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Appeals Board Nixes BLM Plan To Level Utah Forest

Photo of Pinyon-juniper woodlands.
Bureau of Land Management
The Skutumpah Terrace region within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Environmental groups have halted a controversial plan to cut down 30,000 acres of forest within southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Interior Board of Appeals ruled Monday that the Bureau of Land Management’s plan failed to consider its effects on migratory birds. 

“The board took that really close look at the agency’s decision and said you really didn’t do your due diligence,” said Kya Marienfeld, an attorney with the environmental protection group Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, among the groups that filed the appeal.

The agency sought to raze a swath of scraggly pinion and juniper forest in the monument. It argued the process would recreate historical fire regimes and improve habitat for the imperiled sage grouse. 

But four environmental protection groups argued to the appeals board that, by trying to save one bird, the BLM potentially endangered a host of migratory birds who rely on the forest. 

Marienfeld contends the agency’s plan was a ploy to create more grassland for cattle. The BLM’s environmental assessment of the project noted that pinyon-juniper woodlands result in the “long-term loss of understory species which are important for grazing and browsing and soil stability.”

“The BLM has been in the business of doing these projects for sixty years at this point,” Marienfeld said. “At the end of the day it really does end up being primarily for the benefit of livestock forage in the area.”

The Bureau of Land Management declined to comment. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Reno, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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