Assault on Utah: How the Bush administration wants to change Canyonlands

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Stand at the edge of Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah, and be prepared to be swept away by a landscape of redrock badlands and canyon country.

This extraordinary national park, with its enormous views and unique geologic features, is largely managed by the Bureau of Land Management – and unfortunately the BLM is making some very disconcerting decisions about this precious part of south-eastern Utah.

In fact, the agency is fast-tracking six new proposed resource management plans for these public lands. All of the plans emphasize energy development and motorized vehicle use over conservation, historical preservation and wilderness values. That means 11 million acres of lands adored by Americans – the archaeological sites, the red sandstone canyons, the washes and the wilderness – will all be threatened by activities that could damage their beauty and health.

The statistics are shocking

About 80 percent of these 11 million acres will be opened for oil and gas drilling. Even if the BLM protected the land it identifies as wild, 86 percent could still be drilled.

The BLM also wants to officially designate over 17,000 miles of existing dirt routes, including 1,600 miles within nearly three million acres of roadless areas. Some of those routes lead directly into national parks where off-highway vehicle use is prohibited.

And, says archaeologist Jerry Spangler of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, numerous cultural resources are in danger because many are near one of those routes, exposing historic sites to possible looting and destruction

Defenders unite

Fortunately, these iconic lands have fierce defenders. U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-NY, is personally protesting each of the six plans. He is also organizing 100 members of Congress to oppose the Bush administration’s assault on these lands.

Former BLM Director Jim Baca called the BLM’s fast-tracking of the plans a disregard of irreplaceable wildlands, tantamount to “malfeasance.” At a teleconference co-organized by The Wilderness Society to publically discuss the plans, Baca referred to the agency’s actions as an exercise of “raw political power.”

Conservation groups, including The Wilderness Society and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, have filed official protests for each of the plans in the hope that the BLM will revise the final versions of the plans to reduce the miles of motorized vehicle routes crossing these lands and respect the wildness of roadless areas, environmentally sensitive lands and national parks while keeping the energy industry as far as possible from the redrock wildlands.

The BLM is expected to make final decisions on their plans by December.

Please, keep checking back with us about this very important story. We’ll continue to keep you posted as developments happen.