• October 10th, 2019

    From Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef national parks to Dinosaur, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, and Cedar Breaks national monuments, Utah is home to some of the most spectacular and beloved jewels of the National Park System. But these world-renowned landscapes are now threatened by a shortsighted directive from the Trump administration to open all park roads (both paved and unpaved) to off-road vehicles, including ATVs and UTVs.

    As the term “off-road vehicle” clearly implies, these machines are designed specifically to travel off-road and beyond the reach of standard passenger vehicles into rugged backcountry terrain. Even on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands, where such vehicles already have tens of thousands of routes open to their use, managing illegal off-road use is a nightmare for agency officials.

    The National Park Service, which is dedicated to “conserving unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System,” is ill-equipped to handle the problems that will inevitably arise.

    Click here to oppose the terrible precedent of allowing off-road vehicles in Utah’s cherished national parks.

    The Trump administration wants to open all National Park Service roads in Utah to off-road vehicles, including UTVs like the ones pictured above. Photo: iStock.com/marekuliasz

    If the Trump administration has its way, natural and cultural resources will be put at risk from irresponsible and illegal off-road vehicle use on park roads, and the silence and unspoiled views in places like the White Rim and Maze District of Canyonlands National Park and Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park will be broken by the invasive engine noise and dust clouds generated by these incompatible machines.

    If that’s not bad enough, the administration is attempting to force off-road vehicle use into Utah’s national parks and national monuments with no analysis of impacts and no public input. This is remarkable given the Park Service’s prior determination that off-road vehicles pose “a significant risk to park resources and values which cannot be appropriately mitigated,” and their use is “not consistent with the protection of the parks and monuments.” The agency even acknowledged that “[n]o reasonable level of law enforcement presence would be sufficient to prevent . . . use off roads.”

    Take Action: Please write the Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and tell him not to make this reckless decision that could irreversibly damage some of America’s most remarkable national parks and monuments.

  • October 3rd, 2019

    SUWA Wildlands Attorney Kya Marienfeld speaks with Dave Pacheco about about the Trump administration’s new master management plans for what remains of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, as well as the nearly one million acres that President Trump excised from the 23 year-old monument. These plans authorize rampant chaining of pinyon and juniper forests and unbridled energy development, and set the stage for a free-for-all of off-road vehicle abuse.

    Wild Utah is produced by Jerry Schmidt and is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Our theme music, “What’s Worth?” was written and performed in Moab by Haley Noel Austin. 

     

  • October 1st, 2019

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, (801)-859-1552 or steve@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (October 1, 2019) – In response to Judge Chutkan’s decision allowing lawsuits to proceed against President Trump’s reductions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, SUWA legal director Stephen Bloch issued the following statement:

    “The day of reckoning for President Trump’s unlawful attack on the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments drew closer when Judge Chutkan issued her decision denying the United States’ motions to dismiss these cases.  We intend to pursue these cases until these remarkable cultural, scientific and wild redrock landscapes are restored to their full glory.”

  • September 17th, 2019

    Decision finds BLM ignored cumulative impacts and failed to comply with the Monument’s prohibitions on using non-native seed

    Moab, UT (September 17, 2019) – The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) yesterday set aside a decision by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Kanab Field Office to remove more than 30,000 acres of pinyon juniper forest and sagebrush from the Skutumpah Terrace area within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Western Watersheds Project, The Wilderness Society, and the Grand Canyon Trust appealed the BLM’s February 2019 decision approving the project.

    Foreground to background: White Cliffs, Skutumpah Terrace, Pink Cliffs, in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Photo Ray Bloxham/SUWA. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    In overturning the BLM’s decision, the IBLA found that the BLM erred because it “failed to take a hard look at the Project’s cumulative impacts on migratory birds under NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act]… [and] erred in determining that using non-native seed… was consistent with the applicable land use plan under FLPMA [Federal Land Policy and Management Act].” Non-native grasses, while preferred by the livestock industry, become invasive weeds in their own right and degrade habitat quality for native wildlife.

    The BLM’s decision would have rid the area of pinyon pine and juniper trees by mastication, an intensively surface-disturbing method of vegetation removal that involves shredding trees where they stand by means of a wood chipper/mulcher mounted to a large front-end loader, which is driven cross-country throughout a project area. The plan would also have authorized the destruction of sagebrush by chaining, the practice of ripping shrubs and trees from the ground by dragging large chains between two bulldozers. The Skutumpah Terrace project is featured in a National Geographic story this month.

    The four conservation groups that prevailed in the appeal praised the IBLA decision.

    “This decision illustrates what should be obvious, which is that destroying native pinyon and juniper forests to plant non-native forage for livestock is bad public policy,” said Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Unfortunately, the BLM is still proceeding with plans to rip up native vegetation from more than 100,000 acres elsewhere in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and hundreds of thousands of additional acres throughout Utah and the West. Congress needs to step in and ask why the BLM continues to waste taxpayer money on vegetation removal projects that ignore science and its own land management plans.”

    “Thanks to an enormous amount of  effort and tenacity, the old growth pinyon-juniper woodland plants and wildlife on the Skutumpah Terrace are safe for now from BLM chains and bulldozers,” said Laura Welp of Western Watersheds Project, a former BLM Botanist at GSENM. “Massive vegetation-removal projects like this one interfere with efforts to restore the native plants and animals we cherish.”  

    “The IBLA acknowledged what the BLM did not: destroying native pinyon and juniper trees on over 130,000 acres of land that is, Skutumpah combined with  two additional pinyon and juniper removal projects being planned in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument just might have significant impacts on birds like pinyon jays, which have declined more than 85 percent,” said Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust.

    “The special values of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument continue to be under attack by this administration,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director for The Wilderness Society. “We will continue to fight illegal efforts to gut this area and efforts like this that mismanage the trees, wildlife, fossils and cultural resources that make this place special.” 

    Yesterday’s IBLA decision comes on the heels of the BLM’s withdrawal in May of a decision to approve another vegetation removal project on the Tavaputs Plateau in Utah. Conservationists contend that the BLM’s vegetation removal projects on public lands throughout the West lack a scientific basis, and that its vegetation removal program is in dire need of congressional oversight.

    Additional Resources

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order, Sept. 16, 2019.

    Original BLM proposal.

    National Geographic, September, 2019: Forests on Utah’s public lands may soon be torn out. Here’s why.

    Gambling with Our Public Lands: The Scientific Uncertainty and Fiscal Waste of BLM’s Vegetation Removal Program in the West

    Do mechanical vegetation treatments of pinyon-juniper and sagebrush communities work? A review of the literature. 2019. Jones.

    George Wuerthner (former BLM botanist), The Salt Lake Tribune, September 12, 2019: BLM is attacking juniper to help cows, not sage grouse