The George W. Bush-era regional plans adopted by the Bureau of Land Management during the final Bush years are tilted toward oil and gas drilling, all-terrain vehicle use and mining and away from preservation of Utah's special places. The imbalance is obvious in the list of lands to be leased for extraction by the BLM in November.
Eighty-two parcels comprising nearly 144,000 acres in the San Rafael Swell will be put on the auction block for oil and gas development. Portions of many of the parcels have been designated by the BLM itself as holding wilderness and recreational values, including Eagle Canyon and the area near the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, labeled as wilderness inventory areas.
The 39,000-acre Eagle Canyon WIA and the 37,000-acre Lost Spring Wash WIA are among those threatened by the BLM sale: 10 leases on Eagle Canyon and 11 leases on Lost Spring Wash overlap into the WIAs. A total of 49 leases overlap WIAs. Once drilling is allowed there, those areas can never achieve status as wilderness or even as wilderness study areas.
The San Rafael Swell may appear desolate from I-70 or US Highway 6, but its scenic beauty and value for quiet recreation are largely unmatched. Such fragile places as Eagle Canyon and Lost Spring Wash should be protected from the intrusion of drilling rigs, roads, heavy machinery and air pollution.
BLM officials admit they should not have included on the auction list four leases that impinge on the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry. Only after the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance pointed out that the parcels were inside a 721-acre National Natural Landscape designated by Congress in 1965 did the agency concede it had made a mistake.
Such errors don't inspire trust that BLM officials are taking a close look at the areas targeted for leasing. The label wilderness inventory area was applied because the agency had not fully reviewed and listed the wilderness qualities of such areas but that they deserve to be studied. Once leases are sold and the areas explored by drilling companies, the possibilities for future protection are limited or eliminated.
The BLM's mission is to protect valuable lands for the future. Extractive industries are not sustainable in the long term in the way outdoor recreation can be. But the damage they do to fragile landscapes, air and water often take generations to repair, if it can ever be repaired at all.
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