Protecting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks from Extractive Industries

The same geology that forms the magnificent landscapes at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks also holds mineral wealth – oil, gas, and potash – that is subject to leasing on nearby public lands.  As these resources are developed, the parks can be impacted in several ways: degraded air and water quality, road building, view-shed and visual losses, soil disturbance, and expensive reclamation.  NPCA is monitoring the work of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which has initiated a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) on almost a million acres of east-central Utah, so that these park’s natural and cultural resources are protected.

The MLP is a new model of energy development planning - a concept that stipulates “plan first, lease later.”   It is a direct outcome of a flawed oil and gas leasing process that was completed in late 2008.  In that plan, extensive oil and gas lease sales in Southern Utah were proposed during the BLM’s creation of Resource Management Plans (RMP’s).  The RMP’s opened new federal lands to oil and gas leasing, with many parcels identified for lease sale adjacent to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks as well as Dinosaur National Monument in Northeastern Utah.

These lease sales were widely protested and challenged in court by a coalition of local and national conservation organizations including NPCA, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resource Defense Council, and Sierra Club.  As a result, one of Secretary Salazar’s first orders upon assuming leadership of the Department of Interior in 2009 was to suspend oil and gas leasing subject to a comprehensive review of the process employed and its associated risks. 

The current, focused planning effort at Moab’s Canyon BLM Country Field Office provides a more thoughtful and comprehensive assessment on which to base leasing decisions on public lands nearly surrounding Arches National Park and adjacent to the northern and eastern boundary of Canyonlands National Park.  NPCA submitted scoping comments along with others in the conservation community and is working to ensure that the BLM takes into consideration and prevents potential impacts to the parks during this planning process.  We support BLM’s efforts to plan first and lease later while considering landscape values held in common by other land managers.  Additional information can be found on the BLM website.

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