Interior revokes plan that would have sold Staircase land
Aug 23, 2018 | 512 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Department of Interior has changed its mind on a proposed Bureau of Land Management proposal to sell more than 1,600 acres inside the previous boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

On Friday, Aug. 17, the department’s second in command sent a memo to BLM officials reversing part of a management plan involving 900,000 acres of land that the Trump administration had removed from monument status in December. David Bernhardt, deputy secretary, said top administrators were caught off guard by the plan. Secretary Ryan Zinke said he learned about the management plan in the news.

“The secretary did not see the proposal before it went out and was not happy about it,” a senior Interior Department official said Aug. 17, after the Salt Lake Tribune obtained a memo about the matter. The proposal would have allowed up to 16 parcels of public land to be sold to private buyers, and large portions to be leased for natural resource extraction.

Interestingly, one of those parcels adjoins a ranch owned by Utah lawmaker Mike Noel who has at times advocated against federal public lands management. Noel is a longtime Utah legislator and 22-year veteran of the BLM who handled real estate matters. He is retiring from office, and one of the candidates for his replacement in the legislature is San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman of Blanding who has criticized federal lands management, particularly in Recapture Canyon and the Bears Ears National Monument.

Noel told the Tribune that he never asked the BLM to sell public lands there, and that he is not interested in buying more property in Johnson Canyon, east of Kanab, where he holds extensive land and water rights. “I have no idea why they are proposing to sell that,” Noel said prior to the Interior Department announcing it would revoke the sale. An environmental impact statement accompanying the draft plan gives no explanation why those parcels were selected, according to the Tribune.

Noel has long advocated shrinking the 1.9 million-acre Staircase monument, designated in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton. He had direct access to Zinke during Zinke’s tour of Utah in May of 2017.

“The land-disposal provision was among many in the draft plan that disturbed environmentalists, who decry the BLM’s preferred alternative as a giveaway to the energy industry and motorized recreation,” the Tribune wrote. Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, called the plan “unlawful, plain and simple…Trump doesn’t have the power to undo any national monuments; only Congress can do that, and Congress has taken the opposite approach by ratifying Grand Staircase numerous times over the years,” Bloch said. “With regard to BLM’s proposal in that plan to sell off public lands to the likes of Rep. Noel, even if BLM walks this back, it only makes clear that the plan was raced through at a breakneck pace to try and do the most damage in the shortest amount of time.”

Noel said in the Tribune that the BLM had reasonable arguments to sell some parcels, especially if they were isolated and hard to manage. “Just because they identify it for sale doesn’t mean it will sell,” Noel said. “If the land is not accessible and blocked off by private property or up against a cliff, then what’s the point of BLM owning it? Isn’t the whole idea to have land that is accessible to the public?”

But Deputy Interior Secretary Bernhardt says the BLM proposal to privatize the lands was “inconsistent” with department policy and that no parcels will be sold. In the memo obtained by the Tribune, he said, “The failure to capture this inconsistency stops with me,” Bernhardt wrote. “As the secretary has made clear throughout his tenure, the Department of the Interior is opposed to the wholesale sale or transfer of public lands to states or private interests.”

Copyright 2013 The Times-Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

report abuse...

Express yourself:

We're glad to give readers a forum to express their points of view on issues important to this community. That forum is the “Letters to the Editor.” Letters to the editor may be submitted directly to The Times-Independent through this link and will be published in the print edition of the newspaper. All letters must be the original work of the letter writer – form letters will not be accepted. All letters must include the actual first and last name of the letter writer, the writer’s address, city and state and telephone number. Anonymous letters will not be accepted.

Letters may not exceed 400 words in length, must be regarding issues of general interest to the community, and may not include personal attacks, offensive language, ethnic or racial slurs, or attacks on personal or religious beliefs. Letters should focus on a single issue. Letters that proselytize or focus on theological debates will not be published. During political campaigns, The Times-Independent will not publish letters supporting or opposing any local candidate. Thank you letters are generally not accepted for publication unless the letter has a public purpose. Thank you letters dealing with private matters that compliment or complain about a business or individual will not be published. Nor will letters listing the names of individuals and/or businesses that supported a cause or event. Thank you letters about good Samaritan acts will be considered at the discretion of the newspaper.