SITLA cancels oil and gas lease sale within original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument

Wild and remote Lockhart Basin, seen here from Hatch Point, is contiguous with Canyonlands National Park. Several of the SITLA proposed leases are visible between the two small unnamed buttes in the photo. Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

On Friday, the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) held an online oil and gas lease sale, which included twelve parcels in San Juan County that overlapped with the boundaries of the original Bears Ears National Monument.

The parcels, which total 5,700 acres, are located in Lockhart Basin near Canyonlands National Park and several are adjacent to Cottonwood Wash north of Bluff. (Click here for a map of the parcels.)

Four of the parcels sold, but only after the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) filed a protest letter at the SITLA offices in Salt Lake City.

When President Obama created the 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in 2016, it surrounded numerous sections of SITLA land that are not formally part of the monument. Obama’s proclamation called on the Secretary of the Interior to explore a land swap with the State of Utah for all SITLA-managed lands in the monument, though SITLA has yet to pursue such an exchange.

Attorneys for SUWA argued that since President Trump’s 2017 order to reduce Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent is being challenged in federal court, SITLA should defer all leasing within the monument’s original boundaries.

On Monday, SITLA appeared to agree when it announced that it was withdrawing the twelve parcels from auction and would refund the winning bids on the parcels that sold.

“SITLA made the right decision to withdraw the twelve protested oil and gas leases on SITLA-managed lands within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument,” Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said in a statement. “We hope that SITLA will continue to defer leasing in Bears Ears until the federal litigation challenging President Trump’s unlawful attack on the monument has been resolved and the agency can pursue a land exchange that benefits Utah’s schoolchildren and protects irreplaceable cultural and paleontological resources.”

SITLA also announced that none of the twelve parcels would be available for non-competitive leasing for the next several months, as is usually the case.

—Follow the Canyon Echo on Facebook and editor Zak Podmore on Twitter for more updates from southeast Utah.