In a move that has conservationists cheering, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has reduced the size of Utah wilderness available for upcoming oil and gas leases for the second time in a week, according to an Associated Press report.
The BLM is pulling off auction land inside remote Nine Mile Canyon -- host to thousands of ancient rock art panels -- and from nearby (and essentially untouched) Desolation Canyon on the Green River. Just days ago the BLM removed leases from land on or near the borders of Arches National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Canyonlands National Park, all in Utah.
That means in recent days the BLM has tossed out leases on an impressive 100,000 acres that were set for auction on Dec. 19, leaving 276,025 acres up for bid.
The BLM could still offer the leases at any point in the future, and it is important to note that the agency still plans to auction sections that are on bluffs overlooking the canyons. As a result, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says they are still planning to protest the leases, which they say will still be disruptive to important wildlife, including large mammals.
The BLM will auction 146,339 acres in Utah later this month for geothermal development, as well as more than 276,000 acres for oil and gas drilling.
The news is heartening to those who have opposed the simplistic "Drill Baby Drill!" cries of Sarah Palin and her supporters. It would be years before a drop of the fossil fuels obtained would be available for use, and even then it would be a drop in the bucket of current consumption. Instead, we need to show leadership and foresight and take the chance now to ramp up conservation and investment in renewable energy, not despoil our shrinking wilderness trying to get at every last barrel.
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