SUWA Praises BLM Withdrawal of Last Remaining Vegetation Removal Projects Proposed In Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Withdrawal Means Planned Vegetation Treatments in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Have Been Reduced From More Than 135,000 Acres to Zero 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org

Moab, UT (January 30, 2020) – The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is praising the withdrawal by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of multiple major vegetation removal projects the agency had been planning in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.

Last weekend, the BLM officially listed the 90,000+ acre “Paria River Watershed Habitat Improvement Project” as “withdrawn” on its online bulletin board. The Paria River Project underwent public scoping in late 2018, and had been one of the Utah BLM’s priority projects for 2020.

The Paria River decision follows BLM’s late December withdrawal of three additional proposals at the heart of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument totalling more than 13,000 acres (at Alvey Wash, Last Chance Gulch, and Coal Bench), as well as a decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) on September 16, 2019 to set aside BLM’s plan to remove more than 30,000 acres of pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush from the Monument’s Skutumpah Terrace area.

All told, the BLM had planned to use heavy machinery including chaining and bullhog masticators to strip more than 135,000 acres of native vegetation from Grand Staircase, including pinyon and juniper trees and sagebrush. 

SUWA praised the withdrawals of the final remaining vegetation removal projects in the National Monument.

“The BLM’s withdrawal of these proposals means that, for now, there are currently no new deforestation projects planned within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” said SUWA wildlands attorney Kya Marienfeld. “We started 2019 with more than 135,000 acres within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument threatened by intensive mechanical removal. We are now starting 2020 with zero acres of these projects completed and zero planned.”

“This is good news and proof that our vigilance on this issue and our successful legal challenges have had an impact,” said SUWA wildlands director Neal Clark. “It is our hope that BLM has taken a step back in order to seriously consider whether these risky projects are legal and scientifically-defensible.” 

“Large-scale mechanical vegetation removal projects are an extreme management approach that simply do not belong on our public lands, and should never have been proposed in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” added Marienfeld. “These projects are completely incompatible with protecting the fragile ecological, paleontological, and archaeological resources in Grand Staircase.”

SUWA launched a statewide television campaign in January, 2018 opposing the BLM’s vegetation removal plans in the Monument. In the wake of a scientific report that found little evidence to support the BLM’s assertion that vegetation removal projects improve wildlife habitat, reduce stream erosion, or prevent wildfire, SUWA again called for the agency to scrap all vegetation removal plans within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in April 2019

Additional Resources

Paria River Project Summary (ePlanning)

Alvey Wash, Coal Bench, and Last Chance Project Summary (ePlanning)

Interior Board of Land Appeals Order on Skutumpah Terrace, Sept. 16, 2019.

National Geographic, September, 2019: Forests on Utah’s public lands may soon be torn out. Here’s why.

Gambling with Our Public Lands: The Scientific Uncertainty and Fiscal Waste of BLM’s Vegetation Removal Program in the West

Do mechanical vegetation treatments of pinyon-juniper and sagebrush communities work? A review of the literature. 2019. Jones.

George Wuerthner (former BLM botanist), The Salt Lake Tribune, September 12, 2019: BLM is attacking juniper to help cows, not sage grouse

 

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