Uncategorized Archives - Page 9 of 11

  • 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.

    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.

  • November 5th, 2014

    Last night the Republican Party gained a majority in the U.S. Senate to match its existing control of the House of Representatives. Now what?

    For Utah wilderness, a shift in White House control generally means more than a reshuffled congressional deck, largely because of the Executive Branch’s control of land management agencies. But even off-year elections matter, and so will this one.

    Not all Republicans are bad on environmental issues, nor are all Democrats good. But when it comes to the Congress, the League of Conservation Voters paints a clear picture. In the first session of the 113th Congress, House Republicans’ votes were good for the environment just 5 percent of the time, with House Democrats scoring 87 percent on average. Senate Republicans scored an average of 17 percent; Senate Democrats 92 percent. It is bad news for the environment that the Republicans now run the Senate.

    For starters, the Republican majority may prevent the administration’s filling of federal court vacancies—any vacancy, no matter how qualified the appointee. And the Senate will no longer act as the reliable counterweight to terrible anti-environment bills coming from the House, a role it has played since the 2010 election.

    Digging through the ordure for the Shetland pony that must surely be here somewhere, we find some solace in the likelihood that an anti-environmental majority will likely last only two years, given the balance of Senate seats up in 2016. That overlaps the time remaining in President Barack Obama’s second term. Partisan warfare will probably intensify. If you were disgusted with the last Congress, the next one may send you around the bend.

    Some Senate races remain undecided. But even if Republicans win them, they’ll still be shy of the three-fifths majority needed to override Democratic filibusters and the two-thirds supermajority needed to override a presidential veto. Thus, the Republican leadership has indicated it will operate by attaching riders to major spending bills that the government needs to pass in order to operate—and spending bills are not subject to filibusters. Expect an anti-environmental majority to use this route to repeal Obama’s efforts to address climate change and to hobble the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce corporate pollution.

    As the House and Senate spend the next two years attacking President Obama, he could respond as Bill Clinton did by creating a legacy of protected American landscapes under the Antiquities Act. Please!

    Here in Utah, we’ll hope the congressional delegation continues discussions with us to seek resolution of tough wilderness issues through Mr. Bishop’s public lands initiative. We’ll also hope the new power balance will not tempt the delegation to follow some of our kookiest state legislators in their fencepost-dumb drive to seize public lands instead.

    Some specific races deserve mention. Sadly, Doug Owens, the son of the original Redrock Champion Wayne Owens, lost his bid for Utah’s 4th congressional district. Long time redrock supporter Colorado Senator Mark Udall lost his re-election bid. On a brighter note, in Grand County, Moab residents sent a sharp rebuke to county council members hell bent on ripping apart the Book Cliffs with a highway to foster dirty fuels development. And lead Redrock champion Senator Richard Durbin won his fourth term.

    We’ve experienced similar flips in congressional control before. In 1994, the Republicans gained control of both House and Senate for first time in 40 years. That set off a seismic wave against the Redrock. The Utah congressional delegation tried to ram through a terrible “wilderless” bill, but we stopped Rep. Hansen in the House. A filibuster by Bill Bradley, then a New Jersey senator, blocked Utah’s two senators, Hatch and Bennett. President Bill Clinton’s response was to proclaim the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

    George W. Bush won the White House in 2002 while the Republicans already held the Senate and House, bringing the “drill baby drill” mentality to public lands management. We fought back with litigation against their mindless rush to drill. We won.

    No matter what this election brings, because of you we will endure and prevail. We always have.

  • November 4th, 2014

    Allege Utah BLM illegally piecemealing oil and gas development

    Contact: Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991; Devorah Ancel, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program, 415.977.5721

    SALT LAKE CITY – Last Friday, October 31, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Sierra Club challenged a decision by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Moab field office to approve a natural gas gathering pipeline system on public lands close to Dead Horse Point State Park and the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.  These lands are remarkably scenic, are visited by hundreds of thousands of people annually from around the country and the world, and are important to Moab’s tourism economy.

    The gathering pipeline system was proposed by Fidelity Exploration & Production, the primary oil and gas operator in this area. The system can only operate when connected to another pipeline project that BLM approved last year, known as the “Dead Horse Lateral.”  Rather than analyze the environmental impacts of these two projects together, BLM piecemealed its review into separate analyses.  Federal environmental laws prohibit the agency from taking such an approach.  Instead, BLM was required to prepare a comprehensive analysis that considered both pipeline proposals as well as associated development activities.

    Big Flat Pipeline

    “BLM’s decision to consider Fidelity’s gathering pipeline system in isolation, and not take into account the environmental impacts from other projects necessary to make the gathering system work, is a textbook violation of environmental laws,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “As a result, BLM significantly underplayed the impacts from swelling oil and gas development in this remarkable landscape.”

    Oil and gas development has significantly expanded over the past five years with dozens of new wells already drilled or planned.  Along with that drilling, Fidelity has conducted intrusive seismic tests and installed other oil field infrastructure.  Heavy truck traffic is now common along Utah State Highway 313 leading to Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and the region’s scenic redrock country.

    “The ever-expanding oil and gas extraction in the Big Flat region requires the BLM to conduct a full analysis of the numerous impacts to this iconic landscape,” said Moab resident William Rau.  “I am highly concerned over the safety of the pipeline, oil wells and increased heavy truck traffic, and the dangers they pose to the 500,000 annual visitors to the area.”

    In its third quarter earnings report, issued Monday, November 3, 2014 Fidelity’s parent company the MDU Resources Group announced its intention to sell Fidelity Exploration and Production.

    SUWA and Sierra Club’s challenge was filed with the BLM’s State Office in Salt Lake City.


  • October 24th, 2014

    Fort Knocker Narrows, copyright Chris Case.

    San Juan County, which contains some of redrock country’s most magnificent treasures, is developing a wilderness proposal in response to Congressman Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative.

    Unfortunately, the three alternatives recently proposed by the San Juan County Lands Council fall far short of protecting some of the most outstanding wild lands in southern Utah. Even the best of the alternatives (Alternative C) would roll back currently existing protection for some lands.

    All alternatives ignored input of local residents, including the Dine Bikeyah proposal submitted by Utah Navajos who make up nearly half of the county’s residents.

    Even the best of the alternatives (Alternative C):

    • Fails to provide protection for spectacular areas proposed for wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. All or portions of places like Nokai Dome, White Canyon, Upper Red Canyon, Fort Knocker Canyon, and Hart’s Point were left on the chopping block.
    • Perpetuates off-road vehicle (ORV) abuse by codifying BLM’s Bush-era ORV route designations even though a Utah federal court judge set aside a nearly identical travel plan for failure to comply with requirements to protect cultural sites, riparian areas and other natural resources. It’s just a matter of time before the court overturns the BLM’s Monticello and Moab travel plans in San Juan County.
    • Amplifies the impacts of ORV use by adding even more routes in wilderness areas on top of the thousands of miles of routes designated in the BLM’s seriously flawed travel plans. Thus, even lands proposed for protection will be crisscrossed with ORV routes.
    • Significantly overstates the total amount of acreage protected by double-counting the wilderness lands and National Park Service lands that are included in the National Conservation Area boundaries.

    Significant areas in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act were left out of all the alternatives, and areas included were compromised with ORV routes.

    San Juan County’s ultimate proposal to Rep. Bishop should protect the remaining wilderness in San Juan County, and with your help we will work toward that goal.

Page 9 of 11« First...7891011