As industry gobbles up oil and gas leases across the West, citizen-proposed wilderness areas, which encompass millions of acres of public lands, have become battlegrounds. Under a Clinton-era policy, these areas were given interim protection, but the Bush administration has stripped them of protection — and has begun leasing many of them for oil and gas development (HCN, 1/19/04: Two decades of hard work, plowed under).
13 lease sale in Colorado included 29 parcels of land within the
Colorado Citizens’ Wilderness Proposal, an initiative
endorsed by over 300 organizations, businesses, and local
governments. When members of the coalition protested, the BLM
agreed to take six parcels off the auction block. But 23 parcels
near Grand Junction were leased, including Cow Ridge and Hunter
Canyon, where environmentalists say energy development will
threaten wildlife migration routes.
In New Mexico this
April, energy companies snatched up leases in citizen-proposed
wilderness areas in the Carlsbad area. One of the leases is in
Rawhide Canyon in the Chihuahuan Desert, which provides a buffer
zone for Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
And in Wyoming,
the BLM put a citizen-proposed wilderness called the Pinnacles on
the block in April. The 900-acre badland in south-central Wyoming
was leased for $140 an acre.
There’s more to come.
On June 25, the Utah BLM will offer for lease 30,500 acres within
citizen-proposed wilderness areas, including areas in Burbank Pass,
Dirty Devil, Flat Tops, Sweetwater Reef, Diamond Canyon and Mexico
Point. "These areas are of wilderness quality. Nevertheless, the
BLM is proposing to sell them," says Steve Bloch of the Southern
Utah Wilderness Alliance. "We will take it to court."