Utah Wilderness News 2005 Archive
Utah wilderness and related public land issues continue to evolve through new developments, both local and national. This web log chronicles recent news with brief summaries of the headlines. Acknowledgement is made to the Salt Lake Tribune in addition to other sources cited.
Back to current wilderness news
Back to home page
Carbon County vows to fight BLM management plan [December 30, 2005]
The BLM's Price Field Office isn't expected to finalize a resource management plan (RMP) before the end of next year, but Carbon County officials have already written a letter threatening to "go to whatever lengths necessary" to stop it. The draft RMP includes an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) designation for 26,000 acres along Nine Mile Canyon, known for its archaeological sites and world-famous rock art. The BLM also plans to recommend sections of the Green River for congressional designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The county government is worried that these protective measures could stand in the way of future resource development.
Cedar Mountain Wilderness awaits President's signature [December 21, 2005]
The U.S. Senate passed the final version of the Defense Authorization Act, which included a provision designating the Cedar Mountain Wilderness in the West Desert.
House passes Cedar Mountain Wilderness [December 19, 2005]
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Defense Authorization Act. The bill also provides for the Cedar Mountain Wilderness in the West Desert region.
Conference Committee agrees to Cedar Mountain Wilderness [December 15, 2005]
House and Senate conferees on the Defense Authorization Act agreed to include a provision designating the Cedar Mountain Wilderness in the West Desert region. The latest version of the Cedar Mountain bill was introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop last spring, and had the support of the entire Utah congressional delegation and Governor Jon Huntsman. The wilderness designation is intended to block construction of a proposed rail spur needed to transport casks of spent nuclear fuel to a private storage facility proposed for the Goshute Indian Reservation. "It does not take all their potential routes away...but it has slowed down the process," said Rep. Bishop.
Utah slow to protect forest roadless areas [December 12, 2005]
Last May, when the Bush administration repealed the roadless area conservation rule for the national forests, state governments were given until November 2006 to petition the federal government to protect roadless areas. California, Oregon and New Mexico filed suit against the repeal. Colorado and Montana have initiated a process of public meetings as the first step toward fulfilling the petition requirement. Utah has not done anything yet, although the Salt Lake Tribune reports that Gov. Huntsman is now asking for recommendations from county governments. It remains unclear whether there will be any opportunity for public involvement.
'The toughest job in the BLM' [December 7, 2005]
David Hunsaker is leaving his post as manager of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to go to Washington, DC as deputy director of the National Landscape Conservation System. Hunsaker is the third consecutive monument manager to depart after coming under attack by the Kane County Commission. No replacement has yet been named. According to Don Banks, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management's Utah state office, running the Grand Staircase-Escalante "is probably the toughest job in the BLM."
Negotiations continue on Kane County road signs [December 4, 2005]
Interior Department officials met again with Kane County in an effort to resolve the dispute over the county's placement of road signs on federal land in and around the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Negotiators on both side believe an agreement can be reached soon.
Washington County wildfires were the worst this year [November 27, 2005]
Even though wildfires burned more acres in Utah this year than in any of the previous five years, the number of wildfires was lower, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Firefighters considered it an advantage that most fires were concentrated in Washington County, where about 250,000 acres burned out of a state total of 318,817 acres.
Logging subsidies add to federal budget deficit [November 25, 2005]
According to a new report by the Earth Island Institute, subsidized logging on the national forests (including fuel reduction projects) has added $6.6 billion to federal budget deficits since 1997. The Forest Service timber program loses $300 million to $400 million annually. Timber sales to private industry consistently fail to cover management costs.
BLM receives grant to help preserve SE Utah ruins [November 25, 2005]
The Monticello office of the BLM was awarded a $225,000 matching grant to help protect and preserve ten archaeological sites on Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch, Alkali Ridge and Comb Ridge in San Juan County. All will be nominated for National Historic Landmark designation. The BLM must raise an additional $225,000 from non-federal sources. Ruins with standing architectural features, such as walls and kivas, often suffer damage from vandalism and careless visitors unless stabilized.
Interior Department promises to resolve Kane County road issue [November 22, 2005]
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has promised to set up negotiations for a settlement with Kane County over the status of roads across public land. The agreement came after a meeting between Norton and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who had become frustrated over Interior Department inaction and blocked Senate confirmation of Norton's deputy. The department's regional solicitor, Larry Jensen, is going to begin meeting with Kane County officials November 30.
Utah governor goes to Washington to lobby for Cedar Mountain proposal [November 18, 2005]
Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. is in Washington, DC to strategize with members of the Utah congressional delegation and to lobby for a wilderness proposal aimed at blocking access to a proposed nuclear waste dump. The designation of a Cedar Mountain Wilderness was appended to the House version of the Defense Authorization bill in the hope of creating a barrier to rail transport of spent nuclear fuel to the Goshute Reservation. The Senate version did not include the same provision, but the delegation and the governor hope to convince senators on the House-Senate conference committee to put it in the final bill.
10th Circuit Court hears arguments on Proposition 5 [November 17, 2005]
The long-running battle over the consitutionality of Proposition 5 came nearer to a conclusion when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case. The proposition amended the Utah constitution to place a 2/3 supermajority requirement on any Utah voter initiative affecting wildlife policy, which opponents argue is a violation of the First Amendment. A simple majority of voters approved the proposition in 1998.
BLM won't litigate Kane County road signs [November 15, 2005]
In a letter to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Acting Assistant Interior Secretary Chad Calvert said that the department does not plan to take legal action against Kane County for placing unauthorized road signs on federal land, including the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Senator Durbin is holding up the appointment of P. Lynn Scarlett as Deputy Interior Secretary in the hope of getting the BLM to remove the road signs and prosecute the county.
Utah delegation optimistic about Cedar Mountain Wilderness [November 8, 2005]
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) has dropped his opposition to a bill to designate a wilderness area that could block access to a proposed nuclear waste dump in Tooele County. Utah's congressional delegation wants the Cedar Mountain Wilderness to keep the BLM from approving a rail line to the Goshute Indian Reservation, where Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of electric utilities, wants to store 44,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel. Last year, Senator Reid stopped a similar bill because Utah's senators backed a plan to store nuclear waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain site.
Kane County may sue BLM over Grand Staircase management [November 8, 2005]
Kane County plans to sue the Department of the Interior over elements of the Grand Staircase-Escalante management plan, specifically road rights of way and water rights. The management plan has been in effect since February 2000.
GAO report: Grazing subsidies cost $123 million a year [November 1, 2005]
In 2004, the BLM, Forest Service and other federal agencies took in only $21 from grazing fees bu they spent $144 million on grazing programs, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Ranchers pay a fee set by law, currently $1.43 per animal unit month (AUM). The BLM and Forest Service would have had to charge $7.64 and $12.26 per AUM respectively to cover their expenses, according to the GAO. An AUM is the amount of forage a cow and her calf can eat in a month, or enough for five sheep.
State uses maps to assert right-of-way claims [November 1, 2005]
The Utah Attorney General's Office has provided the BLM with copies of maps dating back to 1950 as part of an effort to prove ownership of six roads the state has claimed under RS 2477. The settlement process was established by a memorandum of understanding in April 2003, however Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has announced that the BLM will be revising its road-claim policy to reflect a recent 10th Circuit Court decision. Under the old rules, proof of "mechanical construction" was required; the court recognized the state's standard of ten years of continuous use.
Major gas well drilling project would affect Desolation Canyon [October 18, 2005]
The Denver-based Bill Barrett Corp. has put forward a proposal to drill 750 natural gas wells in 500 locations across central Utah. The project would affect a 137,000 acre area on the West Tavaputs Plateau and inside Desolation Canyon and Jack Canyon Wilderness Stidy Areas. Nine Mile Canyon could also be impacted.
Environmental groups sue Kane County over road signs [October 14, 2005]
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Earthjustice and The Wilderness Society filed suit against Kane County for placing 268 signs designating off-road vehicle routes across federal land last March. The BLM referred the matter to the U.S. attorney for Utah in June, but no action has been taken since.
Working group looks for compromise on Factory Butte ORV conflict [October 8, 2005]
A BLM-sponsored working group is seeking to resolve the issue of off-road vehicle damage near Factory Butte in Wayne County. The area is open to vehicles under the current management plan, but last April the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) petitioned the BLM to implement emergency closures in response to the impact of heavy ORV traffic. In addition to SUWA, working group participants include the Utah Shared Access Alliance. The group is expected to make recommendations to the Richfield Field Office by early next year.
Conservation groups buy cattle ranches on North Rim of Grand Canyon [September 29, 2005]
The Grand Canyon Trust and Conservation Fund have announced the completion of a $4.5 million buyout of the Kane and Two Mile ranches northwest of Marble Canyon and just west of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The ranches include 1,000 acres of deeded land and 850,000 acres of grazing allotments. According the BLM Arizona Strip office, the allotments will continue to be grazed.
San Juan County looks forward to another uranium boom [September 28, 2005]
According to the San Juan County recorder's office, uranium claims are being filed at an unprecedented pace. In 2003, 264 such claims were filed in the county. Last year, the total jumped to 1,666. So far this year, 5,511 claims have been filed. Over the last four years, the price of uranium oxide (yellowcake) has climbed from $7 to $30 per pound, mainly as a result of foreign demand. While no nuclear power plants have been licensed in the United States during the last 30 years, China and India are making new investments in nuclear power.
Utah Governor's Office pushes aggressive new RS 2477 plan [September 22, 2005]
Armed with an appeals court decision that reduces the burden of proof for RS 2477 rights of way, the Governor's Office declared an ambitious plan to claim ownership of thousands of old jeep tracks across federal land in every Utah county. According to Lynn Stevens, the state's public lands policy coordinator, counties will be asked to identify and map rights of way, then submit their claims to the state government.
Leavitt-Norton 'no more wilderness' agreement is dissolved [September 16, 2005]
State and federal attorneys quietly dissolved the legal underpinnings of a settlement agreement struck by Interior Secretary Gale Norton and then-Governor Mike Leavitt to limit BLM wilderness study areas (WSAs) to those established by the Department of the Interior in 1991. Last month, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson disavowed the legal interpretation that his approval of the settlement was the equivalent of a consent decree. As a result, the moratorium on WSAs is not binding on the federal government.
10th Circuit Court hears arguments on Grand Staircase-Escalante NM [September 16, 2005]
The Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), representing opponents of former Presdient Clinton's 1996 proclamation of the Grand Staurcase-Escalante National Monument, presented arguments to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. MSLF attorney Jayme Shyp argued that Clinton exceeded his authority under the Antiquities Act, an interpretation of the law rejected last year by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson. A decision from the appeals court is expected in 2006.
10th Circuit Court redefines RS 2477 roads, stirring new controversy [September 9, 2005]
In a 120-page decision, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has rejected the BLM road criteria applied by Judge Tena Campbell of U.S. District Court in Utah, opening up a new chapter in the seemingly endless struggle over RS 2477 road rights of way. The appeals court instructed Campbell to drop the BLM's requirement that a "highway" (the term used in the statute) has to be mechanically constructed, and cannot be created only by the passage of vehicles. Instead of that definition, the three-judge panel subsituted a Utah state guideline that roads qualify for rights of way if they have seen "continuous use" for at least ten years. The term "continuous use" remains open to interpretation and will have to be defined on a case-by-case basis. "If you want a full employment act for lawyers, this decision is it," said Heidi McIntosh, conservation director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. The decision is a result of litigation that began in 1996, when Kane, Garfield and San Juan Counties graded roads across BLM land without permission from the federal government.
BLM asks for more information about Utah RS 2477 road claims [September 8, 2005]
The BLM has requested that the State of Utah provide additional evidence to support its road right-of-way claims in Daggett, Beaver, Iron and Millard Counties. Deputy State BLM Director Kent Hoffman has asked for proof of who constructed the roads and for what purpose. Also, the BLM wants maps, photographs, county records or road surveys that prove the roads existed before 1976. That is the year RS 2477 was repealed.
Ashley National Forest releases wild and scenic river report [September 6, 2005]
As part of the forest planning process, the Ashley National Forest has released a Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Report. The Forest Service plans to recommend 24 river segments in the Uinta Mountains for possible inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system. Utah currently has no congressionally designated wild or scenic rivers.
Fishlake NF old-growth logging plan stopped by 10th Circuit Court [August 20, 2005]
The Fishlake National Forest must do a better job of researching effects on "management indicator species" before proceeding with a plan to log old-growth spruce forest near Capitol Reef National Park, according to a ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. In the Thousand Lakes area, the indicator species include the northern goshawk and the three-toed woodpecker. The condition of populations of indicator species is supposed to provide information about the ecological well-being of the forest. The Utah Environmental Congress (UEC) has been fighting the logging proposal since 1998. UEC's complaint was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in 2003. Under the appeals court ruling, the Forest Service will be required to measure population trends and reconsider its assertion that the timber sale will have no effect on indicator species.
New ID stickers for off-road machines prove unpopular with riders [August 20, 2005]
Last January 1, a new state law took effect requiring ORV owners to affix large identification stickers to their machines. The mandate was intended to make it easier for law enforcement to identify irresponsible riders, but it has resulted in a host of complaints from those required to purchase the new stickers. State Senator Tom Hatch (R-Panguitch) sponsored the law and now plans to sponsor a bill to repeal it in the next session of the legislature. ORV registrations in Utah more than doubled from 77,509 in 1998 to 195,849 in 2004.
BLM withdraws lease parcels near Canyonlands NP [August 10, 2005]
After protests by the National Park Service, the BLM has withdrawn two more parcels from an upcoming oil and gas lease sale. Two other parcels were previously withdrawn. Altogether, they cover 80,000 acres on Hatch Point overlooking the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.
Judge suspends approval of 'no more wilderness' settlement [August 9, 2005]
U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson reconsidered his approval of the April 2003 agreement between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and then-Governor Mike Leavitt after a remand order from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The judge expressed concern that the agreement was being interpreted as legally binding on the federal government, including future administrations.
Bureau of Reclamation says it won't drain Lake Powell [July 29, 2005]
At a Salt Lake City hearing, Bureau of Reclamation officials took the first step in a long-term planning process by listening to various views about how to manage the Colorado River, inlcuding a proposal to decommission Glen Canyon Dam and let the river flow naturally through Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park. According to Randy Peterson, the bureau's regional manager for environment resources, there is no chance the proposal will be considered. Water levels on Lake Powell have risen 52 feet since April, after dropping significantly due to drought.
Senator Hatch proposes Four Corners National Heritage Area [July 27, 2005]
Senator Orrin Hatch introduced a bill in Congress to designate a network of archaeological sites in Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona as the Four Corners National Heritage Area. The designation would have no effect in terms of land status, but could result in federal funding of tourism-related projects.
Groups file grazing lawsuit for Glen Canyon NRA [July 23, 2005]
The Center for Biological Diversity and Great Old Broads for Wilderness filed suit against the Department of the Interior. The suit is an attempt to get the National Park Service to implement its grazing management plan for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, adopted in 1999. The plan was intended to protect riparian areas on 24 grazing allotments leased by the BLM, but the leases were renewed without restrictions the plan was intended to impose.
GAO report: BLM overwhelmed with drilling permit applications [July 22, 2005]
Expedited oil and gas leasing has more than tripled the number of oil and gas drilling permits issued by the BLM, from 1,803 in fiscal year 1999 to 6,399 in fiscal year 2004. Nearly all the increase has taken place in in five states: Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and New Mexico. According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the volume of applications for permit to drill (APDs) has resulted in backlogs and less attention to environmental analyses and compliance monitoring of well sites. For example, the BLM Vernal Field Office expects more than 1,000 APDs this year, but has a budget based on 500 APDs. The GAO recommended that the BLM charge companies a fee to recover the cost of processing permits.
Poll says Utahns want better management of ORVs [July 13, 2005]
A Dan Jones and Associates poll sponsored by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance indicates that most Utahns support rules restricting ORV use on public lands. Among other results, 87% of respondents agreed that there are some public lands where motorized access should not be permitted, 78% believe that ORV use needs to be more closely managed, and 90% wanted to restrict ORV use to specified trails. In the representative sample, 74% said they did not own an ORV while 24% did.
New BLM grazing regs eliminate 'conservation use' [June 17, 2005]
Under newly-issued grazing regulations for BLM lands, "conservation use" permits that let ranchers keep allotments ungrazed for up to 10 years will no longer be issued. Any rancher who leaves the land idle for more than a year can lose his permit. The regulations also limit public involvement in BLM management decisions.
Off-road groups sue BLM over San Rafael travel restrictions [June 17, 2005]
A lawsuit filed in federal court by an alliance of ORV interest groups seeks to overturn the San Rafael Swell Route Designation Plan adopted by the BLM in 2003. The plan was completed in part as a response to a SUWA lawsuit in 1999 that forced the BLM to end a policy of unrestricted motorized use. The planning process closed 468 miles of ORV and jeep trails and left open another 667 miles.
Gov. Huntsman won't act to conserve roadless areas [June 12, 2005]
When the Bush administration ended the Clinton-era Roadless Rule last month, it allowed states the right to petition the Forest Service for protection of remaining roadless areas on the national forests. Governor Huntsman has said he won't pursue that option. Lynn Stevens, the state public lands policy coordinator, says roadless areas will be addressed through forest plan revisions now in progress for four of the six national forests in Utah.
Oil shale development incentive program includes Utah [June 10, 2005]
The BLM has offered industry a chance to try out oil shale extraction methods on 160-acre plots of public land in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. Proposals must be submitted by September 7. Successful pilot projects could open up 5,100 acre blocks for strip mining and other operations for 35 years or more.
Senator Bennett trying for Washington County wilderness compromise [May 22, 2005]
According to a Salt Lake Tribune article, Senator Bob Bennett plans to offer a draft Washington County wilderness bill as early as next month. Consensus remains elusive despite a year of discussions initiated by former Governor Olene Walker. County commissioners, ranchers and off-road recreation groups seem willing to go along with 89,400 acres of new BLM wilderness in four areas: Docs Pass, Black Ridge, Deep Creek and Canaan Mountain. The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance have yet to come down from their proposal for about 300,000 acres. Also, the county and ORV groups want a closed road through Canaan Mountain re-opened, splitting that proposed wilderness area adjacent to Zion National Park.
Lawsuit filed to seek endangered status for rare Utah plant [May 20, 2005]
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Center for Native Ecosystems filed suit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlfe Service, which has failed to process their petition to list a rare plant as threatened or endangered. The flowering plant called the Mussentuchit gilia has been found only on the western slope of the San Rafael Swell.
Senator Hatch proposes oil shale development task force [May 20, 2005]
Vast deposits of oil shale and tar sands in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming could yield 1.8 trillion barrels of oil if development is encouraged, says Senator Orrin Hatch. He has introduced a bill to once again subsidize the leasing of these resources on public land. A previous government subsidy effort during the 1970s failed due to falling oil prices. Oil shale and tar sands extraction would require large-scale investment and lead to widespread irreversible environmental damage, according to environmental impact analyses.
Wolf plan faces opposition at RAC meetings [May 16, 2005]
A wolf management plan that resulted from an 18-month effort by the Wolf Working Group now goes before Utah's five wildlife Regional Advisory Councils, where vehement objections from hunters are anticipated.
Bush administration moves to undo roadless area conservation [May 10, 2005]
The BLM has pulled back six parcels around Parowan Gap in Iron County from an oil and gas lease sale scheduled for next week. Parowan Gap is a nationally recognized prehistoric rock art site. One of the parcels included the main concentration of rock art, and the others included parts of the viewshed from the site.
Bush administration moves to undo roadless area conservation [May 6, 2005]
The Bush administration has ended a four-year development ban for roadless areas on the national forests, opening 34.3 million acres to oil and gas drilling, logging, mining and road-building. Comments on the Bush policy were 95 percent negative, with nearly 1.8 million protests received. Under the new rule, roadless area protection will depend on the initiative of state governors. Utah has approximately 4 million acres of national forest roadles areas.
Utah ORV numbers have more than doubled since 1998 [April 24, 2005]
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the number of registrations for ATVs, dirt bikes, specialty 4WD vehicles and other off-road machines in Utah has increased from 77,000 to 196,000 since 1998. State officials and off-road organizations suspect that there is an approximately equal number of unregistered ORVs. If true, this would mean nearly 400,000 --or one ORV for every six Utahns. During the same period, registrations for snowmobiles and boats have remained about the same. The growth in ORV recreation has overwhelmed the BLM and the Forest Service. Management plans, mostly adopted in the 1980s, continue to allow unrestricted motorized vehicle access over large areas of public land.
UWC wilderness proposal re-introduced in Congress [April 22, 2005]
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) have re-introduced the Utah Wilderness Coalition (UWC) proposal for 9.5 million acres of BLM wilderness in the 109th Congress. The bill, HR 1774, attracted 151 initial co-sponsors in the House and 13 in the Senate. The UWC, led by the Sierra Club and other national environmental groups, first got a Utah BLM wilderness bill (HR 1500) introduced in 1989 for 5 million acres. Over the years, the proposal was repeatedly re-introduced and expanded. The latest version would designate approximately 17.5 percent of the total land area of Utah as wilderness. None of the UWC-proposed legislation has ever come to a vote in Congress.
Governor's Outdoor Recreation Task Force wants public input [April 20, 2005]
The Governor's Office of Planning and Budget requests your assistance in identifying and evaluating Utah's outdoor "recreation gems." The Outdoor Recreation Task Force website offers a site-specific form to gather information on recreation destinations, especially areas threatened by potential development, over-visitation or neglect. The Outdoor Recreation Task Force is a public-private sector partnership composed of outdoor industry representatives and state agencies.
RS 2477 maps will remain secret, says Utah Records Committee [April 15, 2005]
The Utah Records Committee rejected an appeal by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Western Resource Advocates, who are seeking information about RS 2477 road claims in the San Rafael region. The records, including GIS maps, have been kept secret because State attorneys argue they were prepared due to pending litigation and are therefore exempt from Utah's open records laws.
Wolf Working Group holds final meeting [April 13, 2005]
The last meeting of the Wolf Working Group (WWG) ended without taking a final vote on a proposed wolf management plan. One participating organization, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (SFW), walked out of the meeting soon after it started. SFW founder Don Peay made an unsuccessful last-minute demand that hunters be compensated for wildlife killed by wolves and that landowners be allowed to kill wolves on sight. Each element of the draft wolf plan was individually adopted with a consensus-minus-two vote of the WWG's 13 members.
More than a dozen deer found dead in poacher 'killing spree' [April 13, 2005]
In one of the worst poaching incidents in recent memory, at least 13 deer were slaughtered last weekend along a four-mile stretch of road in Diamond Fork Canyon on the Uinta National Forest. "It was a killing spree... something done for no other reason than the joy of killing," said Vic Layton, a wildlife conservation officer with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. DWR is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of those responsible.
Price River listed as endangered by American Rivers [April 13, 2005]
A proposed irrigation reservoir has gotten the Price River onto the annual list of the ten most endangered rivers in the United States. The list is published by American Rivers. According to the Utah Rivers Council, the Gooseberry Narrows Dam would drown about 100 acres of wetlands and adversely affect stream habitat above and below the dam.
Conservation groups plan to purchase key ranch properties [April 13, 2005]
The Conservation Fund and the Grand Canyon Trust are close to acquiring the Kane and Two Mile ranches north of the Grand Canyon. With the ranches will come control over grazing permits for 850,000 acres on the northern part of the Kaibab National Forest and on the BLM's Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The Conservation Fund raised $3.5 million for the purchase, the Grand Canyon Trust contributed $1.5 million and will take over management of the ranches starting next month. The new owners plan to restore natural habitat while continuing minimal cattle grazing as required by federal regulations.
State of Utah will join Salt Creek right-of-way lawsuit [April 12, 2005]
U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins has ruled that the state can intervene in a lawsuit filed by San Juan County to assert control over the jeep trail along Salt Creek in Canyonlands National Park. The National Park Service closed the trail last June to allow the stream and vegetation to recover from the impacts of vehicles.
Congressman Bishop reintroduces Cedar Mountain wilderness bill [March 31, 2005]
Rep. Rob Bishop is making another attempt to convince Congress to designate 100,000 acres of wilderness on the Cedar Mountain as part of a plan to cut off rail access to a proposed nuclear waste dump on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation. His bill is called the Utah Test and Training Range Protection Act, because some consider the possibility of a nuclear waste site a liability for Air Force training flights that would have to be re-routed. "I'd be supportive of the bill but I'd be misleading you if I said it has much of a chance in the Senate," said Senator Robert Bennett. A similar bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in the last session of Congress, and failed in the Senate because of opposition from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
San Juan County commissioner appointed Utah public lands coordinator [March 30, 2005]
Governor Jon Huntsman has appointed San Juan County Commissioner Lynn Stevens to head the Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office for the State of Utah. The office was recently created by the state legislature to help develop consistent positions on public lands issues at the state and county levels.
Forest Service to expand campfire setbacks on High Uintas Wilderness [March 26, 2005]
Effective June 1, 2005, the Ashley and Wasatch-Cache National Forests plan to prohibit campfires and firewood gathering within 1/4 mile (1,320 feet) of popular lakes on the High Uintas Wilderness. Existing rules provide for a campfire setback of 1,000 feet in most of these areas.
Wild Utah Project publishes RS 2477 claim map [March 22, 2005]
A new map has been released that shows the locations of 37 RS 2477 road claims that are being actively pursued by the State of Utah and individual counties. The map was commissioned by EarthJustice and The Wilderness Society, and compiled by the Wild Utah Project, a non-profit GIS group. There are thousands of potential RS 2477 claims in Utah whose locations have not yet been revealed by government agencies.
Utah DWR releases draft wolf plan [March 22, 2005]
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has written a draft wolf management plan. The plan has two goals: to study and protect wolves moving into Utah, and to mitigate livestock depredation. It proposes GPS tracking of wolves and payments to compensate ranchers for lost animals. The state plan would not go into effect unless wolves lose their "endangered" status under federal law.
Kane County posts ORV signs in wilderness study area [March 19, 2005]
As part of an ongoing campaign to assert RS 2477 road rights of way, Kane County has posted signs designating an ORV route within a BLM wilderness study area several miles northeast of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Wilderness Views explores wilderness on the Web [March 5, 2005]
The National Park Servive has developed an interactive multimedia educational module called Wilderness Views. From "What is wilderness?" to "How is wilderness managed?" the module provides insight into the unique resource of wilderness in the United States. Through an interactive timeline individuals can learn the history of wilderness leading up to the enactment of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Historic and current perspectives on "Why wilderness?" are presented through biographical sketches and video interviews. Management scenarios place the viewer into a wilderness manager's role by presenting real-life situations that guide individuals through a decision-making process considering consequences and outcomes.
State of Utah to join Salt Creek right of way lawsuit [March 5, 2005]
The State of Utah filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit against the National Park Service (NPS) aimed at reopening the Salt Creek 4WD route in Canyonlands National Park. The suit, claiming an RS 2477 right of way, was filed by San Juan County after the NPS closed the area to motor vehicles in June 2004 due to the effects of traffic on riparian vegetation and water quality. The closure prevents park visitors from driving to Angel Arch, a popular point of interest.
Old photographs document ecological changes [February 28, 2005]
Utah State University's Utah's Rangeland Reference Area project is an effort to collect Utah landscape photos from the early part of the 20th Century and match them with present-day images of the same areas. These photo pairs document the improvement of range management since the days of unregulated overgrazing, and also show the dramatic changes in vegetation brought about by government suppression of wildfires.
New wilderness proposals for southern Utah national forests [February 24, 2005]
A coalition of a coalition of 13 local and national conservation organizations led by Red Rock Forests and the Grand Canyon Trust released a set of "Conservation Alternative Management Plans" including wilderness proposals for the Dixie, Fishlake and Manti-La Sal National Forests in southern Utah. All three forests are in the early stages of revising their management plans.
Ranch hands plead guilty to killing nine wild horses [February 23, 2005]
Angry because wild horses were grazing on public land seeded for cattle forage, Iron County ranch workers Fred Woods and Russell Jones shot and killed nine of the horses on May 30, 2002. The two men were indicted by a federal grand jury last September, and eventually pleaded guilty to one felony count each of injuring U.S. property and two misdemeanor counts of causing the death of a wild, free-roaming horse. They face up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, but the government is recommending lenient sentences as part of a plea bargain.
Park Service Rainbow Bridge policy survives court challenge [February 23, 2005]
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a 12-year-old National Park Service policy asking visitors to respect Rainbow Bridge as a Native American sacred site. The Natural Arch and Bridge Society sued the Park Service in 2000, alleging the policy is unconstitutional because it grants special treatment to American Indian religions. The case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins in 2002, and last year the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the original ruling. The Park Service requests visitors to the national monument not to approach or walk under Rainbow Bridge.
Conservation groups sue Fish & Wildlife Service to protect Bonneville cutthroat trout [February 18, 2005]
The Bonneville cutthroat trout, a Utah state symbol, has lost all but 3.7 percent of its historic stream and lake habitat according to U.S. Forest Service estimates. The species also suffers from hybridization through inter-breeding with introduced varieties of trout. Several petitions to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) over the last 30 years have come close to winning endangered or threatened status for the Bonneville cutthroat trout. The latest petition was rejected in 2001 after a FWS status review, laying the groundwork for legal action by the Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Rivers Council and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. The three groups filed suit in the Denver U.S. District Court yesterday.
Court of appeals hears arguments on 8-year-old RS 2477 case [February 12, 2005]
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals came to Salt Lake City to listen to lawyers representing the federal and state governments, Kane, Garfield and San Juan Counties, the Sierra Club and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance lay out different criteria for assessing RS 2477 road right of way claims. The case was brought by environmental groups against the BLM in 1996, after the counties peformed road grading on 16 routes across public lands without federal permission. In 2001, District Court Judge Tena Campbell ruled that the counties did not possess rights of way under RS 2477 because the roads in question did not meet the federal definition of a "highway." Lawyers appealing that decision yesterday argued that a less restrictive state definition ought to apply. The outcome of the appeal may determine whether states and counties across the West can claim ownership of thousand of roads and trails across public lands, including wilderness areas and national parks.
Public land grazing fees raised 25 percent [February 10, 2005]
The BLM and Forest Service grazing fee for 2005 will be $1.79 per animal unit month (AUM), up from $1.43 last year. The new fee will take effect March 1. The fee is calculated by a formula in the1978 Public Rangelands Improvement Act that takes economic factors into account, including beef cattle prices --which went up in 2004. The grazing fee cannot fall below $1.35, and any annual increase is capped at 25 percent. Without the cap, the fee would have reached $1.99 this year.
Utah sues federal government over RS 2477 claims [February 10, 2005]
The State of Utah and six counties filed a complaint in U.S. District Court seeking title to six roads across public land, following through on long-threatened legal action. Beaver, Box Elder, Emery, Uintah, Washington and Wayne Counties are involved in the suit. In what is apparently intended as a test case, one road right of way is claimed by each county.
Appeals court sends wilderness settlement back to Utah [February 9, 2005]
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver dismissed a case brought by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and Earthjustice, against an April 2003 out-of-court settlement between the U.S. Department of the Interior and the State of Utah that stopped the BLM from adding new wilderness study areas. The issue was sent back to U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson in Salt Lake City for further review.
State still refuses to release RS 2477 maps [February 5, 2005]
This week the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Western Resources Advocates appealed the refusal of the Utah Automated Geographic Reference Center (AGRC) and the Utah Attorney General to reveal the locations of RS 2477 claims in the San Rafael region. Last August, the state threatened to sue the federal government over a dozen claimed rights of way, including two inside the Mexican Mountain Wilderness Study Area. All public requests for maps of the right-of-way claims have been denied because of the pending litigation.
Taxpayers can donate to wolf depredation fund [February 5, 2005]
Beginning this year, Utah taxpayers who want to support wolf management can make a donation on their state tax return to the wolf depredation fund. Wolves seldom kill livestock. In areas where wolves and livestock co-exist, losses due to wolves are usually less than 0.5% of total livestock losses. However, Utah has established the fund to reimburse ranchers at fair market value for any livestock losses due to wolf depredation. See the Utah Wolf Forum website for more information.
Wolf downlisting overturned in federal court [February 2, 2005]
Defenders of Wildlife and 18 other conservation groups won a significant court battle when Oregon U.S. District Judge Robert Jones ruled the U.S. Fish & Wildlfie Service prematurely downlisted the gray wolf from endangered to threatened status throughout much of its range.
Senator Bennett drafting Washington County wilderness bill [February 2, 2005]
According to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Utah Senator Robert Bennett is working on a BLM wilderness bill for Washington County. Former Governor Olene Walker initiated local discussions about Washington County wilderness last year, with the participation of SUWA and other stakeholders, but the talks apparently did not produce any new proposals.
Outdoor Industry Association "greatly disappointed" on Grand Staircase-Escalante [January 30, 2005]
Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), issued a statement saying that the association "is greatly disappointed in the brief filed by the attorney general regarding the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument." In an address to OIA members, Governor Jon Huntsman reiterated his pledge not to advocate changes to the monument boundaries. Huntsman said that he was only concerned about future monument proclamations without prior consultation with the state.
Utah rejoins legal battle against Grand Staircase-Escalante NM [January 29, 2005]
Six years after the State of Utah dropped its claims in a lawsuit filed by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, Assistant Attorney General Mark Ward has re-entered the case with a friend of the court brief alleging that President Clinton misused his power to proclaim the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. The current legal interpretation of the Antiquities Act, the brief argues, "allows the President to single-handedly...tie up any federal land in Utah through future monument decisions." Ward argues for placing limits on this authority. In nearly a century since President Theodore Roosevelt made use of the Antiquities Act to protect the Grand Canyon, courts have consistently upheld every national monument proclamation.
Wasatch Powderbird blamed for damaging avalanches [January 28, 2005]
Backcountry skiers have complained to the Forest Service that helicopter skiing company Wasatch Powderbird Guides has damaged and destroyed mature trees by using explosives to trigger avalanches. The company is permitted to drop explosive charges for stability testing, but blames the damage on avalanche control work by ski resorts. Avalanche danger is extremely high this winter and the ski industry is taking extra safety measures.
ORV coalition seeks to roll back BLM restrictions [January 28, 2005]
The Utah Shared Access Alliance (USA-All) is appealing a court decision upholding BLM off-road vehicle closures in Grand County and Box Elder County. USA-All Executive Director Mike Swenson disputes the finding by U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins that BLM's environmental analyses were adequate to support the closures.
Utah agrees to Park Service clean air plan [January 27, 2005]
After two years of negotiation, the Utah Division of Air Quality has signed a memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Department of the Interior that makes the state a partner in restoring national park air quality. The goal of the plan is to achieve "natural visibility" by 2018 by reducing regional haze from power plants and other pollution sources.
Governor backtracks on Grand Staircase-Escalante [January 22, 2005]
Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. has promised that the State of Utah will not seek a reduction in the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The promise was made to Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association, in the wake of negative reaction to a recent statement by Utah Deputy Attorney General Mark Ward in connection with filing a friend-of-the-court brief in a lawsuit challenging President Clinton's 1996 proclamation establishing the national monument.
Governor Huntsman reveals public lands agenda [January 19, 2005]
In an issue brief on his website, Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. says a "New Day" for Utah's public lands must include more access to minerals, oil, gas and timber while also making conservation a priority. The governor supports current efforts to reach consensus on wilderness designations, but will not back any new initiatives until after all the "relevant" RS 2477 right-of-way claims are filed with the U.S. Department of the Interior. Future wilderness bills, says Huntsman, should take the form of comprehensive land use legislation. He also plans to advocate a four-fold increase in federal payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) for wilderness areas.
Utah Attorney General wants to downsize Grand Staircase-Escalante NM [January 19, 2005]
The Utah Attorney General's Office is seeking permission from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to file a friend-of-the-court brief in an eight year old lawsuit against the establishment of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Utah Deputy Attorney General Mark Ward says the state is concerned that President Clinton set aside too much land for protection when the 1.7 million acre monument was proclaimed in 1996. The Denver-based Mountain States Legal Foundation filed suit, claiming that Clinton exceeded his authority under the Antiquities Act.
Court hears arguments on April 2003 wilderness settlement [January 13, 2005]
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver heard arguments yesterday in an appeal brought by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and Earthjustice, challenging an April 2003 decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior to prohibit additional BLM wilderness study areas. The decision resulted from the out-of-court settlement of a then-dormant lawsuit by the State of Utah. Most of the hearing was about jurisdictional issues, however the judges also addressed the lack of public notice before the sudden change in policy. It is likely the case will be sent back to Salt Lake City and U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson, who approved the 2003 settlement.
Oil & gas lease maps available from EWG [January 9, 2005]
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) Public Lands Project has compiled a website with maps of oil & gas leasing. "Who Owns the West?" is the first comprehensive investigation of the industry's impact on public lands. These maps are not available from the Bureau of Land Management, the agency in charge of issuing these leases.
Revival of Utah uranium mining predicted [January 8, 2005]
Some southern Utah uranium mines may re-open this year for the first time since the 1970s as a result of rising uranium prices. Uranium is currenty at $27 per pound and may reach $30 within months. Ron Hochstein, president of International Uranium Corp. (IUC), attributed the increased demand to a growing nuclear power industry in Asia. The IUC White Mesa mill near Blanding is already scheduled to re-start operations in March.
River otters to return to Grand Staircase-Escalante NM [January 4, 2005]
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources plans to re-introduce river otters on the Escalante River in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Plans call for 30 animals to be transplanted over three years. Otters have previously been re-introduced on the Green River and on the south slope of the High Uintas, as well as the upper Colorado drainage in Colorado. Several have been sighted on Lake Powell.
New Forest Service planning regulations to eliminate EIS requirement [December 23, 2004]
The Bush administration has released new forest planning regulations that abolish the requirement for the Forest Service to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) when a national forest plan is revised. The new policy is expected to lead to a reduced level of environmental analysis for the Ashley National Forest plan and subsequent Utah forest plans. The new regulations are controversial because some provisions conflict with the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and prior regulations adopted during the Reagan administration.
BLM backs off lease proposal near Hovenweep [December 8, 2004]
Bureau of Land Management officials decided to postpone oil and gas leasing on two parcels near Hovenweep National Monument, as well as other sensitive lands. Out of the 112,000 acres listed for sale this Friday, only 25,000 acres will be auctioned. The BLM Monticello Field Office had recommended not leasing near Hovenweep, because the land was originally acquired by the BLM to protect the monument's viewshed.
A new management plan for Glen Canyon NRA? [December 8, 2004]
A long drought and receding water levels have uncovered parts of Glen Canyon that have been submerged under Lake Powell for 40 years. Famous features such as Gregory Natural Bridge and Cathedral in the Desert can be seen again, and plant and animal habitat is returning to many side canyons. The dramatic changes have led the Glen Canyon Institute to petition the National Park Service for a new management plan. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Superintendent Kitty Roberts responded that the current plan is adequate. The Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation suggest that the reservoir level, now 143 feet below the all-time high water mark of 3708 feet above sea level, will rebound within ten years.
'Land of the fee' for another ten years [December 4, 2004]
Congress has renewed the authority to charge fees for activities on national forests and public lands for ten more years. Beginning with a "fee demo" in 1996, fees have been imposed for some wilderness hiking permits, camping, and access to recreation areas. The fee system raises about $170 million a year. Critics say fees are a form of double taxation and commercialization.
No Cedar Mountain wilderness this year [December 4, 2004]
Designation of a Cedar Mountain Wilderness, part of a House-passed anti-nuclear waste bill introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), failed to win Senate approval. Bishop plans to re-introduce the measure in the next Congress.
Nevada adds 14 new wilderness areas [December 1, 2004]
After three years of effort by grassroots activists and legislators, President Bush signed into law a Bureau of Land Management wilderness bill for Lincoln County in eastern Nevada. The bill, HR 4593, designates 14 new wilderness areas totaling 768,294 acres. The House of Representatives passed it November 17, 2004 after the Senate voted for an identical bill on October 10. More information can be found on the Friends of Nevada Wilderness website.
Utah Wolf Working Group update [December 1, 2004]
At the latest meeting of the Utah Wolf Working Group they debated what to do about possible depredation of livestock by wolves, and when lethal control might be authorized. On this as on most other issues, there was no consensus. That means it will be left up to Utah Division of Wildlife Resources staff to write the draft rules.
Save Our Canyons to appeal helicopter skiing permit [December 1, 2004]
Lisa Smith, executive director of Save Our Canyons, says the group will appeal the new Wasatch Powderbird Guides helicopter sking permit approved by the Forest Service in October. The five-year permit is scheduled to take effect in January. Smith said the Wasatch-Cache National Forest failed to follow through on a previous agreement to monitor the effects of helicopters on golden eagles and to observe buffer zones around nesting areas.