WASHINGTON - February 11 - In the future, visitors traveling to Colorados Dinosaur National Monument may have to run a gauntlet of oil and gas development before ever getting inside and once on this unique part of the National Park System, they will still be assaulted by the sight, sound and smell of oil and gas rigs if the Bush Administration chooses to proceed with its controversial sale of leases on Thursday. The sale is one of several where the Bush Administration has decided to sell leases for oil and gas development in or near areas that currently have or merit federal protections.
Colorado leases for sale
On February 12, the Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will sell 27 parcels on the south side of Dinosaur National Monument. These parcels surround the Monument headquarters, visitor center, and the scenic Harpers Corner Drive access to the heart of the Monument (including historic Echo Park).
Utah leases for sale
Less than a week later, on February 18, the Utah BLM will sell 28 additional parcels flanking the western end of the Monument. The Utah sale will also include a total of 14 parcels located in BLM Wilderness Inventory Areas (WIAs) and 20 parcels located in Citizens Proposed Wilderness.
The sale of Utah WIAs (lands that the BLM itself previously declared eligible for Wilderness consideration) represents the latest direct on-the-ground impact of last years secret deal cut by Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton and former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt (now EPA administer), which prohibited BLM from protecting future wilderness. Last November, Utah BLM sold 16 oil and gas leases in WIAs and other wilderness-quality lands, a sale that has been challenged in a lawsuit in federal district court.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees, the Campaign to Protect America's Lands, the Honorable Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), The Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club, have challenged the Administrations decision to offer the Utah lands for sale. If allowed to proceed, on February 18 these public lands will be offered on a competitive basis to the highest bidder. In addition, SUWA, Natural Resources Defense Council, and The Wilderness Society have a pending lawsuit in federal district court challenging the BLMs November 2003 lease sale.
Quotes about the lease sales in Utah and Colorado:
We often talk about the crown jewels of the National Park System in terms of Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, but Dinosaur National Monument is one of those hidden jewels in the crown that makes the whole shine even brighter, said Denny Huffman, former superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument. These leases bracketing the very entrances to the Monument are tantamount to inviting the public to our hallowed national institutions such as Gettysburg or Yellowstones geyser basins or the Lincoln Memorial but requiring them to enter through the abandoned industrial complexes of Pittsburgh. What kind of image does that portray? What kind of stewardship does that encourage from visitors when our own government is this irresponsible? When the trigger for oil and gas leasing appears to be where there is an acre of public land then we as a government know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing. Ive known Dinosaur National Monument intimately for many years and have talked to thousands of visitors who were enthralled by its beauty and scientific importance. Its a special place that deserves a more critical and balanced look at what we do around it. Call it zoning if you like, but we do that every day in so many places where special values are at stake. This is one of those places of special value to the American people.
The BLM's decision to offer these stunning public lands shows once again that the Bush Administration has fully embraced an extreme, industry-supported agenda to public lands management. No longer satisfied with destroying Utah's unprotected wilderness quality lands, this lease sale will ring Dinosaur National Monument one of the National Park Service's crown jewels with oil and gas leases, and then development, said Stephen Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
The fact that both the Colorado and Utah offices of the BLM are planning to offer these oil and gas leases on the doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument, without giving any thought as to their combined effects, is yet another example of this Administration drilling first and asking questions later, said Keith Bauerle of Earthjustice.
If the Bush Administration continues to insist on letting oil and gas companies drill wherever they want, the natural beauty and wilderness of places like Dinosaur National Monument will be next on the extinction lists, said Peter Altman, Director of the Campaign to Protect Americas Lands.
The Bush administration puts these last wild places on the chopping block, all for the private gain of their friends in the oil industry, Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness, said. He robs wilderness from future generations and completely ignores the broader public interest. Its a sad travesty, especially since less than five percent of our countrys natural heritage is protected as wilderness.
I am concerned that there will be a non-stop tide of lease sales on our recreation-rich public lands, said Tom Kleinschnitz, president of the Utah Guides and Outfitters Association. Without adequate public notice and participation, the Bush administration is exploiting our wild lands for a few days of oil. Local businesses that rely on tourists, who come to see the amazing scenic landscapes in and around Dinosaur National Monument, will be adversely impacted by oil and gas development.
Although oil and gas development is a legitimate and important activity in many areas, it is not an appropriate activity on all areas of our public lands, said Dave Alberswerth of The Wilderness Society. These lease sales in Utah and Colorado are just the latest wrinkle in this gathering tragedy for our public lands. They are emblematic of a host of decisions being made by the Bureau of Land Management throughout the Rocky Mountain West that are radically altering the landscapes and communities throughout the region.
"With plans to drill along the boundaries of Dinosaur National Monument and in proposed wilderness areas, the Bush Administration has taken their unprecedented quest for oil and gas drilling to a disturbing new level," said Kevin Walker with the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter. "There is a better way. The 'multiple use' of America's public lands does not have to mean drilling, digging, logging and mining."
"We need checks and balances in using and enjoying our public lands, said Jim DiPeso of REP America. There are places where energy production on public lands is appropriate and there are places where it is not. Dinosaur National Monument and wilderness lands are special places that must be protected for all Americans. In addition, we must have a balanced national energy policy that emphasizes efficiency, so there is less pressure to drill in unspoiled wildlands that define our natural heritage.
The outdoor recreation industry strongly believes that oil and gas lease sales on wilderness quality lands should be deferred until the recreational opportunities offered by these lands can be reviewed, said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of Outdoor Industry Association. Moving forward with these sales could jeopardize the recreational economy by altering or destroying special places such as the ones around Dinosaur National Monument.
Gale Norton promised she would protect wilderness-quality lands even after she made a backroom deal with Mike Leavitt when he was governor of Utah, said Sharon Buccino, an attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). These leases show that her word isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
For more information, please visit: http://www.leaveitwild.org/nowilderness/oil_and_gas.html and http://www.earthjustice.org/backgrounder/display.html?ID=90
* Campaign for Americas Wilderness * Campaign to Protect America's Lands * Colorado Environmental Coalition * Earthjustice * Natural Resources Defense Council * Republicans for Environmental Protection * Sierra Club * Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance * Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees *The Wilderness Society