SALT LAKE CITY — The Bureau of Land Management offered 51,400 acres for potential oil and gas development in Utah and Colorado during an online auction on Tuesday, sparking protest by Native American tribal representatives and public lands advocates.
A group of people including Sierra Club's national director Michael Brune and leaders of Salt Lake City-based Utah Dine Bikeyah, a Native American tribal advocacy group, spoke outside the downtown BLM offices against the auction.
"We will not be silenced and we will prevail," Brune said, adding that people don't visit Utah to see pump jacks, pipelines or uranium mine sites.
Critics say too many of the parcels are in areas rich with cultural artifacts and too close to the former boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument straddling the Utah-Colorado border, and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado.
Environmental groups have filed official protests on 32 parcels.
Brune said there is some room for hope that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will listen to his "better angels" and pull back leases in sensitive areas, just as he did in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and in his home state of Montana in Livingston.
Len Necefer — founder and CEO of Natives Outdoors, which develops and designs outdoor gear — said there is a "better way forward" than the auction of oil and gas leases on land full of artifacts, which have been "gifted" to generations today to act as caretakers.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance pointed out that several tracts of land offered at auction are in southeastern Utah's Alkali Ridge, which the land agency briefly considered for auction in 2015 but then withdrew.
Steve Bloch, legal director of SUWA, said a coalition of organizations will fight the leases.
"This lease sale flies in the face of historic preservation and environmental laws that Congress put in place to make sure that BLM thinks before it acts; not 'lease first, and think later,'" he said in a prepared statement.1 comment on this story
Critics like Alastair Lee Bitsoi, Utah Dine Bikeyah's communications director, say the leases in the Bears Ears area should be postponed until litigation against federal government is settled.
Native American tribes and environmental groups sued the Trump administration over the 85-percent reduction of the monument boundaries.
Bitsoi said tribes are also pushing a proposal for Utah to elevate the stature of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs so its director is a member of the governor's Cabinet.
He said Native Americans deserve a stronger voice at the state level.
"The momentum is there," he said. "We have planted the seeds."