Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

More ORV Trails in San Juan County

4:00 pm

River House Ruin (San Juan County).  © Ray Bloxham.

River House Ruin on the San Juan River. © Ray Bloxham.

Last summer, when the BLM’s Monticello field office announced a proposal to add more off-road vehicle (ORV) routes to its 2008 Travel Plan, we urged the agency to monitor and assess the 3,000 miles of existing ORV routes before adding new routes.  Now the BLM is accepting comments on its Environmental Assessment (EA), which in the absence of monitoring data, concludes that the new ORV routes will have no impact on the public lands or its resources.  Your voice matters — please tell BLM to do its homework before designating new ORV routes!

The BLM’s EA states that the new ORV trails would not change the “existing use pattern.”  What the BLM’s EA fails to mention is that this “existing use pattern” is illegal ORV use on user-created trails.  What’s more, the BLM alone has allowed this illegal “existing use pattern” to occur.  Rather than enforce it’s own Travel Plan, the BLM is now proposing to legitimize the illegal ORV use on the user-created trails.

Location, Location, Location!

The BLM essentially (and erroneously) concludes that the low mileage of proposed new routes (10 miles) equates to low impacts.  This is bad math and bad analysis.  These new ORV routes are proposed in Recapture Canyon, at the base of Wingate Mesa west of White Canyon, near Lake Canyon, and along the San Juan River east of Comb Ridge.  These routes are located in floodplains, riparian zones, areas known to have irreplaceable archaeological sites, and in lands with wilderness character.   In short, these new ORV routes fail to comply with federal regulations requiring the BLM to minimize impacts of ORV route designation on natural and cultural resources, and on other public land users (read the Environmental Assessment).

BLM, Do Your Homework First

The BLM’s 2008 Travel Plan states that the Monticello BLM will develop an ORV monitoring plan and provide enhanced enforcement for more effective management of ORV use.  The ORV monitoring plan was deemed necessary due to the large number of significant cultural sites deemed eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and the continuing identification of yet unknown sites.  Six years later, we’re still waiting for that monitoring plan and data collection in order to assess the impacts that are occurring along the 3,000 miles of currently designated routes.

Simply put, the BLM is putting the cart before the horse.  Adding these illegally pioneered ORV trails to the BLM’s official travel plan legitimizes unauthorized ORV use and sends the message that the BLM will eventually reward the creation of illegal trails by adding those trails to its travel plan.

Please send a letter to the Monticello BLM office stating:  Do not designate new ORV routes in proposed wilderness or other ecologically sensitive areas; and before designating any new ORV routes, monitor existing ORV routes, close redundant routes, and close routes that are currently impacting natural and cultural resources.  Click here to send your message.

Liz Thomas

Grand County’s Proposed Public Lands Plan: How Bad Is It?

5:07 pm

We expected bad, but this is far worse.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah. Image credit: Josh Myers, winner of National Parks Photo Contest on Trails.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah. Image credit: Josh Myers, winner of National Parks Photo Contest on Trails.

Background: On April 9, 2014, the Grand County Council Public Lands Working Committee identified 3 alternatives, along with maps, for long term designations of public lands in Grand County as part of Representative Rob Bishop’s proposed land use bill for eastern Utah.

Unfortunately, even the best alternative (Alternative #3) proposed by the Working Committee would roll back environmental protection in Grand County.

All the alternatives ignored the public input that the county received. Of the 182 letters received by the Council from Grand County residents and business owners, nearly 90% favored strong wilderness and public lands protection.

And yet, the County’s best alternative (Alternative #3):

  • Protects just over half (58%, or 484,446 acres) of the proposed wilderness in Grand County — and then riddles that “protected wilderness” with ORV routes. The Working Committee decided that places like Porcupine Rim, Mary Jane Canyon, Fisher Towers, Goldbar Rim, the Dome Plateau, and most of Labyrinth, including Mineral, Hell Roaring, Spring, and Tenmile canyons, were unworthy of wilderness protection.
  • Would punch a hole through the heart of the Book Cliffs — one of the largest remaining roadless areas in the lower 48 states — to build a “Hydrocarbon Highway” for fossil fuels extraction. The county proposes a mile-wide “transportation corridor” (proposed as 2 miles wide in the other alternatives) to ship fossil fuels from the Uinta Basin and proposed tar sands mining in the Book Cliffs to dreamed-of refineries in Green River, or to the railway.
  • Leaves open to oil and gas drilling the entire view shed east of Arches National Park, including the world-famous view from Delicate Arch. The Working Committee rejected proposed wilderness areas east of Arches. This is the same area that caused a national uproar and sent Tim DeChristopher to prison when the George W. Bush administration sold the famous 77 oil and gas leases in its waning days. Under the county’s best proposal, leasing and drilling in that region would be allowed.
  • Allows oil and gas drilling and potash mining on the rim of Labyrinth Canyon (upstream from Spring Canyon). The lack of real protection in the greater Labyrinth Canyon area in all three proposals is a glaring and curious omission.
  • Supports continued off road vehicle abuse and offers zero concessions on ORV routes designated in the Bush-era BLM travel plan — even though the planning of those routes likely failed to follow the law. The county would codify the BLM’s Bush-era route designations even though a federal judge recently set aside a nearly-identical travel plan in the Richfield BLM office for failure to comply with legal mandates to protect archaeology, riparian areas and other natural resources.  It is likely just a matter of time before the Court overturns the challenged Moab travel plan.
  • Fails to protect Moab’s watershed. There is no wilderness proposed for the La Sal Mountains on US Forest Service land.
  • Prohibits the use of the Antiquities Act in Grand County — the same act that was used by three different Presidents to protect what is now Arches National Park. Although protection of Arches was opposed by Utah politicians, today Arches National Park injects more than $116 million into the local economy each year and supports more than 1,700 jobs in Grand County.

Alternatives 1 & 2 are even worse.  Both would impose a 2-mile wide transportation corridor for the Hydrocarbon Highway through the heart of the Book Cliffs.  This is wide enough to build an entire city within the corridor.  Alternatives 1 & 2 provide even less protection for Grand County’s proposed wilderness and less protection from oil & gas and potash development.


Mathew Gross

Another Attack on Our Parks and Monuments

3:08 pm

Bryce Canyon National Park was originally designated as a national monument.  Copyright James Kay.

Bryce Canyon National Park was originally designated as a national monument. Copyright James Kay.

Here we go again.  Congress is attacking special places this week, this time by trying to dismantle the Antiquities Act, the mechanism that has safeguarded some of our nation’s most beloved national parks and monuments for future generations (nearly half of our national parks began as national monuments).

Tell Congress: hands off our national parks and monuments!

The Antiquities Act was Teddy Roosevelt’s idea, and has been used consistently by presidents of both parties to quickly protect America’s threatened special places.  In Utah alone, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks all started as national monuments, and Natural Bridges, Timpanogos Cave and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments all remain popular family destinations and economic drivers to this day — not to mention natural and cultural wonders.

H.R. 1459, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), throws up roadblocks to protecting places like these by arbitrarily capping where and when the Antiquities Act can be used.  It also requires congressional review of proposed monuments when the purpose of the Act is to allow the President to move quickly to protect threatened cultural, archaeological, natural and scientific sites of national interest.

Tell your member of Congress to vote no on H.R. 1459!

At a time when the House of Representatives is stalling on countless conservation bills, it’s a pity they can find the time to bring legislation like this to a vote.


Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Park Service Gem or ORV Playground?

11:07 am

Glen Canyon NRA

Glen Canyon NRA. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

The National Park Service (NPS) is requesting comments on its draft Off-Road Vehicle Plan for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (GCNRA).   Your comments could help decide the fate of this remarkable landscape.

The GCNRA encompasses 1.25 million acres of land, and includes some of Utah’s most remote and exceptional public lands.  It is surrounded by the equally impressive landscapes of Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks, the Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, BLM-managed wilderness-quality lands, and the Navajo Nation.

NPS is drafting an off-road vehicle (ORV) plan and is proposing to legitimize and expand the existing, unauthorized ORV use within GCNRA.  The proposed plan includes the use of street legal ATVs on all paved routes, all types of ORVs on all dirt routes in the GCNRA (except in the Orange Cliffs), and ORV use on several additional designated ORV routes.  Conversely, the adjacent NPS-managed Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks prohibit the use of off-road vehicles (including street legal ATVs) within their boundaries.

Glen Canyon NRA

Glen Canyon NRA. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

Congress designated the GCNRA in 1972 to “. . . preserve the scenic, scientific, and historic features contributing to public enjoyment of the area . . .” in addition to providing for “public outdoor recreation use and enjoyment” of Lake Powell and the adjacent lands.  Although the most visited feature of the GCNRA is Lake Powell, the remaining 87% of the GCNRA is largely undeveloped, containing pre-historic cultural sites, wildlife habitat, and outstanding opportunities for a pure wilderness experience.  In fact, NPS has recommended nearly one-half of the lands within the GCNRA for wilderness designation.

No Shortage of ORV Routes
There are thousands of miles of ORV routes on public lands managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service in southern Utah that provide ample motorized recreation opportunities.  Simply put, there is no compelling need to authorize ORV use in an area as magnificent as the GCNRA. 

Glen Canyon NRA

Glen Canyon NRA. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

Before NPS can approve such use, it must comply with Executive Order 11644, signed by President Nixon in 1972.  The Order requires NPS to: protect the natural resources and public lands from ORV impacts; promote public safety of all users of those lands; and minimize impacts to natural resources and the conflicts among various users of those lands.  NPS can allow ATV and other ORV use on routes and in “open areas” only after NPS has determined that such use will not affect the natural, aesthetic or scenic values of the areas in which the routes or open areas are located.

Not surprisingly, NPS’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement acknowledges that authorizing street legal ATV and off-road vehicle use in the GCNRA will have direct and indirect impacts on its sensitive resources, including soils, vegetation, wildlife and cultural resources.

Please tell NPS to preserve Glen Canyon’s scenic landscape and cultural history rather than invite unmanageable off-road vehicle use.

NPS requires that comments be submitted no later than March 4, 2014:

  • Via its web page
  • Or by U.S. Postal Service: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Attn: ORV Plan/Draft EIS, PO Box 1507, Page AZ  86040

Click here for suggested points to make in your comments.


Liz Thomas

Uranium Mining in Southern Utah — Again?

1:46 pm

DanerosMapThumbnailScarred landscapes, contaminated water, and deadly gases are current reminders of the historic uranium mining and milling operations in southeastern Utah.  Now a Canadian mining corporation, Energy Fuels, is proposing to significantly expand its overall mining operation to increase ore production at its Daneros uranium mine in southeastern Utah.

The Daneros uranium mine, located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, is surrounded by large expanses of spectacular wild lands.  Located five miles west of Natural Bridges National Monument, the uranium mine expansion is also near Cedar Mesa’s Grand Gulch, the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area’s Lake Powell.  These are areas enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors from Utah and around the world, many of whom spend time camping, hiking, and enjoying scenic tours on the public lands surrounding the proposed mine site.

Tell the BLM to protect the clean air, scarce water resources, dark night skies, and wilderness-caliber lands rather than approving more speculative and pollution-generating uranium mining.

The Proposal
Energy Fuels is proposing to expand its existing mining operation from the current 4.5-acre operation at the Daneros mine to 46.3 acres (a ten-fold increase in surface disturbance).  The expansion includes the construction of new mining facilities at the nearby Bullseye and South Portal abandoned mine sites, installation of ventilation holes, and the construction of new access roads.  The company’s proposal states that over the next 20 years, 500,000 tons of ore could be produced at the expanded mining operation – an amount five times greater than what is permitted under the current Plan of Operations approved by the BLM in 2011.  For more detailed information on the company’s proposal, see the BLM’s press release.

Energy Fuels is pressuring the BLM to approve this major mine expansion even though the company closed down the Daneros uranium mine in October 2012.  This closure resulted from public backlash at the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster and the subsequent market drop in uranium prices.  The company has not yet re-opened the existing Daneros mine.

Historic Uranium Mining in Utah
Utah and the other states in the Four Corners region have a legacy of thousands of abandoned uranium mine sites.  These abandoned sites pose health, safety, and environmental risks to residents of the area, visitors, and wildlife, in the form of continued air and water contamination.  The federal government has a history of ignoring known sources of contamination and harm caused by the mining and milling of uranium, and has failed to notify uranium workers and the general public of these risks.

This sad history coupled with the significant risks inherent in uranium mining underscores the need for the BLM to conduct a comprehensive environmental analysis of the proposed Daneros uranium mine expansion.  The agency must disclose the potential impacts of expanded uranium mining on air and water quality, wildlife, wilderness, night skies, scenic viewsheds, cultural resources, and public health and safety.  Additionally, because the risks of mining don’t stop at the mine site, the agency must disclose the impacts associated with transporting and milling the uranium ore at the White Mesa Mill near Blanding, Utah.  Incredibly, even in light of the history and risks associated with uranium mining and milling, the BLM is not proposing to analyze the project in a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement.

Uranium mining and milling is a dirty business, leaving a legacy of decades-old scars on the landscape of southern Utah. Accordingly, this proposed mine expansion should be denied.

Please tell the BLM to protect the area’s clean air, scarce water resources, and wilderness-caliber lands rather than ignoring history and approving more pollution-generating uranium mining.


Liz Thomas