Contemplating a part of the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness that's been spared from development thanks to SUWA's agreement with Bill Barrett Corp.

Over the past three years, SUWA’s work on energy projects, including a series of unprecedented agreements with oil and gas operators, has led to real, on-the-ground conservation gains for the Desolation Canyon and White River proposed wilderness areas.

Editorials and articles from across the country, including those in the The New York Times, Akron Beacon Journal, and Salt Lake Tribune, have  lauded these agreements.  Underlying this work is SUWA’s record of successfully challenging leasing and development proposals in federal court and through administrative appeals.  This proven track record gives companies an incentive to talk.

In each of these cases, we’ve found it worth the effort to reach across the table.  We’ve learned several things in the process: it takes time to build trust between the parties, SUWA’s staff knows the land and the places at risk better than anyone, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.  There’s no guarantee of success, either.  Litigation is sometimes the last and best course.

Desolation Canyon
Desolation Canyon is one of the largest roadless areas in the lower 48 states, and was one of the last to be charted.  The canyon, with abundant wildlife, numerous cultural sites and rugged beauty, draws thousands of hunters and river runners annually.

SUWA’s 2010 groundbreaking agreement with the Bill Barrett Corp. vastly reduced the company’s drilling footprint on its existing leases and reduced the areas leased in the Desolation Canyon and Jack Canyon proposed wilderness areas.

Conservation gains: 8,945 acres of the Jack Canyon proposed wilderness and 56,432 acres of the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness are no longer under lease.

Click map to enlarge

White River Canyon (south side)
The White River canyon is a visually stunning sandstone corridor sculpted into buttes, pinnacles, and towers that loom above wide beaches shaded by groves of statuesque cottonwoods.

SUWA successfully challenged in federal district court Enduring Resources’ plans to drill 65 wells from 24 well pads in the White River proposed wilderness area.  In the spring of 2011, SUWA, the company and the BLM announced that the parties had reached an agreement limiting the company to no more than nine new surface locations on existing leases.  BLM also marked as “closed” two controversial routes in the White River proposed wilderness areas (something it was supposed to have done years ago but just hadn’t gotten around to).  The Interior Board of Land Appeals recently upheld the agency’s decision to sign those routes as closed.

Conservation gains: 15 new well-pad locations in proposed wilderness have been eliminated and two vehicle routes are now closed that otherwise would allow motorized recreational access within proposed wilderness down to the White River.

White River Canyon (north side)
Under a 2012 agreement with SUWA, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. agreed to acquire private land within the White River proposed wilderness and turn it over to a third party land trust for conservation.  It also agreed to a significantly reduced footprint on the company’s existing leases in the White River proposed wilderness and to mitigation of visual impacts from existing facilities.

Conservation gains: acquisition of 640 acres now under conservation easements along two to three miles of White River frontage within proposed wilderness, elimination of 17 new drill locations in proposed wilderness, and mitigation of visual impacts from drilling (reducing tank sizes or relocating them).

Price River/Natural Gas Leasing
The Price River on the eastern flank of the San Rafael Swell is a small stream winding through a colorful high desert landscape.  Since 2002, SUWA has actively challenged the Utah BLM’s efforts to sell oil and gas leases in the Price River and Lost Spring Wash proposed wilderness areas (areas the BLM agrees are wilderness caliber).  As a result of our work over the last 10 years, the overwhelming majority of leases in the region have been relinquished.

Conservation gains: Over 80 percent of roughly 100,000 acres of the existing leases on the wild lands in the Price River region have been relinquished.

—Steve Bloch

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, Summer 2012 issue)