Newsletter Archive

Hovenweep National Monument, Utah                                                                                                    (Mike Painter)

July 10, 2012

Dear CalUWild friends—

Summer has arrived with its heat and forest fires and fog (depending on where you live). The presidential campaign is underway, with little or no discussion of the environment, let alone public lands, except in the context of more drilling for “energy independence.” The media’s attention has been focused elsewhere, too. If you can, what better time to get away to enjoy your public lands-wilderness or not?

Thanks for all of your support and interest during the rest of the year, too!

1.   BLM Approves Major Gas Project Near Desolation Canyon
2.   BLM to Issue Supplemental DEIS on Alton Coal Mine
Near Bryce Canyon

3.   Inyo County Loses R.S. 2477 Road Claim in Death Valley
4.   Forest Service Releases Draft Plan for Lake Tahoe Basin
5.   State Park Closures Averted at Last Moment

6.   Court Rules against BLM and its Roan Plateau Plan

7.   House Passes Law Eliminating
Environmental Protections along U.S. Borders

8.   Links to Articles of Interest


1.   BLM Approves Major Gas Project Near Desolation Canyon

Ignoring comments, editorials, and congressional pleas, the BLM approved an alternative that would allow the energy company Gasco Energy to drill 1,300 wells around the spectacular Desolation Canyon. The “Record of Decision” was issued June 18 and was immediately condemned by conservation groups, outdoor industry leaders, and others across the country.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was quoted: “As we move forward with President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, we must strive for balanced, environmentally appropriate development of our nation’s energy resources. This plan reflects our commitment to responsibly address public concerns regarding resource and land use issues in the Uinta Basin area. Working together with Gasco Energy, Inc., we have made substantial improvements to protect land and water resources, safeguarding iconic areas such as Desolation and Nine Mile Canyons, while supporting Utah’s economy and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

BLM and the administration turned their backs on an alternative plan that would have allowed for 1,100 wells in the area, while still protecting areas proposed for wilderness designation. That alternative had the support of the conservation community and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Desolation Canyon is one of America’s premier roadless areas and provides numerous opportunities for rafting on the Green River and exploration. It is also the home to abundant wildlife such as mountain lions, bighorn sheep, and black bears. Given the administration’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, the decision is baffling. It also stands in stark contrast to a previous project where the Anadarko energy company agreed not to locate wells in wild areas along the White River after discussions with the conservation community. Utah’s State BLM Director claimed a similar process has been followed this time, but conservation groups said that neither Gasco nor the BLM had discussed the proposal with them in any effort to reach a compromise.

Click here to read a press release with quotes from Rep, Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), the main sponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in the House, and others from the outdoor industry and conservation groups.

Secretary Salazar needs to hear from people who value wild places that these kinds of decisions are both unwise and unnecessary, and they should not be repeated. Please write or call him.

email:   KenSalazar [at] ios [dot] doi [dot] gov
fax:   202-208-6950

Hon. Ken Salazar
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC  20240
(Postal mail to federal offices is still irradiated and faces delays, so other forms of communication are preferable.)

2.   BLM to Issue Supplemental DEIS on Alton Coal Mine
Near Bryce Canyon

We wrote in the December 2011 Update about the proposed expansion of a coal mine adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park. The comment period closed in early January, and in response to the comments received the BLM issued the following press release today.

KANAB, UT – The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Kanab Field Office (KFO) announced that it will issue a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for the Federal Coal Lease Application from Alton Coal Development LLC. Alton Coal seeks to lease Federal coal on 3,581 acres (more or less) of public and private land near Alton, Utah.

The BLM made a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) available for public review from November 4, 2011 until January 27, 2012. The BLM received approximately 177,000 comments during this time. Additionally, the BLM has worked closely with other agencies through the entire process, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Park Service.

Because the BLM is committed to providing the best analysis possible, the SDEIS will address issues raised to date, including wetlands and air quality, and provide increased protection measures for the Greater sage-grouse habitat. BLM anticipates that the SDEIS will be available for public review and comment in early 2013. Public meetings on the SDEIS will be held in concert with the comment period.

We’ll keep you posted on further developments and opportunities for involvement.

3.   Inyo County Loses R.S. 2477 Road Claim in Death Valley

A federal court in California dismissed Inyo County’s claim to a right-of-way through Last Chance Canyon in Death Valley National Park. The judge ruled that the county had not shown that the route met the standard for a highway under California law or under R.S. 2477. The claim was the last one to be resolved in a case that Inyo County first filed in 2006 against the Park Service. In 2008 the same judge ruled against the county on other routes named in the suit because they were not brought within the 12-year statute of limitations.

The Park Service was joined in the case by the California Wilderness Coalition, Friends of the Inyo, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Center for Biological Diversity. Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice represented the conservation groups in the case.

4. Forest Service Releases Draft Plan for Lake Tahoe Basin

The National Forest Service last month made public a draft plan to guide the future management of the Lake Tahoe Basin. The Tahoe area contains large tracts of public land, some of which is designated wilderness: the Desolation, Granite Chief, and Mt. Rose Wilderness areas are located there. The Upper and Lower Truckee River and other streams are eligible for Wild & Scenic River status. Additionally, Lake Tahoe is important to many Californians and others from around the country.

At this point we don’t have much information about the Plan’s alternatives, but we’ll send it out next month when talking points become available.

The Forest Service will hold several public meetings and a “webinar” in July to explain the alternatives and answer questions about the draft.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Forest Supervisor’s Office
35 College Drive in South Lake Tahoe
2-4 p.m. & 6-8 p.m.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
North Tahoe Conference Center
8318 North Lake Boulevard in Kings Beach
2-4 p.m. & 6-8 p.m.

Thursday, July 19, 2012
Register here.
Type in the Meeting ID: PQB62T

You may review the draft plan here.

E-mail comments to: comments-pacificsouthwest-ltbmu [at] fs [dot] fed [dot] us
Subject: “Draft Land Management Plan”

The Forest Service will be accepting comments until August 30.

5.   State Park Closures Averted at Last Moment

The following information, slightly edited, comes from the Sierra Club’s California State Office:

Good News: No state parks closed on July 1. The last week in June, the Governor signed a budget bill that shifts $7 million from an off-highway vehicle fund and $3 million from an alternative fuel/alternative vehicle incentive fund to the state parks to keep them open for the time being. Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird said that this funding would allow time for additional contracts to be signed with various entities to take over/help run another 25 or so parks. Already contracts have been signed that will save-for this year-40 parks. There are a few others of the original 70 parks targeted that the state is still trying to figure out how to handle. Not all of the parks that will remain open will have the same level of service or the same hours open as before this funding crisis. But at least they will be open for some period.

Bad News: The governor line-item vetoed in the main budget bill an additional $31 million in funds for the parks system. Most of that money would have been designated for particular uses and would not have necessarily helped keep the parks open, but might have helped with maintenance and rehabilitation. Additionally, it is unclear whether the agency or the governor has a plan for how to keep the parks open, and for how to find sustainable funding, over the long haul.

Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune and California Director Kathryn Phillips published an op-ed piece in the Sacramento Bee a few Sundays ago with ideas and suggestions for long-term park management and funding.

6.   Court Rules against BLM and its Roan Plateau Plan

U.S. District Court judge Marcia Krieger in Denver ordered the BLM to review the plan it issued in 2007 allowing gas exploration on the wild Roan Plateau of Western Colorado. (For background on the issue, see Item 7 in our February 2005 Update.) She ruled that BLM did not consider an alternative endorsed by local communities that would have protected more of the landscape, in addition to not analyzing potential ozone impacts and the cumulative effects of other projects in the area.

The court did not throw out the subsequent leases, saying that those could be dealt with after BLM has reviewed its plan. However, the court did not order BLM to reach any specific conclusions in its review. Conservation groups are hopeful that it will adopt a more balanced and protective approach.

You can read a PDF of the court’s opinion online here.

7.   House Passes Law Eliminating
Environmental Protections along U.S. Borders

By a vote of as 232-188 the House passed a controversial bill that would exempt the Border Patrol from compliance with environmental laws on lands within 100 miles of a border. 16 Democrats voted in favor of the bill, and 19 Republicans were opposed.

H.R. 1505, the so-called National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, was introduced by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop (R) and had 59 cosponsors. The laws that are bypassed include the Wilderness Act, the Antiquities Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and more.

As we said when the bill was introduced: The need for the bill is not at all clear, since the Border Patrol has said in the past that environmental laws do not significantly hinder its operations, and in fact, the agency has good working relations with land managers.

The bill moves on to the Senate, where its future is uncertain. We’ll keep you posted.

8.   Links to Articles of Interest

Lots of Summer reading!

As always, if a link is broken or you’re otherwise unable to access an article, please send me an email. And just a reminder: An article’s inclusion in this section does not imply CalUWild’s agreement with the author’s viewpoint, in whole or in part.

Salt Lake Tribune

Utah may take its lands battle to Congress, not courts

San Francisco Examiner five-part series on Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite and water for San Francisco

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

National Parks Traveler publication on “friends groups” in eight national parks: Acadia, Big Bend, Blue Ridge Parkway, Glacier, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, and Yellowstone. Click on the link found in this article.

High Country News on Rachel Carson & the 50th Anniversary of Silent Spring

In the New York Times: Diane Ackerman

Are We Living in Sensory Overload or Sensory Poverty?

Nature: Now Showing on TV

Richard Louv, writing in the AARP Bulletin

A Call to Nature: We’d all benefit from more “vitamin N”

Our friend Brian Beffort of Friends of Nevada Wilderness, writing in the Reno Gazette-Journal

Room to Roam: Removing fences on Nevada’s Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge

Hazelton, Pennsylvania Standard-Speaker

True spirit of America dwells in wilderness