ENVIRONMENT

Tens of thousands of leased acres used for oil and gas production in Bears Ears area canceled

May 8, 2024, 9:00 PM | Updated: May 13, 2024, 1:27 pm

The House on Fire ruins at Bears Ears National Monument April 9, 2021....

The House on Fire ruins at Bears Ears National Monument April 9, 2021. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the acronym for Bears Ears Partnership to BEP. It was previously written as BEG. We regret the error.

BLUFF, Utah — Much of the Bears Ears area has been open to oil and gas leasing, but that’s all changing.

The Bureau of Land Management canceled more than 40,000 acres of oil and gas leases in the Bears Ears area. Specifically, the BLM canceled 25 of the 28 parcels of Bears Ears land meant for oil and gas leasing. 

It’s a significant win for the Bears Ears Partnership, which says that the land is incredibly archaeologically and culturally rich.

President Barack Obama established Bears Ears National Monument in 2016. The BLM co-manages the site alongside the US Forest Service and a coalition of five Native American tribes. 

Between 2018 and 2019, more than 100,000 acres of Bears Ears land was leased to “oil and gas interests,” with “minimal input from Tribes and public,” according to a press release from BEP.

The official BLM decision, signed by Cristina Price, Utah’s Deputy State Director for Lands and Minerals, did speak to cultural consideration factors in their decision-making process, according to their official record of decision. 

“Recent concerns brought forth by the Pueblo of Acoma” contributed to the decision, Price said in the document. Along with “careful consideration for these potential cultural resources,” Price said in the document.  

The litigation

In 2021, BEP litigated the sale of the BLM’s lease in 2018. According to their website, in 2023, the partnership settled that litigation with the stipulation that BLM will hold the parcels of land “in suspension,” while they re-conduct several preservation, historical, and environmental analyses. 

Advocates for the West, a nonprofit environmental law firm, joined forces with BEP and submitted a letter to the BLM. They argued that a complete cancellation of all the leases is based on a negative effect on cultural resources. The Pueblo of Acoma also submitted a comment letter and consulted with the BLM directly over the lease sales. 

BEP said this re-analysis “was vital to the ultimate cancellation of these lease sales.” 

Bears ears as sacred land

Bears Ears is culturally referred to as “the Lands Between.” According to Bears Ears Partnership, it is sacred ancestral land to Puebloan descendant communities, including the Pueblo of Acoma, Hopi, Zuni, The Rio Grande Pueblos, Ute, Navajo, and Paiute tribes. 

The Governor of Pueblo of Acoma, Randall Vicente,  said in a press release they are “deeply grateful” for the BLM’s decision to cancel these leases. 

“[This] affirms the importance of this landscape for the Pueblo of Acoma and other Pueblos and Tribes,” Vicente said. “This landscape is a living testament to our ancestors and our ongoing cultural traditions. Preserving these areas from development allows us to maintain our deep connection to our history.” 

The Bears Ears Partnership said this is a step in the right direction in ensuring Indigenous communities have a role in how culturally important landscapes are leased for development.

CONTINUE READING: Great Salt Lake level reaches seven-year high

KSL NewsRadio’s Britt Johnson contributed to this article. 

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Tens of thousands of leased acres used for oil and gas production in Bears Ears area canceled