- News &
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance * Natural Resources Defense Council
For Immediate Release: November 11, 2004
Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (801) 486-3161, ext. 16
Ancient Archeological Sites Protected
SALT LAKE CITY Yesterday, the Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled in favor of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council (collectively “SUWA”) and overturned a March 2002 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to lease approximately 26,000 acres of public lands for oil and gas development in Utah’s rugged and scenic backcountry.
The IBLA agreed with SUWA that BLM failed to make any real effort to identify fragile archaeological sites such as rock art and cliff dwellings prior to selling the contested leases, as required by the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The IBLA also agreed with SUWA that BLM’s failure to consult with Native American tribes and other interested members of the public prior to leasing the lands was a violation of the NHPA. The IBLA stated that “BLM cannot avoid the consultation requirement by simply stating that it has determined that there is ‘No Potential to Effect,’ [cultural resources] and therefore that nothing more is required.”
An internal BLM memo obtained by SUWA, and provided to the IBLA, acknowledged that although such consultation should occur before it leases public lands, the BLM inexplicably failed to involve the affected tribes. (The BLM memo is available below.)
“We’re pleased with this decision” said Steve Bloch, SUWA’s attorney. “By failing to consult with the tribes and the public, and making no effort to locate irreplaceable cultural sites in the leased areas before selling its oil and gas leases, the BLM was condemning these wonderful artifacts and their incomparable surroundings to a terrible fate.”
The seventeen parcels at issue in this appeal covered approximately 26,000 acres. They are located in the Black Ridge/Tank Mesa area, west of Blanding; Kane Springs Creek, south of Moab; in the foothills of the La Sal Mountains; and in Skull Valley, west of Salt Lake City. (Maps of the lease parcels are available below.)
The Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) is an administrative appeals boards within the Department of the Interior which reviews appeals of BLM decisions.
Additional background: BLM conducts oil and gas lease sales on a quarterly basis, and this appeal challenged leases sold at Utah BLM’s March 2002 sale. Utah BLM’s next oil and gas lease sale slated for December 10, 2004 includes several parcels immediately adjacent to Hovenweep National Monument, located in extreme southeastern Utah. The public lands in-and-around Hovenweep are renown for being rich in cultural sites such as ancient cliff dwellings and kivas. SUWA and a coalition of organizations intend to challenge the December lease sale based on, among other things, the BLM’s failure to protect these world-class sites.
Oil and gas leasing on wild and scenic Utah BLM lands, as well as across other equally spectacular western public lands, has dramatically increased under the Bush administration. SUWA and NRDC have several other pending challenges to Utah BLM lease sale decisions. This is the IBLA’s first substantive decision issued on the legality of Utah BLM’s leasing program since May 2001 when the Bush administration began leasing unprecedented amounts of public lands which are proposed for wilderness preservation. SUWA, NRDC, and The Wilderness Society also have filed a lawsuit challenging the BLM’s illegal practice of issues leases without first conducting environmental impact analyses; that case is proceeding in federal district court in Salt Lake City.