• June 5th, 2015
    (Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan (right) high-fives Rep. Kevin Stratton, R-Orem (left) after Ivory's resolution to demand the federal government transfer control of oil-, timber -and mineral-rich lands to western states passed at the Utah Republican Party 2014 Nominating Convention at the South Towne Expo Center, Saturday, April 26, 2014.

    (Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan (right) high-fives Rep. Kevin Stratton, R-Orem (left) after Ivory’s resolution to demand the federal government transfer control of oil-, timber -and mineral-rich lands to western states passed at the Utah Republican Party 2014 Nominating Convention at the South Towne Expo Center, Saturday, April 26, 2014.

    The Salt Lake Tribune writes:

    Ken Ivory is a snake oil salesman.

    The Utah legislator is, just as his new worst enemies from a liberal interest group proclaim, traveling around the West, enriching himself by peddling a total phantasm about how if state and local governments keep giving Ivory’s American Lands Council more money, he will find a way to undo a century of public policy, and every decent impulse of the American people, and force the United States government to turn over millions of acres of federal land to the states.

    Disgraceful? Clearly. Criminal? That’s a reach.

    We agree with the Salt Lake Tribune. Rep. Ivory distorts the facts, dodges the truth, misconstrues history, and advances a disastrous vision that would deprive us of our public lands. He needs to answer for his organization’s compliance with lobbying rules in neighboring states.

    However, advocating for terrible public policy is not a crime. Those counties providing funding for Rep. Ivory seeking to take our public lands are misguided but they are not victims. As the Tribune says, the are co conspirators advancing ideas that will be relegated to the dustbin of history. While the truth and the best interest of the public is against him, his political speech should be allowed. We all benefit from an open dialogue about these issues. Rep. Ivory’s positions will fail; let them die of their own deficiencies.

  • June 3rd, 2015

    The Interior Board of Land Appeals (“Board”) recently issued an order prohibiting construction of the Indian Creek ATV trail pending appeal. The order – triggered by a “Petition for Stay” filed by SUWA, the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, and the Great Old Broads for Wilderness – prohibits construction of 6.4 miles of new ATV trail and three associated parking areas in Indian Creek until the Board rules on the legal merits of our administrative appeal.

    In its ruling, the Board validated our argument that agency actions resulting in a permanent loss of BLM-identified wilderness character lands constitutes “irreparable harm” and determined that there is a “sufficient likelihood of success” on at least a portion of our legal claims.

    Bridger Jack Mesa, Crusher Bartlett

    Bridger Jack Mesa, Indian Creek. Copyright Crusher Bartlett.

    The BLM’s Monticello field office irresponsibly approved construction of the Indian Creek ATV trail in February of 2015 (see our Spring 2015 newsletter, p. 15). Originally proposed by the pro-motorized recreation, anti-conservation leaders of San Juan County, the purpose of the ATV trail is to facilitate increased motorized use in the Indian Creek corridor by linking the proposed trail to an existing ATV trail network. If implemented, the new trail would result in increased ATV use in and near Lavender Canyon, Davis Canyon, and Bridger Jack Mesa – areas bordering Canyonlands National Park that currently see very little motorized recreational use. What’s more, the trail would bisect an area that the BLM itself identified as possessing wilderness characteristics and that is proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

    The Indian Creek corridor is the gateway to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and is world-renowned for its abundance of cultural resources and quiet recreation opportunities. We are hopeful that the Board will ultimately rule in a manner consistent with protecting this irreplaceable landscape for future generations. We’ll keep you posted.

  • June 2nd, 2015

    EPA Allowed by Court to Turn Back on Dangerous Smog Levels, Giving Fracking Industry Free Rein to Pollute

    For Immediate Release: June 2, 2015

    Washington, D.C. – A federal court ruling today denied clean air for Utah’s Uinta Basin, allowing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to sacrifice public health for the oil and gas industry.

    “Instead of requiring the EPA to adhere to its mission of protecting public health, the court has allowed the agency to evade their responsibility through essentially a trivial technicality,” said Dr. Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “The Uinta Basin already has documented abnormal spikes in infant deaths. While this ruling is a disappointment to us, it is a serious setback to protecting the thousands of Basin residents, including children and pregnant mothers, from some of the worst air pollution in the nation.”

    Utah’s Uinta Basin has for several years now been experiencing dangerously high levels of ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog. Ozone pollution in the Uinta Basin rivals that found in Los Angeles and Houston. Ozone levels well-above federal health standards have been recorded throughout the region.

    Studies have confirmed that oil and gas development is a key culprit for the region’s unhealthy air. More than 11,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in the region. A recent study published in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology, reported that total ozone forming pollution from oil and gas operations in the region equals the amount released by 100 million passenger vehicles.

    “Out of control fracking is taking a terrible toll on clean air in Utah,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Sadly, today’s court ruling lets the oil and gas industry continue to put its profits before public health.”

    In spite of monitoring data showing the Uinta Basin is violating federal health limits for ozone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 declined to order a clean up. Instead, the agency declared that air quality in the region was “unclassifiable,” meaning that the Clean Air Act’s mandatory requirements for improving air quality would not apply in the Uinta Basin.

    In 2013, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, WildEarth Guardians, and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed suit to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to declare the Uinta Basin’s air quality to be unhealthy and take steps to restore clean air. Represented by Earthjustice, the groups called on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s unclassifiable designation.

    In a ruling today, the court rejected the suit, upholding the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision.

    “Today’s ruling is unfortunate news for the people living and working in the Uinta Basin who must continue to breathe unhealthy air,” said Robin Cooley, attorney for Earthjustice who argued the case. “The Environmental Protection Agency knows the air is unhealthy, and we will continue to hold their feet to the fire until they take the steps necessary to protect public health. Given the rampant oil and gas development in the Uinta Basin, there is no time to waste.”

    The court’s ruling comes even as monitoring continues to confirm the Uinta Basin’s sickening smog levels. In early 2014, public health and environmental groups again called on the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the region’s smog.

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    For More Information Contact:

    Dr. Brian Moench, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, (801) 243-9089, drmoench@yahoo.com

    Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org

    David Garbett, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3992, david@suwa.org

    Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (303) 263-2472, rcooley@earthjustice.org

     

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  • May 28th, 2015

    The BLM’s Monticello Field Office is proposing to allow the Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation to guide hiking and handcart treks (reminiscent of early Mormon pioneer journeys) on three routes/trails in the Cedar Mesa area. The BLM’s current alternatives would allow for a maximum of 250 participants per day, pulling handcarts and supported by motor vehicles. Approximately 90% of this activity would occur over a 13-week “high use” period from June 1st to August 31st. Based on recent BLM data, approving any of the proposed alternatives will result in an increase of 90% to 576% above current commercial and organized group use levels.

    Please tell the BLM to protect Cedar Mesa by not approving “guided hiking and handcart treks” for groups of 250 people per day.

    CedarMesaRuin(crop)_RichardBullough

    Cedar Mesa Ruin. Copyright Richard Bullough.

    Although the BLM has considered a number of alternative proposals, all of them would allow total groups sizes of 250 people. For comparison, the Monticello Resource Management Plan currently only allows for a maximum of 12 people per group in all canyons within the Cedar Mesa Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA).

    As for handcart use, the Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation itself states that “handcarts were not part of the Hole-in-the-Rock journey.” Therefore, putting the issue of permitted group size aside, the purpose of providing a historical experience can be met without the use of handcarts and the associated additional impacts to natural and cultural resources.

    Cedar Mesa is known for its world-class cultural resources and wilderness-quality lands. The abundance and density of archaeological sites – from intact cliff dwellings to pristine rock art – combined with unparalleled solitude offer visitors a truly unique backcountry experience. This proposal has the potential to vastly change the current character of the Cedar Mesa area by adversely impacting both cultural resources and visitor expectations and experiences.

    Please send your comments to the BLM by May 29, 2015 and tell the agency it must:

    • Consider alternatives that drastically reduce the currently proposed group size of 250 users per day.
    • Consider an alternative that does not allow the use of handcarts by event participants.
    • Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to fully analyze the unprecedented increase in permitted use and the unknown adverse impacts to natural and cultural resources.

    Click here to send your comments now!

    With your help, we can ensure that the BLM takes seriously its obligation to protect cultural resources and the wilderness experience that currently exists on Cedar Mesa. Thank you for your support in protecting this invaluable archaeological and wilderness treasure.

  • May 26th, 2015

    BLM plan designated thousands of miles of ORV routes, placing iconic western landscapes at risk

    SALT LAKE CITY–On Friday, May 22, the United States District Court for the District of Utah issued a long awaited ruling regarding the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Resource Management Plan and Off-Road Vehicle Travel Management Plan for the Richfield field office, specifically directing the agency to complete comprehensive cultural surveys and additional analyses over the next 1-3 years. This “remedy decision” book-ended a November 2013 decision which held that BLM’s plans violated several substantive laws, though the court deferred deciding what steps were needed to fix the plans until a second round of briefing on the appropriate remedy was completed.

    Under the Richfield RMP and ORV Travel Plan, which covers lands between Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks, BLM designated over 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails – enough miles to drive from Los Angeles to New York City and part way back – for ORV use. The BLM did so despite evidence of environmental damage to Utah’s unique redrock landscapes, damage to irreplaceable cultural resources, and conflicts with other public lands visitors.

    A coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and Earthjustice challenged the Richfield plans in an attempt to stem the ORV damage to Utah’s spectacular public lands. These plans threaten world-renowned southern Utah wilderness landscapes like the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy’s infamous hideout, Robber’s Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states) and Factory Butte.  See photos here.

    The court’s decision also raises serious questions about the legality of five other BLM management plans in the eastern half of Utah that suffer from similar legal flaws. The Richfield RMP is just one of six land use plans—covering more than 11 million acres of eastern and southern Utah—that the Interior Department finalized before the Bush administration left office in 2008. Each of the six plans is wildly unbalanced in favor of off-road vehicle use and energy development and threaten Utah’s renowned redrock country. The Obama administration has unfortunately continued to defend these plans, both in court and in practice. Conservationists have challenged all six plans in court.  The Richfield RMP is the first of the six to be litigated.

    “These important decisions flatly reject Utah BLM’s ‘designate trails first, think later’ approach to off-road vehicle management,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “By setting forth strict timelines for BLM to undertake long overdue inventories for cultural sites and prepare necessary environmental analyses, the court has sent a clear message that the status quo is not acceptable. Utah’s remarkable redrock landscapes demand better.”

    “BLM has been ignoring its mandate to minimize environmental harm from ORV abuse since the Nixon administration, when the ORV rules took effect,” said Heidi McIntosh, Managing Attorney of Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “The court’s strict deadline is a wake up call that will finally force BLM to do its job and protect this magnificent expanse of scenic redrock country.”

    “This decision reinforces the court’s previous ruling that BLM must take protection of natural and cultural resources seriously,” said Nada Culver, Senior Counsel for The Wilderness Society. “The BLM should stop seeking to avoid its responsibilities and move forward with addressing the serious flaws in these 6 plans, fulfilling its obligations as steward of these 11 million acres of public lands and committing to meaningful conservation.”

    “BLM’s refusal to conduct on-the-ground inventories for cultural resources that are being damaged and destroyed from off-road vehicle use was shocking,” said Bill Hedden, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Trust.  Federal law requires BLM to do more to protect these irreplaceable cultural treasures and we’re pleased that the judge ordered BLM to do so.”

    Specifically, Judge Kimball:

    Directed BLM to prepare new analyses over the next 1-3 years documenting that the agency’s off-road vehicle designations minimize impacts to a number of specific resources, including wildlife, non-motorized recreation, and riparian areas.

    • Directed BLM to prepare new analyses over the next 1-3 years documenting that the agency’s off-road vehicle designations minimize impacts to a number of specific resources, including wildlife, non-motorized recreation, and riparian areas.
    • Directed BLM to complete intensive, on-the-ground surveys for historic and cultural resources over the next 1-3 years for all designated routes.
      • The Court agreed with SUWA that BLM should begin its work with all routes in the area between Capitol Reef National Park, the Henry Mountains and the Green River. This work must be completed within one year of the Court’s May 22, 2015 order.
    • Directed BLM to provide SUWA with copies of the agency’s annual ORV monitoring reports, documentation BLM has largely failed to prepare since it completed the Richfield plan in 2008. BLM is required to provide SUWA with these reports over the three-year remedial period.
    • Directed BLM to issue a new decision within six months on whether to designate the Henry Mountains as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern—which would give heightened protection to its bison herds and large expanses of remote, spectacularly scenic lands.
    • Directed BLM to issue a new decision within the next year on whether Happy Canyon and portions of Buck and Pasture Canyons are eligible for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

    Further Background:

    Background information on the Richfield RMP can be found on SUWA’s website.  Photographs of the proposed wilderness areas at risk in the Richfield field office are also available. In 2008, the Salt Lake Tribune and New York Times panned the Richfield RMP, raising many of the same flaws identified in the court’s decisions.

    The conservation groups challenging the BLM’s 2008 land use plans in Utah include the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utah Rivers Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, National Trust for Historic Preservation and Rocky Mountain Wild.

    The groups are represented by attorneys Heidi McIntosh and Robin Cooley of Earthjustice, Stephen Bloch and David Garbett of SUWA, and by Robert Wiygul of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside. Attorneys Nada Culver and Alison Flint of The Wilderness Society were also a part of the groups’ legal team.

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