For immediate release: February 24, 2010

Tiffany Bartz, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: (801) 486-3161     
Bill Hedden, Grand Canyon Trust:  (435) 259-5284
Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society:  (303) 650-5818, x122
Jim Catlin, Wild Utah Project:  (801) 328-3550
John Carter, Western Watersheds Project: (435) 881-5404


BLM Plans Destruction of Old Growth Trees in National Monument and Proposed Wilderness

SALT LAKE CITY, UT.  -- A coalition of national and local conservation groups has called on the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) to halt immediately the planned destruction of old-growth pinyon and juniper trees on over 50,000 acres in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and surrounding lands, including those proposed for wilderness protection in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.   

BLM plans to use toxic herbicides, hand tools, and large mechanical equipment that would crush pinyons and junipers, reducing them to sawdust and wood chips in a matter of seconds.  The project would remove 90 to 100% of the trees in the area, as well as a significant portion of sagebrush, leaving behind a scarred and barren landscape.  Without the native vegetation to hold it in place, destablized soil is more likely to dry out, become airborne and contribute to large dust storms, an increasing phenomenon in southern Utah.  

BLM claims that the proposal, known as the Upper Kanab Creek Watershed Vegetation Management Project, will reduce the risk to life and property from catastrophic wildfire and will actually “rehabilitate” vegetation.  However, the remote area is dozens of miles from the nearest towns, and there is little evidence that scalping the ground will reduce wildfire.  Indeed, ground disturbance and loss of native plant life has been shown to encourage the spread of highly flammable weeds like cheatgrass.

The public lands proposed for the vegetation removal are near the Utah/Arizona border, north of the community of Kanab.  They are scenic lands characterized by high, forested plateaus atop steep and colorful Navajo Sandstone cliffs.  “These cliffs form one of the ‘steps’ in the Grand Staircase and offer a striking view for travelers along Highway 89,” noted Bill Hedden, Director, Grand Canyon Trust.

Additionally, the well-known area supports a rich community of highly-valued native wildlife.  It includes excellent habitat for elk and the famed Paunsaugunt mule deer herd, which attract hunters from around the country.  Mountain lions and coyote also inhabit the area.  In addition to these natural treasures, the plateaus, canyons and valleys contain extensive artifacts of past human cultures such as pit houses and decorated pottery that are hundreds of years old and could be threatened by the proposed removal of vegetation.

“This project would use outmoded techniques and thinking in a way that would leave lasting scars on one of Utah’s scenic and ecological gems.  It would also set a horrible precedent and open the door to future similar proposals.  BLM needs to use other modern means to wildfire management that are much more effective and sensitive to natural and ecological values,” said Tiffany Bartz, an attorney for SUWA.

According to Phil Hanceford of The Wilderness Society, “This project is particularly inappropriate in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  The Monument was established to protect the natural ecosystem of the frontier; not destroy it.” 

Conservationists also charge that BLM failed to consider the harmful effects of this project given the ongoing and predicted effects of climate change.  New studies show that the undisturbed pinyon-juniper forests of southern Utah capture carbon, whereas destroying the trees and disturbing the soils releases stored carbon into the atmosphere contributing to the effects of climate change.  

The coalition of conservation groups includes the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Grand Canyon Trust, The Wilderness Society, the Wild Utah Project, Western Watersheds Project, and the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, Inc.



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