Conservationists bring suit to protect Canyons of the Ancients

Purpose of national monument is violated


Jay Tutchton, Earthjustice, 303-871-6034


Michael Carroll, The Wilderness Society, 970-247-8788


Ron Olsen, The Wilderness Society, 202-429-8441

Earthjustice, on behalf of The Wilderness Society, San Juan Citizen’s Alliance, the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, and Colorado Environmental Coalition, filed a lawsuit today seeking to stop massive 30 ton oil and gas exploration machines (commonly called thumper trucks) from invading one of America’s national monuments. The thumper trucks are scheduled to move into sensitive parts of the Canyons of the Ancients national monument in southwest Colorado on August 26 with the blessings of the Bush administration. The area was preserved as a national monument due to its richness of archaeological sites and artifacts and also to preserve rare wildlife, particularly lizards and snakes. It includes some of the most dramatic and best-preserved towers, cliff dwellings, pueblos, and other structures from a mysterious group of native people who made their last stand here 1,000 years ago from which it gets its name.

Earthjustice attorney Jay Tutchton said, “The monument was established to protect archaeological sites and the habitat of rare reptiles. The proclamation creating the monument allows continued oil and gas production, but forbids new impacts. It is impossible to conclude that driving massive off road machines among the archaeological sites and straight over the habitat of protected wildlife is consistent with protecting the monument’s resources. This type of project simply doesn’t belong in a national monument.”

“This is a place where protection of thousand-year-old archeological sites takes precedence, not catering to the whims of the energy industry. The proposed use of 60,000-pound monster thumper trucks in areas not currently leased for energy exploration makes a mockery of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, ” said Mark Pearson, Executive Director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

Although 85% of this national monument is already leased to oil and gas interests and is grazed by livestock, the Bush administration wants to see the rest developed. The vehicles set to go in and send seismic shock waves deep into the earth have 67-inch high tires that are 34 inches wide and create vehicle routes 15 feet wide across the desert.

“This is yet another instance of the Bush Administration breaking the law to benefit its best friends, Big Oil and Gas. The Bush Administration is violating the intent of the national monument proclamation whose express purpose was to protect these archaeological sites and the natural landscape in which they occur,” said Pam Eaton of the Wilderness Society. “What’s next? Drilling the National Monuments in Washington, DC?”

The federal Bureau of Land Management says impacts from the project will be “insignificant”; not enough to warrant an environmental impact statement. Instead the BLM has prepared a less rigorous environmental assessment. The EA admits the oil and gas exploratory work will be bad for the tourism industry, a mainstay of the local economy, and that it will kill rare reptiles native to the area. It will also create 60 miles of new vehicle routes that will take decades for nature to repair. The BLM claims the huge wheeled diesel powered seismic machines will leave ruts no more than 3 inches deep in the fragile desert soil yet a similar project adjacent to the Arches National Park, stopped by court order in February, gouged the desert soil more than a foot deep in places.

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