• June 22nd, 2017

    * SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE *

    For Immediate Release: June 22, 2017

    Contact:
    Landon Newell, Staff Attorney
    Tel: 801-428-3991

     Acting in lockstep with the Trump administration’s relentless onslaught against federal public lands, the BLM is proposing to offer at the agency’s December 2017 oil and gas lease sale 79 parcels for leasing and development on approximately 100,000 acres of federal public lands in eastern and central Utah.  Included in this list are parcels along the western edge of the San Rafael Swell and immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument.

    “This is an outrageous proposal to lease and develop some of Utah’s most culturally rich and wildly scenic federal public lands.  BLM has quickly come full circle and brought us back to the ‘drill now-drill everywhere’ days of the early 2000s, and once again Utah is front and center on the national stage for these disastrous policies,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    BLM Vernal field office leasing documents here; BLM Price field office leasing documents here.

    Leasing in the San Rafael Swell
    For the third time in five years, BLM is proposing to offer leases in the Molen Reef region of the western San Rafael Swell – an area with high cultural and archaeological density and outstanding recreational opportunities.  The BLM’s initial decision to offer these leases in 2013 drew immediate and widespread criticism, including a large public protest in front of the agency’s state headquarters in Salt Lake City. Ultimately, the agency determined that it did not have enough information regarding cultural and archaeological resources to justify leasing the area for oil and gas development.  In 2015, the BLM once again deferred leasing in the Molen Reef region, citing the continuing need to gather more cultural and archaeological resource information.

    To date, the agency has still not completed those cultural resource inventories.  In fact, the BLM admits it has surveyed only 0.6 percent of the proposed parcels and thus is in no stronger a position to justify leasing now than it was in 2013.  The agency’s leasing flip-flop is a disservice to this remarkable wilderness-caliber landscape and its thousands of known – and yet to be discovered – cultural resources.

    View of lease area in the western San Rafael Swell (Eagle Canyon/Molen Reef region). Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    Leasing on the Doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument
    In a return to the Bush administration’s scorched earth approach to oil and gas leasing in the Uinta Basin, the BLM is also proposing to offer leases immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument.  This ill-advised proposal would green-light oil and gas development right next to the monument, including along the primary access route travelled by thousands of visitors annually.  In fact, one of the parcels proposed for sale was previously offered at BLM’s infamous December 2008 oil and gas lease sale and later withdrawn from sale by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after a successful lawsuit by SUWA and others blocked its issuance.

    In a letter to the BLM, the National Park Service has objected to the leasing proposal, citing the adverse impacts to air quality, viewsheds, dark night skies, water quality, and natural soundscapes.

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  • June 15th, 2017

    San Juan, Kane and Garfield County Commissions held a series of unlawful meetings over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 15, 2017

    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
    David Reymann, Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, 801.257.7939

    In response to a series of recent, unlawful closed door meetings between three southern Utah county commissions and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and others regarding the fate of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has notified each commission that it has violated Utah’s Open and Public Meeting Act and demanded that these meetings cease.  In separate letters to the San Juan, Kane, and Garfield County Commission, SUWA stated that “[b]y failing to properly notice and allow public attendance at their meetings with Secretary Zinke … the Commission violated the Act.”

    “These commission meetings are textbook violations of the Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act.  Because the commissions met with Secretary Zinke and other officials and discussed the future of these national monuments they need to provide public notice and allow the public an opportunity to attend the meeting.  That’s the whole point of the Act: for state and local government to conduct public business out in the open,” said David Reymman, an attorney with the Salt Lake City law firm Parr Brown Gee & Loveless.

    “The San Juan, Kane and Garfield county commissions repeated secret meetings with Secretary Zinke and other government officials about Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments are completely at odds with Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act.  SUWA members in these three counties have an intense interest in protecting our state’s national monuments and would have attended these meetings and vocally advocated for their protection had they known about them.  The commissions’ decision to operate under cover of darkness is unlawful and cannot continue,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    San Juan County Commissioners met with Secretary Zinke in Washington, D.C. on May 2 and June 5, and in Utah on May 8 and 9.  Garfield and Kane County Commissioners met with Secretary Zinke in Utah on May 10.

    Mr. Reymann represents SUWA with regard to Garfield and Kane Counties’ alleged violation of the Act.  SUWA attorneys Mr. Bloch and Ms. Laura Peterson represent the organization with regard to San Juan County’s alleged violation of the Act.

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  • June 12th, 2017

    For Immediate Release: June 12, 2017
    Contact: Mathew Gross, (435) 259-4316

    Today Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued an interim report that signaled his desire to greatly reduce the Bears Ears National Monument. A final report is expected in August.

    The following statement is from Mathew Gross, Media Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance:

    “Though Secretary Zinke’s interim report does not change anything about Bears Ears on the ground today, it makes it clear the Secretary is trying to line up the political cover to eviscerate the monument. That doesn’t change the fact that any attempt by the Trump administration to weaken or shrink the monument is illegal. The landscapes and cultural resources protected in Bears Ears belong to the American people and must be protected for the sake of future generations, not pawned off as a trophy for the Utah delegation.”

    In his report, Zinke reopened the public comment period on Bears Ears, which to date has shown an overwhelming support for the monument—more than a million comments have been submitted in favor of protecting existing national monuments like Bears Ears. Zinke also suggested that Bears Ears National Monument is too large, despite its boundaries having already been considerably diminished from the original proposal put forward by a coalition of five Tribes.

    In addition, Zinke’s report punts many issues to Congress, suggesting that after Bears Ears is shrunk, Congress should reinstate some of the areas in other designations, and work with tribes on co-management. This is a red herring, as the Utah delegation already showed an unwillingness to protect Bears Ears adequately in its abysmal Public Lands Initiative last year—and the administration is doing the same by showing its intent to shrink the boundaries. Since the failure of the PLI, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep. Rob Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz have done nothing but lobby the Trump administration to undo the monument. They have no serious intention of protecting the Bears Ears and have already failed to do so.

    Today’s report may be a reprieve from immediate damage to Bears Ears, but the end game is an unprecedented attack on America’s public lands.

    The Bears Ears Buttes. Photo (c) Tim Peterson.

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  • June 6th, 2017

    Terrific news! The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has pulled back an outrageous proposal to lease federal public lands for oil and gas development at the doorstep of Zion National Park.

    And it was citizen action that made the difference!

    The problem emerged this past winter when the BLM identified two parcels near Zion for inclusion in a September 2017 oil and gas lease sale. The parcels of land are less than two miles from the park boundary, lay clearly within the park’s viewshed, and are traversed by the Kolob Terrace Road – a popular access route to the backcountry portion of the park. The parcels also abut the town of Virgin and are transected by a popular mountain bike trail.

    View across lease parcels pulled by the BLM thanks to citizen outcry. Copyright Luke Henry/SUWA

    Local citizens, supported by conservation groups including SUWA, jumped into action. Several hundred people packed a local information meeting in the tiny community of Virgin. In response to the encouragement of local residents, the towns of Springdale and Toquerville passed resolutions against leasing. The Washington County Commission, concerned especially about impacts to water resources, followed suit. Two dozen local businesses joined together to write the BLM. And letters poured in from around the country. In total, more than 40,000 people wrote comments objecting to the proposed lease sale.

    The public outcry even captured the attention of Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert. In a letter to the BLM, Governor Herbert asked that leasing be deferred, stating that oil and gas development in the area would threaten the recreation and tourism based economies of local communities and noting that the area was “not ideal for extraction.”

    SUWA offers a big thanks and congratulations to everyone who helped. This victory is a great reminder that even in these tough times we can prevail in protecting Utah’s wild places when citizens join together to speak out!

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