Oil and gas leasing and development in Lockhart Basin would dramatically alter the beauty of this spectacular wild landscape. Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA
Published January 28, 2019
SALT LAKE CITY — In a remarkably shortsighted decision, the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) is proposing to sell twelve oil and gas leases totaling roughly 5,700 acres located on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument to the highest bidder. While these leases contain the same irreplaceable cultural and paleontological resources that are found on adjacent federal public lands, the SITLA lands underlying the leases are not formally part of the monument. Two of the proposed leases are also immediately adjacent to Canyonlands National Park and several proposed leases are visible from the popular Anticline and Needles overlooks.
On Friday, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) protested SITLA’s proposed leasing decision and urged the agency to defer leasing until the federal litigation challenging Trump’s unlawful rollback of the monument has been resolved.
“We are calling on SITLA Director David Ure not to sell any oil and gas leases on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument until the federal litigation challenging President Trump’s unlawful attack on the monument has been resolved and the agency can pursue a land exchange that benefits Utah’s schoolchildren and protects irreplaceable cultural and paleontological resources,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “At a bare minimum, SITLA should not sell any of the proposed twelve leases until it makes clear to potential lessees that the twelve leases are within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, that Trump’s decision attacking the monument has been challenged in court, and that access to any leases will be highly controversial.”
On December 4, 2017, President Trump purported to dismantle Bears Ears National Monument and designate two much smaller monuments, Indian Creek and Shash Jaa’. There are currently three lawsuits pending in federal district court for the District of Columbia challenging President Trump’s unlawful action; the lead case is Hopi Tribe et al. v. Trump. SUWA is a plaintiff in one of the other lawsuits, a case referred to as Natural Resources Defense Council et al. v. Trump. Each of these lawsuits asks a federal judge to declare unlawful and invalidate President Trump’s December 4, 2017 proclamation. Such a decision would have significant bearing on access to any SITLA oil and gas lease sold within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, access which is subject to federal regulation and control. SITLA’s solicitation for this lease sale contains no mention of the fact that the leases are within the original boundaries of Bears Ears, nor does it advise potential bidders that Trump’s unlawful action is the subject of three lawsuits.
The proposed sale of these leases also flies in the face of SITLA’s mandate to manage its lands for both short and long term economic gain and, when necessary, to consider a land exchange which would preserve unique non-economic values (such as the cultural, paleontological, and biological resources in Bears Ears). This is precisely why President Obama’s proclamation establishing Bears Ears National Monument called on the Secretary of the Interior to explore a land exchange with the State of Utah for all SITLA-managed lands in the monument. Unfortunately, the State refused to pursue such an exchange. SITLA’s mission is “[a]dministering trust lands prudently and profitably for Utah’s schoolchildren and other trust beneficiaries.”