In pursuit of its absurd goal of “American energy dominance,” the Trump administration has declared war on the environment, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is leading the destructive charge. Abandoning any semblance of care or balance, the agency is scurrying to auction off large swaths of wilderness-caliber public land for oil and gas exploration and development. Wild places throughout Utah, including in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, are threatened.

At its December 2017 oil and gas lease sale, the BLM proposes to offer parcels in three sensitive places: in the wild and culturally rich Molen Reef region of the western San Rafael Swell, near Dinosaur National Monument, and in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness area. Oil and gas development in these areas will affect views, air quality, ecosystems, and irreplaceable wilderness and cultural values. In addition, the BLM admits it lacks data on cultural resources in the Molen Reef region but is forging ahead with the sale of 15 leases in the heart of this area. The agency is also ignoring Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s request that parcels near Dinosaur National Monument be deferred from the sale.

Lands in the Hatch Point proposed wilderness are up for auction in the BLM’s March oil and gas lease sale. Copyright Neal Clark/SUWA

March 2018 Sale: More Monuments at Risk
The BLM has another dose of rotten judgement in store for us at its March 2018 lease sale. It proposes to auction off tracts on the doorsteps of Bears Ears and Hovenweep National Monuments. At risk here are wilderness-caliber lands in Hatch Point and Hatch Canyon, southwest of Moab, Utah, and less than a mile from the Bears Ears boundary. This seems to be a clear indication that oil and gas operators are eager to push development into Bears Ears National Monument if and when President Trump decides to come down on the wrong side of history (and the law) by partially revoking or eliminating the monument.

Also on the block will be lease tracts in the Cross Canyon, Monument Canyon, and Tin Cup Mesa proposed wilderness areas only a few miles north of Hovenweep National Monument, and in the Alkali Ridge Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), designated to protect its remarkable archaeological and cultural resources, including rock art and habitation structures. In 2015, the BLM deferred leasing the Alkali Ridge ACEC citing the need to collect more information regarding the region’s unique resource values. The agency has never collected the information but plans to lease it anyway.

The fossil fuel industry is getting its money’s worth in Trump’s BLM. The agency’s assault on public lands at industry’s behest threatens Utah’s wildest places. SUWA, working alongside our conservation partners, has been engaged at every stage of the BLM’s ill-conceived oil and gas leasing proposals. We will continue to work to keep Utah’s special places free from the sights, sounds, and smells of pump jacks and drill rigs. Stay tuned for updates and to learn how you can get involved.

—Landon Newell

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, autumn/winter 2017 issue)