Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Press Release: Court Strikes Down Controversial BLM Land Use Plan

10:44 am


November 4, 2013


Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

Court Strikes Down Controversial BLM Land Use Plan
BLM plan designated thousands of miles of ORV routes, placing iconic western landscapes at risk

SALT LAKE CITY Today the United States District Court for the District of Utah struck down significant parts of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Resource Management Plan for the Richfield Field Office, putting the brakes on a Bush-era management scheme that prioritized motorized recreation over all else.

A coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and Earthjustice had challenged the plan (the “Richfield RMP”) in an attempt to bring balanced management to Utah’s spectacular public lands.  The plan developed by BLM threatened world-renown southern Utah wilderness landscapes like the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy’s infamous hideout, Robber’s Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states) and Factory Butte.  See photos here.

Specifically, Judge Kimball:

  • Reversed BLM’s off-road vehicle (ORV) trail designations because BLM failed to minimize the destructive impacts of ORV use on streams, native plants, wildlife, soils and irreplaceable cultural sites and artifacts, as required by law.
  • Directed BLM to complete intensive, on-the-ground surveys for historic and cultural resources before authorizing ORV use.
  • Held that BLM’s failure to designate the Henry Mountains as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern—which would have given heightened protection to its bison herds and large expanses of remote, spectacularly scenic lands — violated federal law.
  • Ordered BLM to reevaluate information supporting the designation of Happy Canyon and the spring areas of Buck and Pasture Canyons for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Under the Richfield RMP, BLM had designated over 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails, enough miles to drive from Atlanta to Anchorage, for ORV vehicle use despite evidence of environmental damage and conflicts with other public lands visitors.

“This landmark decision is a resounding rejection of the BLM’s mismanagement of Utah’s stunning public lands,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “The Richfield RMP wrongly prioritized ORV use over all other uses of the public lands and neglected streams and special places worthy of protection.  The court didn’t mince words in its ruling that this violated federal environmental and historic laws.”

“Utah’s remarkable public lands deserve better than what they are getting from the BLM,” remarked David Garbett, a SUWA staff attorney.  “This decision is a first step in improving that situation.”

The impact of this decision raises serious questions about the legality of five other BLM management plans in the eastern half of the state of Utah that suffer from similar legal flaws.  The Richfield RMP is just one of six land use plans—covering more than 11 million acres of eastern and southern Utah—that the Interior Department finalized in October 2008.  Together, these RMPs were a last-ditch attempt by the Bush administration to leave their stamp on Utah’s landscape by prioritizing ORVs and energy development over protecting Utah’s uniquely magnificent red rock canyon country. Conservationists have challenged all six plans in court.  The Richfield RMP is the first of the six to be litigated.

“It’s a new day for Utah’s Red Rock country,” said Heidi McIntosh of Earthjustice.  “This far-reaching decision means BLM can no longer dismiss the value of wilderness, scenery, wildlife, and areas of cultural importance to Native Americans in favor of destructive ORV use.”

“This decision sends an irrefutable message to the BLM about the need for responsible management of the 11 million acres of public lands covered by all 6 challenged plans,” said Nada Culver, Senior Counsel for The Wilderness Society. “The BLM should heed this as a call to action and move forward now to address these flaws in all of the plans – minimizing damage from off-road vehicles and protecting natural and cultural values.”

“We’re thrilled by the district court’s decision,” said Bill Hedden, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Trust.  “BLM’s refusal to conduct on-the-ground inventories for cultural resources that are being damaged and destroyed from off-road vehicle use was shocking.  Federal law requires BLM to do more to protect these irreplaceable cultural treasures and we’re pleased that the judge ordered BLM to do so.”


Background information on the Richfield RMP can be found on SUWA’s website.  Photographs of the proposed wilderness areas at risk in the Richfield field office are also available.  In 2008, the Salt Lake Tribune and New York Times panned the Richfield RMP, raising many of the same flaws identified in the court’s decision.

The conservation groups challenging the BLM’s 2008 land use plans in Utah include the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utah Rivers Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, National Trust for Historic Preservation and Rocky Mountain Wild.

The groups are represented by attorneys Stephen Bloch and David Garbett of SUWA; Heidi McIntosh, Robin Cooley and Alison Flint of Earthjustice; and by Robert Wiygul of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside.


Sierra Club’s Michael Brune, Panelists Discuss Greater Canyonlands NM in Moab

10:50 am

Panelists discuss Greater Canyonlands at Star Hall in Moab on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.

More than 80 Moab locals turned out to Moab’s historic Star Hall on Tuesday night to take part in a panel discussion about the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument and other issues affecting public lands in the region.

The evening started off with a presentation by TrekWest adventurer and Wildlands Network co-founder John Davis, who is in the midst of a 10-month, human-powered journey along a visioned Western Wildway running from Mexico to Alaska.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune followed Davis with a presentation that placed the effort to protect Greater Canyonlands into context with the Club’s efforts to mitigate climate change and change the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels. As the Salt Lake Tribune reports:

Brune is on a two-week road trip around the Southwest with his wife and three young children, visiting key spots like the newly designated Rio Grande del Norte and Chimney Rock national monuments and areas around Grand Canyon National Park that conservationists hope to see protected.
Besides urging federal authorities to flex the muscle of the Antiquities Act and establish more protected national monuments, Sierra Club leaders say they will work harder to “keep dirty fuels in the ground.”
“Our federal agencies have a dual responsibly to protect habitat and not add to the climate crisis,” campaign director Dan Chu said. “We are connecting dots between impacts of energy development in special places and climate activism.”
This aspect of the campaign is a direct challenge to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s energy plan, which seeks to develop all the state’s resources from solar and wind to tar sands and coal. The governor and his advisers have long argued the state can strike a balance that allows drilling and mining without impairing the natural treasures that support Utah’s robust tourism and outdoor recreation industries — a $12 billion enterprise that employs 122,000.

Following Brune’s presentation, a panel of activists and experts — including Dan Chu, National Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign; Rose Chilcoat, Asisstant Director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness; Jay Banta of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers; Nathan Waggoner, Outfitter and Business owner from Escalante, UT; and Laura Kamala of the Grand Canyon Trust — answered questions from the audience about the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument, tar sands mining, and hunting and vehicle access to public lands, among other topics. The panel was hosted by SUWA’s Media Director, Mathew Gross.

Holt and Durbin Introduce Bill to Protect America’s Red Rock Wilderness

7:07 am

From the offices of Representative Rush Holt and Senator Dick Durbin:

Thursday, 18 April 2013 15:04


(Washington, D.C.) – In an effort to preserve 9.1 million acres of Utah’s spectacular red rock country as wilderness, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (IL) today introduced legislation in the Senate and House that would ensure the public land remains in its natural, undeveloped state. Holt and Durbin’s bipartisan America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, which was introduced with 60 cosponsors in the House and 11 in the Senate, would protect the land from commercial development, motorized vehicles, road building, as well as oil and gas drilling. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) currently owns the 9.1 million acres, but the agency is not prohibited from selling part of the land for development or developing parts itself.

“Development and irresponsible land use threaten one of this country’s most spectacular landscapes, Utah’s Redrock country,” Holt said. “America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would preserve and protect these deep red canyons, windswept mesas, and fantastical sandstone formations for current and future generations.”

“The legislation Congressman Holt and I are introducing today will designate as wilderness some of our nation’s most remarkable, but unprotected public lands,” said Durbin. “This land was chosen based on meticulous research and surveying of thousands of square miles to determine which lands should be protected. America’s Red Rock Wilderness is a lasting gift to the American public that will give future generations the opportunity to enjoy a landscape that so many now cherish.”

The publicly owned wild places of Utah are renowned for their spectacular beauty, with deep, narrow red rock canyons, fantastic sandstone arches, tremendous open vistas, and wild rivers. Currently, only 1.1 percent of Utah’s BLM public lands are protected as wilderness. These areas are a haven for outdoor recreationists, backpackers, hikers, wildlife enthusiasts, and many more. The red rock area is also rich with archeological remnants of prehistoric cultures.

“We are thrilled to have Congressman Holt join Senator Durbin to introduce America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in the 113th Congress” said Scott Groene, Executive Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Champions of this caliber match the world-class landscapes they are working to protect from oil and gas drilling and off-road vehicle abuse.”

The original version of the America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act was introduced in 1989 by former Utah Congressman Wayne Owens. The bill is based on an extensive survey conducted by volunteers from the Utah Wilderness Coalition (UWC). This public inventory, called the “UWC Citizen’s Proposal,” found that the BLM had overlooked or ignored vast areas of wild country in the agency’s original inventory. As additional inventory work has been conducted for the Citizen’s Proposal, the America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act has been updated to reflect the latest findings. The new version of the bill proposes protections for roughly 9.1 million acres of BLM public land in Utah.

The America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would ensure the 9.1 million acres in Utah remain wild in their natural state, and strictly prohibit mining, road and dam construction, off-road vehicle use, and other activities that would destroy the area’s special character. Non-consumptive uses such as hunting, fishing, camping, backpacking, hiking, and horseback riding would be permitted and grazing rights existing at the time of any wilderness designation would also be unaffected.

The measure is endorsed by the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in Utah, and more than 240 local and national conservation groups with the Utah Wilderness Coalition.


Moab Residents Rally In Support of Greater Canyonlands National Monument

2:40 pm
Nearly 60 Moab locals rallied to show their support for the creation of a Greater Canyonlands National Monument on Friday, March 29th.
The event was organized to counter a nearby rally held by the Sagebrush Coalition, who oppose the protection of Greater Canyonlands.

Moab residents march in support of a Greater Canyonlands National Monument during Moab's annual Easter Jeep Safari, Friday, March 29, 2013. Photo credit: Logan Hansen

The nearly 60 residents gathered at Rotary Park on Mill Creek Drive. Carrying homemade signs with slogans like “Locals for the Monument,” “Camping and Grilling, Not Mining and Drilling,” and “Jeeps? Sure. Tarsands? No!” the residents then marched along the sidewalk on Mill Creek Drive to the location of the Sagebrush rally, which was held on private property near Dave’s Corner Market, about four blocks away.

Approximately eight people were present at the anti-monument rally.
“We’re not here to disrupt their event. We’re here to make it clear there are many locals who support protecting Greater Canyonlands,” said Emily Stock, a Castle Valley native who helped organize the counter-rally.
Greater Canyonlands is facing increasing pressures from oil and gas drilling, potash mining, and tar sands strip mining. A monument designation would protect the region from such extractive industries while preserving recreational access.

The Sagebrush Coalition rally.

“You’d still be able to jeep and recreate in a Greater Canyonlands National Monument,” Stock said, addressing one of the primary concerns voiced by opponents of monument protection. “Our main concern is unwanted energy development in these areas, not limiting the public’s access.”
The event was peaceful. The 60 marchers cheered as passing drivers honked their horns in a show of support. After a time, the marchers crossed the street and  marched the four blocks back to Rotary Park.
“Today’s rally was a tremendous success for those of us who grew up here and want to keep Greater Canyonlands the way it’s been — unspoiled,” said Stock.

SUWA Statement on the Nomination of Sally Jewell

9:23 am
Statement of Richard Peterson-Cremer, Legislative Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, on President Obama’s nomination of Sally Jewell for Secretary of the Interior:

We are gladdened to see this impressive nominee to be the next Secretary of the Interior. Sally Jewell has a tremendous record supporting important conservation measures while also understanding the numerous uses of our public lands.  Importantly for Utah, she is well-versed in the importance of the outdoor recreation economy and the crucial role that protected public lands play in its success. We look forward to working with Ms. Jewell in the coming years to further protect Utah’s redrock.