Too Wild to Drill: Help protect these six amazing places from oil and gas development

New report spotlights the wildest lands that are most at risk of being exploited for the resources that lie beneath them. These lands are Too Wild to Drill.

America's wildlands are world-renowned, yet some of our most spectacular wild places are under threat of oil and gas development. Our new Too Wild to Drill report (PDF) spotlights six such wild landscapes that are under threat from nearby oil and gas development.

These lands need to be protected.

For generations, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has incentivized energy development on federal lands, leading to an enormous imbalance in how our BLM lands are managed. More than 90 percent of the lands within the agency's management plans are available to oil and gas leasing. The BLM's approach has left some of the wildest places in America threatened by oil and gas drilling.

Below we invite you to learn about six of the most threatened places and take action to help save them from development.

Take action: Tell the BLM to save our wildest lands from oil and gas drilling

Learn more: explore the places that are Too Wild to Drill

Read the full report here (PDF)

1. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

This vast refuge encompasses five distinct ecological regions, and contains some of the most diverse and stunning populations of wildlife in the Arctic. Keeping such an amazing place pristine and protected seems like an obvious choice; yet, to some members of Congress, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is nothing more than a ripe oilfield waiting to be drilled. 

In 2015 alone, more than a half-dozen bills to open the refuge up to drilling have been introduced—some as standalone measures, and some that are tucked into much larger bills. 

The only way to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is to ensure that efforts to open it to drilling—even exploratory or so-called "safe" drilling—are stopped in their tracks. 

2. Badger-Two Medicine, Montana

Located at the doorstep of Glacier National Park, the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine is central to the Blackfeet Tribe's cultural identity. It is known as a place of prayer, fasting and vision questing—a holy place. The grasslands, forests and rugged terrain also provide secure habitat for wildlife like grizzly bears, elk, wolverines and many other species. 

The threats facing Badger-Two Medicine come from decades-old oil and gas leases. In 1981, the Department of Interior under the Reagan administration began issuing leases in Badger-Two Medicine without full environmental review and consulting the Blackfeet people, violating laws that require they do so.

Because the leases were improperly issued and violate key environmental laws, the Department of the Interior has the legal authority and moral obligation to cancel the remaining federal oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine.

Update: Since this content was published in summer 2015, the federal government has confirmed it will cancel a key Badger-Two Medicine lease located in the heart of this area. This action comes after years of campaigning by The Wilderness Society working closely with the Blackfeet people and paves the way for cancellation of the remaining leases.

3. Desolation Canyon, Utah

Desolation Canyon is one of the premier rafting destinations in Utah. American Indian petroglyphs and artifacts can still be found in the surrounding wildlands, and this canyon complex has some of the most prized wilderness-quality lands in the lower 48 states that are still open to oil and gas drilling. 

Sprawling development surrounding Desolation Canyon would fragment the wilderness-quality lands in the area—leaving islands of remote wilderness amidst pipelines, wellheads and access roads across previously untouched areas.

The BLM has an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to conservation by using its authority to prevent drilling in the 200 wells around the wildest parts of Desolation Canyon. 

4. Thompson Divide, Colorado

Hikers, campers, hunters and anglers flock to the Thompson Divide from across the country. Wildlife is abundant in the region, and the outdoor recreation opportunities on Thompson Divide are critical to the local economy. 

Unfortunately, thanks to 25 leases illegally granted more than a decade ago, oil and gas drilling threaten this wild Colorado landscape. If these leases are allowed to be developed, it will bring substantial and irreversible change to Thompson Divide. 

We’re calling on the BLM to cancel the illegally issued leases as part of its current reevaluation process.

5. Bears Ears, Utah

Home to more than 100,000 cultural and historic sites, many of them still undisturbed, the Bears Ears contains irreplaceable Ice Age hunting camps and cliff dwellings, prehistoric villages and rock art panels of ancestral Puebloan peoples. The region is vital to the cultural and ceremonial lives of Native Americans. For outdoors enthusiasts and shutterbugs alike, the opportunities are endless in the Bears Ears region.

Despite the wealth of cultural resources and recreation opportunities, oil and gas companies are pressing to explore the region. Oil and gas flares and lights from rigs, work areas and other infrastructure would only add to the light pollution associated with other new development in region's night skies—which are currently some of the darkest in the lower 48 states.

Given the variety of cultural values and spectacular wilderness in the region, it is clear that the area needs permanent protection. Efforts are being made to craft legislation to protect the region, but if a legislative solution can't be found, a national monument proclamation by the President will ensure that these valued treasures are protected forever. 

6. Greater Grand Junction area, Colorado

Western Colorado's Grand Junction area is an outdoor enthusiast's dream. Research and exploration done by The Wilderness Society and other citizen scientists have identified more than 400,000 acres of wilderness-caliber lands throughout the region. While the world-class opportunities to enjoy the outdoors are bountiful, so are the threats to these experiences.

Oil and gas drilling and motorized vehicle use already threaten the peace and quiet of the region. The BLM released a Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the area in April 2015, but this plan left many wilderness quality lands open to potential oil and gas leasing or to unchecked off-road vehicle use. The plan needs to demonstrate a stronger commitment to conservation in order to protect the wild places like those in the Grand Junction region.

The BLM hasn't finalized the RMP—although it will happen later in 2015. In the meantime, The Wilderness Society is pushing the agency to reconsider the protective management for wilderness quality lands. With the wealth of wilderness lands around Grand Junction, it's clear that more of them need to be protected. 

A Commitment to Conservation

For generations, the BLM has had an almost single-minded approach to managing the 245 million acres under its purview. Despite legal obligations to manage its lands for multiple uses, like recreation, wildness, wildlife habitat and other values, the BLM focuses almost exclusively on energy.

A commitment to conservation means ensuring a balanced approach to energy development and conservation on federal lands. Energy development—both fossil fuels and renewable energy like wind and solar—should be guided to places with fewer conflicts and protecting areas that are better suited for recreation, wildlife habitat and other uses. 

Smarter leasing plans have begun to be implemented in some BLM field office decisions, and now it is time for the agency as a whole to embrace the concept.

There are many lands in the west that are too wild to drill—we need to make sure that BLM lands are managed for more than just energy.