Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Sen. Hatch Declares Herbert’s Land Grab Dead on Arrival

2:39 pm

Land Grab Billboard

Last Friday, Senator Orrin Hatch had some glum words for Utah legislators who support Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s quixotic wasteful attempts to get the federal government to hand over public lands to the state of Utah. Speaking before the Utah legislature:

Hatch told the Utah Legislature on Friday that its drive to gain control over public federal lands in the state isn’t likely to succeed anytime soon…

“We don’t have the votes right now, nor do we have support of the [Obama] administration” for the land-title transfer,” Hatch said in an annual appearance before the House. He added to the Senate, “I’m not sure how easy it would be with any administration.”

Yep. This crazy idea has been kicking around in the heads of certain Western ideologues since the Reagan and both Bush administrations — to no effect. But that hasn’t stopped Governor Gary Herbert from signing into law bills that continue to waste Utah taxpayer money on his pipe dream:

Two years ago, the Legislature enacted HB148 demanding control of most federal lands within the state — which it says was promised at statehood — but exempted all national parks and monuments except for Grand Staircase National Monument. Legislators expect the issue to land eventually in the courts.

HB 148 gave the United States government til the end of this year to hand over federal lands to the state of Utah. Yeah, so go ahead and mark that on your calendar.

The fact that such a transfer isn’t likely to happen — there’s the small matter of it being unconstitutional, as even the Governor’s own lawyers advised — hasn’t stopped the Utah legislature from doubling down on the dumb idea in this year’s legislative session:

Utah House Republicans spent their first caucus meeting of the 2014 Legislature rallying around the latest effort to take over the state’s federally controlled public lands.

“People say we can’t do it. Baloney. We can do it,” Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said…

After hearing from Noel and other members, the caucus voted unanimously to proceed with putting together a package of bills intended to make the case for the transfer of public lands….

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Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, told the caucus that’s probably going to mean a legal battle.

“No matter what happens, it’s very likely we’re going to be in court,” Stratton said, possibly all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oh yes, court. Governor Herbert and the Utah legislature love wasting taxpayer money to make an ideological point in the courtroom. Cf, e.g.: Governor Herbert continuing to pour millions of dollars into attorneys, analysts, GIS staff, etc. to push his 25+ R.S. 2477 lawsuits that seek to give the state the right to be able to punch thousands of miles of roads into the heart of Utah’s red rock wilderness.

It may not be a prudent use of taxpayer money — but it will prove a point, right?

 

Mathew Gross

Oil and Gas Industry Appeals BLM Decision Not to Lease in San Rafael Swell

2:47 pm

SRSR

Last year the BLM proposed to sell 57 oil and gas leases primarily located in Utah’s stunning San Rafael Swell.  The leases would have green-lighted development on more than 80,000 acres of proposed wilderness, the vast majority of which the BLM itself acknowledges are wilderness-caliber landscapes.  The leases would have also authorized surface activities in a culturally rich area and over the objections of The Hopi Tribe.

Hundreds of people wrote and emailed the BLM asking them to “think first and lease later.”  More than 150 of you rallied at the BLM’s state headquarters in Salt Lake City and delivered this message personally.  Thanks to your hard work that bad idea was tabled in the days leading up to the proposed sale and the leases were withdrawn from the sale.

But last week, an oil and gas trade group filed an appeal with the Interior Department seeking to overturn the BLM’s decision not to offer these leases.  They were joined by a small oil and gas company that had hoped to buy some of these leases — so small, in fact, that they don’t operate a single well in Utah.

The gist of their appeal is that because the BLM initially made the (wrong) decision to offer these leases, it was required to do so no matter what kind of information the agency learned about the threats that development would pose to fragile cultural sites, threatened species, etc.

In other words, industry wants the good old days back of “lease first and think later.”  Not a chance.  SUWA and other conservation groups intend to intervene on behalf of the BLM and defend this important decision.

 

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Celebrating the 5th Anniversary of the 77 Lease Sale

3:28 pm

Today is a good day. Five years ago to this very date a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C. issued an order enjoining the Bush administration from issuing 77 oil and gas leases it sold in late December 2008 across several spectacular Utah red rock landscapes. Judge Ricardo Urbina’s decision, which was issued on Saturday, January 17, 2009 granted SUWA and its partners’ motion for a temporary restraining order and came literally at the 11th hour and only two days before the Bush administration left office.

The “it’s Christmas 2008, we’re going out of business and all our public lands must go” lease sale, as it’s variously been remembered, turned out to be a watershed moment in the Obama administration’s approach to oil and gas leasing on federal lands. Following Judge Urbina’s ruling and a decision by then Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to formally withdraw the 77 leases from sale, the Interior Department began a top to bottom review of BLM’s oil and gas leasing program. That review culminated in new policies and programs that are intended to make sure BLM “thinks first, and leases later.”

One of these policies is BLM’s so-called “master lease plans” or MLPs which are intended to identify lands that will remain available for oil and gas leasing (and with the right stipulations) and which lands have other values that would be compromised by energy development (things like cultural resources, wildlife habitat, recreation, and wilderness). Think smarter zoning decisions that strive to reduce the level of conflict between the many competing uses of the public lands.

In Utah the first of these plans is being put together in the Moab area, which was ground zero for the December 2008 oil and gas lease sale. In typical BLM fashion nothing good comes easy and it’s taking a while to get this plan off the ground. We’re hopeful that the plans will better identify the places where oil and gas (and potash) leasing and development should and should not take place.

And how did it come to pass that there even was a December 2008 oil and gas “fire sale”? Just as it was leaving office, the Bush administration saddled Utah with six new land use plans (called resource management plans or RMPs) which made these kinds of bad leasing decisions possible. SUWA and its partners challenged those plans in court (as part of the same lawsuit that blocked the 77 leases). As many of you know this past fall we won a major victory when a federal judge held that several aspects of BLM’s Richfield RMP violated federal environmental and cultural preservation laws. We’re figuring out what that decision will mean on the ground – called the remedy stage of the litigation – and then will move onto challenging another one of the Bush RMPs.

But coming full circle – take a moment and revel in the key ruling we received five years ago. We couldn’t have done it without your help and support.

Steve Bloch

Tell the BLM: Protect Recapture Canyon’s Archaeological Treasures

3:09 pm

Recapture Canyon Off-Road Vehicle Right-of-Way

The BLM’s Monticello field office is requesting comments on a proposal for a new network of off-road vehicle trails in Recapture Canyon. This proposed route network includes the illegal route that was constructed in Recapture Canyon in 2005.

BLM should maintain the closure in order to protect the resources

Click on the map to view proposed Rights of Way in and near Recapture Canyon (opens in PDF).

Click on the map to view proposed Rights of Way in and near Recapture Canyon (opens in PDF).


After the illegal trail was constructed in 2005, BLM conducted a cultural resource survey along the illegal trail and identified nearly 300 cultural sites in or near the trail.  The BLM eventually issued an official Closure Order for this illegal route to protect the cultural resources that were at risk of being damaged by use of the unauthorized trail.  Importantly, the BLM’s Closure Order states specifically that off-road vehicle use in the area is causing, or will cause considerable adverse effects to cultural resources.

Tell the BLM: Protect Recapture Canyon’s Archaeological Treasures.

The Place

Recapture Canyon’s stream provides year-round lush habitat for wildlife.  This stream is almost certainly the reason that the Ancestral Puebloans began inhabiting Recapture Canyon nearly 2,000 years ago.  Remarkable remnants from these agrarian communities, many eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, have been preserved through the centuries in this quiet canyon.

An archaeological ruin in Recapture Wash. Photo courtesy of Great Old Broads for Wilderness.


The Hopi Tribe has requested that the BLM continue its closure order due to the sensitive nature of the cultural resources in the canyon.  The Salt Lake Tribune has editorialized against rewarding illegal trail construction by approving the right-of way, and emphasized the need to maintain the closure to protect the archaeological treasures.

Yet San Juan County continues to pressure the agency to grant a right-of-way to the county for the illegal off-road vehicle trail and several other new trails on the rim of the canyon.

The Right Thing

There is no shortage of off-road vehicle trails in San Juan County, where enthusiasts can enjoy over 4,000 miles of trails on public lands.  The BLM has a duty to protect Recapture Canyon’s stream, wildlife habitat, and the ancient Ancestral Puebloan sites, rather than grant an off-road vehicle right-of way to the county that will put nationally significant resources at risk of damage and destruction. The agency should do the right thing, and deny the county’s right-of-way request.

Please take a moment to send a letter to BLM requesting that it deny the county’s right-of-way request for the proposed off-road vehicle trails in and near Recapture Canyon.

Liz Thomas

Audubon: Area Around Canyonlands a “Globally Important Bird Area”

1:58 pm

The area around Canyonlands National Park has been identified as a “Globally Important Bird Area” by the National Audubon Society.ibabirdimage359_Max

As Mark Miller of the NPS says: “The Canyonlands area is known worldwide for its many recreational opportunities and expansive scenic views. This special recognition by the National Audubon Society now brings significant attention to the fact that this striking area also is tremendously important as habitat for a diversity of wildlife including Mexican spotted owls and a large number of other bird species.”

Another interesting fact? There’s only one other “Globally Important Bird Area” in Utah — in Zion National Park.

National Parks Traveler has more.

Mathew Gross