June 2023 Redrock Report

Jun 23rd, 2023 Written by suwa

Public Lands Rule Comment Deadline Extended to July 5th

Eagle Canyon (Ray Bloxham)If you haven’t yet submitted a comment on the Biden administration’s proposed Public Lands Rule, there’s still time! The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has extended the deadline to Wednesday, July 5th.

After decades of prioritizing resource extraction over all other public land uses, the BLM is making an urgently needed course correction by updating its own rules and priorities with an eye toward restoring conservation to its rightful place under the “multiple use” framework established by Congress.

While Republicans in Congress, including Rep. John Curtis of Utah, work to thwart the proposed rule, western newspapers and elected officials have joined outdoor industry representatives and conservation groups in backing the proposal (read SUWA’s statement here).

This rulemaking process is a rare opportunity to ensure a better future for some of America’s wildest places. Please add your voice in support of a balanced and conservation-minded approach to public land management.

>> Click here to submit your comments now

Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

Bears Ears Land Exchange Bill Advances in U.S. House

Bears Ears Buttes (Jeff Foott)A Bears Ears National Monument land exchange bill (H.R. 3049) was deliberated by a House Natural Resources subcommittee this week, with support expressed by each of the invited witnesses, including Nada Culver, principal deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Letters in favor of the exchange were submitted by the Bears Ears Commission (consisting of the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and the Pueblo of Zuni) and a coalition of environmental organizations, including SUWA.

If passed, the legislation, introduced by Rep. John Curtis of Utah, will authorize a land exchange between the state of Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Specifically, the United States would acquire Trust Lands in Bears Ears National Monument and other holdings in Utah in exchange for other BLM lands in the state.  The bill will advance to the full committee for a vote at some point in the coming weeks.

SUWA Legal Director Steve Bloch issued the following statement on the land exchange bill: “SUWA supports President Biden’s goal of exchanging Utah Trust Lands out of Bears Ears National Monument, which would allow agencies to manage the monument as a single, unified landscape. On the ground, this should mean that the monument’s irreplaceable cultural and historic resources, fossils, and unique flora and fauna are better cared for and preserved for current and future generations. H.R. 3049 would accomplish many of these important goals and we support that outcome.”

>> Click here to read our full press release

Photo © Jeff Foott

BLM Releases Assessment of Proposed San Rafael Swell Land Swap

Muddy Creek Proposed Wilderness (Ray Bloxham)Back in 2019, in a huge victory for the redrock, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act was signed into law, designating 663,000 acres of new wilderness and a 217,000-acre San Rafael Swell Recreation Area in Utah’s Emery County. The legislation also directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) to enter a land exchange agreement aimed at swapping out state-held parcels within the federally protected areas in exchange for other lands of similar value. In such exchanges, the BLM typically acquires lands to be managed for conservation purposes, while SITLA acquires lands for revenue generating purposes (mining, oil and gas, solar energy).

These things take time, and the BLM only recently completed its draft environmental assessment (EA) of the land exchange. SUWA submitted comments on the EA and, among other items, we are encouraging the agency to remove several parcels from the exchange that SITLA plans to lease and develop for coal—a notorious source of greenhouse gas emissions. The parcels encompass public lands near the existing Lila Canyon coal mine (which SUWA fought for years) and are located in an undeveloped portion of the Book Cliffs known as Williams Draw. If the lands remain under federal ownership (instead of being transferred to SITLA), they cannot be leased or developed for coal because there is currently a federal moratorium on new coal leasing.

Stay tuned for future updates on this land exchange.

Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

Proposed Lease Sale Threatens Wild Places, Sage-Grouse Habitat

Gunnison Sage GrouseThe Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently released a draft environmental assessment (EA) for its December 2023 oil and gas lease sale. As proposed, the sale includes six parcels encompassing 8,972 acres of public land in northeastern Utah’s Uinta Basin region—an area that already suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation, due in large part to past and ongoing oil and gas development.

The proposed lease sale includes two parcels of wilderness-caliber land and also threatens important greater sage-grouse habitat. Over the past several decades, this keystone species’ population has collapsed across the West, primarily due to habitat fragmentation and noise associated with oil and gas development. Nonetheless, five of the six proposed lease parcels are in greater sage-grouse habitat and, if developed, will directly affect the species.

As we’ve stated many times before, there is simply no need for new oil and gas leasing in Utah. According to the BLM’s most recent data, there are 2,357,842 acres of existing leases in the state, and less than half of that acreage—1,037,975 acres—has been developed for oil or gas. In other words, oil and gas operators have hoarded more than 1.3 million acres of undeveloped leases in Utah.

The BLM is accepting public comments on the sale through Monday, July 3, 2023. Please tell the agency not to offer oil and gas leases on wilderness-quality lands or in greater sage-grouse habitat, and remind them that Utah already has a surplus of lands leased to fossil fuel developers. Enough is enough!

>> Click here to submit your comments via the BLM’s ePlanning site (follow the green “Participate Now” links).

BLM Photo

Join Us for SUWA’s 40th Anniversary Celebration on September 9th—Tickets on Sale Now!

40th Anniversary Cassette GraphicIn 1983, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance was founded around a kitchen table by a small group of people who loved Utah’s redrock wilderness and wanted to protect the best of it. They laid the foundation for an organization—and a national movement—out of their passion for one of the most amazing landscapes on earth.

Forty years later, we’re stronger than ever thanks to the support of tens of thousands of people who share a love for these special places. Please join us in celebrating our shared accomplishments at SUWA’s 40th Anniversary Celebration in Salt Lake City on September 9th.

We’re going to party like it’s 1983, so retro attire is highly encouraged—or simply come as you are!

>> Click here for more details and to purchase tickets