Every 15-20 years, the BLM is required by law to update the land use plans that guide agency staff in the management of our public lands. These plans, known as Resource Management Plans or RMPs, are something like city zoning plans that define which lands are open to development, where certain recreational activities can occur, which lands should be protected in their natural state, and so on.

In the final days of the Bush administration, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released six Resource Management Plans (RMPs) that now dictate how 11 million acres of iconic canyon country will be managed for the next two decades. The plans — released in a last minute flurry — put the spectacular redrock landscapes of southern Utah on the chopping block by increasing oil and gas drilling at all costs and catering to the single-minded demands of off-road vehicle (ORV) enthusiasts.

The BLM’s Moab, Price, Richfield, Vernal, Kanab, and Monticello RMPs were issued in 2008, at the end of the Bush administration’s “drill, baby, drill” era. Some of the state’s most stunning landscapes — places like Desolation Canyon, the Book Cliffs, Fisher Towers, the San Rafael Swell, Parunuweap Canyon, Labyrinth Canyon – were placed up for grabs in these plans. We challenged the six RMPs and won a major victory when a federal judge held that several aspects of the Richfield RMP violated federal environmental and cultural preservation laws.

Labyrinth Canyon proposed wilderness.  Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

Labyrinth Canyon proposed wilderness. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

One significant consequence of the BLM’s rushed planning effort in Utah was the controversial December 2008 lease sale, which threatened scenic landscapes near several national parks and put more than 100,000 acres of wilderness at risk. Recognizing that the RMPs were seriously flawed with respect to areas designated as available for oil and gas leasing, the Obama administration has begun a process to take a closer look at this issue to ensure that BLM “thinks first and leases later.”

Master Leasing Plans (MLPs) are intended to identify lands that will remain available for oil and gas leasing (and with the right stipulations) and which lands have other values that would be compromised by energy development (things like cultural resources, wildlife habitat, recreation, and wilderness). SUWA is now participating in the Moab and Cedar City MLP processes, which will allow us to revisit and hopefully reverse some terrible planning decisions before it’s too late.