Uncategorized Archives - Page 8 of 10


  • February 25th, 2015

    Here are some “good news” stories that you may have missed over the past few weeks. Any one of these things, standing alone, would be reason to cheer. Taken together, you might agree that fortune is smiling on us.

    • Appeals Board upholds BLM decision not to lease San Rafael Swell for oil and gas. Last week, an Interior Department appeals board upheld Utah BLM State Director Juan Palma’s decision not to offer certain parcels at the November 2013 oil and gas lease sale. Oil and gas companies had hoped to bid on and develop thousands of acres in the San Rafael Swell, but Director Palma made the right decision to withdraw those lands from sale. Thank you to everyone who helped us protect these wild lands in the San Rafael Swell, including the more than 200 wilderness supporters who gathered outside the BLM headquarters in September 2013 chanting “No wells in the Swell.”
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    More than 200 wilderness supporters gathered outside the BLM headquarters in September 2013 to protest oil and gas leases offered in the San Rafael Swell. State BLM Director Juan Palma wisely withdrew the leases, and that decision has just been upheld by an Interior Deptartment appeals board.

    • Federal court rejects industry challenge of Salazar decision to withdraw 77 leases from Dec 2008 lease sale. On February 12th a federal district court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought in 2009 by some of the high bidders who challenged Secretary Salazar’s decision to withdraw 77 leases from the infamous December 2008 oil and gas lease sale.  This should be the end of the line for the industry-led litigation challenging this lease sale.
    • Wild and culturally significant lands taken off the chopping block. Last week, Utah BLM State Director Juan Palma announced his decision not to offer over twenty oil and gas leases in proposed wilderness and other culturally significant lands. Director Palma also deferred leasing about a dozen parcels in the so-called “state roadless area” (located in the Book Cliffs and a popular area for backcountry hunting) at the request of the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. Predictably, oil and gas trade groups complained about this decision but the fact of the matter is that nearly 4 million acres of BLM-managed lands in Utah are under lease while just around 1 million acres are in development. There simply is no shortage of leased lands!
    • Only 11 oil and gas rigs operating in Utah. The number of operating oil and gas rigs in Utah has dropped by more than half from this time last year (26 rigs in Feb 2014, 11 rigs in Feb 2015). The rigs that remain in operation are largely concentrated in well developed areas in the Uintah Basin (Utah’s “oil patch”) which means fewer threats to proposed wilderness . . . for now (we’ll take it!).

     

     

  • February 5th, 2015

    The Utah congressional delegation has announced it will release a draft lands bill on March 27th as part of the Public Lands Initiative (PLI). The PLI refers to discussions Representative Bishop initiated several years ago with the goal of resolving public land issues in eastern Utah, including designating wilderness and settling the State of Utah’s massive RS 2477 litigation. More than 6 million acres of wilderness are at stake, from Brown’s Park in the north down to Cedar Mesa in the south.

    SUWA staff have traveled and spent considerable time in discussions trying to reach agreement with the delegation and counties, and we have appreciated open communications with the Utah congressional staff.

    To date, there has been only one agreement reached between the delegation, the governor, wilderness advocates (including SUWA), and county officials. This agreement, affecting Daggett County in northeast Utah, was a net conservation gain and a landmark moment. It was announced in a ceremony at the state capitol last November, and we were proud to participate with Representative Bishop and Governor Herbert.

    We hope to reach more such landmark agreements. We are in ongoing discussions with Uintah County, where much of the public land has been impacted by oil and gas development, but there remain critical wilderness landscapes such as Upper Desolation Canyon and the Bitter Creek complex that must be protected. We are also working with Summit County and are nearing an agreement that would expand the High Uintas Wilderness Area.

    However, to date, there have been no Daggett County-type discussions in Emery, Grand, or San Juan counties — counties that include Desolation Canyon, the San Rafael Swell, Labyrinth Canyon, Indian Creek, White Canyon, Valley of the Gods, and some of the most spectacular wild landscapes on the planet. Carbon and Wayne counties dropped out of the process early on, and meaningful discussions have not taken place in either.

    We remain ready and willing to continue dialogue with the delegation and governor in order to protect the redrock, although we’re a bit surprised that discussions are being short cut. We’ll let you know as soon as we receive a copy of the new proposal — like you, we’re very curious to see what the Utah delegation proposes. So stay tuned for March 27th.

  • January 22nd, 2015

    This morning in Salt Lake City, former Secretary of the Interior and Governor of Arizona Bruce Babbitt called out Utah Governor Gary Herbert for leading the charge to seize control of federal public lands.

    Speaking to a packed audience of outdoor recreation industry representatives from across the county at the Outdoor Retailers Show, Babbitt noted that “Governor Herbert has proclaimed his personal enthusiasm for casting off federal environmental regulation” and warned that “the disappearance of outdoor spaces is an existential threat to your industry.”

    It’s also an existential threat to our way of life here in Utah. Like Babbitt, we “can’t imagine the West… as a landscape of locked gates, fences festooned with “NO TRESPASSING” signs, streams blocked off to fishermen, and campgrounds and hunting lands put on the auction block.”

    If you live in Utah, can you make sure Bruce Babbitt’s message is heard throughout Utah by sending an email to your state legislators today?

    If you live outside of Utah, please ask your representatives to stand up to protect Utah’s redrock country by cosponsoring America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act today.

    Your voice is important. For too long, radicals like State Representative Ken Ivory have been given free reign to push their privatizing public lands agenda.

    And while we’ve seen these types of attacks before, as Bruce Babbitt noted, “this time around the threat must be taken more seriously” because it “is a national effort, sponsored and produced behind-the-scenes by sophisticated lobbyists funded with torrents of cash from the oil and gas industry.

    “These new players are easing resentful racist characters like Cliven Bundy off the stage. They are bringing on political pros backed by groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, funded from industry sources and seeking to dismantle environmental regulation.”

    Please, make sure your voice is heard over the industry lobbyists in Salt Lake City.

  • December 10th, 2014

    The beautiful Indian Creek area to the east of Canyonlands National Park is once again threatened by a proposed all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trail. Please tell the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to deny San Juan County’s request for a right-of-way to construct this unnecessary trail.

    On two previous occasions we’ve notified you of San Juan County’s request for a right-of-way to construct a new ATV trail in the Indian Creek area. Based on overwhelming public opposition to the new trail, BLM has twice “revised” its Environmental Assessment (EA) by adding new alternative route alignments. Unfortunately, instead of taking the prudent path and choosing the “No Action” alternative, BLM continues trying to develop alternative alignments that will nevertheless result in the construction of a new ATV trail.

    Bridger Jack Messa.  Photo credit: Ecoflight

    Bridger Jack Mesa. Photo credit: EcoFlight

    In the latest EA, all of the alternative alignments for the ATV route will cross through lands identified by BLM as possessing wilderness characteristics; will facilitate increased ATV use in areas bordering the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, such as Bridger Jack Mesa, Lavender Canyon, and Davis Canyon; and will result in increased user conflicts in an area that is primarily enjoyed by quiet recreationists such as rock climbers, hikers, and backpackers. The ATV trail could also adversely affect Indian Creek – a desert stream that supports a variety of wildlife species as it meanders through the redrock and high desert grasslands on its way to the Colorado River.

    The Indian Creek area, located on the east side of Canyonlands National Park and south of Moab, Utah, is famous for its dramatic and sheer Wingate Sandstone cliffs, and is an internationally-known and treasured rock climbing destination. Beyond the sheer walls, as Indian Creek continues its journey downstream towards Indian Creek Falls and its eventual confluence with the Colorado River, ATV users enjoy many miles of trails that provide for recreational adventures and exploration of the vast Canyonlands basin.

    Even though the BLM has designated more than 3,000 miles of motorized routes in San Juan County, including dozens of routes in and near the Indian Creek area, the county is requesting a right-of-way for yet another trail “which connects to ATV use occurring on designated routes in the Lockhart Basin area and . . . provide[s] a recreational opportunity for ATV enthusiasts by precluding use of OHVs [off-highway vehicles] which are wider than 65 inches.”

    The Indian Creek corridor is a world-class scenic and recreation destination and should be managed as such. There is absolutely no reason the BLM should relinquish its control over these spectacular public lands by granting a right-of-way to San Juan County for the construction of a new, superfluous ATV route. This is especially true given the hundreds of miles of motorized routes that already exist in the Canyonlands basin.

    There’s a reason the proposed ATV trail has raised concern from conservationists, quiet recreation user groups, and the National Park Service; the proposal simply does not make sense from any perspective other than through the lens of increasing ATV use in the Indian Creek area.  Increasing motorized use in a world-class scenic and recreation area, which also serves as the gateway to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, is a shortsighted management approach by BLM. As such, the agency should uphold its responsibility to all public land users by choosing the “No Action” alternative.

    Please tell BLM, by December 18, 2014, to not grant a right-of-way for this unnecessary ATV route in the Indian Creek area by choosing the “No Action” alternative.

    With your help, we can stem the tide of ATV abuse in redrock country and preserve the scenic and wilderness qualities of the Indian Creek area.

  • December 3rd, 2014

    Dismisses Utah claims to 6 routes and concludes width of 3 other routes must be revisited

    Salt Lake City, Utah (December 3, 2014) – Yesterday, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a key decision in the State of Utah’s ongoing roads (RS 2477) litigation.

    North Swag RS 2477 Claim (vertical)

    RS 2477 “highway” in Kane County.

    The appeals court cut in half a 2013 decision by a district court judge to grant Utah and Kane County 12 so-called RS 2477 rights-of-way. The appeals court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over 6 of the 12 routes because they were open for motorized travel pursuant to federal land use plans. The court also reversed the district court’s “scope” (width) determinations regarding 3 other routes located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and remanded for further proceedings.

    “This decision is a significant set-back for the State of Utah’s effort to wrest control of more than 14,000 claimed ‘highways’ across federally managed lands in the state,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “After more than 10 years of litigation and millions of taxpayer dollars, Utah has little to show for its efforts. Of the 17 claimed RS 2477 rights-of-way litigated in two separate cases all the way to the Tenth Circuit, the State has established title to only 6 routes, leaving 13,983 routes to go.”

    The appeals court also rejected an argument advanced by conservation groups that the State’s RS 2477 claim in the Paria-Hackberry wilderness study area was filed too late and after the relevant 12-year statute of limitations had run.

    After being denied intervention in these proceedings, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society participated as amicus curiae before both the district court and court of appeals. The Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, and National Parks Conservation Association also participated as amicus curiae in separate filings before the appeals court.

    A copy of the decision is available here.

    Background
    Originally filed in 2008, Kane County and the State of Utah expended millions of dollars to pursue 16 claimed rights-of-way in this lawsuit. Several of the claims are located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and one is within a BLM wilderness study area.

    This case is one of 25 filed by the State of Utah and its counties that claim title to approximately 14,000 dirt trails and roads across the state. Many of these claims are little more than stream bottoms and old mining tracks in the desert that serve no practical purpose whatsoever. The State is relying on a provision in the Mining Act of 1866 to try and establish its claimed rights-of-way.

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