BLM Reverses Decision To Auction Off Land In Southern Utah

Feb 25, 2020

Riders on the Slickrock bike trail in Moab
Credit Molly Marcello

After pressure from elected officials including Utah Governor Gary Herbert, the Bureau of Land Management dropped plans to auction off two parcels for oil and gas leasing near Arches National Park. The parcels overlapped the famed Slickrock Bike Trail and Moab’s sole source aquifer.

In a statement announcing their reversal, BLM Utah officials said they understand the public’s concerns and stated that recreation access is a “priority” alongside responsible energy development.

Sand Flats Recreation Area draws people from all over the region and world to ride mountain and dirt bikes on the Slickrock Bike Trail, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

“I know we have energy needs as a country, but places like this are sacred to me,” said Holly from Aspen, Colorado.

Holly has enjoyed riding the Slickrock Bike Trail with her son for nearly a decade. She spoke on the trailhead, after finishing a mountain bike ride replete with famous desert vistas.

“Where we’re staying in town, they actually had Edward Abbey’s book ‘Desert Solitaire’ and I was just re-reading it today. I actually have it in my pack. And, there was a quote in there - and I’m not going to get it right - but it was something like ‘we’re finally realizing that nature is holier than our churches, but we’re still ruining it,’” said Holly. 

Over 80 outfitters from across the country recently signed onto a letter requesting the U.S. Department of Interior better protect outdoor recreation opportunities by improving the mineral leasing process.

“The system is outdated. It's time for an update. And the reality is the Department of Interior has an opportunity for a win-win,” said Ashley Korenblat, co-founder of Public Land Solutions, the nonprofit advocacy group which drafted the letter.

Grand County estimates that Sand Flats contributes nearly $700,000 in direct revenue and $7 million in net value to the local economy.

Korenblat continued, “There is economic development happening across the country on public lands related to recreation. And what needs to happen is - it's time for them to really acknowledge and look at that and take credit for it, instead of pushing just traditional development when the time has passed for that.”

Several of Moab’s elected officials have called for oil and gas leasing to be permanently removed as a possibility in Sand Flats Recreation Area.

Thanks to Molly Marcello from KZMU in Moab for covering this story. Visit kzmu.org for more of her coverage.