BLM to Sell Leases within Eyeshot of Canyonlands National Park

On August 16, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to auction off wilderness-quality public lands close to Canyonlands National Park for oil and gas drilling.

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance * Western Spirit Cycling *
Natural Resources Defense Council * Grand Canyon Trust * The Wilderness Society

For immediate release: August 5, 2005

Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801/486-3161 ext. 3981
Ashley Korenblat, Western Spirit Cycling, 435/259-8732
Bill Hedden, Grand Canyon Trust, 435/259-5284
Rob Perks, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 202/289-2420
Suzanne Jones, The Wilderness Society, 303/650-5818, ext. 102

BLM to Sell Leases Within Eyeshot of Canyonlands National Park

SALT LAKE CITY, UT On August 16 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to auction off wilderness-quality public lands close to Canyonlands National Park for oil and gas drilling. With nearly 1,700 drilling permits issued in Utah but unused since January 2001, and more than 2 million acres of leased lands not in production, a coalition of conservation groups aims to stop BLM from selling off these stunning wild lands in the heart of Utah’s redrock country.

“When it comes to developing our public lands the BLM won’t listen to reason, not even when the National Park Service warns about impacts to one of America’s most breathtaking parks,” said Stephen Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.”

Of the more than 172,000 acres set for auction by BLM, the groups are objecting to the leasing of only a fraction of these lands, which includes two parcels (roughly 3200 acres) that are visible from Canyonlands National Park, just four miles away.  The National Park Service (NPS) specifically requested that BLM not lease these two parcels (or two others) because of their close proximity to the park.

In a May 13, 2005 letter, NPS Southeast Utah Group Superintendent Tony Schetzsle stated that the parcels are located “within the viewshed of Canyonlands National Park . . .[and] contribute to the exceptional landscape as viewed and experienced from the rims on BLM lands and as viewed from scenic overlooks within Canyonlands National Park.” Superintendent Schetzsle further noted that the BLM’s existing management scheme for these lands did not protect the “viewshed desired by the NPS.” He asked that the leasing be deferred until the local BLM management office revises its land use plan for the area, a process currently underway (see link to letter below).

The BLM responded by dropping two of the parcels identified by the Park Service from its leasing plans, but is proceeding with the sale of the other two parcels despite the fact that both are within sight of Canyonlands National Park.
“If Utah wants to be a world class adventure destination, we must protect our public lands. This means we’re going to have to make choices. The White Rim [a popular mountain biking trail in Canyonlands National Park] is unique in the world.  If we compromise this backcountry experience by destroying the viewshed with manmade objects, we'll have killed the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg," said Ashley Kornblat, president of Western Spirit Cycling (a Moab, Utah based outfitter) and a member of Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s Outdoor Recreation Economic Ecosystem Task Force.

“The rims above Canyonlands have very limited, speculative potential for oil and gas, but world famous scenic and recreational importance,” said Bill Hedden of the Grand Canyon Trust. “Why should drill rigs trump all other uses on our public lands?”

In addition to the two contested parcels, BLM intends to auction off another 29 parcels that have been proposed for wilderness protection because of their unspoiled nature all located along the south slope of Utah’s rugged and remote Book Cliffs and in Utah’s western basin and range mountains.  Conservationists have opposed the sale of these parcels as well.  This auction follows nearly two years of contentious lease sales in Utah that have threatened the wilderness quality public lands in the heart of Utah’s redrock country, as well as near other nationally renowned landmarks such as Dinosaur National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument.

Like most Western states, Utah has a surplus of BLM lands that have been leased for oil and gas development but are not in production, as well as a surplus of approved applications for permit to drill. According to BLM figures, at the end of fiscal year 2004, roughly 3.3 million acres of Utah BLM lands were leased, but only 916,106 were in production. Likewise, according to Utah Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining (UDOGM) statistics, between January 2001 and July 2005, UDOGM had approved 4297 permits to drill oil and gas wells, but in this same period only 2637 wells were been drilled, leaving a surplus of 1660 unused drill permits.

The conservation coalition is comprised of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), The Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, and the Grand Canyon Trust. The coalition has called on Utah BLM State Director Sally Wisely not to lease these sensitive lands.

>>National Park Service Letter to the BLM


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