WELLINGTON, Carbon County — Multiple groups are blasting the Bureau of Land Management over an upcoming oil and gas sale they say would put Nine Mile Canyon's bounty of cultural resources in jeopardy.
The Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Hopi Tribe are among those organizations launching a formal protest over the Dec. 13 online auction of two parcels in particular.
"The BLM has failed to take a hard look prior to offering these leases for sale," said the protest filed by Dennis Willis, president of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition.
"Despite BLM's repeated claims that the act of leasing would not have any direct impacts, it is a precursor action with a reasonable, foreseeable development scenario that most assuredly will have a negative impact on cultural resources, recreation and scenic values," he said.
The BLM is proposing to offer 28 parcels. Originally, there had been 102 on the table, but the federal agency deferred 74 from any leasing and offered partial leasing on five other parcels.
The leases under protest have "no surface occupancy" restrictions that do not carry any exemptions, but the coalition said the practical effect of offering those parcels is to promote access via the bottom of Nine Mile Canyon.
"In this specific instance, the BLM is all but directing oil and gas development activities to private lands on the canyon bottom," Willis' letter to the BLM reads. "In doing so, it is also limiting the ability of the agency to mitigate development impacts."
But BLM spokesman Ryan Sutherland disagrees.
"The no-surface occupancy stipulation is the most rigorous stipulation that we have to protect resources," Sutherland said, adding that the lease sale has yet to be finalized. Additionally, before any surface disturbing activities can begin, another layer of environmental analysis will have to be completed, he added.
The BLM's environmental analysis on the sale indicates the two parcels under protest contain 40 sites and are surrounded by over 100 cultural resources within 1 mile of the parcels' boundaries.
The groups contend the federal agency's management approach to the Nine Mile Canyon region is leading to "death by a thousand cuts."
"Nine Mile Canyon is a unique place, often described in superlatives. Unfortunately, this 40-mile-long feature meanders in lazy S curves, back and forth, across an arbitrary, straight line political boundary," the protest says. "The canyon cuts across three counties and two BLM field offices. It deserves and needs to be managed on a holistic basis rather than an assortment of fiefdoms."
Willis said the proposed sale is contrary to the tenets of a programmatic agreement on the West Tavaputs Plateau that was a committment by the federal agency to avoid the impacts of drilling in the canyon bottoms.
Two of these leases are located in Nine Mile Canyon proper and total more than 1,550 acres; four of the leases are located in the Desolation Canyon region north of Nine Mile Canyon and constitute more than 1,150 acres.