Utahns should welcome two federal Bureau of Land Management decisions to put on hold three parcels scheduled for an energy-development lease sale and to buy private inholdings in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The three parcels on 5,000 acres just east of the Dinosaur National Monument were on a list of federal lands to be leased for oil and gas drilling. But the National Park Service and conservation groups protested the sale, saying the BLM had not done a proper environmental analysis or a complete inventory of wilderness-quality areas in the region. The agency rightly deferred the sale until it further considers the criticisms.
The area of the proposed development is very near the monument, and drilling could cause increased noise, traffic, road-building and air and water pollution, as well as harmful effects on wildlife habitat. It likely would discourage many of the 200,000 visitors to the park annually who bring substantial economic benefit to the residents.
In another development in keeping with the BLM's mission to protect lands designated as sensitive and deserving of close management, the agency has purchased eight small parcels of privately owned land inside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The parcels, owned by the Grand Canyon Trust at the popular Calf Creek trailhead, will be managed by the BLM to keep commercial development farther away from the trail.
The trust acquired the land from its previous owners who had planned to build tourist-oriented businesses there. The BLM used $440,000 from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to buy the parcels, totaling just 21 acres.
Garfield County officials oppose any move that puts more private land under federal ownership. That's understandable, since only about 3 percent of the county's land is private. However, the BLM has identified 5,423 acres of federal land in the county that could be sold to private buyers to offset the loss of private land inside the monument.
In fact, more land is likely to end up in private hands than is sold to the BLM, according to the monument manager.
Exchanging private inholdings for federal land away from the national monument is the best way to consolidate federally protected lands so they can be better managed for future generations. A process of buying from willing sellers works as well.
That kind of land management is what the BLM should be all about.
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