The Utah BLM has kicked off its planning process for the San Rafael Desert Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for lands in eastern Emery and Wayne counties and is accepting public scoping comments through Friday, July 1.
The MLP process gives the agency the ability to protect approximately 525,000 acres of land in the San Rafael Swell and Dirty Devil regions by closing or restricting oil and gas leasing and development along the canyon rims above the Labyrinth Canyon stretch of the Green River as well as the Horseshoe Canyon extension of Canyonlands National Park, among other sensitive lands.
The San Rafael Desert itself is a sublime and untrammeled area that is home to a wide array of plants and wildlife (including endemic bees and other pollinator species), sensitive cultural and archaeological sites, and wilderness-caliber lands such as the Flat Tops, Labyrinth Canyon, San Rafael River, Sweetwater Reef, and Upper Horseshoe Canyon areas.
The BLM intends to use the San Rafael Desert MLP process to resolve longstanding oil and gas lease protests and suspensions, possibly leading to the cancellation of many leases in proposed wilderness areas. The process will also help the agency determine whether current lease stipulations should be updated, which lands should be available for future oil and gas leasing, and where potential resource conflicts and environmental impacts from oil and gas development may arise.
The MLP process is an important and much needed opportunity for the BLM to add long-overdue protections to sensitive landscapes and return some resemblance of balance to the management of public lands in Utah.