Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance *
Natural Resources Defense Council * The Wilderness Society

For immediate release: May 3, 2005

Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801/486-3161 x 16
Dr. Kenneth Brewer, Utah Poet Laureate, 435/752-5494
Dave Slater, The Wilderness Society, 202/429-8441
Rob Perks, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 202/289-2420

BLM to Sell Sacred Lands for Oil & Gas in Utah
State describes the Parowan Gap as a "nationally recognized extravaganza of petrogylphs"

SALT LAKE CITY, UT (May 3, 2005) Despite more than 1,500 unused approved drilling permits in Utah issued between 2001 and April 2005 and millions of acres of already-leased lands not in production, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on May 17 will auction for oil and gas development land outside of an area known as the "Parowan Gap" -- a literal treasure trove of Native American rock art -- in southwest Utah, as well as lands proposed for wilderness protection in southeastern Utah in the heart of Utah's redrock country.  A coalition of conservation organizations have protested BLM's decision, as has Utah's Poet Laureate, Dr. Kenneth Brewer.

“This is exactly what happens when the BLM and the Department of the Interior rush headlong to lease and develop as much public land as they can, as fast as they can nationally important public treasures are put on the auction block without even a backwards glance,” said Stephen Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.”

The auction includes a total of more than 317,000 acres of BLM-managed land, although
the groups are protesting only a fraction of the acres that are to be auctioned, including six parcels of land (thousands of acres) that are visible from the Parowan Gap, a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located just north of Cedar City, Utah, the Parowan Gap complex is described by the State of Utah’s website as:  “a nationally recognized extravaganza of petroglyphs a superb ‘gallery’ of native Native American rock art…local Native Americans consider them to be an important part of their cultural history relating stories of their ancestor’s lifeways.”  The local county webpage described a walk through the Parowan Gap this way: “Even today to walk through the narrows gives the visitor the feeling of reverential awe. The huge pillars on the north and south jut upward into the vast expanse of the sky bringing the blue of the heavens down into the bowels of the earth while the pillars connect the earth to the limitless heavens.”

Dr. Kenneth Brewer, the State of Utah’s Poet Laureate, decried the decision to lease the Parowan Gap in a letter to the BLM:  “Personally, I consider Parowan Gap to be an ancient Art Gallery and worthy of the same respect and protection that we, as Utahns, would give to any Art Gallery or Museum.  I do not believe that most Utahns would even consider searching for oil and gas in the immediate vicinity of any of our galleries or museums.”  (To read the complete text of Dr. Brewer’s letter, see link below).

“There are ways to find balance between environmental protections and gas development, but drilling sensitive lands like these is short-sighted,” said Suzanne Jones of The Wilderness Society. “The oil and gas companies and BLM need to take a more prudent approach.”

The sale also includes several parcels of land that have been proposed for wilderness protection because of their unspoiled nature along the west and south slope of Utah’s rugged and remote Book Cliffs and in the Monument Canyon proposed wilderness units in the heart of Utah’s redrock country.

Utah, like most Western states, 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 applications for permit to drill. According to BLM figures, at the end of fiscal year 2003, just under 4 million acres of Utah BLM lands were leased, but less than 905,000 were in production.  Likewise, according to Utah Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining (UDOGM) statistics, between January 2001 and December 2004, UDOGM had approved 3,448 permits to drill oil and gas wells, but in this same period only 2,152 wells were been drilled, leaving a surplus of 1,296 unused drill permits.

“The BLM has sold off so much of our public lands that the oil and gas industry can't keep up with the drilling,” said Sharon Buccino, senior attorney with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “There’s no need to sell off what's left of our few remaining special places, like Parowan Gap.”

The May 17 sale in Utah follows a series of recent contentious lease sales in both Colorado and Utah that have threatened the public lands adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, as well as tens of thousands of acres of wilderness-quality lands.

The conservation coalition is comprised of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council, 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.

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