to these important resources or to consider the project’s influence on climate change. It has analyzed only XTO’s large-scale proposal and has not considered any alternatives, such as limiting the project’s surface disturbance footprint to areas outside greater sage-grouse habitat, or placing pipelines along existing disturbances.

    Click here to ask the BLM to properly analyze the impacts of XTO’s proposal and consider more appropriate alternatives.

     

     

  • October 13th, 2015

    The St. George BLM recently released its draft management plan for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs National Conservation Areas (NCAs) and is accepting public comments until November 16th.

    If you care about these areas, now is the time to act.

    As you may recall, the 2009 Washington County public lands bill (i.e., the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009) established the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs—both located in a unique corner of Utah where the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert ecosystems meet.  The NCAs were created to “conserve, protect, and enhance . . . the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources” of the designated lands.

    Red Cliffs NCA (Bob Wick)

    Red Cliffs NCA, copyright Bob Wick/BLM.

    Now, anti-conservation voices in Washington County have made it their goal to undermine any effort to protect wildlife and wilderness-quality lands through management of the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs.  They have attacked the BLM for proposing measures to ensure long-term conservation within the NCAs and have attempted to skew reality by arguing that the BLM must designate a highway corridor through the Red Cliffs NCA.

    Please tell the BLM to implement the highest level of protection for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs by November 16th.

    BLM’s Alternative C, the “conservation alternative,” would ensure long-term protection for wildlife and wilderness-quality lands.   These protections include:

    • Prohibiting a right-of-way for a highway corridor through the Red Cliffs NCA (the “Northern Corridor”), which was established for the purpose of protecting the Mojave desert tortoise (a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act).
    • Designating a multispecies wildlife corridor and removing the “open” motorized vehicle designation in the protected area.
    • Managing BLM-identified wilderness-quality lands for the protection of wilderness values.
    • Designating Areas of Critical Environmental Concern for threatened, endangered, and at-risk species.
    • Limiting new motorized and non-motorized recreational development.
    • Prohibiting new transmission and pipeline rights-of-way through protected areas.
    • Removing livestock grazing and livestock developments from the Beaver Dam Wash NCA.

    Click here to tell the BLM to prioritize conservation within the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs by implementing the highest level of protection for wildlife and wilderness-quality lands.

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