New lease sale threatens rich archaeological areas

BLM Proposes Leasing Highly Sensitive Archaeological Areas for Drilling

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Unrecorded rock art site in one of the proposed lease parcels.

The BLM recently proposed leasing more than 57,000 acres of public lands in San Juan and Grand Counties for oil and gas development at an auction to be held in March of 2018. Some of these parecels include dense areas of archaeology, including multiple Chaco outlier great houses, thousands of recorded and unrecorded smaller sites, and incredible rock art panels. Several of the largest archaeological sites in Utah are included in the proposed lease parcels. In fact, this sale may include more archaeological sites than any lease sale in the modern history of the BLM, with the possible exception of a proposed 2015 sale where parcels were deferred on cultural resource grounds pending development of the proposed San Juan Master Leasing Plan (MLP).

The Three Kiva Pueblo site is a public site the BLM has proposed for a developed recreation area. But it’s also in the proposed lease sale.

We are now told this “smart from the start” MLP planning effort is unlikely to be developed under the current Administration. This is highly disapointing news, as FCM believes oil and gas development can be pursued in a responsible manner, creating a win-win for industry and archaeology, but only if planning is done strategically on a landscape scale, not one drilling permit at a time.

We are early in the process for this lease sale and the BLM is asking the public for “scoping” comments to help them formulate issues for their Environmental Assessment. In a Salt Lake Tribune article about the sale, a BLM spokeswoman said, “As part of public scoping, people are invited to come forward with knowledge or concerns about these parcels​, so they can be addressed. A robust analysis is key to making well-reasoned decisions about whether it is appropriate to lease these parcels.”

Cliff dwellings line many of the canyons included in the proposed drilling area.

Included in the proposed lease areas are protions of Recapture Canyon (currently closed to vehicles), Alkalai Ridge, Montezuma Canyon, and a small portion of the San Juan River corridor, as well as many lesser known areas. You can see the BLM’s documents and maps about the sale here. FCM has prepared a larger, more detailed maps. See the northern zone here and the southern zone here.

Friends of Cedar Mesa is preparing a robust response to this proposed sale. If you’re willing to share your knowledge of the area with us, please contact josh@cedarmesafriends.org. We also encourage you to submit comments to the BLM in the scoping process here. The deadline for comments is July 27, 2017.

Author: Josh Ewing

As Executive Director for Friends of Cedar Mesa, Josh advances stewardship through education, advocacy, and organizing.

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