Utah School Trust Lands Administration Drops Proposal to Sell Oil, Gas Leases in Bears Ears National Monument

For Immediate Release
January 29, 2019

Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

Salt Lake City — In a remarkable about-face following a protest from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) announced yesterday that it had dropped its proposal to sell twelve oil and gas leases totaling roughly 5,700 acres located on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument to the highest bidder.

While these SITLA-managed lands contain the same irreplaceable cultural and paleontological resources that are found on adjacent federal public lands, they are not formally part of the monument.  Two of the proposed leases were also immediately adjacent to Canyonlands National Park and several proposed leases were visible from the popular Anticline and Needles overlooks.  A number of the leases were also in the Lockhart Basin proposed wilderness area.

Last Friday, January 25th, SUWA protested SITLA’s proposed leasing decision and urged the agency to defer leasing until the federal litigation challenging Trump’s unlawful rollback of the monument has been resolved.

“SITLA made the right decision to withdraw the twelve protested oil and gas leases on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “We hope that SITLA will continue to defer leasing in Bears Ears until the federal litigation challenging President Trump’s unlawful attack on the monument has been resolved and the agency can pursue a land exchange that benefits Utah’s schoolchildren and protects irreplaceable cultural and paleontological resources.”

Four of the twelve protested parcels received bids but SITLA announced yesterday that it had withdrawn the parcels from sale and would refund the high bidder monies.  SITLA also announced that none of the twelve parcels would be available for non-competitive leasing for the next several months, as is usually the case.

On December 4, 2017, President Trump purported to dismantle Bears Ears National Monument and designate two much smaller monuments, Indian Creek and Shash Jaa’. There are currently three lawsuits pending in federal district court for the District of Columbia challenging President Trump’s unlawful action; the lead case is Hopi Tribe et al. v. Trump.  SUWA is a plaintiff in one of the other lawsuits, a case referred to as Natural Resources Defense Council et al. v. Trump.  Each of these lawsuits asks a federal judge to declare unlawful and invalidate President Trump’s December 4, 2017 proclamation. Such a decision would have significant bearing on access to any SITLA oil and gas lease sold within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, access which is subject to federal regulation and control.  SITLA’s solicitation for this lease sale contained no mention of the fact that the leases are within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, nor did it advise potential bidders that Trump’s unlawful action is the subject of three lawsuits.

The proposed sale of these leases was also contrary to SITLA’s mandate to manage its lands for both short and long term economic gain and, when necessary, to consider a land exchange which would preserve unique non-economic values (such as the cultural, paleontological, and biological resources in Bears Ears).  This is precisely why President Obama’s proclamation establishing Bears Ears National Monument called on the Secretary of the Interior to explore a land exchange with the State of Utah for all SITLA-managed lands in the monument.  Unfortunately, the State refused to pursue such an exchange.  SITLA’s mission is “[a]dministering trust lands prudently and profitably for Utah’s schoolchildren and other trust beneficiaries.”

Resources for reporters:

Photos of the leases are available for media use here.

A map of the twelve leases is available here.

Learn about the Five Native American Tribes working to protect Bears Ears.

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