• March 15th, 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

     

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

    Moab, UT (March 15, 2021) – In response to the Senate’s confirmation of Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) executive director Scott Groene issued the following statement:

    “Utah’s public lands suffered significant damage under the mismanagement of the Trump administration. As the first Native American to head the Department of Interior and a Westerner, Secretary Haaland is uniquely positioned to understand the importance of restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments; protecting cultural resources from the impacts of off-road vehicle use; and establishing a forward-looking, science-oriented approach to the stewardship of wild public lands. We congratulate her on this historic day and are grateful she was a strong supporter of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and the 30×30 initiative during her time in Congress. We look forward to her visiting Utah and working with her on the ground to find solutions.”

     

  • March 9th, 2021

    This Friday, March 12th, marks the second anniversary of the Emery County Public Land Management Act becoming law as part of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. 

    Muddy Creek Wilderness.

    The Emery Act is one of the largest wilderness bills in a decade to become law, protecting 663,000 acres of public land as designated wilderness while also creating the nearly 217,000-acre San Rafael Swell Recreation Area and protecting 63 miles of the Green River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.


    But as the two-year anniversary of the Act approaches this week, the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been haphazard at best in its implementation of protections directed by Congress, and is even advancing a new motorized travel plan for the region that would maximize off-road vehicle abuse despite the Congressional mandate to prioritize conservation in the region. 

    World-class landscapes like Muddy Creek, Labyrinth Canyon, and Desolation Canyon have been designated wilderness for two years now, yet you wouldn’t know it on the ground. 

    Illegal motorized use in these areas has gone largely unchecked, boundary signage is woefully inadequate, and public information is slim. 

    Taken together, the BLM has left public land users guessing about where activities like motorized use is- and is not – appropriate. Among the issues that persist two years since enactment of the Emery Act:

    • The BLM has failed to address illegal off-road vehicle use that continues to occur within designated wilderness areas and the San Rafael Swell Recreation Area. This includes failing to take actions to remediate and rehabilitate areas, including closing illegal trails, installing adequate signage, and providing educational information to the public.
    • The BLM has prioritized actions such as coal leasing, gypsum mining, and helium exploration over proactively managing designated wilderness and the recreation area.
    • The BLM is currently considering designating over a thousand miles of new routes in the heart of the San Rafael Swell. Inventory maps released as part of the BLM’s “scoping” phase of its travel planning process would inundate the Swell with new motorized vehicle routes, forever changing this iconic area from one with diverse recreational opportunities to essentially a motorized playground, directly contravening the Act’s intent of conserving the area for future generations.
    • One month before it was formally designated as wilderness by the Dingell Act, the BLM rushed to issue a lease to drill for helium in the heart of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness. SUWA, along with conservation partners, have sued the BLM for failing to take a hard look at the potential climate harms from the fracking project and failing to provide a reasoned basis for offering this land for leasing in the first place. 

    It is our hope that the Biden administration will focus the Utah BLM on conservation management, and in doing so will work to prioritize the implementation of protections established by the Dingell Act. 

    Labyrinth Canyon.

    For more, check out our story map of lands protected in the Emery County Public Land Management Act.

     

  • 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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