Charging the federal government failed to abide by an agreement to control oil and gas development in a tract in the Escalante River canyons region, three environmental groups are trying to halt the development.

The area in question includes ridges above the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, which was protected by Congress in the 1984 Utah Forest Service Wilderness Act. Some areas, such as Antone Ridge, were kept out of the act because of claimed valuable deposits there, notably carbon dioxide reserves.A carbon dioxide field worth billions of dollars was supposed to underlie the region. But the extent and value of the field has been questioned.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club filed a challenge with the Interior Department's Board of Land Appeals, attempting to reverse a Bureau of Land Management decision to issue carbon dioxide leases in the area.

A sale of oil and gas leases is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Feb. 28 in the BLM's fourth floor conference room, 324 S. State. The environmentalists say the Antone Bench and nearby areas are among the tracts to be leased.

Rudy Lukez, conservation chairman of the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter, said the BLM is violating the compromise of 1984 that created the Forest Service wilderness areas, "by failing to require helicopter exploration and staged development.