Today in New West news: protection granted for select Owyhee Wildernesses, Peabody Energy in Colorado, and an update on Bears Ears monument.
Late last week, the Bureau of Land Management reached a settlement with Missoula-based Wilderness Watch and the Western Watersheds Project regarding six wilderness areas in the Owyhee region of southwestern Idaho. Both groups had previously appealed a decision made under the BLM’s Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Management Plan, which would have allowed commercial trapping, hunting blinds, and motor vehicle use by ranchers. From a Wilderness Watch press release:
The six separate Wildernesses are the Owyhee River Wilderness, North Fork Owyhee Wilderness, Pole Creek Wilderness, Big Jacks Creek Wilderness, Little Jacks Creek Wilderness, and the Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers Wilderness. Congress designated these six Wildernesses in 2009 as part of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. Altogether they total over 516,000 acres of Wilderness. BLM manages all six areas together under a new wilderness management plan.
But several aspects of the wilderness management plan violated the 1964 Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. We challenged these violations with the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA), and BLM decided to reach a settlement with us.
Among the stipulations of the settlement for the Owyhee Wildernesses: commercial hunting is banned, motor vehicle use is restricted, and hunting blinds are outlawed.
Down in Colorado, according to The Daily Sentinel, Peabody Energy has turned its self-bonding into surety bonds to ensure covering the cost of reclamation at Twentymile Mine in Routt County, among other Colorado mines. Peabody, of course, declared bankruptcy last week, raising concerns over how the company would pay for mine reclamation going ahead. From the Sentinel:
Peabody provided the bonding this month, just days before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization last Wednesday. The action involves $27 million worth of mine-reclamation bonding requirements for the company in the state.
“We’re confident with our standing now in the bankruptcy court” following Peabody’s action on its bonding, said Bob Randall, deputy director of the state Department of Natural Resources.
Randall briefly addressed the issue in providing a general overview of DNR matters at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission meeting Monday. DNR’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety oversees coal mining in the state.
Randall said Peabody’s self-bonding “was essentially a promise to pay” by a Peabody subsidiary, and was allowed by the state under standards set by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
Both the Twentymile and West Elk mines continue to operate, and are the state’s two most productive mines. The West Elk site isn’t self-bonded.
Peabody has self-bonding obligations of $728 million in Wyoming and nearly $181 million in New Mexico, according to bankruptcy filings by the company.
“We were, to be honest, kind of the least of Peabody’s concerns,” Randall said.
The WildEarth Guardians conservation group earlier this year filed a formal complaint with OSMRE about Peabody’s self-bonding in the three states in light of its financial situation, prompting the Department of Interior to direct the states to investigate the matter, the group says. It also notified Peabody that it planned to sue over the self-bonding.
“I think the action we took clearly kind of thrust the issue to the forefront” for the state of Colorado, said Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians.
“I think they saw the writing on the wall in terms of Peabody’s financial status,” he said.
Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety “has had concerns on this matter for roughly a year.”
Just as a quick aside, the West Elk mine is owned and operated by Arch Coal, who filed for bankruptcy mid-January.
Finally, over in Utah, over the past few months, a coalition of Utah Native American tribes have been working to establish Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, urging President Obama to exercise his right under the Antiquities Act to preserve the proposed 1.9 million acres.
We previously reported on mounting dissatisfaction within the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition with working with U.S. Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz (both R-UT) to establish rules for the region, after Bishop and Chaffetz proposed a 1.1 million acre Bears Ears National Conservation Area. There has not been much word, however, whether President Obama will designate Bears Ears a National Monument by the end of the year.
Now, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, a planned visit by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is feeding rumors that a designation could be incoming. Indeed, the purpose of Jewell’s visit: a “course correction” regarding land management, as highlighted in a policy speech earlier this week. From the Tribune:
Jewell did not specifically mention Bears Ears, but she did stress the need to broaden the appeal of public lands and parks to a more diverse group of Americans, especially youngsters, who “can visit a place that honors their heritage or culture.”
And she cited Native Americans as one of the groups that has been underrepresented in national parks and historic sites, concluding that “there’s more to be done.”
In another Utah reference, Jewell talked about the need for better long-range planning of resource development near national parks.
“That includes issuing master leasing plans for places like Moab, Utah, where we are collaborating with local stakeholders to develop a blueprint for balancing energy development with conservation and outdoor recreation,” she said.
The Inter-Tribal Coalition, along with the Wilderness Society, both responded to Jewell’s comments, underscoring the possibility that Jewell’s visit will result in a national monument designation, among other protections. Indeed, Jewell vigorously defended the Antiquities Act , and while she characterized it as “a tool that should not be used lightly or invoked without serious consideration of the impacts on current and future generations,” she added unanimity is not a prerequisite for monument designation.