• January 13th, 2021

    Contacts:
    Scott Lake, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 299-7495, slake@biologicaldiversity.org
    Kya Marienfeld, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (435) 259-5440, kya@suwa.org
    Paul Ruprecht, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 421-4637, paul@westernwatersheds.org
    Connie Howard, Sierra Club, Toiyabe Chapter, (775) 224-3916, constancehoward58@gmail.com 

    Lawsuit Launched Over Trump Plan to Accelerate Clearcutting, Herbicide Spraying, Fuel Breaks Across Six Western States

    RENO, Nev.— Conservation groups filed formal notice today of their intent to sue the Trump administration for violations of the Endangered Species Act stemming from two last-minute decisions authorizing widespread clearcutting, herbicide spraying, grazing, plowing and prescribed fire across 223 million acres of Bureau of Land Management public lands in the Great Basin. 

    The plans will have potentially devastating consequences for the imperiled greater sage grouse and other wildlife that call these vast landscapes home. They also will exclude the public and the scientific community from key land-management decisions across Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho and Utah. 

    “The Trump administration’s reckless, 11th-hour decision authorizes the Bureau to use highly destructive methods to remove millions of acres of native trees and shrubs,” said Scott Lake, Nevada legal advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency hasn’t even considered the consequences of these highly destructive actions on dozens of threatened and endangered species. It’s a clear violation of the Endangered Species Act, and we won’t allow these plans to become reality.”

    The administration is using two environmental impact statements to circumvent local environmental analysis and public comment. They authorize the Bureau to remove massive amounts of vegetation anywhere within the 223 million-acre analysis area, which is home to more than 130 threatened and endangered species. Many of these species are endemic to local environments and found nowhere else on Earth. 

    “These two decisions have incredibly far-reaching implications for future management of fragile native ecosystems throughout the American West,” said Kya Marienfeld, wildlands attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Science, transparency and public input are meant to be the backbone of managing Western public lands, but instead, these decisions improperly substitute anecdote for evidence while cutting off all normal channels of public notice, review and future accountability.”

    The plans are part of a larger Trump administration program of forest and shrubland destruction underway across the West. Other components include categorical exclusions that sidestep environmental analysis and public accountability for pinyon pine and juniper clearcutting projects up to 10,000 acres and logging projects up to 3,000 acres. 

    Although the Interior Department admits many of the proposed methods, such as so-called “targeted grazing,” are experimental or unproven, there are no plans for long-term monitoring or maintenance to avoid significant, long-term damage to public lands and native ecosystems. The potential for these projects to spread invasive weeds, like fire-prone cheatgrass, make them particularly problematic.

    “Using cows to mow down vegetation to dirt level to reduce fuel won’t work,” said Paul Ruprecht, Oregon-Nevada director for Western Watersheds Project. “Intensive grazing destroys the soil crusts and removes the native bunchgrasses that are nature’s two best defenses against cheatgrass. Targeted grazing will only increase cheatgrass, and ultimately backfire.”

    “The Sierra Club believes these Trump administration deforestation programs would effectively destroy the healthy ecosystems of much of the western United States known as the National System of Public Lands,” said Connie Howard, chair of conservation and public lands for the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The sagebrush biome accounts for a large component of these lands, and the pinyon, juniper and sagebrush plants targeted for removal are home to over 350 wildlife species and play a critical role in sequestering carbon in the face of climate change. We are pleased to join our conservation partners in efforts to stop this assault on our public lands that is not based on science or any long-term thinking as to consequences to endangered and threatened species, ecosystem health or climate change and resiliency.”

    The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), based in Salt Lake City, Utah, has more than 15,000 members from all fifty states and several foreign countries. SUWA’s mission is the preservation of the outstanding wilderness and other sensitive public lands at the heart of the Colorado Plateau and to advocate for management of these lands, and the associated natural and cultural resources, in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans.

    Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation organization with over 9,500 members dedicated to protecting and conserving the public lands and natural resources of watersheds in the American West.

    The Sierra Club is the most enduring and influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. We amplify the power of our 3.8 million members and supporters to defend everyone’s right to a healthy world.

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  • December 22nd, 2020

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contacts:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3991, landon@suwa.org
    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 859-1552, steve@suwa.org
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, (646) 823-4518, ahawke@nrdc.org
    Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2424, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org
    John Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435)-260-2590, john@livingrivers.org

    Washington, D.C. (December 22, 2020) — A federal judge today enjoined the Trump administration’s approval of a plan to punch a helium well into the heart of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness in Utah just two days before Christmas. Road construction had been set to begin Wednesday.

    “Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness is too special to drill,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “We’re grateful the court enjoined this ill-conceived project and gave this incomparable landscape a brief reprieve. We’ll be ready for round 2 with the Trump administration and company in early January.”

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Center for Biological Diversity, and Living Rivers sought a temporary restraining order to stop the Bureau of Land Management from granting approval to Twin Bridges to begin drilling the helium well pending the resolution of a lawsuit filed last week. The lawsuit says the Bureau violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to take a hard look at the potential climate harms from the fracking project and failing to provide a reasoned basis for offering this land for leasing in the first place.

    “The Bureau of Land Management tried to pull a fast one in racing this permit out,” said Josh Axelrod, senior advocate for the Nature Program at NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council). “But this unique wilderness area should never have been on the table for development, and we’ll fight to make sure it’s protected.”

    The Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness includes one of the country’s most iconic and world-renowned stretches of river canyon. This national treasure is bounded on the east by the Green River and on the south by Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019 secured its permanent protection as wilderness. (See photos here.)

    This dangerous drilling would destroy what Congress sought to protect by designating the spectacular Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness,” said Taylor McKinnon, senior campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re pleased the court stopped this project for now, but we won’t rest until this reckless plan is canceled entirely.” 

    Twin Bridges had planned to break ground on the project Wednesday, but today’s order from U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras enjoins any further action on the plan until at least Jan. 6, pending resolution of the lawsuit.  

    “Today’s order validates the importance of taking the courageous step of protecting the treasured landscapes of Utah’s canyon country,” said John Weisheit, conservation director with Living Rivers & Colorado Riverkeeper. “We appreciate the opportunity that Judge Contreras has afforded us to hear our critical case at the upcoming hearing.” 

    Background

    The Bureau of Land Management formally issued a lease to Twin Bridges Resources, LLC in February 2019, only a few weeks before the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which created the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, became law. The agency rushed to close the deal knowing the area was about to be permanently closed to future leasing and development. The Bureau had been racing ahead to approve the company’s proposal to drill on its federal lease and a nearby state lease just before the Christmas holiday.

    The proposed helium operation will industrialize one of the most remote areas of southeastern Utah’s red rock country. If the plan is approved, Twin Bridges will drill up to seven wells, permanently disturbing 43 acres in this remote and austere landscape and forever diminishing the unique wilderness values found in the area. The project will also involve road grading, construction of three separate pipelines, construction of a 10-acre processing facility and increased vehicle traffic.

    ***

    Plaintiffs SUWA, the Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers are represented by Landon Newell, Joseph Bushyhead, and Stephen Bloch with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and William Eubanks II and Nick Lawton with Eubanks & Associates, PLLC. Plaintiff NRDC is represented by Sharon Buccino with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    The case is captioned Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Bernhardt, 1:20cv3654 RC (D.D.C.).

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  • December 21st, 2020

    SUWA Legislative Director Jen Ujifusa and Legal Director Steve Bloch discuss how the 2020 election results will affect our work to protect Utah’s wild redrock country, and what we expect President Biden to do with respect to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Wild Utah’s theme music, “What’s Worth?” is composed by Moab singer-songwriter Haley Noel Austin. Post studio production and editing is by Jerry Schmidt.

    Listen on your favorite app!

    wildutah.info/Stitcher
    wildutah.info/Apple
    wildutah.info/Spotify

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  • December 18th, 2020

    For Immediate Release

    Contacts:

    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3991, landon@suwa.org
    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 859-1552, steve@suwa.org
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, (646) 823-4518, ahawke@nrdc.org
    Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2424, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.orgJohn Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435)-260-2590, john@livingrivers.org

    Washington, D.C. (December 18, 2020) — Conservation groups have sued the Bureau of Land Management to challenge its illegal leasing of 1,400 acres for helium extraction within the newly designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness in southeastern Utah. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers filed suit Monday in federal district court.

    The Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness includes one of the country’s most iconic and world-renowned stretches of river canyon. This national treasure is bounded on the east by the Green River and on the south by Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019 secured its permanent protection as wilderness. (See photos here.)

    The lawsuit says the Bureau violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to take a hard look at the potential climate harms from the fracking project and failing to provide a reasoned basis for offering this land for leasing in the first place.

    “This proposal is the paragon of the Trump administration’s ‘going out of business’ assault on the nation’s public lands, plain and simple,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “This project would needlessly and permanently tarnish one of the Bureau of Land Management’s crown jewels: the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness.”

    The Bureau of Land Management formally issued a lease to Twin Bridges Resources, LLC in February 2019, only a few weeks before the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which created the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, became law. The agency rushed to close the deal knowing the area was about to be permanently closed to future leasing and development. Now the Bureau is racing ahead to approve the company’s proposal to drill on its federal lease and a nearby state lease, and is poised to do so just before the Christmas holiday.

    This afternoon the conservation groups filed a motion with the court seeking an emergency injunction to block the Bureau’s approval of the project until the merits of the lawsuit can be decided. “We’re hopeful that the court sees this last-minute maneuver by the Trump administration for what it is: a transparent attempt to destroy a piece of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness as they head out door,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    “It’s truly stunning how brazen the Trump administration has been these past four years in serving up our pristine, iconic landscapes to industry,” said Josh Axelrod, Senior Advocate for the Land Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Its race to secure this project’s approval for the helium industry’s benefit is flatly illegal, and we’ll defend this special area at every turn.”

    The Bureau offered the lease without allowing the public to review or comment on that decision and did not prepare site-specific analysis prior to offering the lease for development, as required by NEPA. Courts have found such restrictions on public participation and lack of analysis to be unlawful.

    “This dangerous plan is an obscene, purposeful attack on Utah’s iconic public land and wilderness protection,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ll do everything in our power to ensure that these lands never see the insult of this proposed extraction.”

    The proposed helium operation will industrialize one of the most remote areas of southeastern Utah’s red rock country. If the plan is approved, Twin Bridges will drill up to seven wells, permanently disturbing 43 acres in this remote and austere landscape and forever diminishing the unique wilderness values found in the area. The project will also involve road grading, construction of three separate pipelines, construction of a 10-acre processing facility and increased vehicle traffic.

    “This proposal is not appropriate because very reasonable alternatives do indeed exist,” said John Weisheit, Conservation Director of Living Rivers & Colorado Riverkeeper. “Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe and it just doesn’t make sense to propose a trade-off that jeopardizes the sensitive lands and rivers of the Canyonlands region.”

    ***

    Plaintiffs SUWA, the Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers are represented by Landon Newell, Joseph Bushyhead, and Stephen Bloch with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and William Eubanks II and Nick Lawton with Eubanks & Associates, PLLC. Plaintiff NRDC is represented by Sharon Buccino with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    The case is captioned Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Bernhardt, 1:20cv3654 RC (D.D.C.).

     

    Posted by
  • December 9th, 2020

    Contact:
    Kya Marienfeld, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 573-228-1061, kya@suwa.org
    Scott Lake, Center for Biological Diversity, 802-299-7495, slake@biologicaldiversity.org
    Gwen Dobbs, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-772-0269, gdobbs@defenders.org
    Chris Krupp, WildEarth Guardians, 206-417-6363, ckrupp@wildearthguardians.org
    Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center, 503-914-1323, brown@westernlaw.org
    Laura Welp, Western Watersheds Project, 435-899-0204, laura@westernwatersheds.org
    Logan Glasenapp, New Mexico Wild, 414-719-0352, logan@nmwild.org
    Katie Fite, Wildlands Defense, 208-871-5738, katie@wildlandsdefense.org
    Mary O’Brien, Grand Canyon Trust, 541-556-8801, maryobrien10@gmail.com

    Moab, Utah (Dec 10, 2020) Today, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) completed its final actions to fast-track approvals and eliminate public input and review on clearcutting of native forests and shrubs across western public lands. 

    With the announcement of its final “pinyon-juniper categorical exclusion” and “salvage logging categorical exclusion,” the BLM has now pushed through five regulatory changes and large-scale initiatives to expedite the removal of native forests and sagebrush shrublands across the intermountain West. 

    The BLM’s actions today with regard to vegetation removal and clearcutting represent a broader push by the Trump administration to gut protections in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), take the public out of public land management, serve extractive industries, and downplay science in decision-making. 

    “These are scorched-earth policies with no place in what is supposed to be open, transparent, and science-based management of 245 million acres of public land,” said Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The removal of public review through these final NEPA exclusions today is especially alarming because many large projects that were withdrawn because of public pressure — including some within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — could now reappear at any time under this new policy and move forward without public review, scientific study, or accountability.”

    Scott Lake, Nevada Legal Advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, stated: “BLM’s notion that there will be no significant environmental impacts from clearcutting thousands of acres across the West is absurd on its face. This is nothing more than an eleventh-hour attempt by the outgoing administration to shut the public out of public land management and curry favor with Secretary Bernhardt’s industry allies. It has absolutely no basis in science or sound management practices.”

    Echoing this sentiment, Chris Krupp, Public Lands Guardian for WildEarth Guardians, added: “These categorical exclusions are part of a comprehensive effort from Bernhardt and other political appointees at Interior on their way out the door. Their focus from now until inauguration day is on greasing the path for even more logging, grazing and other resource extraction on Western public lands.” 

    “The BLM’s final salvage logging categorical exclusion is a parting gift to the voracious timber industry in southwest Oregon,” said Susan Jane Brown, staff attorney and Wildlands Program Director with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Millions of acres burned this summer in Oregon wildfires, and rather than follow the best available science that recommends leaving these snag forests alone, we can expect clearcutting of old forests that will foul waterways and eliminate habitat for species such as the iconic northern spotted owl. We will meet any attempts to sidestep the law, the science, and the public with swift legal action.”

    “The BLM’s assertion that clearing 10,000 acres of pinyon and juniper forests will not have a significant environmental effect is wrong and incredibly dangerous to ongoing efforts to protect public lands, wildlife, and the general safety and livability of the human environment,” said Logan Glasenapp of New Mexico Wild. “Using such a sweeping categorical exclusion to excuse the agency from due diligence will only lead to detrimental effects. The safety and long-term health of our public lands depends on public voices.”

    “The BLM has a long history of failed land management policies, yet it continues to charge ahead with unearned confidence and little science,” said Laura Welp of Western Watersheds Project. “Removal of native trees like pinyon and juniper may do nothing to reduce fire risk and may in fact facilitate more fires by increasing flammable fuels like cheatgrass. Science, not politics, should guide public land management, and the public needs to have an opportunity for input on these lands they care so deeply about.”

    “The BLM’s massive deforestation schemes will transform much of the West into bleak, cheatgrass-infested and treeless expanses, dealing a huge blow to biodiversity and the survival of many species of migratory birds and other native wildlife,” said Katie Fite of Wildlands Defense

    Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust, pointed out that “the BLM’s claim that massive clearcutting and mastication of pinyon pine and juniper is ‘solely’ intended to enhance habitat for sage-grouse and mule deer might be believable if science indicated that these ‘treatments’ work, or if the BLM didn’t use them as an opportunity to graze the heck out of the newly ripped-up landscape, seeding it with exotic grasses meant for cattle. Neither is the case.”

    “The bottom line is that science has to guide the management of our western lands,” said Vera Smith, senior federal lands policy analyst with Defenders of Wildlife. “We hope that the Biden administration will right this wrong by directing the Bureau of Land Management to restore science-based decision-making to our public lands and refrain from clearcutting under these new rules.”

    Background:

    These proposals will allow the BLM to conduct large and controversial vegetation removal projects without notifying or inviting input from the public including the scientific community. Specifically, these proposals would allow the BLM to plan and execute vegetation removal actions without detailed NEPA review and public comment, undermine an already fragile public trust, and effectively shelve the critical role of science in some of the most unproven and controversial projects taking place on public lands today. 

    Since the 1940s, the BLM has spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars manipulating native pinyon pine and juniper forests and sagebrush stands throughout the West. Initially undertaken to enhance forage for wildlife and livestock, these projects have more recently been justified in the name of habitat, watershed restoration, and fire prevention. But vegetation treatments are often controversial because the scientific evidence to support their efficacy is mixed at best. Increased public and scientific scrutiny in recent years has forced the BLM to stop or rethink a number of large-scale mechanical vegetation removal proposals.

    Rather than responding to the increased scrutiny with greater attention to the implications of large-scale vegetation manipulation for native wildlife and ecological integrity, the agency instead forged ahead with several initiatives of historic proportions which by design curtail public oversight and scientific review of its vegetation removal activities across the West. 

    Today, the BLM approved:

    • A rulemaking that allows the BLM to thin or cut down pinyon pine and juniper forests in multiple projects, each up to 10,000 acres in size, without environmental analysis, scientific oversight, or public review and input.
    • A rulemaking that automatically greenlights logging on up to 3,000 acres of BLM-managed forest as long as the agency determines the trees are “dead and dying” due to a variety of possible “disturbances” such as wildfire or forest pathogens. Again, this would be without any public oversight or scientific review, as would typically be required under NEPA.

    In 2020 alone — all during the tumult of the coronavirus pandemic — the agency has also approved:

    • A rulemaking that exempts vegetation removal projects (including chaining of sagebrush and other native vegetation) up to 4,500 acres in size from the public oversight and scientific review ordinarily required by NEPA prior to a project being planned and executed.
    • A plan that authorizes in one broad brushstroke the clearing of up to 11,000 miles (667,000 acres) of 500-foot wide “fuel breaks” in forest, sagebrush, and grassland habitats across Utah, Nevada, Idaho, California, Washington, and Oregon without scientific oversight, public review of projects, or accountability.  
    • A corresponding, even broader plan that allows the agency to plan and execute vegetation removal projects across a 223-million-acre area in the same six states without scientific oversight, public review of projects, or accountability.   

    The cumulative effects of the BLM’s actions are staggering, and the agency is now unleashed to remove vegetation from millions of acres across the western states without further involving the public or the scientific community and without any accountability. 

    Additional Resources:

    Google Drive folder containing photos (for use with attribution), maps, fact sheets, scientific studies, and resources relevant to all five of the Trump administration’s 2020 actions removing public and scientific oversight from vegetation removal actions on the BLM’s National System of Public Lands. 

    Recording of July 2020 Virtual Press Conference discussing all five of the Trump administration’s vegetation/deforestation actions. 

    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.

    Consequences of pinyon and juniper woodland reduction for wildlife in North America. 2016. Sara Bombaci and Liba Pejchar in Forest Ecology and Management.

     

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