Chandra Rosenthal: Oil and gas leases threaten the Old Spanish Historic Trail

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is in the midst of a massive oil and gas lease sale in Utah. The September sale of 114,000 acres of wild lands in Utah will touch national parks, monuments, proposed wilderness and some of the prettiest red rock vistas in Utah.

One of the areas that will be impacted is the Old Spanish Historic Trail, an important and historically significant early North American trade route. Some 64 miles of the trail cross 36 of the 77 proposed lease parcels. Conservation groups have joined with history buffs to call for the removal of these 36 parcels from the sale.

The Old Spanish Historic Trail dates from the early Spanish period beginning around 1776 and was completed by Mexican traders in 1829. The route allowed Mexican, Indian and eventually traders from the United States to move goods on mule pack trains from New Mexico through Colorado and Utah to California.

The trail was particularly treacherous as it crossed canyons and deserts where temperatures vacillate wildly. Trips were carefully timed to avoid snow and vanishing water holes. The trail is a key example of the multicultural heritage of the U.S. Southwest.

Under President Bush, in 2002, Congress recognized the trail’s significance and granted historic trail status. The Old Spanish Trail joined the ranks of the Mormon Trail, the Lewis and Clark Trail and the Trail of Tears and enjoys the protections of the National Trail System Act.

The trail has many fans — archaeologists, modern day explorers and organized groups such as the Partnership for the National Trails System and the Old Spanish Trail Association.

Trail association chapters are located in each of the states that the trail passes through. A virtual chapter, Descendants and Travelers of the Trail, reflects a genealogical interest in the trail and many in this chapter are descendants of those who traveled the trail from 1829 to the late 1840s.

There are eight certified sites to visit along the trail, including the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River, Utah. Social media is scattered with images of recreational retracements and travelogues of the trail by mountain bike and horseback.

Yet to BLM, the Old Spanish Historic Trail does not seem to exist in many of the planning documents across the west. In the case of the upcoming September lease sale, the 64 miles of trail that would be impacted by leasing received little consideration when BLM selected which parcels to lease.

But this is not the first time that the Trump administration has put oil and gas development ahead of other national priorities like wildlife, recreation, or wild spaces.

During an international oil glut, Trump continues to push his extraction at all cost’s agenda, despite the fact that current wells cannot make a profit while oil is at record low prices.

Adding significant insult, in order to issue more loss-making oil leases, the Trump administration intends to decimate a historic cultural resource like the Old Historic Spanish Trail.

Chandra Rosenthal

Chandra Rosenthal is the Rocky Mountain Field Office director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.