Arches National Park at sunset.
Mason Cummings/The Wilderness Society
The tour, led by partner group the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF), kicked off in our Denver office July 11 after seven Latino students arrived from colleges around the country. The students on the tour are learning about protecting national parks and the public lands that surround them.
Lesson #1: Many of our western national parks and surrounding lands are threatened by oil and gas development.
Lesson #2: In order to truly protect these treasured places, the federal government must adopt land management processes that balance development and other demands with conservation.
What’s at stake in Moab
Moab is surrounded by parklands—Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park. These parks, as well as the public lands surrounding Moab, are full of red-rock canyons, delicate sandstone arches, and cultural artifacts and a popular vacation destination for families from across the country. They are also frequently under threat from oil and gas drilling, which could impact scarce water supplies and cloud the air with smog, dust, and soot.
The students are learning first-hand about the importance of environmentally responsible management of oil and gas leasing on lands around our parks—management that means planning before you start leasing and drilling. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—the agency responsible for leasing these lands—has been under public pressure to strategically plan for oil and gas development in a way that includes stakeholders more directly.
Photo: "4 Stops, 1 Destination" students at Arches National Park. Credit: Lesly Caballero.
In late 2008, the Moab area was a hotbed of controversy. The waning days of the Bush administration saw the hurried sale of 77 drilling leases outside Arches National Park—with minimal oversight or environmental review. Thankfully, these leases were invalidated by a court and then cancelled just a few months later by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar—but the threat of drilling remains.
Solutions to protect wildlands
Currently there is a proposal for new drilling leases on the lands near these parks, but through a set of plans supported by The Wilderness Society, the decision making process now includes greater environmental scrutiny and public input. The Wilderness Society has been urging the Interior Department to adopt such plans, called Master Leasing Plans, which are already being implemented in Wyoming. In Utah, the Moab Master Leasing Plan would keep oil and gas drilling—and the pollution, construction, and habitat loss that accompanies it—from spoiling the many benefits of these parks.
The Moab Master Leasing Plan is proceeding in close coordination with the National Park Service and other interested groups, ensuring that leasing decisions are made carefully and publicly. Potential effects on air quality, habitat impacts, wilderness-quality lands, recreation and visitor experience will all be considered through the Master Leasing Plan process. This would give the public easier access to reliable information around leasing decisions, along with more opportunities to influence the leasing process.
Photo: Canyonlands National Park. Credit: Mason Cummings/The Wilderness Society.
Arches National Park and nearby Dead Horse Point State Park are two places where poor leasing and drilling decisions on neighboring BLM lands could hamper the natural landscape and the visitor experience. As the students on the Four Stops tour visit these sites, they’re learning that they are empowered to participate in these decisions through Master Leasing Plans. If oil and gas leasing decisions are made properly and transparently, these treasured places will be much more likely to be preserved as they were intended for the enjoyment of future generations.