Under pressure from SUWA, the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) in January dropped a proposal to auction a dozen oil and gas leases on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.

That is very good news. In addition to being located in the original monument, the proposed leases span roughly 5,700 acres. Two were immediately adjacent to Canyonlands National Park, several more would have been visible from the popular Anticline and Needles overlooks, and some were located in the Lockhart Basin proposed wilderness area. It is noteworthy that SITLA had already received bids on four of the twelve parcels when it decided to withdraw the lands from sale and refund the high bidders’ money.

The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration has withdrawn proposed oil and gas leases in the Lockhart Basin proposed wilderness (above) within the original Bears Ears National Monument. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

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 Bears Ears monument. 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 trades out SITLA parcels within the monument to protect irreplaceable resources.

We argued that the proposed sale of these leases was 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 Barack Obama’s proclamation establishing Bears Ears called on the Interior Secretary to explore a land exchange with the state for all SITLA-managed lands in the monument. Unfortunately, the state refused to pursue such an exchange.

—Steve Bloch

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, spring 2019 issue)