• April 22nd, 2019

    For Immediate Release
    April 22, 2019

    Contact:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.859.1552, steve@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (April 22, 2019) The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) has filed a federal lawsuit challenging two decisions by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to offer, sell, and issue thirty-five oil and gas leases totaling 54,508 acres of public lands for development on the doorstep of Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments.

    The lawsuit, filed on Friday, April 19, 2019, aims to protect some of the most culturally and archaeologically rich public lands in the United States. These lands include cliff dwellings, pueblos, kivas, petroglyph and pictograph panels, and Chaco-era (circa 900-1150 A.D.) great houses. Numerous Native American tribes consider these sites sacred. The lawsuit challenges Utah-BLM’s March 2018 and December 2018 Monticello field office leasing decisions (March 2018 sale information here; December 2018 sale information here).

    “The Trump administration is following a well-worn path of ‘leasing first, and thinking later,’ the same approach taken by the George W. Bush administration’s ‘drill here, drill now’ policies,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “This approach, which has riddled Utah’s wild and culturally significant public lands with leases and should come as no surprise given that it’s the same political appointee – David Bernhardt – steering the Interior Department.”

    The BLM, in its rush for “energy dominance,” ignored concerns raised by the National Park Service (NPS), Native American tribes, and the public, including SUWA. For the March 2018 sale, the NPS (BLM’s sister-agency in the Department of the Interior tasked with the management of nearby national monuments) submitted written comments condemning the BLM’s leasing proposal as being uninformed and ill-advised (see here). NPS explained that the BLM had “not fully evaluated” and had “not acted” to address its concerns regarding impacts of oil and gas development to national monuments including impacts to national monuments, dark night skies, air quality, water quality, and cultural resources, among others.

    The All Pueblo Council of Governors and Pueblo of Acoma both submitted formal protests of BLM’s December 2018 leasing proposal (see, here, here). They explained that the BLM had failed to consider and analyze impacts to historic and traditional cultural properties and national monuments, among other resources. The Hopi Tribe similarly requested that BLM not offer these leases for oil and gas development (See, e.g., here).

    “The BLM has placed the final pieces, completing its puzzle of oil and gas leases located at the doorstep of Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “And the BLM has done so without considering the ‘big picture’ impacts to national monuments and climate change and the surrounding landscapes, including impacts to dark night skies and the region’s rich cultural heritage.”

    The Obama administration had declined to issue new oil and gas leases in this same area, citing the need to collect and analyze additional information and data regarding cultural resources, potential impacts to national monuments, and greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The BLM never collected or analyzed that information and data. However, without having collected or analyzed the information and data the agency previously determined to be necessary, the Trump administration has resumed leasing in this contested area and proceeded to build a mosaic of leases on the doorstep of these national monuments (see here).

    At the same time it has rushed to open up more lands for development, the Utah-BLM has also dutifully implemented the Trump administration’s energy dominance agenda. Among other things, the BLM has taken steps to (1) eliminate opportunities for public engagement in the agency’s leasing decisions, (2) eliminate the agency’s obligation to fully analyze site-specific impacts of leasing and development, and (3) eliminate any additional BLM-identified “burden” on oil and gas leasing and development.

    SUWA’s lawsuit challenges the BLM’s failure to fully analyze the potential impacts of its leasing decisions, including to cultural resources, national monuments, climate change, and lands with wilderness characteristics. SUWA requests that the court set-aside and vacate the BLM’s leasing decisions and prohibit the BLM from approving future oil and gas development on the leases. Photographs of cultural and archaeological sites located on oil and gas leases at issue in this lawsuit are available here.

    ####

  • April 10th, 2019

    February 2019 scientific review counters claims made by agencies on environmental benefits of vegetation removal on public lands

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (April 10, 2019) – Citing a new report on the lack of scientific evidence supporting “vegetation treatment” projects on public lands, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and its members are calling on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to halt work on three massive “vegetation treatment” proposals within the original boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    The peer-reviewed report*, released in February, 2019 by the Wild Utah Project – a Utah-based non-profit organization focused on conservation science  – analyzes the existing scientific literature on mechanical vegetation removal projects on western public lands. The report finds little evidence to support the BLM’s assertion that vegetation treatment projects improve forage or habitat for wildlife, or reduce stream erosion and runoff.

    In response to the report and ongoing plans by the BLM to conduct mechanical vegetation treatment projects on nearly 135,000 acres of the original 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, SUWA Wildlands attorney Kya Marienfeld released the following statement:

    Large-scale vegetation removal projects are an extreme and unproven management approach that simply do not belong on our public lands, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument should never be the subject of the most aggressive and invasive treatments like chaining, mastication, and mulching. These projects are completely incompatible with protecting the fragile ecological, paleontological, and archaeological resources in Grand Staircase.”

    The BLM’s current mechanical vegetation treatment plans in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument include:

    • Proposing to use chainsaws and mechanical masticators on up to 93,000 acres of public lands within a 610,000 acre area of the Paria River watershed.
    • Authorizing the removal of pinyon pine and juniper trees from more than 30,000 acres of within Skutumpah Terrace area northeast of Kanab. SUWA and conservation partners have appealed this project to the Department of Interior Board of Land Appeals.Additional resources on the web:Link to this press release.
    • In three additional proposals at the heart of Grand Staircase (including Alvey Wash, Last Chance Gulch, and Coal Bench), the BLM plans to use heavy machinery including bullhog masticators to strip more than 13,000 acres of native vegetation, including pinyon and juniper trees and big sagebrush.

    Additional resources on the web:

    Summary of the Wild Utah Project report.

    The Wild Utah Project website.

    *Jones, A.J. (Ed).  2019. Do mechanical vegetation treatments of pinyon-juniper and sagebrush communities work?  A review of the literature. Special publication, Wild Utah Project. Salt Lake City, UT. (Full report.)

    Posted by
  • March 28th, 2019

    Following public outcry and a formal protest from SUWA, this week the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) deferred all of its proposed oil and gas leases in San Juan County from its March 2019 lease sale “due to additional environmental analysis required.”

    The proposed leases were on the doorstep of Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments.*

    Simply put, these leases would not have been deferred if not for SUWA’s tireless defense of every acre of BLM public land deserving of wilderness protection in Utah.

    Our defense of Utah’s redrock wilderness relies upon the support of our members. Please become a member of SUWA today.


    It’s the nature of environmental defense that this victory is short-lived—although deferred, the parcels will likely be back up for sale at the September 2019 lease sale.

    But SUWA will be there to fight those leases, too, and this decision by the BLM puts us in a strong position in our challenges to other BLM lease sales (from March and December 2018), because those lease sales relied on the same environmental analysis (surprise!). If it is insufficient now, then it was insufficient then.

    Not all of our work results in victories, of course, and most of our work never makes the news. But you can be assured that SUWA will never give up and never give an inch in our defense of the Redrock.

    Please become a member of SUWA today.

  • March 14th, 2019

    In this episode of Wild Utah, we discuss SUWA’s field volunteer program, which gets folks working outside across Utah to preserve and enhance the lands we’re fighting to protect. We work directly with the BLM and Forest Service to identify and implement projects that focus on wilderness and habitat preservation, cultural resource protection, and restoration of damage caused by off-road vehicles. Join us for the discussion, then come join us in the field by visiting SUWA.org/join-service-project.

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Our theme music, “What’s Worth?” is written and performed in Moab by Haley Noel Austin. Wild Utah is recorded at the studio of KRCL 90.9 FM, Listeners Community Radio of Utah in Salt Lake City. Our producer is Jerry Schmidt. We thank you all for generously donating your time, equipment and talent to Wild Utah.

    Posted by