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*Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. All contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
Longstanding litigation over six BLM-Utah land use plans and travel management plans brought to a close
An order issued today by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit clears the way for BLM-Utah to begin implementing a comprehensive settlement agreement that will result in the completion of 13 new off-highway vehicle travel management plans over the next 8 years across eastern and southern Utah. The settlement agreement marks the end to longstanding litigation filed in 2008 by a coalition of conservation groups which challenged six land use plans and travel plans that were completed at the end of the George W. Bush administration and designated a spider web of approximately 20,000 miles of routes where off-highway vehicles could drive on federal public lands. The settlement requires BLM to revisit these decisions across more than 6 million acres of federal public lands, minimize the impacts of off-highway vehicles on cultural resources and wilderness landscapes that provide opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation and monitor for illegal use.
BLM-Utah will also consider the designation of three areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs) and update and prepare air quality-related reports and studies that will inform future BLM decisions regarding oil and gas development. The settlement agreement can be viewed here.
The settlement agreement was reviewed and approved by a federal district court judge in Salt Lake City. In his order approving the settlement agreement, senior district court Judge Dale A. Kimball stated that the settlement “is a fair and lawful resolution of years of litigation” and is consistent with applicable federal law.
The BLM-Utah plans at issue guide land management decisions across more than 10 million acres of federal public lands in eastern and southern Utah, including some of the nation’s most remarkable red rock wilderness landscapes.
Photos of proposed wilderness areas in new “travel management areas” contemplated by the settlement agreement can be found here.
The following conservation groups are plaintiffs to the litigation and parties to the settlement agreement: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Rocky Mountain Wild, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Utah Rivers Council.
The parties to the settlement agreement include the conservation groups, the off-highway vehicle group-intervenors, and the Bureau of Land Management. Several intervenors, including the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration and four oil and gas companies, do not oppose the agreement.
The conservation groups were represented by attorneys from Earthjustice, SUWA, NRDC, and the law firm of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside.
Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came to Utah to “review” Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments — and SUWA supporters were on the ground to meet him in force.
The day before he arrived, more than 3,000 people rallied at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City to show their support for Utah’s wild lands and monuments. More than 500 showed up the next day at the BLM offices while Sec. Zinke held a perfunctory meeting with tribes. And when he showed up at Butler Wash Ruin in the middle of Bears Ears National Monument, nearly 70 supporters were on hand with signs and banners urging him to leave our monuments alone. An additional 300 people rallied the next day in Kanab to show their support for Grand Staircase-Escalante.
But even though Sec. Zinke has left the state, we can’t let up — we need to bring the message directly to him and to President Trump to leave our monuments alone. That’s why SUWA is running full page ads today in both The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Click on the image above to see the ad in full (opens in PDF).
Although Zinke’s “listening tour” was decidedly one-sided, we’re not going to leave anything on the field in our efforts to protect our monuments — and to convince President Trump and Ryan Zinke to ignore the caterwauling of Utah politicians and leave Bears Ears and Grand Staircase intact.
We rely on your continued support to keep up this fight — on the ground, in the courts, and in the media.
Thank you for standing up for the redrock.
Also, if you haven’t already done so, please submit your public comment to Sec. Zinke about Bears Ears! The comment period ends a week from today! SUWA.org/comment
President Trump has declared war on Utah’s national monuments. Now is the time to act.
President Trump’s April 26th Executive Order requires a “review” of national monuments dating back to 1996. This bureaucratic speak hides the administration’s real intention: dismantling the protections put in place for our nation’s most treasured public lands. Included in the review are dozens of monuments across the country, but the bookends of the timeline are Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments, making it clear that they are the prime targets.
The Department of Interior is now accepting comments to gauge public support for these monuments.
Help us save Utah’s monuments! Please click here to submit your comments and we’ll deliver them to the Department of Interior. We are collecting comments ourselves so we can ensure an accurate accounting of supportive comments to add to national totals.
Utah has been under siege from politicians hostile to protecting its wilderness for decades, but this action marks the most sweeping threat to the preservation of Utah’s protected wildlands. What’s worse, the Bears Ears comment period is a mere 15 days, meaning we need everyone to act quickly.
It’s important that comments be in your own words—the Department of Interior will count them individually that way. But to help you gather your thoughts, let us remind you of what’s at stake.
• Bears Ears National Monument was a significant achievement. President Obama protected the 1.3 million-acre monument in December at the urging of a historic coalition of five Tribes that had come together to advocate for its protection.
• It is the first national monument to include traditional knowledge as an object worthy of protection in the monument proclamation. And every inch of Bears Ears is necessary to preserve the more than 100,000 archaeological sites therein.
• Bears Ears must never be shrunk nor repealed. If anything, the monument is not big enough. The Tribes had requested almost 600,000 more acres for protection. The whole tribal proposal should have been made a monument.
• It is a remarkable wilderness landscape. Beyond the monument’s namesake twin buttes are world-renowned wilderness treasures like White Canyon, Indian Creek, and Comb Ridge. Myriad plant and animal species thrive in its varied habitats. And you’d be hard pressed to find the solitude provided by these areas elsewhere else in the lower 48.
• Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated in 1996. Since then, it has come to be known as the “Science Monument”—yielding several new species of dinosaur and other paleontological finds and providing habitat for 650 bee species, many that are endemic to the area.
• Grand Staircase-Escalante has incredible camping, hiking and other recreational opportunities. Places like Calf Creek, Peekaboo and Spooky Canyon, Coyote Gulch, and the Hole in the Rock Road are known the world over. If you have your own favorites, be sure to mention them!
• Polling shows more than half of Utahns want Grand Staircase-Escalante left alone. That’s added to the more than 80 percent of Westerners that the Colorado College Conservation in the West poll showed want existing national monuments left intact.
• Reviewing any monument is a political act, but especially when it involves one that is more than two decades old and flourishing. No president has ever taken this needless step, and neither should President Trump.
Please consider all of these points as you make your comments, and make sure to add your own! Tell the Department of Interior what makes these monuments so special.
We know this will take more time than usual, but it’s extremely important. Tell Secretary Zinke and President Trump that Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are here to stay!
Thank you for all you do. We can’t do this without you.
On April 28th, the Interior Board of Land Appeals issued an order dismissing an appeal filed by Washington County, the City of St. George, and the Washington County Water Conservancy District that challenged the recently finalized Resource Management Plans for the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Areas.
The appellants primarily challenged the BLM’s decision to designate portions of the conservation areas as “exclusion areas”—a designation that would prohibit new rights-of-way such as roads, power lines, or pipelines. The challenge was specifically focused on the Northern Corridor, a proposed east-west travel corridor that would bisect critical desert tortoise habitat in the Red Cliffs conservation area (background information about the transportation corridor can be found here). The appellants also challenged the ability of the BLM to regulate where new water infrastructure could be located throughout both conservation areas.
While the Board’s action terminates an appeal that, if successful, would undermine the purpose of the national conservation area designations, it nevertheless leaves St. George and Washington County taxpayers on the hook for an estimated $9,500 to $14,000 in legal fees.
Although SUWA successfully intervened in the case on behalf of the BLM, the Board dismissed the appeal on the grounds that it concerned issues outside the Board’s “authority to adjudicate.” The Board took this action on its own accord, prior to any briefing on the case by SUWA, the BLM, or other interveners in the case.
The two conservation areas—both located in Utah’s southwestern corner—were created to “conserve, protect, and enhance . . . the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources” of the designated lands. Additionally, the Red Cliffs conservation area was established to protect threatened and endangered species like the desert tortoise. The BLM was required to develop management plans to accomplish these purposes, which were released on December 21, 2016.
The Board’s decision will prevent the sought-after projects from moving forward for now, but SUWA will continue to follow any developments and will keep you updated if and when they occur.
Great news! Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) last week reintroduced America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (S. 948) in the Senate. The bill would permanently protect 9.2 million acres of Utah’s amazing wilderness—places like Labyrinth Canyon, the Dirty Devil, the San Rafael Swell, and the West Desert, ensuring that they remain wild for future generations of Americans.
He was joined by 18 original cosponsors from 13 states, underscoring the importance of these remaining wild landscapes to the American people. The other champions are: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
President Trump has declared an all-out assault on Utah’s public lands, last week signing an order that could lead to the repeal of both Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument. We need our congressional champions to stand up for Utah now more than ever.
If your senator isn’t on the list yet, please click here to ask them to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. And remember, you have two senators so you may need to thank one and ask the other!
To double the impact, call your senators as well through the capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
There has never been a more urgent time for the redrock wilderness. We need your help to save it.