Interior Reverses BLM Lease Sales in Utah

The Interior Department's Board of Land Appeals last week suspended the Bureau of Land Management's roughly 14,000 acres of oil and natural gas lease sales in central Utah on the grounds that BLM did not adequately identify sensitive archaeological sites before offering the leases.

The sites, offered for sale in October 2003, are spread over 16 parcels north of Nine Mile Canyon and south of the Book Cliffs. Interior's reversal of the sales sides with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance's contention that selling the parcels without an adequate review violated the National Historic Preservation Act.

SUWA attorney Steve Bloch said last week that BLM did not consult with American Indian tribes in the area. "This is the latest in a steady drumbeat of decisions which clearly show that the Utah BLM has followed an illegal 'lease first and think later' approach to issuing these leases," he said, adding that he would push for the leases to be terminated, rather than just suspended.

Utah BLM energy team leader Terry Catlin said that while the agency was probably too lax in 2003 regarding cultural resources, it has improved standards since then. "SUWA has other cases pending [against the BLM], but they have also filed to exclude [the NHPA] as a cause of action," she said. "To me that indicates that even our critics are more comfortable now with how we're handling this" (Joe Baird, Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 2). DK

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