• February 12th, 2019

    Utah’s Iconic San Rafael Swell Nears Wilderness Protection as Part of Public Lands Package Passed by U.S. Senate

    Contact: Scott Groene, Executive Director, 801-712-5034, scott@suwa.org

    Jen Ujifusa, Legislative Director, 801-791-2598, jen@suwa.org

    Neal Clark, Wildlands Program Director, 435-260-1199, neal@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (February 12, 2019) – In response to the U.S. Senate’s passage today of the Emery County Public Land Management Act as part of S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) executive director Scott Groene issued the following statement:

    “We are excited by the passage of this legislation, which protects 663,000 acres of Utah’s iconic San Rafael Swell and Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons in Emery County as designated wilderness.  It’s a tremendous step forward for the redrock and a validation of SUWA’s more than 35 years of advocacy.

    “While this agreement came with some difficult choices, it brings long-term protection to this spectacular landscape.

    “This bill was possible only because of Senator Dick Durbin, who has championed America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act for 20 years and was instrumental in brokering the agreement with Senator Hatch. In the House of Representatives, Rep. Alan Lowenthal challenged an earlier, flawed version—flaws which have now been largely addressed. These lands belong to all Americans and wilderness bills like this one can only succeed if Utah politicians recognize the national significance of their protection.

    “We thank our steadfast allies in the Utah Wilderness Coalition- the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council- who each held strong with us for legislation that truly protects these lands.

    “We appreciate the efforts of Sen. Hatch, Rep. John Curtis, and their staffs for seeing the bill through and keeping the lines of communication open. Likewise, we offer thanks and respect to the Emery County officials who brought sufficient flexibility to the table to create a bill that is a win for all Americans.

    “At a time when our nation is deeply divided, this legislation brought together differing views for a result that is good for Redrock wilderness. Passing this legislation involved compromises, and landscapes deserving protection were left out. Nonetheless, this bill is good for Utah, and good for the United States.”

    The Senate lands package now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.

    Additional Resources

    More information, including maps and photographs of the protected region, is available here. A story map of the bill and region is available here.

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  • January 31st, 2019

    SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE – THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY –
    SIERRA CLUB

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

    Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4635

    Over the course of 12 months, the Trump Administration has systematically leased
    the Four Corners region, making the area Ground Zero for its “Energy Dominance” agenda

    Salt Lake City, UT (January 31, 2019) – Less than three business days after the end of the partial government shutdown, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans to sell more than 217,000 acres of oil and gas leases on federal public lands throughout Utah during its upcoming March 2019 lease sale. The BLM plans to auction off 156 oil and gas lease parcels, including parcels in Utah’s culturally significant Four Corners region near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments, as well as the wild and remote Book Cliffs.

    Utah BLM staff worked during the federal government shutdown to prepare for this lease sale. Taken together, the parcels cut a wide swath through Utah’s cultural, hunting, and wilderness legacy. Photographs of places proposed for upcoming sale are available here.

    Throughout the course of three lease sales conducted over the past 12 months, the Trump administration’s BLM has systematically leased more than 112,000 acres in southeast Utah’s Four Corners Region, blanketing one of the densest accumulations of cultural resources in the country with oil and gas leases and setting the stage for the area to be drilled and developed.  A map illustrating the BLM’s all-out assault on this fragile region is here.

    “The BLM is placing the final pieces to complete its puzzle of oil and gas leases near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “The BLM has done so without considering the big-picture impacts to these national monuments and surrounding landscapes, including impacts to dark night skies, air quality, and the region’s rich cultural heritage.”

    The National Park Service, the BLM’s sister agency in the Interior Department, has written the BLM on two occasions – before the March 2018 and now the March 2019 lease sale – urging the BLM to not lease parcels on the doorstep of Hovenweep National Monument. The BLM has not deferred any parcels in response to these concerns.

    In response to the BLM’s notice of the March 2019 sale, the All Pueblo Council of Governors and Pueblo of Acoma have demanded that the BLM defer selling leases in the area until the agency conducts a thorough cultural resources review of the region.  The Hopi Tribe has previously written the BLM demanding the same review. The BLM has not deferred any parcels in response to these concerns, either.

    “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 has riddled Utah’s wild and culturally significant public lands with leases, which should come as no surprise given that it’s the same Bush political appointee – David Bernhardt – now steering the Trump Interior Department.”

    In addition to the sell-off of wilderness-caliber and culturally rich lands, the BLM plans to lease nearly 100 parcels in eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin and Book Cliffs region, which the Environmental Protection Agency recently designated in “nonattainment” of national air quality standards for ozone. The Uinta Basin suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation, largely due to the BLM’s ineffective and lax management of oil and gas leasing and development. Rather than take steps to bring the Uinta Basin into compliance with air quality standards, the BLM is rushing forward faster than ever to sell off public lands in the Basin for exploration and development. The Book Cliffs are a wild and remote region prized by hunters and guides for trophy big game.

    “With BLM staff already stretched thin, it’s hard to believe that the six days the government was open since comments were submitted on this lease sale could be sufficient to address the many risks to wildlife, wilderness and archaeological resources on 217,000 acres of public lands,” said Nada Culver, Director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “And the fact that all of these parcels are still in the sale raises some red flags.”

    “How many times can we say this? This is another egregious example of short term profit margins being put ahead of invaluable cultural and archeological resources – with areas near Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancient national monuments being put back on the chopping block for the third time in a year,” said Utah Sierra Club Director Ashley Soltysiak. “Once lost, these incredible places are gone forever.”

    There is no need to sacrifice Utah’s remarkable wild places for oil and gas leasing and development. Utah, like most western states, has a surplus of BLM-managed lands that are under lease but not in development,with only forty-five percent of its total leased land in development.  There were approximately 2.5 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development (see here and follow hyperlink for Table 2, Acreage in Effect) at the close of BLM’s 2017 fiscal year – the last year in which BLM has provided oil and gas statistics. At the same time, oil and gas companies had less than 1.2 million acres of those leased lands in production (here – follow hyperlink for Table 6, Acreage of Producing Leases).

    More information regarding BLM’s March 2019 lease sale is available here.

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  • January 29th, 2019

    For Immediate Release
    January 29, 2019

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

    Salt Lake City — In a remarkable about-face following a protest from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) announced yesterday that it had dropped its proposal to sell twelve oil and gas leases totaling roughly 5,700 acres located on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument to the highest bidder.

    While these SITLA-managed lands contain the same irreplaceable cultural and paleontological resources that are found on adjacent federal public lands, they are not formally part of the monument.  Two of the proposed leases were also immediately adjacent to Canyonlands National Park and several proposed leases were visible from the popular Anticline and Needles overlooks.  A number of the leases were also in the Lockhart Basin proposed wilderness area.

    Last Friday, January 25th, SUWA protested SITLA’s proposed leasing decision and urged the agency to defer leasing until the federal litigation challenging Trump’s unlawful rollback of the monument has been resolved.

    “SITLA made the right decision to withdraw the twelve protested oil and gas leases on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “We hope that SITLA will continue to defer leasing in Bears Ears until the federal litigation challenging President Trump’s unlawful attack on the monument has been resolved and the agency can pursue a land exchange that benefits Utah’s schoolchildren and protects irreplaceable cultural and paleontological resources.”

    Four of the twelve protested parcels received bids but SITLA announced yesterday that it had withdrawn the parcels from sale and would refund the high bidder monies.  SITLA also announced that none of the twelve parcels would be available for non-competitive leasing for the next several months, as is usually the case.

    On December 4, 2017, President Trump purported to dismantle Bears Ears National Monument and designate two much smaller monuments, Indian Creek and Shash Jaa’. There are currently three lawsuits pending in federal district court for the District of Columbia challenging President Trump’s unlawful action; the lead case is Hopi Tribe et al. v. Trump.  SUWA is a plaintiff in one of the other lawsuits, a case referred to as Natural Resources Defense Council et al. v. Trump.  Each of these lawsuits asks a federal judge to declare unlawful and invalidate President Trump’s December 4, 2017 proclamation. Such a decision would have significant bearing on access to any SITLA oil and gas lease sold within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, access which is subject to federal regulation and control.  SITLA’s solicitation for this lease sale contained no mention of the fact that the leases are within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, nor did it advise potential bidders that Trump’s unlawful action is the subject of three lawsuits.

    The proposed sale of these leases was also contrary to SITLA’s mandate to manage its lands for both short and long term economic gain and, when necessary, to consider a land exchange which would preserve unique non-economic values (such as the cultural, paleontological, and biological resources in Bears Ears).  This is precisely why President Obama’s proclamation establishing Bears Ears National Monument called on the Secretary of the Interior to explore a land exchange with the State of Utah for all SITLA-managed lands in the monument.  Unfortunately, the State refused to pursue such an exchange.  SITLA’s mission is “[a]dministering trust lands prudently and profitably for Utah’s schoolchildren and other trust beneficiaries.”

    Resources for reporters:

    Photos of the leases are available for media use here.

    A map of the twelve leases is available here.

    Learn about the Five Native American Tribes working to protect Bears Ears.

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  • January 28th, 2019

    Welcome to the SUWA podcast, Wild Utah!

    Dave Pacheco discusses the environmental consequences of oil and gas leasing on public lands with SUWA Staff Attorney Landon Newell. Millions of acres of public lands in Utah are still natural or in a wild condition. It’s these places, proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Redrock Wilderness Act, that SUWA works to defend. So, what happens when the BLM proposes drilling in those wild places?

    Among his portfolio of duties, Landon is SUWA’s go-to staffer when it comes to understanding, tracking, and challenging oil & gas industry activities on Utah’s wild BLM lands.

    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.

  • January 25th, 2019

    For Immediate Release
    January 25, 2019

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

    Salt Lake City — In a remarkably shortsighted decision, the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) is proposing to sell twelve oil and gas leases totaling roughly 5,700 acres located on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument to the highest bidder. While these leases contain the same irreplaceable cultural and paleontological resources that are found on adjacent federal public lands, the SITLA lands underlying the leases are not formally part of the monument.  Two of the proposed leases are also immediately adjacent to Canyonlands National Park and several proposed leases are visible from the popular Anticline and Needles overlooks.

    Today, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) protested SITLA’s proposed leasing decision and urged the agency to defer leasing until the federal litigation challenging Trump’s unlawful rollback of the monument has been resolved.

    “We are calling on SITLA Director David Ure not to sell any oil and gas leases on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument until the federal litigation challenging President Trump’s unlawful attack on the monument has been resolved and the agency can pursue a land exchange that benefits Utah’s schoolchildren and protects irreplaceable cultural and paleontological resources,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “At a bare minimum, SITLA should not sell any of the proposed twelve leases until it makes clear to potential lessees that the twelve leases are within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, that Trump’s decision attacking the monument has been challenged in court, and that access to any leases will be highly controversial.”

    On December 4, 2017, President Trump purported to dismantle Bears Ears National Monument and designate two much smaller monuments, Indian Creek and Shash Jaa’. There are currently three lawsuits pending in federal district court for the District of Columbia challenging President Trump’s unlawful action; the lead case is Hopi Tribe et al. v. Trump.  SUWA is a plaintiff in one of the other lawsuits, a case referred to as Natural Resources Defense Council et al. v. Trump.  Each of these lawsuits asks a federal judge to declare unlawful and invalidate President Trump’s December 4, 2017 proclamation. Such a decision would have significant bearing on access to any SITLA oil and gas lease sold within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, access which is subject to federal regulation and control.  SITLA’s solicitation for this lease sale contains no mention of the fact that the leases are within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, nor does it advise potential bidders that Trump’s unlawful action is the subject of three lawsuits.

    The proposed sale of these leases also flies in the face of SITLA’s mandate to manage its lands for both short and long term economic gain and, when necessary, to consider a land exchange which would preserve unique non-economic values (such as the cultural, paleontological, and biological resources in Bears Ears).  This is precisely why President Obama’s proclamation establishing Bears Ears National Monument called on the Secretary of the Interior to explore a land exchange with the State of Utah for all SITLA-managed lands in the monument.  Unfortunately, the State refused to pursue such an exchange.  SITLA’s mission is “[a]dministering trust lands prudently and profitably for Utah’s schoolchildren and other trust beneficiaries.”

    Online bidding for the twelve leases closes today at 5pm mountain time.

    Resources for reporters:

    Photos of the leases are available for media use here.

    A map of the twelve leases is available here.

    Learn about the Five Native American Tribes working to protect Bears Ears.

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