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Front Page » April 21, 2009 » Emery County News » Emery County to intervene in law suit against the BLM
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Emery County to intervene in law suit against the BLM

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Emery County is joining the fight against the lawsuit filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other organizations against the Bureau of Land Management.

The Utah Attorney General's Office will file a motion on behalf of Emery County. A motion for Carbon County and Grand County as well as Uintah County are also being filed by the Attorney General's Office. The SUWA lawsuit has been filed in Washington D.C. Utah has filed for a change of venue, so the case can be heard in the Federal Court in Salt Lake City and not in Washington D.C, but the motion on the change of venue is pending.

The intervention by Carbon County has already been granted.

Scott Groene is the executive director of SUWA. He gives some background information on why the environmental groups filed the lawsuit. "On Dec. 17, 2008 a coalition of groups led by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C. challenging the BLM's proposed December oil and gas lease sale, as well as the Moab, Price, and Vernal Resource Management plans that authorized the sale. We also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction asking the court, Judge Ricardo Urbina, to block BLM from issuing the leases.

"The plaintiffs in this case include SUWA, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Center for Native Ecosystems, Red Rock Forests, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Utah Rivers Council.

"On Jan. 17, Judge Urbina granted our motion for a temporary restraining order and ordered BLM not to issue the 77 leases at issue in this case. The judge explicitly held that we are likely to succeed on the merits of our case, as it stood then, alleging that BLM violated NEPA and the National Historic Preservation Act, that we would be irreparably harmed if the leases were issued, and that the balance of harms and the public interest favored the granting of an injunction.

"On Feb. 4, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar directed the BLM not to accept the high bids for 77 lease parcels at issue in our case.

"A few days before Secretary Salazar announced his decision directing BLM to back down, we filed a revised version of our lawsuit, an amended complaint, this time challenging the most significant decisions BLM made in what we see as the unbalanced Moab, Price and Vernal resource management plans and adding four new plaintiffs to the case. Now the issues in the mix include critical decisions like BLM's off-road vehicle travel plans, the designation of areas of critical environmental concern, and BLM's refusal to take seriously the threats posed by climate change," said Groene.

Now the issues in the mix include critical decisions like BLM's off-road vehicle travel plans, the designation of areas of critical environmental concern, and BLM's refusal to take seriously the threats posed by climate change," said Groene.

Alan Peterson is an ATV enthusiast and active in off-highway vehicle clubs and motorcycle clubs. He is a resident of Carbon County and has and interest in the travel plans on the Swell. He said, "Shame on SUWA. After decades of battling over the ownership of thousands of dirt roads, the BLM and Utah counties actually see eye to eye on which roads will remain open.

"You would think SUWA would welcome this momentous achievement. Think again. Instead of applauding, and using their considerable lobbying power to support this rare agreement, they instead march into U.S. Federal Court and demand the court declare the agreement illegal. And instead of filing the lawsuit in Utah District Court, SUWA goes all the way to the Washington D.C. District Court, just about as far away from the lands as they could get. SUWA will never be happy until the vast majority of public access to public lands is eliminated," said Peterson.

"Ray Peterson is the Emery County Public Lands Director. He wants to make it clear that Emery County doesn't support SUWAs America's Red Rock Wilderness Act which is introduced in Congress each year and gains support.

He had this to say about the lawsuit and other lands issues. "The lawsuit filed recently by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and 10 other environmental advocacy groups against three BLM RMPs (Vernal, Moab and Price) seeks to monkey wrench a planning process which took more than seven years to complete at a cost of more than $35 million to the federal government. Add to that the untold hours compiled by State and County government representatives in cooperative planning efforts. SUWA states in their complaint that BLM afforded them (and all interested parties) at least 320 days of review time at various stages in the planning process, and SUWA says they dutifully submitted timely comments. The BLM Price Field Office considered these comments along with comments from the State of Utah, Emery and Carbon County and issued a Record of Decision in the later part of 2008.

"SUWA and their allies are miffed that many, but not all, of the comments they submitted were not embraced and implemented. Welcome to the club! Emery County representatives participated in the planning process from day one, and labored over comments intended to reflect positions which would assist the federal planners to write a plan most beneficial to all parties. Guess what? The RMP didn't give us everything we'd like to have either. For instance, we wanted some open OHV areas but got none.

"We would have preferred no areas managed for wilderness characteristics outside the Wilderness Study Areas but BLM chose to manage about 100,000 acres for that purpose. We felt that Desolation Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon had adequate management in place but the field office chose to recommend Wild and Scenic River Designation for those two portions of the Green River anyway. And almost every OHV rider and motorcyclist lost a favorite trail or two.

"Why then does Emery County support this RMP? There are many good planning decisions and the new RMP better manages this federal land in Carbon and Emery Counties than the old ones did. Consider that BLM chose not to recommend many dry washes and annual streams for designation to the Wild and Scenic River System. A comprehensive motorized route designation plan is now complete, with promises of minor adjustments. Responsible criteria were implemented to evaluate proper availability of oil and gas leases. BLM also recognized the legality of the Utah Wilderness Settlement, which recognizes that wilderness designation is a congressional act, BLM cannot designate wilderness. Livestock grazers came through this planning process unscathed. This plan is not perfect, but better than previous plans.

"Why is SUWA compelled to bring the suit? The complaint submitted to the court says one reason is that 900,000 acres of "wilderness quality land" is available to oil and gas leases. What the complaint doesn't say is that this new RMP removes 569,000 acres from potential lease sales as compared to 435,000 acres in the old plans. The plan also allows 282,000 acres to be available for lease but constrains them to No Surface Occupancy restrictions. That means the oil or gas has to be retrieved by directional drilling, from an off-site location. No roads or drill rigs will be allowed on those land surfaces. SUWA and the other parties to the suit are not content with eliminating a mere 850,000 acres from surface disturbance. It is part of their "uncompromising advocacy" mantra; all or nothing.

"SUWA is also critical of OHV management in their complaint. They state that "The Price RMP also included a travel plan that designates nearly 3,000 miles of dirt roads and trails for ORV use." What is not stated is that about 1,800 miles of those miles are BLM or County system roads. All BLM system roads are open to ORV use and Emery County designated most, not all, of their roads open to OHV use by county ordinance, a process unrelated to the RMP. Inexplicably, a travel plan proposed by SUWA included all of the county and BLM system roads.

"The remaining 1,200 miles are designated for OHV use in the new plan. The old plans had no designated routes and 743,000 acres open to cross country travel. SUWA's complaint goes on to say that there are "no findings that the travel plan route designations in the Price RMP would minimize impacts to public lands resources such as soils, vegetation, wildlife, and water." Sounds to me like SUWA would rather we eliminate those ineffective old trails and just go back to the cross country travel.

There are other complaints in the suit, but I'll mention one final issue. Of the new RMPs, SUWA's suit says "BLM[s] to fully address climate change." And that the new plan also "ignored the impacts of climate change on the arid landscapes.." Let me fully address this issue right here and now on behalf of the BLM: Let's see, if the climate changes and gets drier, the arid landscape will get drier. If the climate changes and gets wetter, the arid landscape will get wetter. If the climate changes and gets colder, etc.

"Environmental activist organizations would have the federal judge in Washington believe that the Price RMP does not address environmental issues adequately. Emery County believes that the RMP has responded to issues identified in scoping meetings, considered comments provided by the State of Utah, Carbon and Emery counties, organized interest groups including SUWA and others, and has created management guidelines that are immensely superior to the plans they replace. The RMP is the result of a successful collaborative process which has involved all concerned parties. SUWA and its sister organizations continue to take an extreme, uncompromising position, to the detriment of the very lands they claim to revere," said Petersen.

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April 21, 2009
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