• March 4th, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management Failed to Decide the Application During the Trump Administration

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contacts: Michelle White, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.236.3775

    Liam Kelly, National Parks Conservation Association, 213.814.8666

    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646.823.4518

    Jennifer Dickson, The Wilderness Society, 303.650.9379

    Salt Lake City, UT (March 4, 2021)  – The State of Utah and Washington County, Utah, have quietly withdrawn an application claiming joint ownership interest in the Manganese Road, a 10-mile dirt road in the southwestern corner of Utah that crosses federal public lands and forms part of the southern boundary of the Square Top proposed wilderness.  

    At the end of 2019, the state and county collaborated with the Trump administration’s BLM to attempt to use a controversial and unlawful tool known as a “recordable disclaimer of interest” (RDI) to request the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) give away the United States’ interest in the Manganese road. 

    RDIs were developed by the George W. Bush administration in an attempt to give away public lands. In 2003, the Bush Interior Department issued regulations to guide the use of RDIs to cede control over rights-of-way claimed by states and counties pursuant to an obscure provision of the 1866 Mining Act, known as “Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477.” The 2003 RDI regulations are contrary to a longstanding congressional prohibition, in place since 1997. Initial attempts by the Interior Department in the 2000s to issue RDIs to alleged R.S. 2477 claims in Utah were also withdrawn.

    “The Manganese Road application was a trial balloon that, if successful, would have opened the door for the BLM to cede public control of tens of thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails that Utah claims as highways across federal public lands,” said Michelle White, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The RDI process is simply an effort by the State of Utah to secure title to claimed rights-of way-without having to prove their claims in court.” 

    “Once again, another unsubstantiated road claim under this illegal regulation is withdrawn,” said Kristen Brengel, senior vice president for government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association. “National parks, wildlife refuges, national monuments and many other protected lands will continue to be threatened by this regulation that can turn cow paths and two-tracks into highways. Now is the time to do away with this regulation once and for all.”

    “Amen to the failure of yet another eleventh hour Trump administration sleight-of-hand. If this questionable ploy had worked, it would have relinquished federal land held in trust for all of us,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director of lands for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It also would have set a dangerous precedent, opening the door to more unsavory backhanded deals to develop lands that should be protected.”

    The RDI application is the latest in a decades-long attempt by the State of Utah to secure title to alleged R.S. 2477 claims in an effort to take control of public lands and prevent wilderness protection.

    Coinciding with the RDI application withdrawal is the one-year anniversary of the end of the “bellwether trial” that will determine if fifteen R.S. 2477 claims, located in Kane County, are valid. Despite the lengthy time elapsed since the trial concluded, a decision from the trial court is not anticipated until 2022, or later, due in part to the complicated nature of the factual and legal issues.  

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  • February 25th, 2021

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance lawsuits challenging secret 2017 meetings held between Kane, Garfield and San Juan County Commissions and Trump officials can proceed

    Contact: Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.236.3766
    David Reymann, Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, 801.257.7939
    Troy Booher, Zimmerman Booher, 801.924.0200

    Salt Lake City, UT (February 25, 2021) – This morning, the Utah Supreme Court issued two related opinions in long-running lawsuits brought by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) alleging that (1) the Kane and Garfield County Commissions and (2) the San Juan County Commission violated Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act when they each met privately and in secret with Interior Secretary Zinke (and in the case of San Juan County, other DOI officials in Washington, D.C.) in 2017 regarding Zinke’s report on the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. These meetings preceded then-President Trump’s unlawful dismantling of those monuments. President Biden has pledged to swiftly undo Trump’s actions.

    “We’re grateful the Supreme Court has cleared the way for these important lawsuits to proceed,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “SUWA members and the broader public had every right to know what these commissioners were saying behind closed doors about the fate of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments.”

    The Supreme Court reversed the district courts’ decisions to dismiss these cases at their earliest stage and concluded that (1) SUWA has legal “standing” to bring these cases (is the right party to do so) and (2) the allegations in SUWA’s lawsuits about the private meetings touching on how the hoped-for monument reductions would impact matters within the “jurisdiction or advisory power” of the commissions are sufficient for the cases to proceed. The cases will be remanded back to district court.

    The Supreme Court also (1) reversed Seventh District Judge Lyle Anderson’s decision in the case involving the San Juan County Commission to sua sponte (on his own accord and without a motion by the County) sanction SUWA for filing the case and order that SUWA pay the County’s attorney’s fees and (2) reversed Sixth District Judge Marvin Bagley’s decision in the Kane and Garfield County case that SUWA had brought its case in bad faith and order that SUWA pay the Counties attorneys’ fees. With regard to Judge Anderson’s decision, the Supreme Court specifically called out Anderson’s inappropriate “independent factual research” as contrary to the Judicial Code of Conduct.

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance was represented in the San Juan County case by Troy Booher, Dick Baldwin, and Frederick Voros with the Salt Lake City law firm Zimmerman Booher, and Laura Peterson and Stephen Bloch at SUWA. SUWA was represented in the Kane and Garfield County case by David Reymann and Austin Riter with the Salt Lake City law firm Parr Brown Gee & Loveless.  Friend of the Court briefs were filed in each case on SUWA’s behalf by the Deseret News, Fox 13 KSTU-TV and the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, represented by Edward Carter with the Orem firm Keen Law Offices.

    Update March 19, 2021: Today, SUWA dismissed its lawsuits against Kane, Garfield and San Juan Counties over their 2017 violations of Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act. With the Utah Supreme Court’s recent decision, we affirmed that SUWA and its members have a right to ensure that the public’s business be conducted out in the open and that SUWA should not be punished for trying to hold public officials accountable.

    Four years after filing the lawsuits, with Secretary Zinke and President Trump no longer in office, it is time to move on. We will continue to work to ensure that Utah elected officials conduct public business in an open and transparent manner, consistent with Utah law.

    Additional Resources 

    Southern Utah Wilderness v San Juan County opinion.

    Southern Utah Wilderness v Kane County opinion.

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  • February 24th, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management is accepting public comments for a new travel management plan for the spectacular San Rafael Swell. With the designation of new wilderness areas in the Swell in 2019, and with the BLM’s poor track record of over-designating new routes through this kind of planning, your comments are important. SUWA staff attorney Laura Peterson rejoins us to talk about the San Rafael Swell Travel Management planning process and what you can do.

    Tell the BLM to fulfill its legal obligation and keep motorized trails out of wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other sensitive or inappropriate areas in the San Rafael Swell.

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Wild Utah’s theme music, “What’s Worth?” is composed by Moab singer-songwriter Haley Noel Austin. Post studio production and editing is by Jerry Schmidt.

    Listen on your favorite app!

    wildutah.info/Stitcher
    wildutah.info/Apple
    wildutah.info/Spotify

  • February 23rd, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently developing a travel management plan for Utah’s spectacular San Rafael Swell and your input is urgently needed, especially if you’ve visited the area and don’t want to see it become a motorized vehicle sacrifice zone.

    Home to irreplaceable cultural and historical resources, important wildlife habitat, and unmatched recreational opportunities, the San Rafael Swell encompasses popular destinations such as the San Rafael Reef, Mexican Mountain, Buckhorn Draw, Tomsich Butte, and Muddy Creek as well as newly-designated wilderness areas and the San Rafael Swell Recreation Area.

    The Swell’s sinuous slot canyons, soaring redrock cliffs, and prominent buttes provide endless opportunities for hikers, canyoneers, river runners, climbers, bikers, photographers, campers, and other visitors. The BLM’s travel plan will have a long-lasting impact on the future of this area by determining where motorized vehicles will be able to travel.

    Tell the BLM to fulfill its legal obligation and keep motorized trails out of wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other sensitive or inappropriate areas in the San Rafael Swell.

    San Rafael Swell. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Federal law requires the BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. Despite this, the agency is considering designating over a thousand miles of new routes in the heart of the San Rafael Swell. These new routes include wash bottoms, cow paths, and simple lines on a map. Inundating the Swell with new motorized vehicle routes would forever change this iconic area from one with diverse recreational opportunities to essentially a motorized playground.

    The BLM is currently in the “scoping” phase of its travel planning process, which identifies issues the agency must consider in that process. It is vital that the agency hears from members of the public that blanketing this area with new motorized vehicle routes is unacceptable.

    The BLM should ensure access to trailheads, scenic overlooks, and recreational opportunities, but it must also protect the very reason people want to drive to such remote places: to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the San Rafael Swell.

    Click here to submit your comments to the BLM today.

    The most helpful comments talk about specific areas or trails (by name or number); how you enjoy hiking, camping, and other non-motorized pursuits in the area; and how motorized use in these places has negatively impacted your experience or could do so in the future if more vehicle trails are designated.

    The BLM is accepting comments through March 3, 2021. Be sure to make your voice heard!