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SUWA Win Forces BLM to Consult With Tribes, Obey Cultural Protection Law
The Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) recently told the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that it cannot move forward with 11 oil and gas leases without following federal cultural preservation law and consulting with concerned Native American tribes.
SUWA appealed a leasing decision to the IBLA, the Interior Department’s administrative court, arguing that the agency had failed to follow all the specific requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The IBLA agreed with SUWA that the BLM still needs to consult with two concerned tribes.
This was SUWA’s second trip to the IBLA to challenge the leases that the BLM sold in 2003. They are located in the Bad Land Cliffs between the Ashley National Forest and the Desbrough Canyon unit of the Utah Wilderness Coalition’s wilderness proposal. The leases are also extremely close to Nine Mile Canyon, world famous for its remarkable concentration of rock art sites and other cultural resources. Because of that proximity, we were concerned about how these leases would impact cultural resources in the area.
The IBLA agreed with us in 2007 that the BLM failed to perform all the required analysis and consultation with affected tribes and that the sale thus violated the law. The BLM suspended the leases as it took steps to comply, but we believed its second attempt was also deficient and again appealed the leases to the IBLA.
In an April 2009 decision the IBLA agreed with SUWA that the BLM had still not followed the law. The NHPA requires the BLM to consult with all Native American tribes that attach religious and cultural significance to an area proposed for leasing. While the BLM consulted with several tribes, it did not consult with either the Hopi Tribe or the Laguna Pueblo, though it knew both are concerned about the areas involved. The IBLA told the BLM that it must consult with them before the leases can move forward.