Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

A prospect more frightening than Halloween!

12:11 pm

Last week Rep. Jason Chaffetz made a play at solving America’s deficit woes. He decided to have a literal yard sale and auction off the open space right in the back yards of thousands of Westerners.

Please contact your representative and ask him/her to oppose the sale of 3.3 million acres of federal land!

The “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2011,” or H.R. 1126, would force the Bureau of Land Management to sell 3.3 million acres of federal lands throughout 10 Western states, with all the money going to the treasury, instead of to conservation as it currently does when federal lands are sold. The inspiration for the bill came from a 14-year-old report that identified so-called “excess lands” managed by the BLM. But even at the time, the report cautioned that selling the land would be accompanied by conflicts, including the presence of cultural resources, endangered species habitats, wetlands, and adjacent landowners opposing the sale.

As a result, in a hearing this week the BLM testified that it was “strongly opposed” to the bill’s passage, and the Salt Lake Tribune called the moth-balled report on which it was based “a lousy place to start” when deciding which federal lands to trim.

It is a lousy place to start, and a lousy time. With the current low prices in real estate from the market’s saturation, the treasury would get a bad return on any sales it made at deflated prices, and local landowners would find their own land values further depressed by the weight of new land on the supply side. Selling these lands would make hardly a dent in the deficit, but would leave an enduring mark on taken-for-granted open spaces in communities across the West.

There is already a mechanism for selling federal land—it is called the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, and it authorizes the BLM to explore which parcels make sense to give up, and to sell them accordingly. Careful consideration and individual review is the way forward, not a desperate fire sale. Members of Congress should support the reauthorization of FLTFA in order to ensure that any sale of federal lands occurs as part of a judicious and responsible process.

Please contact your member of Congress and ask him/her to oppose H.R. 1126, the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act!

Roadless rule decision applies to the BLM too

10:28 am

Last Friday, in an historic decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the so-called “Roadless Rule” which protected millions of acres of primitive Forest Service lands that had as yet remained untouched by chain saws, bulldozers or roads.  The rule, issued by the Clinton administration and supported by an unprecedented number of Americans who wrote the Forest Service to request the rule, had been tied up in litigation since its issuance in early 2000.  The decision is a huge victory for America’s forests.

But most of the reporting on this important decision missed the fact that it has broader implications which extend far beyond the Forest Service lands – it’s rationale extends to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands as well.  That’s because the reasoning and the statutes on which the court relied to hold that the Forest Service has the authority to protect wilderness-eligible, roadless lands apply equally to the statutes that govern the BLM.  Here’s an excerpt from the court’s decision:

Under [the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act’s] statutory scheme, which supplemented the broad authority granted in the [Forest Service’s ] Organic Act, Congress clearly authorized the Forest Service to regulate NFS lands for multiple uses, including those protected by the Roadless Rule, such as “outdoor recreation,” “watershed,” and “wildlife and fish purposes.” 16 U.S.C. § 528. We therefore conclude that the Forest Service had the authority—under the Organic Act and MUSYA—to promulgate a rule protecting NFS lands through restrictions on commercial logging and road construction.

The BLM is also governed by the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, and its organic act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, also gives the BLM broad discretion to determine the uses that will occur on the lands under its jurisdiction.

That means that if the Interior Department decided to implement the Wild Lands Policy, or any other policy meant to protect the BLM’s last remaining wild lands, it could clearly do so.  The decision blows a mile-wide hole in all the bluster we heard from congressional wilderness foes about the so-called “illegality” of the Interior Department’s Wild Lands policy.  We thought that the bluster was bunk then; now the Tenth Circuit has said so as well.

So it remains to be seen:  Will the Obama administration now walk the clear path forward to protecting deserving BLM lands?  Congress has clearly proven itself incapable of doing so.  Yet someone has to, there’s just too much at stake.

And now there’s really no reason not to walk that path.

Heidi McIntosh

Chaffetz land sell-off takes real estate speculation to “excess” heights

1:40 pm

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee hosted a hearing for eight bills today. Seven would designate or adjust wilderness in states from New Mexico to Michigan. One would legislate the forced sale of 3.3 million acres of federal land across 10 western states.

As Cookie Monster would observe, “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong.”

The glaring discrepancy in what otherwise would have been the first true wilderness hearing of the 112th Congress was H.R. 1126, Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s brainchild for bridging the government’s deficit woes. Under the “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2011” Congress would force the Bureau of Land Management to sell 3.3 million acres of federal lands and kick the money back to the treasury. The “excess lands” in the bill are those listed in an outdated 1997 report, that, even at the time, noted sell-off would come with inherent conflicts for the BLM, including the presence of cultural resources, endangered species habitats, wetlands, and adjacent landowners opposing the sale. (Unfortunately, the bill is not accompanied by a map of exactly which lands we’re talking about–one of its many red flags.)

Michael Pool, deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management testified that selling the land “would be costly, harmful to local economies and communities and undermine important resource values. It would also be unlikely to generate significant revenues to the U.S. treasury.” Instead, he suggested that Congress reauthorize the Federal Lands Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA), which provides a mechanism for the BLM and other agencies to sell appropriate lands, calling that program “invaluable.”

Mark Ward, a policy analyst for the Utah Association of Counties, countered that the “looming fiscal collapse” of the government necessitated the sale of the lands, but confessed he was “not familiar” with FLTFA, the program under which these lands have routinely been sold.

Unlike Chaffetz’s proposal, FLTFA uses revenues from land sales for BLM conservation programs that acquire inholdings in existing BLM lands, streamlining and simplifying management for the agency. FLTFA also provides a mechanism to fund the personnel who oversee the program. Under Chaffetz’s bill, personnel would have to be taken away from their other BLM responsibilities to work on the land sale. Pool testified that since the 1997 report, 1.7 million acres of BLM land has been sold under the program, but unfortunately, it not been reauthorized in this Congress.

Meanwhile, in an economy in which real estate values are low and the market is saturated, it behooves neither the treasury, which would get a bad value for its land equity, nor local landowners, who would find real estate values further depressed by a flood of additional land and lose open space taken for granted for generations, to enter into this fool’s bargain.

Finally, there is the overreaching scope of the bill—3.3 million acres sold in 10 states. Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings praised the fact that the wilderness bills before the committee were all sponsored by representatives of the districts in which they would be enacted.

“There is a near zero percent chance that the Committee will act on or advance bills that seek to designate wilderness in a district or state that a Member isn’t elected to represent. I have often said that I respect the knowledge and prerogative of a Member on proposals that affect their district, as they were elected to represent that district and know it best,” Hastings said.

One would hope on a bill that seeks to sell lands in nine states and plenty of districts Rep. Chaffetz was not elected to represent, Rep. Hastings would hold the committee to the same standard. Or maybe one of these things really isn’t like the others.

Threatened by encroaching energy development

7:15 am

These are the sights and sounds from an oil and gas drill rig on state lands only about 6 miles from the picturesque Arches National Park.  Nearby Canyonlands National Park is also threatened by encroaching energy development similar to what you can see in this video.  Please tell President Obama to protect the Greater Canyonlands region by visiting www.greatercanyonlands.org.


Liz Thomas

Utah Wilderness News, October 24, 2011

12:35 pm

Protecting western lands: a legacy opportunity for President Obama

“To be honest, Obama is traveling to Denver this week because he needs to win Colorado in 2012. His support for Western wilderness could reveal him, not only as a consummate politician strategizing for regional votes, but as a president who follows Stegner’s words by consecrating for all Americans, and for our global visitors, ‘a geography of hope.’

Perhaps a grand vista seen through the clear air from a mountain peak or a meditative moment in a serene, slick-rock canyon could awaken in the president a knowing sense that preserving Western landscapes is as essential to the national interest as the security of jobs and a sound economy. It can also be important to the electing of presidents and building their legacy.”  Op-ed – The Aspen Times

A parade of untrustworthiness by Utah elected officials

“Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop begin this recent parade of untrustworthiness by protesting the use of the Antiquities Act to protect public lands. They cynically and disingenuously bristle about Utahns being more than capable “of managing our own lands,” and they rail against ‘unelected bureaucrats’ who do so in our stead.

Do they really think that the state of Utah will do a better job managing 33 million acres of federal lands when we can’t keep our 95,000 acres (and a million acres of surface water) in Utah state parks solvent?

Hatch, a United States senator for the past 34 years, and Bishop, chairman of the House Resources subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, know perfectly well that public lands do not belong to Utahns alone. And they disrespect the decent ‘unelected bureaucrats’ who work for the federal land management agencies, devoting their lives to our natural heritage.”  Op-ed – The Salt Lake Tribune

Great news for wilderness! Forest roadless rule upheld

“Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance attorney Heidi McIntosh said the ruling makes clear that federal land managers can preserve some lands under their multiple-use mandates.

‘It’s a pretty definitive statement,’ she said.”  Read more – The Salt Lake Tribune

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