More than 110,000 acres of Utah wilderness will be protected from oil and gas companies as a result of a ruling last night by Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the U.S. District Court. Judge Urbina granted a temporary restraining order that prevents the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from moving forward with these leases. A coalition of conservation groups, including The Wilderness Society, filed a lawsuit on December 17, 2008 to prevent the leasing of public lands.
In his ruling, Judge Urbina found that the conservation groups "have shown a likelihood of success on the merits" and that the "'development of domestic energy resources' is far outweighed by the public interest in avoiding irreparable damage to public lands and the environment." The merits of the case will be heard later in 2009. Until that time, BLM is prohibited from cashing the checks issued for the contested acres of Utah wilderness.
The contested areas near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon include lands that contain the nation's greatest density of ancient rock art and other cultural resources. These lands were recently made available to industry through hastily approved resource management plans that have serious ramifications for 3 million acres of public lands.
"This legal victory comes at a great time, as we begin work with a new administration that we are confident will be much more thoughtful about how we treat our public lands," said Suzanne Jones, Central Rockies regional director for The Wilderness Society. "Rather than unnecessarily drilling every last acre, we need to promote forward looking energy development that protects our land, water, wildlife, and communities."