Conservation Groups Challenge Trump Administration’s Decision to Threaten National Monuments, Irreplaceable Cultural Resources with Oil and Gas Leasing and Development

Federal Public Lands Targeted for Oil and Gas Development near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, and Culturally Significant Areas in Southeast Utah

For Immediate Release
January 3, 2018

Contact:
Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991

Salt Lake City (Jan. 3): Yesterday, a coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) formally protested the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to auction off more than 51,400 acres of remarkable Federal public lands in southeast Utah for oil and gas leasing and development.  Included in BLM’s lease sale, scheduled for March 20, 2018, are public lands near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, as well as in the culturally rich Alkali Ridge Area of Critical Environmental Concern and along the Green and San Juan rivers.

“BLM’s short-sighted decision threatens Utah’s red rock wilderness as well as significant cultural and archaeological resources,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “BLM’s ‘lease everything, lease everywhere’ approach to oil and gas development needlessly threatens iconic red rock landscapes and irreplaceable cultural history in the ill-conceived push for ‘energy dominance.”

“We won’t sit idly by while President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke auction off America’s cultural and public lands heritage to the oil and gas industry,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “This lease sale flies in the face of historic preservation and environmental laws that Congress put in place to make sure that BLM thinks before it acts; not ‘lease first, and think later.’”

In addition to offering leases near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, BLM plans to auction off culturally and ecologically significant public lands throughout southeastern Utah including:

  • Several tracts in a culturally rich part of southeastern Utah known as Alkali Ridge. In 2015 BLM briefly considered leasing in this area before acknowledging that it did not have enough basic information about the cultural resources in the area and backed away from that proposal.  BLM still lacks this information but nevertheless is now willing to put these cultural sites at risk;
  • Several tracts along segments of the Green River and San Juan River popular with families, recreational business, and tourists for river running, as well as home to several endangered fish species; and
  • Several tracts near Moab, Utah, including in the Goldbar Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon proposed wilderness areas.

“It is shameful that the Trump administration is attempting to sell off our cherished wild places for the benefit of the oil and gas industry,” said Lena Moffitt, Senior Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign. “We will continue to pursue all legal options to protect America’s public lands from the greed and recklessness of this administration.”

“Through lease sales like this one, Interior Secretary Zinke is handing the reins of our public lands to his pals in the oil and gas industry, despite their proximity to iconic national parks, monuments, and archeologically-rich canyons,” said Marc Thomas, with the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club.  “This unfortunate giveaway is taking place even though the industry has already stockpiled more than 1.7 million acres of leased, but unused, BLM-managed lands in Utah.  This is not the sort of stewardship Americans, including those of us living in southeast Utah, want for our special places.”

The following groups protested the Canyon Country District’s environmental assessment for the March 2018 lease sale: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Colorado (protested two lease parcels near Colorado border), Green River Action Network, Living Rivers, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society (protest available here).  BLM’s environmental assessment is available here.

The following groups protested the Canyon Country District’s Determination of NEPA Adequacy for the March 2018 lease sale: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Green River Action Network, Living Rivers, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club (protest available here).  BLM’s Determination of NEPA Adequacy is available here.

At the end of BLM’s 2016 fiscal year, there were approximately 2.9 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development (here—follow hyperlink for Table 2 Acreage in Effect). At the same time, oil and gas companies had less than 1.2 million acres of those leased lands in production—less than forty percent of the total land under lease (here – follow hyperlink for Table 6 Acreage of Producing Leases).  This disparity makes clear that there is no need to sacrifice any of these remarkable areas for oil and gas leasing and development.

Click here for photos of areas to be auctioned off by BLM in southeastern Utah for fossil fuel development.

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