BLM plan: The final rape of the West

By By Nick Rosenberger

By Nick Rosenberger

“The first time around, we took care of the easy stuff8212;Indians, buffalo, hills filled with gold8212;but this time we’re getting serious.”

8212;Gen. George A. Custer

The final rape of the West has come.

For the past two centuries, land development has depleted our wild lands. The power of wilderness creates an unparalleled freedom of heart, mind and spirit. Wilderness areas offer the chance for us to escape the dull days in the city. It allows everyone to get out and recreate in the great outdoors, be it climbing, backpacking, skiing, rafting or just plain enjoying the endless beauty of what is free.

However, the time is rapidly approaching when the oil and gas companies will take advantage of nearly all of Southern Utah’s most prized possession8212;its wild lands. These areas will also be opened up to nearly endless off-road vehicle travel, according to the United States Bureau of Land Management.

With the expiring Bush administration’s last chance to help out the oil and gas giants, the following is what the BLM released in its resource management plans for southern Utah. The public can make comments before these decisions are finalized. However, the bureau does not have to follow the public opinion. Essentially, the bureau can make whatever decision it wants. BLM land is your land. It’s my land. It’s everyone’s land.

Richfield (Color Country District)

The plan is to transform an estimated 1.7 million of the 2.1 million acres into a federal mineral estate available for oil and gas leasing, according to the BLM. An estimated 608,700 of those acres will be available for oil and gas leasing under standard lease.

The terms for the lease state that the estimated 917,500 acres available are subject to “controlled surface use” or “timing limitation” stipulations, meaning drilling can take place during certain seasons.

The terms would also designate areas as either limited, closed or open off-highway vehicle use.

Price District

The Price Field Office is responsible for land use planning efforts on about 2.5 million acres of public lands in central Utah, according to its Web site.

“The BLM was committed during the planning process to balance protecting environmentally sensitive areas while supporting energy resources in Utah,” as stated on the Web site. “In the new plan, 40 percent of the acres open to oil and gas leasing are subject to stricter environmental controls, with 23 percent of the lands within the planning area unavailable for leasing under any circumstance.”

This leaves 23 percent of the lands not open to oil and gas leasing. That means more than three-fourths of the land is being condemned.

“Travel management is considered to be one of the hottest issues on public lands today, and this is particularly true for the Price Field Office,” according to the BLM Price Field Office. “BLM Utah is shifting from allowing open, cross-country travel on nearly all public lands, to allowing travel only on specifically identified routes.”

Kanab District

Interestingly, the Kanab District’s Web site said the same thing as the Price District, verbatim.

“Travel management is considered to be one of the hottest issues on public lands today, and this is particularly true for the Kanab Field Office.”

The Approved Resource Management Plan manages oil and gas leasing and other surface disturbing activities with the following stipulations: closes 79,000 acres, designates 83,400 acres as no surface occupancy, 296,200 acres are subjected to timing limitations/controlled surface stipulations, and 95,004 acres are open with standard stipulations.

The oil and gas leasing stipulations in the approved Resource Management Plan are the least restrictive necessary to protect sensitive resource values while allowing for development, as specified in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act and BLM policy.

Moab District

The plan in the Moab District is to make an estimated 1.45 million acres of the 2.76 million acres of the federal mineral estate available for oil and gas leasing.

The plan also makes an estimated 427,273 acres available for oil and gas leasing under standard lease terms and about 806,994 acres subject to controlled surface use or timing limitation stipulations. An estimated 217,480 acres are available subject to a No Surface Occupancy stipulation, according to their approved resource management plan. This means about 370,250 acres are safe from oil and gas leasing.

Vernal District

The Vernal District made similar designations and stipulations within its approved RMP.

Under the plan, 186,917 acres would be administratively unavailable, with 86,789 acres open and subject to major constraints such as No Surface Occupancy. Constraints, such as timing limitations and controlled surface use would apply to 779,730 acres, and 860,651 acres would be designated as open and would be subject to standard terms and conditions.

As Kanab and Price, Vernal issued the same generic release on its Web site.

The final resource management plan for the Monticello (Canyon Country District) has not yet been released to the public.

Nine Mile and Desolation Canyons

Another big target that has been approved for destruction is Nine Mile Canyon and Desolation Canyon along the Green River.

The approved plan will allow the building of 800 oil and gas wells in this area, according to the BLM.

Nine Mile Canyon has historical importance as it contains old American Indian artifacts and about 1,000 ancient petroglyphs and pictographs. When river runners make their journey along Desolation Canyon, the rising towers and lights that are slowly churning oil and gas from the ground will disturb their views and the night sky.

The effects of this plan would be devastating to the beauty of the landscape and the unique desert ecosystems.

The Southern Utah deserts hang on to life entirely because of their soil. Cryptobiotic soil, which is the lifeblood of the ecosystems, is a bacterium that grows inside the sand and is extremely fragile. Taking nearly 3,000 years to grow and nearly 10,000 years to fully mature, cryptobiotic soil can be destroyed with one tire track or even one footprint. The soil has the ability to store water when it rains. Because of this, it allows plants to grow even in the arid desert climate. Without the soil, plants can’t survive, and Southern Utah’s ecosystems would collapse as a result.

When discussing this subject with a couple of friends, one argued, “It would not hurt to drill a couple of holes in the ground to get the oil.” After I explained how it would be devastating to the ecosystem, she said, “It is only a little bit and would not be a big deal. The desert didn’t really need it.” My other friend then replied to her, “How about I just cut off your hand. I mean you don’t really need it. I mean in comparison to the rest of your body it is only a little bit.”

The point is, the desert ecosystem cannot handle this kind of destruction. With the development of oil, gas and new roads to allow further development and the rampant riding of off-highway vehicles, the rape of the land will be everywhere. These proposed roads and the ability for

OHV motorists to go anywhere they please will ultimately destroy the cryptobiotic soil, which will destroy much of Southern Utah’s ecosystems completely.

With the soil’s bacteria gone, the plants will leave. Without vegetation, there will no longer be birds, bighorn sheep or deer. The mountain lions, the coyotes, the bobcats and other predators will go. Then nothing.

President-elect Barack Obama has mentioned his concern for the wild lands and hopes to reverse the Bush administration’s plan for the Moab District, which among other things, would mean a photo of the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park would soon include several oil wells. This is good news for the wild lands and the earth, but it still does not guarantee it will happen. I encourage everyone to write to our new president-elect and inform him of how much beauty there is in Southern Utah and that all of the BLM plans need to be reversed.

That, which is beautiful, is at risk to end, to be taken away from us by the greed of the oil and gas industries. So they can make that much more money they will not spend.

All of Southern Utah will be gone. The beauty of the Canyon Country will be ever-altered from its majestic wild freedom. The future generations will be robbed. They will not see what we once had. They will not know inconceivable beauty.

With wilderness gone, we will no longer have a place to escape. We will be confined to the cities, stuck in an endless barrage of light, 90-degree angles and noise. We won’t be able to go off again and seek pure Aquiet and stillness. We are just one more step toward being controlled by the techno-industrial society in which we live. The final rape of the West8212;it has come.

[email protected]

Nick Rosenberger

Oil wells are approaching the edges of Utah?s parks like this oil well that is only 2 miles outside the boundaries of canyonlands national park.

Nick Rosenberger

The Crypto-biotic soil in southern Utah can be easily destroyed with a tire track or footprint. Crypto-biotic soil takes 10,000 years to fully develop.

Nick Rosenberger

Desolation Canyon located along the Green River has been condemned and is now used for oil drilling.