BLM Utah director defers lease parcels in response to Park Service concerns

US Bureau of Land Management Utah State Director Selma Sierra agreed on Nov. 25 to defer from a Dec. 19 oil and gas lease sale all parcels of concern to the US National Park Service following two days of discussions between the agencies.

Dec 12th, 2008

US Bureau of Land Management Utah State Director Selma Sierra agreed on Nov. 25 to defer from a Dec. 19 oil and gas lease sale all parcels of concern to the US National Park Service following two days of discussions between the agencies.

NPS Intermountain Regional Director Rick Snyder expressed concern to Sierra in October about lease parcels near Arches and Canyonlands national parks in southeastern Utah and Dinosaur National Monument in eastern Utah. Snyder, who is based in Denver, flew to Salt Lake City on Nov. 24 as representatives of the two US Department of the Interior agencies held their discussions.

The two agencies also agreed to renew their 1993 memorandum of understanding regarding how BLM's Utah offices and NPS will work together on prospective oil and gas lease offerings, Sierra said in an announcement issued in Salt Lake City. BLM and NPS are developing a draft of the renewed agreement, she said.

"This constructive dialogue between our agencies has resulted in a positive outcome. Ongoing discussions with the National Park Service will continue to strengthen our collaboration and coordination. This is important for two sister agencies with environmental stewardship missions," Sierra said.

The agencies were able to reach an agreement despite having different land stewardship approaches, she said. BLM has a complex multiple use mission while the Park Service strives to preserve unimpaired national parks' natural and cultural resources, the Utah BLM director observed.

'The process worked'

"I recognize that the NPS had requested that I defer the parcels the day they were posted, but I wanted to have the opportunity to engage in dialogue to discuss the newly approved resource management plans and the much stricter environmental protections included in our decisions before making an arbitrary decision to defer parcels. Moreover, the process we are currently following allows for dialogue and I believe in our case, the process worked as intended," she said in a Nov. 25 letter to Snyder.

Sierra said she also would consult with other partners which BLM works with regularly. "As you know, based on BLM's regulatory requirements, we also maintain a consulting agency relationship with state and county agencies directly affected by land management decisions on public land. These state and county officials also participated in formulating the resource management plans on which leasing decisions are based and they have invested much time and effort in the decisions these documents represent," she told Snyder.

Environmental organizations in the region said on Nov. 26 that NPS actually is being forced to accept leasing on land that the agency contends will damage the parks' air and water, and compromise the parks' "natural quiet."

"Despite public protests and the concerns of its own park service, the outgoing Bush administration is using this sale to push its extreme drill everywhere agenda, and America's national parks and other spectacular public lands will be the worse for it," said Stephen Bloch, conservation director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in Salt Lake City.

Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and seven other US senators urged US Interior Secretary Dirk A. Kempthorne on Nov. 25 to postpone the lease sale because NPS and other stakeholders were not given enough time initially to outline their concerns.

"We understand that long-standing Department of Interior policy is to provide NPS, as a sister agency to BLM, 90-days advanced notice of areas that might have potential to affect NPS resources, followed by a comment period, before the maps are released publicly. We also understand that a similar policy is followed with the state of Utah. In this instance, however, both the NPS and the state of Utah were initially denied that opportunity," the senators said in a letter to Kempthorne.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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