Officials say Economic Outlook Good for Public Lands Transfer

November 19, 2014

By Brian Maffly

“The costs of transferring 30 million acres of public lands to Utah pencil out for the state, according to a team of economists.

But state officials are not quite ready to release the 800-page study that backs up those findings.

State lawmakers pushing the idea — and the public — will have to wait a little while longer to see the proof, officials told an interim legislative panel Wednesday.

The Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office intends to complete an “analytical summary” of the long-anticipated report, freshly completed by economists at three Utah universities after more that a year of data gathering and number crunching, office director Kathleen Clarke told lawmakers.

The economists said Utah could manage federal public lands to harvest oil and gas and timber while providing outdoor recreation and preserving ‘unique landscapes and ecosystems.’ “

Read full story | Salt Lake Tribune

Utah Wildlife Officials, Bishop Bemoan Federal Action on Gunnison Sage Grouse | Deseret News

November 12, 2014

“A decision Wednesday to list the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act will ultimately hurt the bird more than it will help it, undercutting local efforts to protect the species and instilling tedious layers of government bureaucracy to overcome.

That sentiment, voiced by Utah wildlife officials and echoed by members of the state’s congressional delegation, came in swift reaction to the announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the bird is receiving a designation as “threatened” under the federal act.”

Read full story | Deseret News

Federal Judge Dismisses WWP’s Lawsuit Challenging BLM’s Grazing Management in the Monument

Lower and Upper Lentic Cole Spring

October 23, 2014

Today a federal judge dismissed Western Watersheds Project’s (WWP) lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management. The lawsuit sought to compel the BLM to take specific actions to improve rangeland health on the grazing allotments in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM).

The Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) directs the BLM to create management plans for grazing allotments within the Monument. The BLM consults with the lessees or permittees involved to create these plans. The plans identify the allotments that meet or do not meet the standards of rangeland health. The BLM then monitors each allotment and collects data to evaluate whether an allotment meets the standards. It also evaluates how effectively each allotment is managed. If the rangeland is below the standards, federal regulations require the monitoring officer to identify the significant factors contributing to this and formulate, propose, and analyze appropriate actions to address the failure. BLM has discretion to take appropriate actions to improve rangeland health.

In 2006, the BLM released Rangeland Health Determinations for all grazing allotments in the GSENM. For those areas not meeting standards, the BLM recommended the appropriate action to achieve health standards. The BLM did not exactly follow its initial recommendations but did take the actions that improved the health of the range. WWP, a conservation group, filed  a lawsuit to compel the BLM to follow its initial recommendations. However, under the law, the BLM is not required to do this, which today’s ruling reflects.

The BLM demonstrated significant progress towards meeting rangeland health standards and that it has discretion to decide which steps to take to improve rangeland. Judge Clark Waddoups agreed with the BLM and dismissed the WWP’s lawsuit, refusing to compel the BLM to take any particular actions as long as the BLM’s activities improved the grazing allotments.

The State of Utah, Garfield, and Kane counties were parties to this lawsuit supporting the BLM’s position. This is a victory for the State and counties because it leaves the on-the-ground decisions to the ranchers, the BLM field employees, and the counties. Judge Waddoups’ ruling puts the power back where it belongs – not with the federal courts but with the locals, who are directly affected by the range conditions.