Drilling knocks on the door of Bears Ears

Lands suggested for fossil fuel development, like Tin Cup Mesa, are known to be rich with cultural resources.

Neal Clark/SUWA

The Trump administration wastes no opportunity to drill on public lands, and now culturally rich landscapes on the doorstep of Bears Ears National Monument could become home to oil rigs.

Not only is Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument on the shortlist of national monument landscapes to be significantly altered by the Trump administration, but the Bureau of Land Management is now proposing to offer oil and gas leases near the monument’s borders.

The proposed lease sale nibbles away at the canyonlands and archaeologically rich sites surrounding Bears Ears. Industrial development would pollute the night skies, contaminate rivers and disfigure a landscape considered sacred by five Native American tribes.

Until Oct. 23, the BLM will accept public comments on this proposal. Americans can help push back by demanding the agency halt all plans to lease archeologically sensitive landscapes near Bears Ears’ borders.

A landscape of Ancestral Puebloan history in jeopardy

Many of the potential parcels in southwest Utah that could be leased for oil drilling are archaeologically sensitive, like Recapture Canyon, Alkali Ridge, Montezuma Creek and Hatch Canyon. This region houses a rich record of Ancestral Puebloan habitation, and an environmental assessment by the BLM  identified over 1,000 archaeological sites that have yet to be fully documented.

A few years ago, oil and gas lease parcels in southeast Utah were considered for sale, but the BLM ultimately decided that their proximity to protected landscapes, between Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Utah’s Canyonlands National Parks, made them unsuitable for leasing.

Leasing these acres is not only ill-advised but also unnecessary. With less than forty percent of land leased for fossil fuel development by the Bureau of Land Management in Utah actively producing oil and gas—there’s no need to lease more land, especially wild lands bordering sacred landscapes.

But times have changed, and the Trump administration’s single-minded focus on fossil fuels means no landscape—protected or otherwise—is safe.

Are our monuments next?

These lease sales are disquieting, hinting of a future management for Bears Ears National Monument that would take advantage of every excuse to drill on Utah’s public lands.

Bears Ears National Monument is one of over 20 national monument landscapes at risk of losing protections. Credit: Mason Cummings/TWS

Special interests are already eyeing protected landscapes and maps submitted by the state of Utah show a vision of shrinking Bears Ears to one-tenth of its current size and raises questions about the state’s intentions of fossil fuel extraction in monuments northern half. This would disrespect a landscape that has deep spiritual meaning for the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni tribes (who also co-manage the monument and have already threatened legal action).

We must continue to show the Trump administration that we are watching their every move— over 2 million members of the public spoke up to keep Bears Ears National Monument protections and we need to continue to resist these attacks that undermine Native American culture and our natural heritage.

Tell the BLM that drilling has no place on archaeologically sensitive sites near the borders of Bears Ears

 

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