Oil and Gas Development Targeted in National Forest Roadless Area
A coalition of conservation and outdoor industry groups has formally asked the Forest Service to withdraw plans to lease over 20,000 acres for oil and gas drilling in Utah's Uinta National Forest. The leasing would allow industrial development in roadless areas along the Wasatch Front that provide valuable opportunities for hiking, fishing, and hunting, as well as habitat for wildlife such as the Bonneville cutthroat trout and northern goshawk. The groups sent a letter to the Forest Service yesterday asking the agency to withdraw its consent to leasing based on violations of federal environmental laws.
Earthjustice submitted the request on behalf of the Wasatch Mountain Club, Black Diamond Equipment, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Trout Unlimited.
The Forest Service has authorized the Bureau of Land Management to auction mineral leases on over 20,000 acres of Uinta National Forest lands on December 10, 2004. The areas to be leased include almost 17,000 acres of the Diamond Fork and Tie Fork roadless areas that provide habitat for numerous wildlife species ranging from elk to bald eagles, and offer outstanding opportunities for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other outdoor activities.
This is in addition to the almost 120,000 acres of leases that BLM sold nearby in the Uinta National Forest in September of this year. Yet the Forest Service has decided to allow the leasing of this vast swath of national forest lands without undertaking the thorough environmental reviews of the impacts of the subsequent oil and gas development on wildlife, water, and outdoor recreation that it said it would do in its 2003 forest plan.
"When the Forest Service revised the Uinta Forest Plan in 2003, it recognized that these roadless areas provide crucial wildlife habitat and valuable recreational opportunities," said Earthjustice attorney Keith Bauerle. "In signing off on these leases, the Forest Service has ignored those values and the million plus Americans who spoke out in favor of preserving roadless areas and their resources."
"Oil and gas development in these roadless places would ruin exactly those qualities that our customers are seeking when they backpack or hike into these wild and scenic areas," said Peter Metcalf of Black Diamond Equipment, an outdoor equipment maker. "Recreation generates, in a long term and sustainable manner, over 80 percent of the economic value of these lands, yet the Forest Service gave no consideration to Utahns who recreate in the great outdoors or to the outdoor industry when it signed off on these leases. It's bad policy and a bad deal -- bad for people, bad for the outdoor industry, and bad for Utah's economy that is better served by sustainable recreation than one-time drilling."
"It's un-American to give the public no notice, and no input, in this decision," said Amy Mall. "The great majority of Americans and Utahns want to leave behind a legacy of wild forests for their children and grandchildren, and they should have a say in the future of these lands."
The groups' letter to the Forest Service can be accessed here. (pdf file)
Detail map (pdf file)
Overview map (pdf file)