Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

SUWA Takes On Tar Sands Leasing in Greater Canyonlands and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

2:15 pm

On January 19 I argued before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in a case brought by SUWA and our partners challenging a series of illegal BLM decisions in the Greater Canyonlands region and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

From afar, the particular legal claims at issue in the appeal aren’t all that exciting — whether SUWA has legal “standing” to be in court and whether our claims are “ripe” for review — but the lawsuit is critically important to protect some of the most breathtaking places in Utah from a parade of horrors that would come from tar sands or conventional oil and gas development.  From onsite refining to new roads and powerlines, to strip mining or underground “fire-floods” that proposed tar sands development would bring, these leases are the camel’s nose under the tent for the intensive industrialization of these wild places.

Happy Canyon

The BLM’s decisions revived 39 oil and gas leases that terminated decades ago on tens of thousands of acres in the Monument, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Fiddler Butte, French Springs-Happy Canyon, and North Escalante wilderness study areas, and many more places the BLM and SUWA agree have wilderness character.  Today, almost all of these places are closed to new oil and gas leasing.  A victory here will give these special places real protection because companies cannot nominate and BLM cannot sell them as new leases.

Remarkably, we found ourselves arguing against the Obama administration that was defending both the district court’s decision to throw us out of court and the underlying leasing decisions made in the Bush administration.

Our legal team of SUWA and NRDC attorneys represent the 1 million plus members of SUWA, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association and Grand Canyon Trust.

Steve Bloch

“The Wild Bunch”

12:59 pm

Salt Lake City Weekly reports: “Public lands office goes in guns blazing, hiring cronies and sparing no taxpayer expense fighting the feds”

In December 2011, Utah blazed new trails in public-lands litigation by being the first state to file notice of intent to sue to retake ownership of 18,784 roads in 22 rural counties. The state claims the right-of-way to these roads based on Revised Statute 2477, a law passed by Congress in 1866 to give settlers rights-of-way to the paths and trails they’d carved out of territorial lands (see p. 19).

The notices of intent served as the warning shot, giving the federal government 180 days to consider an alternative solution before the legal showdown really begins.

For Harja, the payoff for the years’ worth of preparation for litigation and preparation is simple.

“A transportation network that we can own,” Harja says.

SUWA attorney Heidi McIntosh disagrees.

“This really isn’t about roads,” McIntosh says. “It’s about trying to control federal public lands.” McIntosh points to the case of the Salt Creek Canyon feud, where San Juan County sued over the Salt Creek Trail in Canyonlands National Park to claim it as a road. The road was actually a streambed, and the county had previously been upset that SUWA had prevailed in court to prevent Jeeps from driving up the rugged path. “Jeeps would hit a rock, and all of the fluid and oil would drain into the creek,” destroy the vegetation and contaminate the stream, McIntosh says.

McIntosh highlights this case to point out that PLPCO’s claims on 18,784 roads—many of which are, in fact, dirt paths, streambeds and cowboy trails—stand to be an incredible taxpayer boondoggle. According to documents McIntosh received from the state in an open-records request, 113 of the 18,784 roads cross over national parks like Arches in Moab and Capitol Reef National Park near Torrey.

“It’s their attempt at shock and awe, because they can’t be serious about litigating 18,000 claims,” McIntosh says. She says San Juan County spent $1 million litigating the Salt Creek case alone, which they lost over a 12-day trial but are still appealing.

Read the rest of the article by clicking here.

And that’s not all, folks.  Today, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the “Company backing Utah nuclear plant is a fraud.”


Deadline today!

7:51 am
Alton Coal Mine
The existing Coal Hollow mine site. Copyright Ray

Today is your last chance to comment on the proposed Alton coal mine expansion outside of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Tell the BLM to JUST SAY NO!

Back in November, the Obama administration released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) analyzing a proposal to sell a federal coal lease on the western doorstep of Bryce Canyon National Park, potentially threatening the remarkable clean air, water, and dark night skies at the park, as well as the livelihood of nearby gateway communities.

Please urge the BLM to deny this expansion by adopting the “no action alternative” of the EIS.

Remember, the comment deadline is today.  Click here to take action now!

Click here for more information.

Steve Bloch

Utah’s Land Grab

1:34 pm
Richfield RS 2477 Claim
Many of the state’s “road” claims are as rough and
overgrown as this one.  Copyright
Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

Last night, Utah Governor Gary Herbert declared war on Utah’s wilderness.

In his State of the State address, Herbert defiantly declared that he will “fortify our state as a bulwark against federal overreach” and fight the federal government to gain control over Utah’s wild public lands.

Can you make a contribution to SUWA today, so we can block the State of Utah’s anti-wilderness land grab?

Yes! I want to stop Utah’s land grab.

Herbert has launched the biggest attack against Utah’s wilderness we’ve faced in fifteen years.

He’s pledged to sue the United States government to seize control over nearly 17,000 “roads.”  Many are actually wash bottoms or rough trails that would slice apart the San Rafael Swell, the Grand Staircase, and Canyonlands National Park.

If Herbert succeeds, the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service will be powerless to stop ATVs and dirt bikes from ripping through proposed wilderness.

We need your help to defend Utah’s wilderness.  These lands belong to all Americans and generations to come, not to a handful of Utah politicians.

Click here to help SUWA defend Utah’s wilderness.

Anti-wilderness factions in the State have blustered for two decades that this lawsuit would be filed—and Governor Herbert finally pulled the trigger.  The State is gearing up with lawyers and field workers, and is marshaling millions of dollars for this fight.

This fight will involve the courts, Congress and the Obama administration.  And it’s a fight that we must win.

We must block Governor Herbert’s land grab.  And with your help, we will.

Click here to contribute.

Scott Groene

Tell BLM to keep its vegetation destruction out of proposed wilderness!

11:49 am
Beef Basin
Beef Basin proposed wilderness. Copyright Ray

In another apparent attempt to solidify its reputation as the Bureau of Landscape Manipulation, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently added one more vegetation “improvement” project to its ever-increasing list of ill-advised landscape gardening proposals.  This time around, the proposed project strikes at two of the core areas within the Greater Canyonlands region – Beef Basin and the Dark Canyon Plateau.  Tell the BLM to keep this destructive project out of proposed wilderness areas.

The Beef Basin/Dark Canyon manipulation proposal covers 9,200 acres of public land, with over half of the project falling within areas proposed for wilderness in America’s Redrock Wilderness Act (ARRWA).  The Monticello BLM is proposing to “restore” the sagebrush ecosystem over the next 5 years through a mix of prescribed fire, cutting and removing pinyon pine and juniper, mechanically ripping up sagebrush and following it all with a long-term “maintenance” plan that includes the use of herbicides in conjunction with all of the above.

The areas affected by this proposed project contain some of the most remote and stunning landscapes in the Greater Canyonlands.  Sagebrush and pinyon-juniper dominate the vast views along these magnificent plateaus, which end abruptly into some of the wildest canyon country around.  The area is known for its abundance of prehistoric artifacts, from free-standing stone fortresses to structures tucked discreetly into sandstone alcoves, with smaller artifacts scattered throughout the area.   The project area also contains species considered “sensitive” by the BLM, including a variety of raptor species – eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, and several bat species.  The area also provides habitat for big game such as mule deer and elk.

Once again, the BLM’s environmental analysis provides no evidence supporting its belief that this project – which is merely one more in a long line of similar proposals – will have any long-term success.  In fact, some of the manipulations are proposed for areas the BLM manipulated decades ago (and, for that reason, are excluded from ARRWA).  We’ve simply had enough of the BLM proposing these destructive vegetation manipulations without providing any scientific evidence that these actions ever have a beneficial result to the affected ecosystem.  We want evidence that past projects of this nature actually work before we allow the BLM to continue down the path of extensive soil disturbance and destruction of native vegetation.  Please tell the BLM to keep this project out of proposed wilderness in the Beef Basin and Dark Canyon Plateau areas.

Neal Clark