Interior Judge Halts BLM Plan To Tear Out Escalante Trees

Sep 24, 2019

The Bureau of Land Management was planning to tear out and wood chip more than 30,000 acres of trees near Kanab, but its plan was overruled by the Interior Board of Land Appeals last week.

The board ruled to protect pinyon pines and juniper trees in the Skutumpah Terrace, a part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The ruling came after the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, or SUWA, appealed the BLM’s decision. 

“It’s notoriously difficult to get a favorable decision if you’re not already part of the agency,” said Kya Marienfeld, a wildlands attorney with the alliance. She said these projects are hard to fight, and an overturn from the Department of Interior itself is even more exciting.

The board agreed with the alliance’s argument saying the BLM failed to look at the project as a whole, and did not take into account habitat protection for birds like the pinyon jay, whose population has declined by more than 85% since 1970.

The bureau has argued this project was proposed to maintain greater sage-grouse habitat and prevent wildfires.

Policies from the current Escalante management plan prevent destructive chaining and clear cutting, giving the alliance its main argument. But, so long as the management plan for the reduced monument -- proposed in August -- goes through, the alliance won’t have the same tools to fight the bureau, because most of the protections were axed.

“BLM itself recognizes the potential that these treatments — if they’re done in the wrong area, in the wrong way with the wrong means — can have on the landscape, but it seemingly forgot that, which I think should upset everybody," Marienfeld said.