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David Zalubowski, AP Photo, File

SUWA sues over Utah sage grouse habitat project

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL | Posted - Apr 8th, 2019 @ 1:42pm



SALT LAKE CITY — An environmental group filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management, challenging a Price field office decision to move forward with a vegetation removal project to boost conditions of sage grouse habitat in the Tavaputs Plateau.

The Friday suit in U.S. District Court for Utah said the federal agency's findings of "no significant" impact after it analyzed the restoration project was illegal and violated environmental laws.

The 4,048-acre project approved in September includes 2,546 acres within two wilderness study areas — Desolation Canyon and Jack Canyon, according to the suit.

Removal of pinion and juniper trees would occur through bull-hogging, or mastication, in which the trees are uprooted and shredded, according to the suit.

A 2017 study from Oregon State University found sage grouse populations improved by as much as 25 percent after the encroaching conifer trees were removed. Tthe treatment is used throughout the West to improve habitat for the sage grouse, which faces threats from wildfires, industry, invasive vegetation and industry activity.

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The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, however, objected to the vegetation removal through mechanical means in the wilderness study areas and disagreed with the BLM's conclusion that it could proceed with the vegetation project because it complied with regulations.

"Here, BLM did not follow the express terms of the Price resource management plan with regard to management of (wilderness study areas)," the suit said.

Phase 1 of the project took place in fall of 2018 and did not occur in the wilderness study areas, but Phase 2, which has yet to be carried out, would impact those lands that are supposed to be managed for their wilderness characteristics, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit is demanding the federal court find the project in violation of environmental laws and to rescind approval of the vegetation treatment.

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