Public Comment on Millions of Utah Acres Rushed, Group Warns

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, August 23, 2007 (ENS) - On Friday, the Moab office of the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, will release its draft plan for how millions of acres of the redrock country will be managed. The other five BLM planning districts throughout Utah will release their planning documents over the next few months.

The Resource Management Plans will define which areas should be protected as wilderness, and which areas should be used for oil and gas exploration and off-road vehicle use.

The current land use plan was prepared for the Moab Field Office in 1985. "Since then," the BLM Moab office says, "there have been considerable changes within the area."

"There has been tremendous growth in recreation activities such as mountain biking and off-highway vehicle use. There has been heightened public awareness regarding conflicts between recreational activities and oil and gas development. Also, new data is available for bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and Mexican spotted owls," the field office says.

An example of the conflict over oil and gas development is currently happening in the BLM’s Vernal field office.

The Vernal office has received more that 50,000 public comments in opposition to a plan to lease public lands and drill 60 natural gas wells on federal and state lands just south of Utah’s White River.

Outfitters and conservationists are asking BLM for a comprehensive analysis of the latest development proposal submitted by Denver-based Enduring Resources, LLC, one of several submitted by Enduring over the past few years to develop the White River, including analysis of the potential cumulative impacts to the natural quiet and beauty of this remote area.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, and The Wilderness Society submitted detailed comments to the BLM on the proposal to develop this largely pristine area. A coalition of local river outfitters, the Outdoor Industry Association, and river-based conservation groups also submitted comments opposing the project as drafted. The state of Utah also commented on the project’s potential impacts to air quality.

"BLM can’t allow natural gas development to trump all other resources on public lands but that is exactly what’s happening here," said Stephen Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "This project may single handedly change the face of the White River for generations and leave a legacy of marred landscapes, polluted waters, and industrial noise."

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, SUWA, says the BLM Moab field office planning document "represents the culmination of hundreds of thousands of hours of work by career professionals at the BLM," but the public will have just 90 days to submit its comments.

SUWA is asking the Utah Bureau of Land Management for an extension to the public comment period and hopes to engender a groundswell of public opinion to support such an extension.

While the BLM says on its website that it encourages the public to get involved in revision the management plan, SUWA says the agency "seems to be doing everything in its power to stifle public comment by limiting citizens’ ability to access the plan.:

"When a member of SUWA’s staff asked to have a copy mailed to her, she was given the name of the publisher and told to pay $80 to have it printed," SUWA said.

The BLM responds that it will be directing people to view the draft document online. CD copies will be available at the Moab BLM office.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.