• April 2nd, 2015

    Desolation Canyon and Lands Surrounding Dinosaur National Monument Could Lose Big in Rep. Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative

    While we await the release of Representative Rob Bishop’s proposal for the public lands of eastern Utah, we wanted to fill you in on recent developments in three Utah counties: Carbon, Daggett, and Uintah. Generally, we remain optimistic that this process could result in the best opportunity for land protection in Utah in decades. However, these three counties have put together proposals that are troubling. Utah’s wild landscapes could be the biggest losers, particularly the Desolation Canyon wilderness complex and the wild lands surrounding Dinosaur National Monument. Representatives Bishop and Chaffetz—who are both driving this process—need to hear from you if these places are to be saved.

    First, Uintah County: ground zero for much of Utah’s energy production. Not surprisingly, the county has developed a proposal that is long on energy development and short on conservation. This means that the head of Desolation Canyon and the proposed wilderness surrounding Dinosaur National Monument (a place BLM is managing for conservation now) could be made available for oil and gas development. Such a result would sacrifice some of the few remaining wild lands in this heavily impacted county.

    Desolation Canyon

    Uintah County’s proposal would sacrifice the head of Desolation Canyon (above) to an Energy Zone. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    Unfortunately, Carbon County has developed what may be an even worse plan. Just recently the county commission approved a development proposal for the county that would remove wilderness protections (i.e., wilderness study areas) for vast swaths of the Desolation Canyon complex. According to their vision, no float trip of Desolation Canyon would be complete without a symphony of oil and gas development played by scores of wells located on the immediate rim of the canyon. Ironically, the county actually proposed more land for protection in the 1990s than it does now. The county’s development proposal would result in a loss of more than half of the wilderness-quality land in its share of Desolation Canyon.

    Finally, Daggett County. You will remember that last October the conservation community announced a landmark agreement with Daggett County, Rep. Rob Bishop, and the State of Utah. This compromise would set aside over 100,000 acres of wilderness and national conservation areas in this county. Rep. Bishop committed that this widely touted agreement would be included in his pending legislation for his public lands initiative in eastern Utah. Unfortunately, Daggett County has now developed cold feet and has reneged on its promises. Apparently, talk is cheap. We remain hopeful that Rep. Bishop and the state will honor the agreement but the potential for backtracking is deeply troubling.

    In summary, Utah’s counties are seeking to suffocate Desolation Canyon—one of the nation’s largest remaining roadless areas—with oil and gas development and slice and dice currently-protected public lands around Dinosaur National Monument. Do not let the counties destroy these treasures—please take action today.

    >> If you live in Rep Bishop’s or Rep. Chaffetz’ district, click here to send comments electronically.

    >> If you live outside of those districts (in Utah or another state), click here to send your comments.

    Thank you!

     

  • March 26th, 2015

    Records Show Fish and Wildlife Service Conceded to Habitat Destruction Demanded by Industry Under the Guise of “Conservation”

    Graham's Penstemon (Susan Meyer)

    Graham’s Penstemon (Susan Meyer)

    DENVER— Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today in federal court in Denver challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to deny Endangered Species Act protection to two imperiled wildflowers that live only on oil shale formations in Colorado and Utah. Oil shale and tar sands mining and traditional oil and gas drilling threaten 100 percent of known White River beardtongue populations and over 85 percent of the known Graham’s beardtongue populations.

    In August 2013, the Service proposed to provide Endangered Species Act protection to the wildflowers and nearly 76,000 acres of their essential habitat, recognizing the threat posed by mining and drilling. One year later—after lobbying by industry and its supporters, including the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and Uintah County—the Service reversed-course and denied Endangered Species Act protections. The Service based its decision on a 15-year “conservation agreement” negotiated behind closed doors with pro-industry stakeholders.

    Public records obtained by plaintiffs in today’s lawsuit show that the conservation agreement purposefully excluded wildflower habitat from protection to accommodate oil shale mining and drilling. SITLA’s Associate Director and Chief Legal Counsel, John Andrews, described the agreement as follows:

    “The basic concept is you’ve got a 15-year agreement that’s going to buy for all of our miners the ability to strip mine and destroy any [wildflowers] that are located on those sites in exchange for some conservation” on lands “that wouldn’t be disturbed” anyway.[1]

    In its proposal to list the species, the Service recognized oil shale mining in the wildflowers’ habitat as one of the primary threats justifying the need for Endangered Species Act protections. FWS found that that development of just two planned oil shale projects in Utah by the Enefit and Red Leaf corporations would have substantial impacts and would reduce the viability of the species. But the conservation agreement denies protections on private and state lands slated for oil shale development during the 15-year term of the agreement, including those owned or leased by Enefit and Red Leaf.

    “The conservation agreement is a giveaway to the fossil fuel industry,” said Robin Cooley, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups. “Although the Fish and Wildlife Service previously identified habitat that was essential to the survival of these wildflowers, the agency rolled over during negotiations and sacrificed more than 40% of this essential habitat, including lands the oil shale industry plans to strip mine in the next 15 years.”

    “The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to make decisions based on science, not politics,” said Megan Mueller, senior biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild. “The science here is clear, these wildflowers must be protected from strip mining and drilling.”

    “The Endangered Species Act has an incredible record of saving species—but it can only work if we use it. We’ve known for decades that these wildflowers need federal protections if they’re going to survive,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s shameful to see the Fish and Wildlife Service forego that effective tool just for the profits of one industry.”

    “These rare and beautiful wildflowers are a treasured part of our natural heritage and we need to protect them for future generations to enjoy,” said Tony Frates with the Utah Native Plant Society. “Rather than ensuring their survival through the proven protections of the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service opted for a conservation agreement that paves the way for destruction of large populations of these two species.”

    Earthjustice filed today’s lawsuit challenging the Service’s failure to list the beardtongues under the Endangered Species Act on behalf of Rocky Mountain Wild, Center for Biological Diversity, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Utah Native Plant Society, Grand Canyon Trust, Western Resource Advocates, and Western Watersheds Project.

    _______________

    [1] An audio recording of Mr. Andrew’s presentation at the SITLA Board Retreat, April 16-17 (Part 3), is available through Utah’s public notice website, at http://www.utah.gov/pmn/files/archive/101711.mp3 (1:21:30–:59).

    Complaint: http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/1%20-%202015.03.26%20-%20Complaint.pdf

     

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  • March 26th, 2015

    The 114th Congress is in full swing and our congressional champions – Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) – will soon introduce America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (ARRWA). They are gathering original cosponsors and need your help to demonstrate the widespread national support for protecting one of our last great wild landscapes.

    Help us get more ARRWA cosponsors!

    Utah’s public lands are increasingly under threat from oil and gas drilling, rampant off-road vehicle use and radical proposals to let states take over federal lands. It is more important than ever that Congress knows how crucial Utah’s stunning lands are to the American people.

    Trin Alcove, Labyrinth Canyon. Copyright Tom Till.

    Trin Alcove, Labyrinth Canyon. Copyright Tom Till.

    Last Congress, we had 99 cosponsors in the House and a record-breaking 24 cosponsors in the Senate. Let’s surpass both of those numbers this year. Contact your congressional representatives to show that support for protecting Utah wilderness is stronger than ever.

    Click here to ask your members of Congress to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

    Thank you!

  • March 11th, 2015

    This Monday, March 16th, the Grand County Council in Moab, Utah is going to be putting the finishing touches on its recommendations to Representative Rob Bishop as part of the “Public Lands Initiative” bill.

    What they decide is going to have a direct impact on what Moab is like in the years to come.

    The Grand County Council needs to hear directly from people like you who love and visit Moab. Tell them that Moab — and Labyrinth Canyon in particular — needs true wilderness protection and that quiet places need to be protected now and for future generations.

    Labyrinth_rivermap

     

    Here’s what the Grand County Council should do on Monday:

    • Designate Labyrinth Canyon as true wilderness. At last week’s Council meeting, the Council recommended no wilderness for Labyrinth — despite it being one of the crown jewels of wilderness in the American West. The Council should designate as wilderness all areas it is proposing as “No Surface Occupancy.”
    • Keep the river corridor in Labyrinth quiet by closing three ATV and jeep trails that run down to the river: Hey Joe, Hell Roaring, and “Dead Cow/The Tubes” in addition to Ten Mile Wash. River rafters in Labyrinth shouldn’t have to listen to the whine of motorcycles along the banks of the Green River!
    • Close infrequently used routes in all proposed wilderness in Grand County, especially in the Westwater-Beaver Creek wilderness. The Council has already recommended protecting these areas as wilderness, but they need to close routes within the boundaries. There should be places where locals and visitors can find quiet and get away from roads and the sounds of ATVs!
    • Designate wilderness in the La Sal Mountains. Every other county in the PLI process has recommended new Forest Service Wilderness, but the Grand County Council has recommended zero. The Council should recommended protecting the mountains that form our watershed.
    • Protect the Arches view shed by expanding the proposed National Conservation Area (NCA) 4 miles east of Arches National Park.
    • Designate the Fisher Towers and Mary Jane areas with the proposed NCA to be managed as roadless areas, following the Daggett County model and as already approved by our Congressional delegation.

    Please, take just a moment to email the entire Council at council@grandcountyutah.net.

    The ORV lobby is already bombarding the Council with emails from around the region. The Council needs to hear from visitors like you that they need to create some balance by closing routes and protecting the quiet areas of Moab!

    When it comes to your experience in Grand County and the Moab area, this may be the most important email you ever write. Please, take just a minute to email the council today.

    Thank you for taking action.

  • March 3rd, 2015

    Great thanks to the nearly three hundred people who rallied at the Utah State Capitol yesterday evening! From chants in opposition to the state’s attempt to take public lands out of American hands and put them “on the chopping block”, to a rousing rendition of “This Land is Your Land” with rally applicable lyrics penned by The Slickrock Stranger, the Great Public Lands Gamble Rally was a great success! Conservation groups, sportsmen, educators, elected officials and outdoor business representatives all spoke out against the state of Utah’s ongoing efforts to seize ownership of America’s public lands and turn them into industrial uses for short-term gain.

    Add your voice to theirs by signing our petition to Governor Herbert.

    Land grab rally

    Emcee Dan McCool, Political Science Professor at the University of Utah urged the crowd to pass along a message to Governor Herbert “Governor, we call on you to distance yourself from the few legislators who cooked up this mess. Collaboration is the best way to solve our problems.” Peter Metcalf, CEO of outdoor recreation company Black Diamond Equipment reminded the crowd that “Non-consumptive industries like ours would be adversely impacted and marginalized in favor of heavy development, should the state assume management.” And Heather Bennett, founder of For Kids and Lands said “Our schools are not the place to roll the economic dice.”

    Thanks to everyone who weathered the early springtime blizzard and found a place to park at a crowded Capitol. We couldn’t have done it without you.